The New Jersey Devils assembled a franchise historic season in 2022-23. Despite their breakout season as a team, the summer proved to be eventful for General Manager Tom Fitzgerald.
Damon Severson was uprooted to Columbus. Ryan Graves left in free agency for Pittsburgh. Tomas Tatar and Miles Wood now play in Colorado. Yegor Sharangovich landed in Calgary. And support players such as Jesper Boqvist, Fabian Zetterlund, and Mackenzie Blackwood all have new homes.
The core is still intact and because of Fitzgerald’s excellent work, it’ll stay that way long term. However, for a team that put up 112 points last season, there’s an awful lot of change that’s happened. Regardless of said change, the expectations in New Jersey have been raised. Here’s one question we have for each player heading into the 2023-24 season:
Nathan Bastian – Is Nathan Bastian Elit… I mean, can he stay healthy?
A combination of upper and lower body injuries limited Bastian to just 43 games in the regular season. While in the lineup, he made quite the impact as part of New Jersey’s BMW line that served up lots of energy and physicality. He even saw time on the power play as a big body that could screen opposing goaltenders. With lots of new faces in the Devils locker room, can Bastian’s ice-time be easily replaced?
Jesper Bratt – Can he eclipse 73 points?
Coming into the 2022-23 season, Bratt was on yet another contract that forced him to prove he’s the real deal. Now that he’s locked into New Jersey for the next eight seasons, the question will be can he keep a fire lit under him with the new security? In back-to-back seasons, Bratt has reached 73 points. However, last season he did it scoring 30 goals for the first time in his career. Can he reach a new career high?
Nolan Foote – Can he carve out a full-time role?
“We have big plans for Nolan,” Fitzgerald told the media back in May at exit interviews. The Devils organization challenged Foote to reinvent himself after a slow start to his professional career. Last season at the AHL level, Foote scored 20 goals and showed a glimpse of upside in his small sample with the varsity squad. Fitzgerald also called Foote an “example of proper player development,” and they expect him to make a push for a roster spot this September. If he does, will it stick?
Erik Haula – Can he cash in on more opportunities consistently?
There might not have been a more snake-bitten player than Haula last season. The 32-year-old centerman had a plethora of chances to cash in with the Devils high-flying offense seeing plenty of time on Jack Hughes’ wing. However, luck wasn’t on his side as he only scored one goal in his first 18 games and didn’t score again until game No.31. Pucks started to cross the goal line a little more often for him after that. Can he find that consistency earlier in the season?
Nico Hischier – Can he take over the Selke category?
Now that Patrice Bergeron is retired, the question becomes who is the successor for the Selke Trophy? Bergeron claimed his sixth and final Selke award at the end of the 2022-23 season, however, Hischier placed second on the ballot and it was a distant second that separated him and Mitch Marner by 324 points. After logging a career-high in points and putting himself on the map as one of the NHL’s best two-way forwards, can Hischer dominate the Selke conversation?
Alexander Holtz – Can he polish his game enough to hang in the NHL?
Holtz was given every opportunity to claim a full-time role in the lineup last September. He lined up alongside J. Hughes during the majority of training camp and got his fair share of time with him in the preseason. “You gotta get harder on pucks in key areas and in the small ice competition,” Ruff explained last year. “We’ve asked him to increase the pace, I think his pace has looked good… Jack is a tough guy to keep up (with) so I’m hoping that by throwing him up there, it can drive his pace out.” Can Holtz put it all together this fall?
Jack Hughes – Can he eclipse 100 points?
What do you mean can he? He had 99 points last season, what’s one more? Well, last season Hughes was mostly healthy skating in 78 of 82 games. His ability to score 100-plus points isn’t in doubt here. It’s whether or not his body will give him the opportunity to do so. Don’t forget, Hughes dealt with a nasty undisclosed injury in the playoffs. So much so that he told 32 Thoughts the Podcast that had they won Game 5 against the Carolina Hurricanes, “it would have been tough to dress for Game 6.” In his four NHL seasons, Hughes has yet to play a complete 82 games. Granted, his first two seasons were cut short. What does 2023-24 have in store for the Devils MVP?
Curtis Lazar – Can he provide the physicality he was acquired for?
When the Devils acquired Lazar at the NHL Trade Deadline, he came to New Jersey already leading them in the hits category with 124. He never quite got settled in with New Jersey after dealing with an injury which later was revealed to be a second MCL tear. With so many skill guys, the Devils could use a little bit of muscle. Can he be relied on for that this season?
Michael McLeod – Can he provide more on the scoresheet?
McLeod established himself as one of the Devils best defensive forwards last season. He’s the best in the faceoff dot, he kills plenty of penalties, and he’s a hound on the forecheck. In the playoffs, a fire was lit under McLeod and there appears to be another level to his game. After just four goals and 26 points last season, does he have more to give?
Timo Meier – Can he repeat 40 goals and eclipse 80 points?
Meier scored 31 of his 40 goals in 57 games with the San Jose Sharks last season. After the Devils acquired him, Meier scored nine goals in 21 games. That’s roughly a 35-goal pace. However, the Swiss forward was learning a new system on a new coast against unfamiliar competition. Now that he’s all New Jersey and locked in with a brand new max extension, can Meier repeat 40 goals and set a new career high in points?
Dawson Mercer – Can he provide another 82-game season?
Since he’s been drafted into the NHL, Mercer hasn’t missed a single game. No, literally. He’s put together consecutive 82-game seasons in the first two years of his NHL career. It takes a little bit of luck to stay as healthy as he has. Fortunately for him, he was even better last season. Projected to remain in the forward group top-six, can Mercer pump out another healthy 82-game season with the increase in ice time?
