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Season Preview

Devils season preview: Success rides on healthy Hall, Hughes development

Hope forward back in form after surgery, No. 1 pick of 2019 Draft plays big role

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

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for all 31 teams. Today, the New Jersey Devils.

Coach: John Hynes (fifth season)

Last season: 31-41-10; eighth place Metropolitan Division 

 

5 KEYS

 

1. Hall's health, future

The success of the Devils could hinge on the health of left wing Taylor Hall, who has looked good in training camp after not playing a regular-season game since Dec. 23. The Hart Trophy winner voted as NHL most valuable player in 2017-18 had 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) in 33 games last season before having season-ending surgery on his left knee in February.

Hall has one season remaining on a seven-year, $42 million contract (average annual value $6 million) he signed with the Edmonton Oilers on Aug. 22, 2012. The 27-year-old could become an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2020, and can sign an extension of up to eight years with the Devils at any time. 

Video: NYR@NJD: Hall nets laser from circle for PPG

 

2. Schneider's health, performance

Goalie Cory Schneider will need to prove he's fully recovered from hip surgery he had in May 2018. The 33-year-old had a 2.46 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 17 games after the 2018-19 NHL All-Star break, and he will look to build on that after dealing with injuries each of the past two seasons. Since Schneider had a 2.15 goals-against average in 2015-16, his GAA has risen every season, including 3.06 last season, the worst of his NHL career. 

 

3. Looking out for No. 1

Jack Hughes, the No. 1 pick of the 2019 NHL Draft, could begin the season at center on either the second or third line. Hynes would like to ease the 18-year-old into the lineup like he did Nico Hischier, chosen No. 1 in the 2017 NHL Draft. Hischier began his rookie season on the third line before being promoted to the top line with Hall and Kyle Palmieri on the wings. 

That plan can be challenged by Hughes, who scored twice in his NHL preseason debut and has the skating ability and intelligence to play a significant role as a rookie on a line with Nikita Gusev and Wayne Simmonds. Given that opportunity, plus a role on the power play, he would likely average between 18-20 minutes of ice time. 

Video: NYR@NJD: Hughes pots early breakaway goal

 

4. Subban's impact

P.K. Subban, acquired in a trade from the Nashville Predators on June 22, is expected to be a top-pair defenseman for New Jersey.

The 30-year-old has 408 points (98 goals, 310 assists) in 645 NHL games. He won the Norris Trophy voted as best defenseman in the NHL in 2012-13 but had 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists) last season, the fewest in his NHL career.

 

5. Improving the power play

The additions of Hughes, Gusev, Simmonds and Subban should help bolster a power play that struggled to gain consistency last season. The Devils were 21st in the NHL on the man-advantage (17.7 percent) and allowed 10 shorthanded goals, tied for sixth most with the Anaheim Ducks.

New Jersey thrived on the penalty kill, finishing fourth (84.3 percent), and was tied with Edmonton and the Winnipeg Jets for sixth with 10 shorthanded goals.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

 

Making the cut

Center Michael McLeod, the No. 12 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, might be having his best training camp with three points (two goals, one assist) in three games. He's competing with John Hayden, who has been a pleasant surprise asserting himself in the tough areas of the ice after he was acquired in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks on June 22. Defenseman Connor Carrick has looked more confident than defenseman prospect Ty Smith, meaning the No. 17 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft needs to pick up his performance if he doesn't want to be returned to Spokane of the Western Hockey League for one more season.

Video: NYR@NJD: Carrick puts Devils ahead late in 3rd

 

Most intriguing addition

Gusev, who played the past seven seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, immediately fills a top-six role and will be a big part of the power play. The 27-year-old, who has a right-handed shot and plays left wing, had 332 points (119 goals, 213 assists) in 391 KHL games, and 68 points (28 goals, 40 assists) in 67 KHL playoff games. He's formed good chemistry with both Hischier and Hughes in training camp.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Devils coach John Hynes has liked what he's seen from Jesper Boqvist. The forward, who turns 21 on Oct. 30, has scored two goals in three games during his bid to break camp with New Jersey and not go back to Brynas of the Swedish Hockey League. 

 

Ready to break through

Goalie Mackenzie Blackwood made the most of his opportunity to play in the absence of the injured Schneider and struggling Keith Kinkaid when recalled from Binghamton of the American Hockey League on Dec. 17, and he will look to build on a strong start to his NHL career. He inherited the No. 2 role behind Schneider after going 6-4-0 with a 2.37 GAA, a .926 save percentage and two shutouts in his first 13 NHL games. His play enabled the Devils to trade Kinkaid to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 25. Blackwood seems ready to take on a larger role this season after playing 23 games (21 starts) last season.

Video: NJD@FLA: Blackwood stops a flurry of shots

 

Fantasy sleeper

Gusev (average draft position: 170.1) has yet to play an NHL game but is the top fantasy deep sleeper candidate with a likely top-six role for the much-improved Devils and power-play exposure to elite skaters like Hall and Subban. -- Pete Jensen

 

Projected lineup

Taylor Hall -- Nico Hischier -- Kyle Palmieri

Nikita Gusev -- Jack Hughes -- Wayne Simmonds

Blake Coleman -- Travis Zajac -- Jesper Bratt

Miles Wood -- Pavel Zacha -- Kevin Rooney

Will Butcher -- P.K. Subban

Andy Greene -- Damon Severson

Sami Vatanen -- Connor Carrick

Cory Schneider

Mackenzie Blackwood

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