The Devils lost in a 3-2 overtime heartbreaker against Chicago last night. After jumping out to an early 1-0 lead on PA Parenteau’s third goal of the season, New Jersey never fell behind in the game–until the OT loss, that is. That loss, the team’s first at home, was a shame, as the Devils played a solid game in all zones. Generally, the 3-2-2 team looks very good on the ice, and currently sits in third place in the division. But although New Jersey appears to be competitive against any team in the league, the big test of the early season will take place tonight, when the Devils take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that prognosticators have going to the Stanley Cup finals.
To start, let’s get on the same page about this and agree that it’s definitely the newcomers to the team that are making the difference in the Devils’ success this season. It’s not the players that were the offensive stalwarts last year. It’s Taylor Hall (who now has seven points in as many games). It’s Parenteau. It’s Auvitu. Its Zacha. Of the 40 total points accumulated by New Jersey players this season, 16 of them are attributed to these four players. And that 40% of the total offensive production does not really tell the whole story, as often these four skaters are making plays that never appear on the scoresheet.
That’s why I have been saying for a couple of weeks now that we have all underestimated this team. But in addition to Hall, Parenteau, Auvitu and Zacha, there is another newcomer to the Devils worth noting. Nick Lappin was one of 21 undrafted college free agents signed by NHL teams at the end of last season, and the only one signed by New Jersey. Lappin played four years at Brown University (he was an alternate captain in his senior campaign) and garnered first-team all ivy honors last season.
Lappin appeared in his first NHL game last night, and although he only was on the ice for 7:10 (and posted no points), he could be a significant asset to the Devils in the months and years to come. There was no doubt that Lappin was excellent in the pre-season, but the coaching staff made it clear that it wanted him to get some AHL experience. Not only that, but he could be sent down without being exposed to waivers. So, on October 8th, the Devils sent Lappin to Albany.
While with the AHL team, Lappin was one of the team’s best players, posting three points in six games. Called up now for fourth line duties because he is a right handed shot, Lappin will have a small window of opportunity to prove that he should stay.
But thinking longer term, Lappin’s ELC is for 2 years. Currently, Parenteau, Beau Bennett, Kyle Palmieri and Devante Smith-Pelley are playing on the right side in New Jersey. Parenteau only has a contract through this season and was picked up on waivers. It is not clear that he will sign on with the Devils for longer than he has to. Bennett, who has not been very successful in New Jersey through his first six games, is an RFA after this season.
And although Palmieri is signed long-term, and Smith-Pelley will have one more year on his affordable contract, there still will be a need for another right handed winger on the team after this season. Yes, Nathan Bastian and Michael McLeod (a right handed center) are waiting in the wings, but both of them are only 18 years old and not likely to make the NHL team next season.
So there will be room for the soon to be 24-year old Lappin to make a big contribution to this team. If not immediately, then very soon. A little over seven minutes of ice time is not a lot, but he needs to show his stuff sooner rather than later.
Lappin has the potential to be a top six player on this team by next year. Now it’s up to him to start showing the coaching staff that he will be worthy of that role.