Vitek Vanecek NJD season preview

The 2023-24 NHL season starts Oct. 10. With training underway, is taking a look at the three keys, inside scoop on roster questions, and projected lineup for each of the 32 team. Today, the New Jersey Devils.

Coach: Lindy Ruff (fourth season)

Last season: 52-22-8, second in Metropolitan Division; lost to Carolina Hurricanes in Eastern Conference Second Round


1. Setting the tone

The Devils need to get off to a good start because opposing teams are no longer taking them for granted. On top of that, the Metropolitan Division is once again going to be very competitive with the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins also each likely to be competing for Stanley Cup Playoff berth. New Jersey was 6-3-0 in October and 13-1-0 in November on the way to finishing with the most wins (52) and points (112) in their history last season. Six of their eight games in October are on home ice at Prudential Center, where they finished 24-13-4 in 2022-23.

2. Consistent goaltending

Coach Lindy Ruff said that Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid are each going to be relied upon this season. Vanecek was the No. 1 option for the first time in his NHL career in 2022-23 and finished the regular season 33-11-4 with a 2.45 goals-against average, .911 save percentage and three shutouts in 52 games (48 starts). The 27-year-old struggled in March, going 5-4-1 with an .898 save percentage in 10 games (nine starts), and failed to regain his form in seven playoff games (1-3, 4.64 GAA, .825 save percentage). As a rookie, Schmid was 9-5-2 with a 2.13 GAA and .922 save percentage in 18 regular-season games (14 starts), and 4-4 with a 2.35 GAA, .921 save percentage and two shutouts in nine playoff games (eight starts). The 23-year-old has just 24 games of regular-season experience but will be expected to take on a bigger role this season.

3. Determined defense

The depth and experience on defense will be tested after Damon Severson was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ryan Graves signed with the Penguins this offseason. Severson and Graves each tied for fourth among Devils defensemen last season in average ice time per game (19:57). New Jersey did trade for veteran right-handed shot Colin Miller and signed Cal Foote, older brother of Devils forward Nolan Foote, to a one-year, two-way contract. The Devils also expect Kevin Bahl to take on an even greater role this season, and will have the services of Luke Hughes, younger brother of forward Jack Hughes, from the outset this season.

Should the Devils trust their goaltender situation?


Making the cut

Alexander Holtz, chosen No. 7 in the 2020 NHL Draft, is privy to the areas in which he needs to excel to earn a spot in the lineup. The 21-year-old forward, who has exhibited confidence and better skating in training camp, is an effective playmaker with a big shot. Kevin Dineen, coach of Utica in the American Hockey League, said Holtz showed a willingness to put in the work required to play a more prominent role. This will be his fourth season with the organization so now's the time for Holtz to prove he's ready to produce at the NHL level. He has six points (three goals, three assists) in 28 NHL games.

Most intriguing addition 

Forward Tyler Toffoli was acquired in a trade with the Calgary Flames on June 27 for forward Yegor Sharangovich and a third-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft (forward Aydar Suniev). The 31-year-old old is expected to provide secondary scoring and veteran experience after setting NHL career highs in goals (34), assists (39) and points (73) in 82 games last season. Entering his 12th NHL season, Toffoli also has 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 88 postseason games, including winning the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2014.

Biggest potential surprise  

Simon Nemec, selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, will look to make it tough on management to return him to Utica out of training camp. The right-handed defenseman hasn't looked out of place after getting 34 points (12 goals, 22 assists) in 65 AHL regular-season games and four points (one goal, three assists) in six playoff games last season. Dineen said that by the end of last season, the 19-year-old began showing a balance between getting involved on the offensive side and when to show more discipline and provide support defensively.

Ready to contribute 

Luke Hughes has been limited in training camp but appears ready for his first full NHL season. Selected No. 4 in the 2021 NHL Draft, the 20-year-old had 87 points (27 goals, 60 assists) in two seasons (80 games) with the University of Michigan before signing his three-year, entry-level contract with the Devils on April 8. He impressed with two points (one goal, one assist) in two regular-season games and two assists in three playoff games with New Jersey last season. This was after Hughes had 48 points (10 goals, 38 assists) in 39 games as a sophomore to help Michigan finish 26-12-3 and reach the Frozen Four for the second straight season.

Fantasy sleeper  

Schmid, G (fantasy average draft position: 160.4) -- After his impressive regular season, Schmid sparkled in the postseason with a 1.38 GAA, .951 save percentage and two shutouts in the first-round series against the Rangers. He could continue to cut into Vanecek's workload and emerge as the starter for the Devils, who allowed the fifth fewest shots on goal per game (28.2) in the NHL last season. -- Anna Dua

New Jersey Devils 2023-24 Season Preview


Timo Meier -- Nico Hischier -- Tyler Toffoli

Jesper Bratt -- Jack Hughes -- Dawson Mercer

Ondrej Palat -- Erik Haula -- Alexander Holtz 

Tomas Nosek -- Michael McLeod -- Nathan Bastian

Jonas Siegenthaler -- Dougie Hamilton

Luke Hughes -- John Marino

Kevin Bahl -- Colin Miller

Vitek Vanecek

Akira Schmid