NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the New Jersey Devils.
The New Jersey Devils hope the offseason additions of center Nico Hischier, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft; veteran forward Brian Boyle in NHL free agency; and versatile forward Marcus Johansson in a trade, can improve their offensive production.
New Jersey finished 28th in the NHL in goals (180) and tied for last in goals at 5-on-5 (114) last season. The Devils also were 29th in shots per game (27.8), 22nd on the power play (17.5 percent), and finished last in the Eastern Conference (28-40-14).
Despite having the fifth-best odds (8.5 percent), the Devils won the NHL Draft Lottery on April 29 and used that pick to select Hischier.
The Devils then signed free agent Boyle to a two-year, $5.5 million contract (average annual value $2.75 million) on July 1, and the next day acquired Johansson in a trade with the Washington Capitals for two picks in the 2018 NHL Draft. Johansson, 26, has two years remaining on a three-year, $13.75 million contract (average annual value $4.583 million) he signed July 20, 2016, according to CapFriendly.com.
“I think realistically, adding Hischier, Boyle and Johansson is an exciting time for the Devils,” general manager Ray Shero said. “I think for our fans, that’s what we talked about, getting younger and faster, so it was a big day for us.”
Hischier is expected to play center to begin the season, although he can play the other forward positions.
“We view him as a center and he has all the attributes to play center, so we’ll give him the opportunity,” coach John Hynes said.
That opportunity likely will expand with center Travis Zajac expected to need 4-6 months to recover after having surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle sustained during training. That time frame would have him sidelined until mid-December at the earliest.
Boyle likely will be the third- or fourth-line center, and Johansson could play right wing on the second line.
The Devils allowed 2.94 goals-per game (tied for 24th) and were 23rd on the penalty kill (79.6 percent).
They acquired defenseman Mirco Mueller, 22, and a fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft in a trade with the San Jose Sharks for two draft picks on June 17. Mueller signed a two-year, $1.7 million contract (average annual value $850,000) on July 25. New Jersey lost defenseman Jon Merrill, who was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft.
“I like the pieces we have on defense,” goaltender Cory Schneider said. “Defense is oftentimes a team effort, so perhaps with more speed and skill up front, it will take some of the burden off the defensemen. If we have forwards who defend well, it could make life easier in your own end.”
The Devils attempted to sign unrestricted free agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, but he signed a four-year contract with the Metropolitan Division rival New York Rangers on July 1.
“Everybody is looking for defensemen, but it’s hard to find them,” Shero said. “We talk about team defense, and that means having the forwards working as well, so we’ll look to improve upon that.”
The Devils ranked 14th allowing 2.55 goals against per game in 2014-15, and eighth (2.46) in 2015-16, Hynes’ first season as coach. The trade of defenseman Adam Larsson to the Edmonton Oilers for left wing Taylor Hall on June 29, 2016, likely attributed to the defensive regression.
Schneider will look to regain the form that got him to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game. The 31-year-old said he felt responsible for the Devils’ defensive struggles last season after finishing with an NHL career-high 2.82 goals-against average and career-low .908 save percentage in 60 games. The Devils hired goalie coach Roland Melanson, who worked with Schneider for three seasons as the goalie coach for the Vancouver Canucks. Former Devils goalie coach Chris Terreri will assume a different role within the organization.
“Cory is a highly intelligent person and player, and there are things in his game that we discussed and where he feels he needs to be better,” Hynes said. “He’s changed his training regimen this summer, and we’re all confident he’s going to come back very determined.”