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Devils hope revamped roster leads to success

Hischier, Johansson among additions counted on to improve on last-place finish in East

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

The New Jersey Devils have gone through a transformation with the goal of ending their five-season Stanley Cup Playoff drought.

After finishing last in the Eastern Conference with 70 points (28-40-14), the Devils selected center Nico Hischier with the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, acquired versatile forward Marcus Johansson in a trade with the Washington Capitals, added free agent forwards Brian Boyle and Drew Stafford, and signed defenseman prospect Will Butcher, the winner of the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in NCAA Division I men's hockey in 2016-17.

"We have to get our respect back and gain credibility in the League," general manager Ray Shero said. "We were supposed to be better last year and it didn't happen, and I was disappointed. But that's my team and I have to take responsibility for that.

"Last year wasn't fun for anybody. But it's turning now and you can see the assets and picks beginning to turn out, and when that happens there's nothing more satisfying."

Boyle, 32, has chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of cancer of the bone marrow that is largely treatable with medication. He has started treatment and hopes to be ready for the regular-season opener against the Colorado Avalanche at Prudential Center on Oct. 7.

Here is a look at the five keys for the Devils, the inside scoop on their roster questions and projected lines for the 2017-18 season:

 

FIVE KEYS

1. Taylor time

Forward Taylor Hall, 25, is a veteran of 453 regular-season games in seven NHL seasons but has never been to the playoffs. His 53 points (20 goals, 33 assists) tied Kyle Palmieri for the Devils lead, but he finished with the lowest shooting percentage (8.4 percent) of his NHL career. Hall seemed to struggle getting over the trade from the Edmonton Oilers, but a second season in New Jersey should give him motivation.

Video: PIT@NJD: Hall roofs wicked shot for power-play goal

 

2. Hischier proves to be a top-line talent

The Devils selected Hischier, 18, ahead of Nolan Patrick (Philadelphia Flyers), who many considered to be the more polished and NHL-ready of the two forwards. Hischier is a dynamic talent with exceptional skating, puck skills and intelligence. He has as much desire in the defensive zone as he does on the attack, another reason he could thrive as a rookie. He has played first- and second-line center during training camp, and he's scored a goal in each of his first three preseason games.

Video: WSH@NJD: Hischier nets beautiful backhand goal

 

3. Schneider returns to form

Goalie Cory Schneider felt responsible for the Devils' defensive struggles last season after finishing with an NHL career-high 2.82 goals-against average and career-low .908 save percentage in 60 games (59 starts). The Devils, who were 25th with a 2.94 GAA, got away from their defensive structure at times, and that played a part in the poor numbers. Schneider realizes he needs to make the big saves at key moments more often, which wasn't the case last season.

Video: NYR@NJD: Schneider denies Hayes on odd-man rush

 

4. More offense from defense

Devils defensemen combined for 30 goals, or 16 percent of the offense last season, with two on the man-advantage. Butcher, a key part of Denver's NCAA Division I men's hockey championship team, will be given every opportunity to quarterback New Jersey's power play.

 

5. Next man up

The loss of first-line center Travis Zajac (pectoral) for at least the first four months of the season, and possibly Boyle, creates an opening at forward. Hall, Palmieri, Adam Henrique and Johansson will be counted on, but more is needed from young players looking to make an impact. Hischier and second-year center Pavel Zacha, 20, are at the top of the list. They also need John Quenneville, 21, Blake Speers, 20, and Joseph Blandisi, 23, to elevate their game.

Video: NJD@NYR: Zacha bats home a feed out of midair

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Biggest lock

Palmieri, 26, has been the Devils' most consistent player the past two seasons, leading them with 26 goals last season and 57 points in 2015-16. He'll play right wing on the top line and on the No. 1 power-play unit, and will be a big part of the penalty kill.

Video: WSH@NJD: Palmieri streaks in and nets five-hole goal

 

Biggest battle

The competition for the final two spots at defenseman between Butcher, Dalton Prout, Mirco Mueller and Steven Santini will be interesting. Butcher has performed as advertised in training camp and will likely fill one of those spots.

Video: MTL@NJD: Santini finds twine through traffic

 

Most intriguing addition

Johansson is most comfortable at left wing and center. He played on the second line for the Capitals with Evgeny Kuznetsov last season and finished with an NHL career-high 58 points (24 goals, 34 assists) in 82 games. It'll be interesting to see where Johansson fits among the Devils' top six and if he'll be able to duplicate the success he had in his seventh season with the Capitals. He has played center with wings Hall and Palmieri in training camp.

Video: WSH@NYR: Johansson slams home rebound to tie the game

 

Biggest potential surprise

Left wing Jesper Bratt (5-foot-10, 171 pounds), who played for London of the Ontario Hockey League, has been one of the biggest surprises of camp. The sixth-round pick (No. 162) in the 2016 NHL Draft has good hockey sense, quickness and can play in traffic. Hynes likes how Bratt can remain composed when there's limited time and space.

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Taylor Hall -- Adam Henrique -- Kyle Palmieri

Marcus Johansson -- Nico Hischier -- Drew Stafford

Miles Wood -- Pavel Zacha -- Stefan Noesen  

John Quenneville -- Brian Boyle -- Blake Speers

Joseph Blandisi 

Andy Greene -- Ben Lovejoy

John Moore -- Damon Severson

Will Butcher -- Steven Santini

Cory Schneider

Keith Kinkaid

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