The Devils are in the midst of a rebuild, so don’t expect much from New Jersey in 2015-16. Goaltender Cory Schneider is the only true star in New Jersey and he’ll be surrounded by a group looking to stake their claim as part of the new-look Devils.
2014-15 Record: 32-36-14 (78 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 7th, Metropolitan Division
What To Expect: A new era begins in New Jersey, as the organization starts a season without Lou Lamoriello as GM for the first time in 28 years. Ownership nudged 'Lou' to step aside and hire Ray Shero as the new GM, but Lamoriello lasted less than a summer on the sidelines as the Maple Leafs picked him up to be their GM. In Shero's first draft, he selected Pavel Zacha, who projects as a No. 1 center. That's a fine start to the rebuild, but the Devils are due for a nightmarish 2015-16. A quick glance at the depth chart makes it clear they will be among the first teams at the draft podium next year.
Shero made four modest but useful acquisitions over the summer, landing Kyle Palmieri, who slots as a top-six forward, from Anaheim and signing UFAs John Moore, David Schlemko and Jiri Tlusty. But those four won’t boost the offense much. Even with a power play that ranked eighth, New Jersey was 28th in goals a season ago. Only Mike Cammalleri and Adam Henrique eclipsed 40 points, while Cammalleri was the lone 20-goal man. Patrik Elias, once an offensive centerpiece, saw a sharp dropoff in production and can expect further decline at 39. Assistant coach Adam Oates ran the potent power play but isn't returning. The forwards are unimpressive, but the defensemen are young and promising. Andy Greene leads the group, while Adam Larsson, Damon Severson, Eric Gelinas, Moore and John Merrill are all 24 or younger. These aren't eye-popping puck-carriers, but it's a talented and responsible group. Cory Schneider is New Jersey's only real star. He faced the third-most shots and posted the fifth-best save percentage at .925. After struggling in 20 straight starts to open the season, he improved when Keith Kinkaid began sharing the crease. If Zacha makes the team, Devils fans will get a glimpse of their future, but the young Czech can't be counted on for top-six production yet. It will be a couple seasons before he and the Devils rise.
Best-Case Scenario: If the Devils show signs of improvement, that’s about all fans in New Jersey can ask for. Though they didn’t finish in the basement last season, the Devils were abysmal. Nearing .500 would be a great season in New Jersey, especially as the club undergoes the transition from Lamoriello to Shero in 2015-16. It would be great for New Jersey to compete for the post-season, but that likely won’t be the case no matter how well Schneider plays.
Worst-Case Scenario: Really, things can’t go that sideways in New Jersey. Even if the club falls into last place, there’s an upside: a good shot at the first-overall pick and potential to draft top prospect Auston Matthews. New Jersey is in a massive transition period and the Devils are looking to reshape the franchise. There are growing pains when that happens.
Who To Watch: Severson was brilliant in his rookie season and, were it not for injury, would have challenged for the Calder Trophy in 2014-15. In his sophomore season, he’ll be looking to solidify his place as one of the top defenders in New Jersey and become the cornerstone of a rebuilding Devils blueline. Severson won’t leap Larsson on the depth chart immediately, but he could knock the former fourth-overall selection off of the top-pairing. In 51 games in 2014-15, Severson scored five goals and 17 points, but his steady defense is what made him most impressive. He was trusted enough to skate nearly 22 minutes per night and new coach John Hynes will likely have just as much confidence in the youngster.
What The Numbers Say (by Dom Luszczyszyn):
Click here for more detail on these predictions. The Devils 88 point projection may seem high, especially for a projected eighth place finish in their division, but it’s important to remember that the spread of talent is much tighter than actual standings results. They’re still among the worst teams in the league, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see them exceed expectations despite their talent level. That just shows how chaotic the NHL can be. If there’s anything that’ll stop the Devils from a bottom five finish it’s Schneider. He’s been consistently among the league’s best goaltenders (with very little recognition too) and without him, the Devils would be closer to the Torontos and Buffalos of the world. The Devils are a long shot to make the playoffs with a probability of 30 percent, but if it wasn’t for Schneider that number would be closer to 10. The defense in front of him aren’t terrible, but there’s not much to write home about. Andy Greene used to be a top d-man by the numbers, but he hasn’t been as effective of late. This could be the year Larsson breaks out, but he hasn’t lived up to his draft hype so far. The Devils will need him to develop into a top-pairing d-man. The forward corps is the biggest problem, although the addition of Tlusty was one of the best from the entire off-season. He’s likely their most efficient skater now which should tell you all you need to know about the quality of forwards on the Devils. Most of the them would be fine in lower roles, but there’s simply no top line talent on the team so they’re forced to play higher in the lineup. Star forwards and depth are crucial to team success in the East – just look at the Islanders, Penguins, and Lightning. The Devils have neither, and that’s why this season will likely be a tough one.
THN is rolling out its 2015-16 Team Previews daily, in reverse alphabetical order, until the start of the season. Check out our ‘Previews’ section to see other team breakdowns.