Of the many surprises that the 2017-18 NHL season yielded, the New Jersey Devils are certainly one of them. They shot up from having the first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft to landing in the final wild-card place in the Eastern Conference. In fact, if the Devils didn’t rest so many star players in their final game, they could have finished in the third Metropolitan place.
But, after a first-round knockout from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the New Jersey Devils now turn to a very exciting offseason.
What went wrong for the Devils?
Nothing went wrong, they surprisingly made it to the postseason and were defeated by a team much further along regarding development. In the series, however, many elements went against the New Jersey Devils. They started the series without their number one netminder, Cory Schneider, and lost Sami Vatanen early in Game 4.
But, above all else, the Tampa Bay Lightning simply had a better team. They have the elite defenseman that New Jersey lacks, Victor Hedman, as well as a huge array of forwards who all complement the more talented Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. With the Jets at +425, the Golden Knights at +525, and the Capitals at +600, the Lightning stand as the firm favorites at +375 to win the Stanley Cup in the NHL betting odds.
Tampa Bay has been the strongest team in the Eastern Conference all season, and are fully expected to go all the way. So, the up-and-coming Devils losing to them isn’t condemning.
Target the elite skaters
The free agency is set to be packed with the type of skaters that the New Jersey Devils need. Best of all, assuming that they don’t blow their cash on Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon, New Jersey is set to have a lot of cap space – potentially around $20 million to play with.
One of the primary needs is some strength at center with a top-six pivot. They need someone who can bolster the elite-level scoring ability of Taylor Hall and play in many situations. John Tavares is the story of the summer for NHL fans, and New Jersey could certainly accommodate the superstar. But, with so many great centers in their prospect pool, they may opt for someone more along the lines of Paul Stastny, Henri Sedin, Tyler Bozak, or even Joe Thornton for a season or two.
There are some great names in the mix for complementary scoring, such as David Perron, James van Riemsdyk, Evander Kane, and James Neal. But, one of the most anticipated returns to the NHL may be on the cards. Now free to sign for any team, former Devil superstar Ilya Kovalchuk intends on returning to North America this summer.
Another pressing need that was exposed in the first round is the need for an elite-level defenseman. The Devils need a skater who can eat up minutes, neutralize the opposition’s top forwards, and contribute offensively. John Carlson is the main man that everyone will be looking to sign, and the New Jersey Devils should be the first in line. Other than Carlson, the free agency lacks that top-end defenseman that the Devils need.
Continue to build from within
The New Jersey Devils currently have seven entry-level contracts in their team, and they should continue with this youth revolution as they push forward. At center, the Devils boast four great prospects in Michael McLeod, John Quenneville, Jesper Boqvist, and Fabian Zetterlund. Quenneville will be looking to make it to the NHL lines on a permanent basis this summer. The others likely need another season or two before they’re NHL-ready.
Another exciting prospect is Joey Anderson. The 19-year-old right wing is seen as a player who complements skill and talent, which would make him a stellar option on the right side of Hall’s line. But, he may be a season or two away from making it to the NHL.
After a rather successful season, the New Jersey Devils can look to the offseason with optimism as they have a great chance of landing a top player.