Tomas Nosek – Where does he fit in the lineup?
Nosek served as the Bruins fourth line center during his time in Boston. He plays a lot like McLeod as a faceoff specialist who kills penalties and logs plenty of defensive minutes. However, the Devils have a McLeod. Bastian is likely to assume his role to McLeods right. There might be a spot open on the left. Or can he provide a little more and jump up to line three?
Ondrej Palat – Can Palat return to Lightning form?
For the majority of his career, Palat has averaged between 15-18 goals and sat in the 40-point range. In his first season with the Devils, a 10-week groin injury prevented that from happening. His 8 goals and 23 points in 49 games translate to 13 goals and 35 points in an 82-game season. Can he return to regular season form to help the Devils and thus, unlock Playoff Palat?
Tyler Toffoli – Is he a one-year Devil?
Certainly, the Devils acquiring Toffoli came as a bit of a surprise. We had heard of the potential mass exodus in Calgary, we just hadn’t known it might happen as soon as it did. Thus, Toffoli is a Devil, although he has just one year remaining on his contract. You can only imagine what the 34-goal sniper can do alongside the pair of Hughes and Bratt. However, is it just for one season? Fitzgerald had this to say upon acquisition, “I wouldn’t have traded for the player if I didn’t want to build a relationship long-term with the player.”
Kevin Bahl – Can he seamlessly replace the minutes Ryan Graves left on the table?
Training camp will unveil a lot of questions we have regarding pairings, however, the initial idea according to Fitzgerald was that Bahl was going to be able to replace Graves’ minutes. “We’ll look at our back end,” Fitzgerald said. “You lose guys like Graves, we believe (Kevin) Bahl can replace (him).” Bahl has certainly developed nicely. However, there is a significant difference between Graves’ 19:57 average TOI last season and Bahl’s 14:01. If he’ll be asked to skate about six more minutes a night, is Bahl for Graves a seamless replacement?
Dougie Hamilton – Can he repeat 70+ points following wrist surgery?
Hamilton’s second season with the Devils proved to be the best year of his career. New Jersey’s No.1 defenseman tallied 22 goals and 74 points in 82 games. However, following a nasty wrist injury that required surgery immediately following the Devils’ second-round exit, can Hamilton replicate another 74-point effort?
Luke Hughes – Can he provide what Severson left?
After a small, yet convincing sample of what L. Hughes can provide, New Jersey was comfortable moving on from Severson’s services. When Hamilton wasn’t on the ice, it was Severson quarterbacking the power play or hopping on the ice as the extra man. Severson also logged almost 20 minutes a night as a puck-moving defenseman. No one is questioning the 20-year-olds endurance to be able to log just as many minutes. The question is, can the rookie meet Severson’s production in his first full NHL season?
John Marino – Can he continue to shut down the opposition with a new partner?
Marino quickly became a fan favorite in New Jersey. Often, he led the Devils in ice time as a shut-down defenseman who Lindy Ruff lined up against the opposition’s best players. Marino rarely makes mistakes and showed such poise it was a head-scratcher to reflect on the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins gave him up for virtually nothing. However, he did all of that alongside Graves last season. Can he do it again with a much younger Bahl to his left?
Colin Miller – Can Miller work in the Devils system?
The Devils’ system is designed so that they don’t have to play too much defense. The idea is that constant puck pressure in all three zones will keep the puck on their stick more often than not. When the Devils acquired Miller, Saad Youseff of The Athletic explained “Miller is a defensive liability. His effort is unquestioned but his discipline defensively is what cost the Stars playoff games and eventually led to him falling out of favor with the coaches, who replaced him with a lifelong journeyman defenseman in Joel Hanley.” Can Miller hack it in the Devils system?
Jonas Siegenthaler – Was 2022-23 his offensive ceiling?
Siegenthaler continues to be one of, if not, the best bargain contract for the Devils. If you don’t believe that, ask any player in New Jersey’s locker room. He’s an excellent defensive defenseman, one that pairs very well with Hamilton on the top line. Last season, Siegenthaler reached a new career high in goals (four), assists (17), and points (21). Does he have any more offense to give?
Brendan Smith – What is his role in the upcoming season?
Smith having one year left on his contract in New Jersey likely made it a little easier for Fitzgerlad to let Severson and Graves go. No, he’s not the Devils’ best defenseman. But, he knows the system and is an important voice on and off the ice. Miller is projected to play third-pair minutes alongside L. Hughes to start the season. However, a strong camp could see Smith next to L. Hughes instead. Regardless, will he have a role this season? Will it be a rotating seventh defenseman? Or can he play his way to more like he claimed he believed he could at the end of last season?
Akira Schmid – Can he take over as the starting goaltender?
Schmid was one of the biggest revelations for New Jersey last season. When he was needed, he was reliable and with each start, the team had more confidence in him following every game. It came to a point where it appeared as though he was taking the reigns on the starting gig. However, some lineup decisions in the playoffs leave things in limbo. Fitzgerald acquired a number of goaltenders this summer to have as insurance for Schmid and Vitek Vanecek. However, will the Devils need it, or will Schmid run away with the starting job?
Vitek Vanecek – Is there another level to his game?
Vitek Vanecek has been consistently consistent across his three-year NHL career. His numbers look very similar year to year, with the 2023-24 season being slightly better. However, consistency in season last year hindered Vanecek’s ability to completely secure the starting goaltender title despite accruing 33 wins. Not to mention, his performance in the playoffs is one he’ll soon want to forget. With competition for the starting job with Schmid in the picture, can Vanecek find another level as a frontline starting goaltender?