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Devils will look to add offense in offseason

New Jersey, solid in goal, on defense, was last in NHL in scoring

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils might have surpassed expectations under first-year coach John Hynes, but they know they will need to score more next season if they're going to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Despite the disappointment of not having a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, Hynes believes the Devils are in good shape under the leadership of general manager Ray Shero and with several young players each looking to make his mark.

The Devils finished with their highest win total (38) in four seasons and remained in the hunt for a playoff spot well into the fourth quarter of the season. Injuries and a lack of scoring depth hurt New Jersey down the stretch; the Devils' 182 goals were last in the NHL.

"I think the direction is the right one," Devils center Travis Zajac said during break-up day at Prudential Center on Monday. "Our work ethic and compete, the foundation that has been there for the year, was the first step. Now there's obviously things we can improve on and get better at in order to get into the playoffs next year."

If the Devils had an award for most valuable player, goaltender Cory Schneider likely would win it. He was 27-25-6 with a 2.15 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in 58 games.

Schneider wasn't too concerned about individual success, though.

"It's frustrating not making the Stanley Cup Playoffs, period," said Schneider, who missed 11 games because of a right-knee injury before returning April 2. "I've always said I'd trade numbers for wins ... We're a defensive team and guys buy into the system. I think that helps me in my job, so it's hard to complain about that when guys are working their butts off for you defensively.

WHAT THEY SAID: "We want to help our team produce more offense, so those are things we'll look at, for sure," Hynes said. "Is there a way we can find some players through free agency or the draft that have those elements? I think when you look at our team, we were top 10 in defense, top 10 on special teams, but last in goal scoring, so there needs to be a combination of everything, and that includes players and coaches being able to find a way to do a better job of that. Scoring is not easy 5-on-5, and we're going to make every effort as a coaching management group to find a way to produce more offense."

THE BURNING QUESTION: Will forward Patrik Elias play for the Devils in 2016-17?

Elias, who turns 40 on April 13, is in the final season of a three-year contract he signed July 4, 2013, and can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He has played 17 full seasons in the NHL, all with New Jersey. A right- knee injury this season limited Elias to 16 games; he had two goals and eight points. He played the final three games of the regular season and was encouraged.

"The last three games gave me a time to reflect and see if I'm still capable of still playing," Elias said. "I actually thought I felt good physically, hockey-wise. You don't lose that. It's kind of just getting into shape and getting a new regimen going, but I felt better than expected."

Shero said he isn't close to making a decision on Elias.

"You have to make decisions that are best for the team, and some of those might be bringing him back and some might not be, and I am not there at all," Shero said. "This is nothing that will happen overnight. We'll give it some time, and then see where we are."

Elias had a goal and two assists in the final game and was named First Star. He hopes something can be worked out between both sides.

"I'm open to conversation," Elias said. "I want to see what their thought process is about having me come back. The last three games I played left me with an optimistic feeling. I hope they'll be honest with me, and I'll be honest with them. They know my situation, and I understand it's not an easy decision for them, but I'm a big boy."

Elias was selected by the Devils in the second round (No. 51) in the 1994 NHL Draft. He's New Jersey's all-time leader in goals (408), assists (617) and points (1,025); he's the only player to score at least 1,000 points with the Devils. 

"I would be a little bit disappointed if [I couldn't play for the Devils] after all these years," he said. "I enjoyed being part of the team and I like these coaches; I like where it's going."

INJURIES: Right wing Michael Cammalleri missed the final 32 games of the season because of an inflamed tendon in his right hand but should be ready for training camp, Shero said. Defenseman Jon Merrill missed the last 10 games with a shoulder injury but should be ready for the start of the 2016-17 season.

WHO COULD GO: The Devils have eight impending unrestricted free agents on their roster, including forwards Elias, Tuomo Ruutu, Stephen Gionta, Jordin Tootoo, Tyler Kennedy, Bobby Farnham and Jiri Tlusty, as well as defenseman David Schlemko.

WHO COULD ARRIVE: Can 2015 first-round pick (No. 6) Pavel Zacha become a fixture among the top six as a rookie in 2016-17? Steven Santini, 21, a second-round pick (No. 42) in the 2013 draft, was signed to a three-year, entry-level contract April 8 and might challenge for a roster spot out of training camp.

Two players (Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique) reached 50 points, and just four returning players (Palmieri, Henrique, Cammalleri, Zajac) scored 10 or more goals. Can forwards Reid Boucher, Joseph Blandisi and Sergey Kalinin continue to take steps in the right direction in order to provide the Devils secondary offense?

Henrique and Palmieri each reached 30 goals for the first time in his NHL career. If not for an inflamed tendon in his right hand, Cammalleri might also have topped 30 goals this season.

"Offense is an area we need to improve," Henrique said. "I think there's different parts of our game to improve, but we're heading in the right direction. I'm excited for the future, and obviously it's another big summer for this organization. Scoring goals is an area where we have to find a way to be better, but that goes along with other areas of the game too. Everyone believes in what we're trying to accomplish, and I think those areas will be improved over the summer."

2016 DRAFT PICKS: The Devils have nine picks in the draft. They have two in the third round and in the fourth. Shero said he will begin draft preparation with Devils director of scouting Paul Castron in May. He is encouraged by the draft pool after watching prospects at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland, in January.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM: Schneider was an All-Star goaltender, and for the first time in four seasons, the Devils had two 30-goal scorers. There is also a fine core of young talent on defense. New Jersey had four players along the blue line 25 years old or younger with Merrill (24), Damon Severson (21), Adam Larsson (23) and John Moore (25).

"We have a pretty young team moving forward, and I think the additions that came in this year have been fun to watch," Larsson said. "Obviously, it's disappointing missing out on the playoffs, but seeing the young guys come in and play so good makes me excited about the future."

Said Shero: "I know we have to get better. My responsibility is to try and add a little more talent because we fell short [this season] and there are areas we need to improve. It's a common theme, but we need to score more. Maybe we need more scoring from our defense. We have to add some depth and offensive talent if possible, but it's easy to say, harder to do."

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