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Season Preview: New Jersey Devils

Taylor Hall expected to bolster offense in bid to return to Stanley Cup Playoffs

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

2015-16 record: 38-36-8, 84 points, 7th in Metropolitan Division, 12th in Eastern Conference

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Did not qualify

Additions: F: Beau Bennett, Vernon Fiddler, Luke Gazdic, Taylor Hall, Nick Lappin: D: Yohann Auvitu, Brandon Gormley, Ben Lovejoy, Kyle Quincey; G: Anders Lindback

Subtractions: F: Bobby Farnham, Stephen Gionta, Tyler Kennedy, Tuomo Ruutu, Jordin Tootoo; D: Adam Larsson, David Schlemko, David Warsofsky

 
Projected opening night lineup

Forwards

Taylor Hall -- Adam Henrique -- Devante Smith-Pelly

Michael Cammalleri -- Travis Zajac -- Kyle Palmieri

Pavel Zacha -- Jacob Josefson -- Beau Bennett

Reid Boucher -- Vernon Fiddler -- Sergey Kalinin

Joseph Blandisi

Defensemen

Andy Greene -- Damon Severson

John Moore -- Ben Lovejoy

Jon Merrill -- Steven Santini

Yohann Auvitu

Goalies

Cory Schneider

Keith Kinkaid

Scott Wedgewood

The acquisition of left wing Taylor Hall has the New Jersey Devils excited and hopeful their offensive struggles will be a thing of the past.

With Hall, acquired in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers for defenseman Adam Larsson on June 29, the Devils finally have a dynamic scoring threat capable of generating offense in many ways. Hall, who had 65 points (26 goals, 39 assists) last season, seems determined to establish himself as not only an elite player for the Devils, but within the Eastern Conference.

He wants to play with speed and pace, and be able to tilt the ice in the Devils' favor.

Video: VAN@EDM: Hall finishes off a great rush to pad lead

New Jersey scored 184 goals last season and averaged 24.4 shots per game, which ranked 30th in the NHL. A lack of scoring depth and injuries down the stretch also contributed to the failure to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a fourth straight season.

Hall joins center Adam Henrique and right wing Kyle Palmieri, who each scored 30 goals last season. Left wing Michael Cammalleri is healthy after being limited to 42 games because of an inflamed tendon in his right hand, and center Travis Zajac, who led the Devils with a .516 faceoff winning percentage, remains one of the best two-way forwards in the game. A full season of right wing Devante Smith-Pelly, and the addition of free agent acquisitions Beau Bennett, Vernon Fiddler, Luke Gazdic and Nick Lappin will bolster the depth on offense. Veteran forward Patrik Elias is an unrestricted free agent.

The loss of Larsson created a hole on defense, but the Devils believe the combined efforts of Jon Merrill, Damon Severson, John Moore and first-year pro Steven Santini will make up for his absence. General manager Ray Shero signed forward Ben Lovejoy, who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup last season, to a three-year contract, and signed veteran defenseman Kyle Quincey to a one-year contract on Sept. 28. Captain Andy Greene enters his 11th season to help anchor the defense.

The Devils might have uncovered a diamond in the rough, left-handed France-born defenseman Yohann Auvitu (6-foot, 200 pounds), who signed a one-year, two-way entry-level contract in May. Auvitu, 27, played for HIFK Helsinki last season and was named the best defenseman in Liiga, Finland's top professional league.

Video: BUF@NJD: Schneider kicks out deflected shot

In goal is All-Star Cory Schneider, who was 27-25-6 last season with a 2.15 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage and four shutouts in 58 games.

 
Why they should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Devils will qualify because Shero was able to add solid offensive depth after finishing 30th in the League in goals. Hall gives them their first elite goal-scorer since Ilya Kovalchuk in 2012-13.

 
Why they could miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Devils may show inconsistencies on defense. Larsson led the Devils in hits (163) last season and ranked second in ice time (22:30) and blocked shots (148). The condensed schedule doesn't alleviate the pressure on a young defense that needs to come together quickly.

 
Breakout candidate

Center Pavel Zacha. The No. 6 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft has looked good in training camp. The two-way forward played one game for the Devils last season and didn't look out of place with two assists and a plus-4 rating in 16:51 against the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 9. Zacha, 19, could open the season in a bottom-six role.

Video: BUF@NJD: Josefson beats Johnson with a perfect PPG

 
On the hot seat

Center Jacob Josefson, 25, had an NHL career-high 14 points last season, but the Devils need a greater contribution from the player they selected in the first round (No. 20) of the 2009 NHL Draft. Josefson will be counted on for secondary scoring. Coach John Hynes has plenty of options, so a solid start to the season will go a long way for Josefson in building confidence between him and the coaching staff.

 
Trophy candidates

Schneider (Vezina, Jennings); Zacha (Calder)

 
Quotable 

"The coaching staffs for the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils are very similar. They have incredibly high expectations and have gone about achieving those expectations through hard work. I think our turnaround in Pittsburgh last year when Mike Sullivan [was hired as coach] started with our consistency and habits during practice. They got much better and we went at a much higher level. John Hynes has done the same [in New Jersey]. I think that guys are out there executing and working really hard in practice and that was the reason they were able to have such a turnaround last year. I know everyone plans on building upon that." -- defenseman Ben Lovejoy

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