Upgraded Devils look to take the next step

Devils normal supervisor Tom Fitzgerald was lively this offseason, wanting to handle as many areas inside the still-rebuilding group as attainable. As he begins his second year, Fitzgerald added to the protection, to the ahead group and in objective, however there are nonetheless a heap of questions looming over how the lineup will fall into place.

Coming off a 3rd consecutive season with out a playoff berth, the Devils are craving for any type of progress. As one in every of the youngest groups in the NHL, the hope is that having one other year below their belts will play out nicely on the ice.

Here’s a look at the high three points the Devils face heading into coaching camp:

Can the additions of Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves enhance the total protection?

The Devils signed Hamilton, the NHL’s high unrestricted free agent this summer season, to a seven-year, $63 million contract, instantly securing a brand new No. 1 defenseman. Shortly after, Fitzgerald traded Mikhail Maltsev and a 2021 second-round choose to the Avalanche in alternate for Graves. Jonas Siegenthaler, whom the Capitals traded to the Devils main up to the commerce deadline final season, additionally signed a two-year extension to stay in New Jersey.

Defense has lengthy been a weak point for the Devils, however the hope is that the aforementioned three — plus Ty Smith — may give the D-corps a special look. There’s a chance Hamilton and Graves will fortify a top-notch first pair, however head coach Lindy Ruff might want to unfold the wealth.

Dougie Hamilton
Getty Images

Barring the all-too-familiar sophomore hunch, Smith might build upon final season and carry over a few of the success he had with Damon Severson in the first half of final season. P.Okay. Subban is certain to see a lower in taking part in time, however having different notable defensemen round might gentle a hearth below the 32-year-old and immediate him to forge a robust third-pairing with Siegenthaler.

What might be the Mackenzie Blackwood-Jonathan Bernier cut up be in objective?

The Devils have been searching for a veteran goaltender who couldn’t solely mentor the 24-year-old Blackwood, but additionally compete with him. Bernier, 32, actually suits that invoice.

Blackwood is presently thought of the 1A netminder, however that would change on a whim. He has suffered by means of slumps earlier than and is coming off a below-average season, wherein he completed with a 3.04 goals-against common and a .902 save proportion. Blackwood nonetheless has room to develop, however he’ll have to sustain with Bernier if he desires to a minimum of cut up time in web.

Mackenzie Blackwood
Corey Sipkin

Bernier began simply 23 instances final season with Detroit after a leg damage sidelined him for a while. If he’s in a position to keep wholesome, Bernier has the potential to type a tandem with Blackwood that might ease each gamers’ workloads.

Who are the fourth- and third-line facilities and the way will that influence the lineup?

Assuming Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier are the Devils’ 1-2 punch down the center, there are a number of choices to spherical out the group’s high 4 facilities.

Ruff instructed reporters that Pavel Zacha will begin camp at middle. He posted a career-high 35 factors in 2021 and is one in every of the extra intriguing choices to deploy both as a No. 3 middle or a top-six winger. With the addition of Tomas Tatar, nevertheless, the high six could also be crammed.

Michael McLeod might settle into a task as middle on the third or fourth line after having immense success with Nate Bastian (taken in the enlargement draft) as a part of the vitality line final season. It might be essential, nevertheless, for him to discover the similar chemistry along with his linemates. Jesper Boqvist might really feel extra stress than others after he failed to make the similar strides as a few of his teammates final season, which can restrict him to a fourth-line job to begin the season.

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