Ah, how winning the draft lottery can change the outlook of a team drastically.
After a 31-41-10 season, that saw the Devils finish with the second worst record in the eastern conference, 8 points clear of the lowly Senators, things looked a little bleak. But there is hope for all teams that miss the playoffs, and all that hope gets put into tiny lottery balls, and the fate of which order they will come out in.
Congrats Devils, for the 2nd time in 3 years, the lottery balls fell in your favour. They will select first in this years NHL entry draft, and with the pick they will be selecting C Jack Hughes.
Nothing against Kaapo Kakka, he is a fantastic winger who will make Rangers fan very happy for a long time, but this is Hughes’ draft. The Speedy C has all the tools to make him a franchise centre in the NHL. He might not be in the McDavid and Matthews category, but he’s very close.
With the US national U18 team, he tallied 112 points in just 50 games. He has the hands to keep up with his skating speed and a terrific hockey IQ. The Devils should be thrilled to have a possible 1-2 punch up the middle of Hughes and Hischier for the next decade or so.
Beyond that the Devils can’t ignore the massive step back they took this year. A year after Taylor Hall lead this team to a playoff berth and won league MVP, he missed a huge portion of this season due to injury. The Devils ended up going from a 97 point team to a 72 point team.
Another big reason for the struggles of the Devils this year was because of their goaltender Cory Schneider. Locked up for 3 more seasons at 6 mill per, I believe he is still their man in New Jersey. But he will need to find his confidence back, and the devils should be spending a large amount of their time this summer working on trying to help him find that confidence back in any means necessary.
The Devils will have over 30 million dollar of cap space to work with this off-season. As soon as July 1st hits, Devils GM Ray Shero should be working on an extension for Hall. He is the franchise’s superstar at the moment and its important to get a clear picture on what his cap hit will be moving forward.
Then the Devils must turn their attention to free agency, and with Hischier still having 1 year left on his entry level deal, and Hughes with 3 more, the team should be very aggressive this summer in free agency. they will have around 3 forward and 3 defence spots available, and not all will be filled up by current prospects.
The Devils should look to add around 3 solid veteran free agents this summer, two of them on 2-3 year deals (So Hughes is still on his entry level deal) and 1 big fish you can sign long term.
The long term investment should be another top 6 winger to play alongside either Hischier or Hughes. Andres Lee and Jeff Skinner both fit that bill and the Devils will likely be able to afford to give them 6-7 year deals. Skinner would likely be the more expensive option, but if he can repeat what he did in Buffalo this season, he will be very much worth it.
Two cheaper but still very good free agents they could maybe get on 2-3 year deals would be Mats Zuccarello and Alexander Edler. It sounds expensive to go out and try to get three free agents of this calibre but the Devils cap situation makes it a very possible option. The elite young forwards in Hischier and Hughes, along with a healthy Taylor Hall makes this team a very attractive destination for free agents.
However, all of this won’t lead to much success next season if they can’t get Cory Schneider’s confidence back. He is a good goaltender, we have seen him in the past play great, but right now its all a mental battle with him in the net.
If Schneider can figure it between the pipes, and the Devils are very aggressive in the free agent market, they might be able to find some great success while they still have Hughes on an entry level contract.
This is an exciting off-season for Devils fans, and early, it’s off to a fantastic start!