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5 Questions: New Jersey Devils

Taylor Hall's offensive ability, Cory Schneider's stamina key issues

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the New Jersey Devils:

 
Can Taylor Hall score 30 goals?

Hall, 24, acquired in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers on June 29, has never scored 30 goals in a season. However, he led Edmonton in scoring three of the past four seasons and finished in the top three for the Oilers in each of his six seasons. He had 65 points (26 goals, 39 assists) in 82 games last season. "I'm not going to put a number on the number of goals, but certainly 30 is a nice number," Hall said when asked if he had a target figure. "You look at what Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique did last year getting to 30, and the power play was a big part of that. If I can simulate what they both did on the power play, hopefully I can find the back of the net."

Video: EDM@SJS: Hall steals puck, wrists shot to tie game

 

Is Steven Santini ready for full-time duty in the NHL?

The right-handed defenseman, 21, who plays a physical, in-your-face style, was named Hockey East's best defensive defenseman playing at Boston College last season. He could be partnered with Jon Merrill or veteran Andy Greene. Santini (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) wants to add more offense to his game, and though that isn't a priority, it certainly wouldn't hurt a defense that scored 20 goals last season. Santini had one goal and 18 assists in 41 games with Boston College last season.

 

What's the plan for the goaltenders regarding the condensed NHL schedule?

Coach John Hynes said he has discussed the schedule with his staff and there is a strategy in place. Cory Schneider started 58 games last season but missed 12 because of a right knee injury. It isn't too far-fetched to think Schneider could start as many as 65 games. But his backup, either Keith Kinkaid or Scott Wedgewood, could see significant action because there are more back-to-backs and stretches of three games in four days. This season will last 180 days, almost a week less than last season.

 

Will Patrik Elias return this season?

Elias, 40, an unrestricted free agent, was limited to 16 games last season because of an injury to his right knee. He had surgery May 11 and spent most of the summer at home in the Czech Republic before returning to New Jersey in early September. He has been skating on his own at Prudential Center. General manager Ray Shero said there is no deadline for a decision to be made. Elias is the Devils' all-time leader in goals (408), assists (617) and points (1,025). "He had a tough year with injuries but it would be incredible for our group to have him back," Palmieri said. "He's a guy who has played in this League for (20 seasons) and has been through so much. He brings that veteran leadership and you look up to guys like that."

Video: TOR@NJD: Elias nets Devils' last goal of the season

 

Is there a player who could surprise on defense?

Yohann Auvitu (6-foot, 200 pounds), born in Ivry-sur-Seine, France, has looked strong and has made good decisions in his first NHL training camp. Auvitu, 27, spent parts of the previous six seasons in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, with HIFK Helsinki (2014-16) and JYP Jyvaskyla (2010-14). Signed by the Devils to a two-year contract on May 27, Auvitu had 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 48 games for HIFK last season and was named Liiga's best defenseman. "He has great skating ability, an ability to move the puck, and understands the game," Hynes said. "Now it's just a matter of him getting adjusted to play with limited time and space, being aggressive in forechecking situations

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