On the shoulders of Taylor Hall and a trio of wonder rookies, the Devils went from last place to the playoffs in the 2018 season and now they have their work cut out for them, if they are going to maintain that sort of pace or even just remain in a playoff spot after the 2019 regular season.
The off-season didn't make for too much action for the Devils, since they are building up from within, for the most part, only making one minor free agent signing on the blueline, but pretty well taking care of business from within.
Maybe the biggest question for this team will be, which is more likely to occur: the team gels even further and becomes more dangerous or the rest of the league watches the tape and figures out a way to stymie their speed and their new found skill? Both are likely scenarios and to me, it will be one or the other and this side will get better or suffer a slight setback in their rebuilding process.
Either way, this is a fun team to watch now, it certainly isn't your father's Devils team.
Table last updated on August 14th
Most Intriguing or Breakout Player
Out of the trio of wonder rookies from last season, I think defenseman Will Butcher is the most interesting, heading into his sophomore season, since his addition to the lineup gave the Devils an immediate boost out of their own zone.
Butcher has been a strong talent at just about every level that he has played at and he is pretty well decorated with medals and championships at those levels as well. Of course, the rigors of the NHL didn't seem to phase him in his rookie season, but the challenge of year number two can really be a hiccup on guys, but mostly in an educating way.
If Butcher adapts well in his second season, he could be the lynch pin that keeps the Devils in the playoff conversation and becomes a damn fine pick in the hockey pool draft.
First Round Picks
This is definitely Taylor Hall's team and the reigning league MVP seems to be okay with the challenge, so much so, that I think he will be right back in the thick of things again next season and that better than a point-per-game pace doesn't seem so crazy right now. He finished 9th overall in pool scoring and he could be a top 10 pick in the draft this year.
Other Pool Worthy Forwards
It's a solid looking group in behind Hall in the forward group, as Kyle Palmieri, Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha, Marcus Johansson and Travis Zajac are all among those I'm looking towards to possibly fill spots from the swamp. There are some bubble players in there as well, which I could see going a little higher, if one was to get excited about the Devils, so we'll see how that goes.
Other Pool Worthy Defensemen
Sami Vatanen and Damon Severson round out a trio of solid offensive-minded defensemen on this Devils side. Neither are terribly old, 27 and 24, both skate pretty well and get the puck out of their end quite well, so I think the future is really bright, looking at this blueline.
In goal, it's a little bit more of an interesting situation. When Cory Schneider struggled last year, Keith Kinkaid really stepped up and scooped the number one job, taking it right into the playoffs. This was a massive turn of events and one that has to be looked at carefully, as this could still be more of a battle heading into training camp, more than just giving the spot away now. Keep an eye on this match-up and adjust your projections accordingly.
Team to Pick From Late?
There are still some decent young players not mentioned on this list, who could make the jump up. Jesper Bratt was another one of those wonder rookies, who did well, but is my guess to fall off a little bit more than the other two. Stefan Noesen or Blake Coleman also didn't look bad last season and could make a move. If you liked how the Devils played last season, especially near the end of the year, then yeah, you might want to consider a few more of these guys. Other teams might be sleeping on them at the draft.
Unsigned Players and Salary Cap
The Devils do have one pool worthy RFA still unsigned at this point in the summer, forward Miles Wood. He had a 32-point season in the last year of his entry-level deal, but has still not be re-signed. The Devils are not struggling for cap space to sign him, having the most space on the books among all 31 teams at over $18 million. It doesn't mean they're going to overpay on a young free agent.
Maybe, just maybe, the goaltending battle may swing one way a little quicker than the other, if Cory Schneider's rehab from off-season hip surgery doesn't get him back for training camp in time. There does seem to be a likely chance of that, so it will remain as an interesting talking point come September.