The New Jersey Devils haven’t had a playoff appearance since their unfortunate loss in the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup Finals to the Los Angeles Kings. For years, the Devils have been stuck in a mediocre limbo. They haven’t been quite good enough to make the playoffs, but not bad enough to get high draft picks.
Thanks to the NHL Draft Lottery format, the Devils lucked into the first overall pick, despite finishing 27th in the league. With this pick and the team they’ve slowly been building, the future looks promising for the team.
It all starts with goalie Corey Schneider. After the Devils’ loss in the 2012 finals, it was assumed that Martin Brodeur wouldn’t be staying with the team for too long. When the 2013 NHL Entry Draft came along, the Devils struck a deal with the Vancouver Canucks and traded their 9th overall pick (Bo Horvat) for Corey Schneider. In the following 2013-2014 season, Schneider and Brodeur split the goaltending duties. The summer after, Brodeur chose to move on from the organization as expected, leaving Schneider the Devils starting goaltender. Schneider has had Vezina worthy numbers with the Devils. He had a .925 save percentage as a starter in the 2014-2015 season, .924 in the 2015-2016 season, and .908 in 2016-2017. While his numbers have dropped (this could also be indicative of the defense in front of him), he’s still an above-average goaltender.
Taylor Hall is another big name on the Devils that will continue to be a core part of the foundation for the team. Hall was traded from the Edmonton Oilers last season for defensemen Adam Larsson, a move that left many in shock. While we can debate the outcome of this trade endlessly, it’s obvious this move has positively impacted the Devil’s offense. Hall had 20 goals and 33 assists in 72 games played.
Veteran players also play a part in the Devils’ future. Players like Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, and Andy Greene will continue to put up great numbers and provide strong leadership and guidance to the younger incoming players.
The Devils also have many promising prospects. In the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, they drafted Mickey McLeod (12th overall) and Nathan Bastian (41st overall). Both prospects are close friends, nicknamed “Super Buddies,” and led the Mississauga Steelheads to an OHL Central Division victory before being eliminated in Game 5 of the 2017 Rogers OHL Championship Series by the Erie Otters. The Devils also picked Joey Anderson (73rd overall) in the same draft. Anderson led the University of Minnesota-Duluth to the NCAA Finals and won the World Junior Championship in December 2016 with Team USA.
The Devils are also heading into the 2017 NHL Entry Draft with eleven picks. Barring a trade, the first overall pick will most likely be used to select either Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings or Nico Hischier of the Halifax Mooseheads. No matter which player the Devils go with, they are, without a doubt, going to be a great addition to the team.
Return of Ilya Kovalchuk
Ilya Kovalchuk seems to be the last piece of the Devils re-building efforts. Kovalchuk played four seasons with the Devils before retiring from the NHL and playing for St. Petersburg SKA of the Kontinental Hockey League. While playing overseas, Kovalchuk produced 89 goals and 133 assists over four seasons. He’s rumored to be returning to the NHL for next season. Since the Devils still own Kovalchuk’s rights (he signed a 15-year $100 million deal with them in 2010), he must wait until the start of the free-agency period (July 1) to re-sign with the team. It’s also possible the Devils will sign and then trade him to another team, something they are likely looking into and making plenty of calls about. Regardless of where Kovalchuk ends up, his return will give the Devils another asset and something more to work with.
For a team that has struggled to make the playoffs for five consecutive years and recently finished last in the Eastern Conference, the Devils future is glittered with tons of promising prospects and talented veterans.