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Questions surround Devils' attempt to improve

by Mike G. Morreale /

Ray Shero has done his best to make certain the New Jersey Devils are equipped with the tools necessary to prosper this season since becoming their general manager on May 4.

His first order of business was naming John Hynes as coach, which he did on June 2.

"I understand how the players feel with all the changes they're going through," Hynes said. "It's personal yet important to know as a coach where each guy is at individually, and we've been doing quite of bit of video work on systems and styles of play, line combinations and understanding our players."

Shero has promised to create a much younger, faster team. He has signed or re-signed several young players to challenge for roster spots in training camp, and approved the selection of forward Pavel Zacha with the No. 6 choice in the 2015 NHL Draft.

He is one of three key questions facing the Devils:

Will Zacha play this season with the Devils? New Jersey will give Zacha every opportunity to earn a roster spot out of training camp. The Devils will have nine games to find out if the forward is ready for the NHL; once he plays the 10th game, his entry-level contract (which he had not signed as of Aug. 6) becomes official for the season. He could be sent back to Sarnia in the Ontario Hockey League, but at 18 years old cannot play in the American Hockey League. Zacha is everything the Devils need in their lineup: He's strong on the puck, fast, and capable of finding the open teammate. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound left-hand shot was mentored by former NHL player Petr Nedved when he played for Liberec in the Czech Republic's top league in 2013-14.

Will the Devils have a 30-goal scorer? They haven't had a player score at least 30 goals the past three seasons. Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and David Clarkson each had at least that many in 2011-12, the last time the Devils qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Mike Cammalleri, who came close in 2014-15 when he scored 27 goals, is the most likely to do so. The Devils are expected to get younger up front this season with Reid Boucher, Stefan Matteau and Zacha candidates to see significant time. The fact Hynes wants to attack and pressure the opposition bodes well for players who might not attract all the attention. Cammalleri, 33, who scored nine power-play goals, has scored at least 30 goals twice in his NHL career and had his highest total in six seasons in 2014-15. Adam Henrique, who is entering his fifth full season, had 25 goals in 2013-14 and is capable of building on that.

Will the Devils qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs? It's no secret the Devils are in a transitional period, not only within the front office but the personnel they'll have on the ice. It might take some time for all the pieces to come together, learn the system Hynes will instill, and then move forward with that game plan on a consistent basis. Though it certainly is possible for the Devils to surprise and return to the playoffs, they might be a season away from earning a spot among the top eight in the Eastern Conference. The one certainty is Hynes wants a team with a clear identity each time it takes the ice. He also wants his leaders, including forwards Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac and Henrique, defenseman Andy Greene and goaltender Cory Schneider, to maintain a high level of focus helping build that foundation.


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