The anticipation for Oppenheimer and The Barbie Movie hitting theatres on Friday, July 21st seems like all anyone can talk about lately. Despite their stark differences, consumers are debating which is the better movie and as a result, which will do better at the box office. Sportsnet had no time for such a debate, however, as they’re more focused on the action happening around the National Hockey League. Just a few days prior to Oppenheimer and The Barbie Movie’s on-screen debut, Sportsnet dropped their midsummer power rankings. Fans of the New Jersey Devils will be pleased to know they’re ranked within the top-five in the NHL.
Out of the 32 teams in the NHL, New Jersey ranked fifth overall after the work general manager Tom Fitzgerald put together this summer.
According to Ryan Dixon of Sportsnet, “Re-signing trade deadline acquisition Timo Meier was massive and snagging Tyler Toffoli from Calgary for Yegor Sharangovich and a third-rounder was a very tidy bit of business. Remember, the Devils could put two exciting rookies in the mix, too, in the form of Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec. Last year’s breakout season was just the start.”
It’s quite true that turning Sharangovich into Toffoli was a big win for the Devils. Last season, Toffoli scored 34 goals and 73 points on a toiling Calgary Flames team. Toffoli’s 34 tucks are a career-high for the 31-year-old forward. However, there’s little reason to believe he’ll regress much on a better Devils team where he’ll have a chance to play with Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier.
Dixon mentions L. Hughes and Nemec as part of the ascending Devils. It’s true that those two are cornerstone players for the franchise both now and moving forward. However, as we’ve mentioned before, growing pains can be expected. The Devils clearly have a lot of faith in Hughes and Nemec. Fitzgerald traded Damon Severson away and anticipates that Hughes will replicate, maybe even surpass what Severson brought to the table.
“Losing players like Damon, it’s hard to replace,” Fitzgerald explained. “But we absolutely believe that eventually, a player like (Nemec) can replace Damon. Maybe as quickly as this year, Luke Hughes bypasses Damon. I have no idea. But that’s why we drafted Luke as high as we did and (Nemec) as high as we did, because of their upside. But we do have faith.”
Depending on two rookie defensemen in Hughes and Nemec is a tough ask following a breakout season for New Jersey. Even Lindy Ruff was leery when talking about deploying them both full-time in 2023-24.
Don’t misinterpret the message here, however. The Devils absolutely earned the right to be called a top-five NHL team after the 2022-23 season. Perhaps Fitzgerald’s work isn’t finished this summer. He continues to keep tabs on Connor Hellebuyck and John Gibson as upgrades in net. If a goaltending upgrade should happen, it might make up for any defensive deficits. The good news is, the Devils are puck-possession monsters. In 2022-23, the Devils totaled 54.12 CF%, fourth-best in the NHL. Their upgraded top-six should only get better in the upcoming season with a full year of Timo Meier and Toffoli in the mix. The opposition can’t score if they don’t have the puck, right?
As it stands, the Devils are the fifth-best team in the NHL by Sportsnet. The rankings also make them the best team in the Metropolitan Division.
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