Jersey’s team, winless in its last 5 games, are one of he biggest surprises of the NHL so far this season. After finishing with 84 points (38-36-8 in 2016-2017), no one really expected much of the Devils this season, especially after being awarded the prize of #1 overall pick in this past draft.
However, that number one pick has shined. Nico Hischier (#13 for the Devils) has been nothing short of spectacular so far this season playing along side fellow rookie Jesper Bratt and All-Star Taylor Hall. The 19 year old first overall pick has tallied 26 points on the year so far (8 goals, 18 assists). To go along with the theme of rookie success on the young exciting Devils team, is aforementioned Jesper Bratt (#63), and Defensemen Will Butcher (#8). Butcher, the Denver University product, who started the season red-hot in picking up assists, has been solid all year long, and is currently second among all rookies in assists with 23. While, Bratt also has 26 points for the Devils.
Not to be outdone, the Devils biggest attraction, another former #1 overall pick (2010, Edmonton), Taylor Hall, is still the team leader in almost every category. Hall leads the team in points with 42 in playing just 39 games. Hall has tallied 15 goals and 27 assists thus far. And the Devils couldn’t be happier with the level of his productivity.
Of course, offense couldn’t do anything without a strong goaltender. And that strong goaltender is Cory Schneider, whom the devils acquired in a draft day trade a few years ago. Cory has been nothing short of stellar, in a town that treasures great goal tending (after having to say goodbye to all time legend Martin Brodeur). So far on the year, Cory is 17-8-6 in 32 starts in the net. That also comes along with a great 2.67 GAA and a .918 save percentage. Is Cory, Marty? Absolutely not. No one will ever be. But those numbers are more than satisfactory to Jersey fans. (I also met Cory after a tough loss on the 29th of December – GREAT guy, for what it’s worth).
Also, how could I not mention the best story of the Devils season, Brian Boyle. Brian was diagnosed with Leukemia on September 19th, and somehow, was on the ice for the first time with the Devils on November 1st. They Devils overall are a great story, but none greater than the strength that Brian Boyle has shown, and the way this team has rallied around him. I have never been so happy, or seen someone so happy scoring a goal, then when Boyle scored his first goal of the season on November 9th. A true miracle story, and a feel good story to say the least. Brian missed just 10 games after the diagnosis, and in 31 games this season, Brian has 17 points (11 goals and 6 assists), and is tied for third on the team in goals. Remarkable.
As I said, the Devils are winless in their last 5 games, but I would urge Devils fans to not panic, the rookies haven’t hit the “rookie wall”, the team hasn’t stalled, or anything of that nature. The Devils have been victim of the old phrase “game of inches”. The Devils fell on the short end of not one, not two, but THREE challenged, and overturned, goals. In each of those occasions, the devils scored a goal, and then the goal was challenged and overturned. The interesting thing is, is that if those goals were to have stood, the Devils would’ve won at least two of those 5 games, and would’ve possibly sent another into overtime, getting at least 1 point and possible 2. Pointing this out, isn’t as an excuse, because a loss is a loss, score the goal correctly and you don’t have to worry about challenges. That simple. I do however point that out to show Devils fan that this team is not slowing down, but rather have just been the bearer of a few bad breaks over the past few games, something that some time off, and extra preparation can definitely fix.
Jersey’s team currently sits at second place in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 22-11-8 (the team needs to win more overtime games). At this record, the Devils trail only the outstanding Washington Capitals, who have 55 points, and the Devils have 52 right now (already almost at last year’s mark of 84). Halfway through a season that started with no expectations, I would urge Devils fans to stay positive. It is kind of similar to the 2017 Yankees, a young, talented team that had no expectations playing well above what they were thought to be able to. If the Devils continue to play how they have been, and the puck rolls their way a few more times, they would be a force in the playoffs, and I wouldn’t discount them as a contender for the Stanley Cup finals, especially considering their magically 2012 run in which they made the Stanley Cup finals before falling to the LA Kings.
Realistically: will the Devils win the Cup? I would say no, I think there are teams with way more experience and quite frankly more talent than the Devils have this year. However, there isn’t an excuse, if the devils make the playoffs as a higher seed, fans should be disappointed if they don’t win the Cup because you can’t take a season like this for granted. There is no guarantee they will be back, so they must take advantage while they can.
In oversight, Devils fans can and should be excited about this team, what they can accomplish this season, and in seasons to come, centered around guys like Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall (and Defensemen Sami Vatanen, who the Devils traded fan-favorite Adam Henrique for). The future is bright, but let’s not pass over this season, the Devils are capable of making a huge splash in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. I’m excited, are you?
Follow Bryan on Twitter: @bryan_norton317