The New Jersey Devils come into the 2023-24 season much differently than they did in 2022-23. This year, there are expectations, and those expectations are for New Jersey to continue to rank among the NHL’s elites.
New Jersey Devils
Last Season: 52-22-8, 112 points, second in the Metropolitan Division, third overall in the NHL.
Playoffs: Defeated the New York Rangers in seven games during the first round.
Lost to the Carolina Hurricanes during the second round in five games.
*Prediction: Third in the Metropolitan Division, seventh in the NHL, 24% chance to win the Metro.
*Predicted 2023-24 Metropolitan Division
- Carolina Hurricanes
- New York Rangers
- New Jersey Devils
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- New York Islanders
- Washington Capitals
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Columbus Blue Jackets
Devils Three Keys to a Successful 2023-24
New-Look Blueline Eases Goaltenders
New Jersey’s blueline will look a bit different this season. Over the summer, Damon Severson was shipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ryan Graves signed in Pittsburgh with the Penguins. Brendan Smith remains, however, it’s unlikely he’ll be a regular and will fill in as the Devils’ seventh defenseman.
Part of the new-look blueline is Kevin Bahl who didn’t become a regular in the lineup until halfway through last season. The 24-year-old defenseman appears to be linemates with John Marino and is expected to replace Graves’ role. In training camp and the preseason, Bahl has looked excellent, however, the real test is ahead in the regular season.
Despite a small taste of the NHL last season, the Devils will have rookie Luke Hughes as a full-time NHLer this season. His first look at the NHL was certainly promising scoring a couple of timely goals in big moments. However, there were also moments outside of the offensive zone where you could see his defending needs a little bit of work. He got off to a slow start in training camp and the preseason as a result of a nagging injury. The rookie defenseman appears to be paired next to newcomer, Colin Miller, as New Jersey’s third pair.
With 50% of the blueline having changed, New Jersey’s defense will need to continue shot suppression the way they did in 2022-23. Last season, New Jersey only allowed 28.2 shots against per game, the fifth best in the NHL. The Devils will need that same effort in 2023-24.
As a Result, Adequate Goaltending
The Devils proved last season that they don’t need elite goaltending to be successful. For most of the year, New Jersey’s heavy puck possession game gave Vitek Vanecek, Akira Schmid, and Mackenzie Blackwood lighter workloads each night. The playoffs are a different story, but Vanecek struggled in the postseason. However, his regular season was the best in his career, although not by much. The 27-year-old goaltender is consistent year after year, although he may struggle in spurts during a single season. Vanecek finding another level would take the Devils’ goaltending past “adequate.”
Schmid was a welcomed presence in New Jersey’s crease as Blackwood struggled to stay healthy. His calm, cool, and collected approach netted the 23-year-old goaltender nine wins in 14 starts and 18 games. The Swiss goaltender accrued excellent numbers, registering a 2.13 GAA and .922 SV% in a small sample. He even ranked within the top-20 goaltenders with 8.2 goals saved above expected, according to MoneyPuck. A slight dip in production can be expected for the sophomore goaltender over a larger sample of work. However, if he can replicate his numbers in a larger clip, the Devils won’t be searching for goaltending any longer.
New Jersey will need Vanecek and Schmid to make the saves they’re supposed to make. Their ability to keep the puck on their stick more often than not will take care of the rest. It’s expected that Vanecek and Schmid will split the workload this season, which should be enough to have the Devils competing toward the top of the division, conference, and league once again. Perhaps, if one outshines the other, we could see the emergence of a No.1 goaltender in New Jersey.
Timo Meier Gels in the Top-Six
It’s safe to say some Devils fans were underwhelmed with Timo Meier’s arrival last season. New Jersey acquired the power forward a week before the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline. He scored nine goals and 14 points in 21 games for the Devils following his acquisition. In 11 playoff games, he scored two goals and four points.
Nine goals and 14 points in 21 games after switching coasts is actually quite good. However, while with the San Jose Sharks Meier was scoring on a 44.5-goal pace. Post-trade, he downgraded to a 35-goal pace. Regardless, both are excellent. However, the expectation is for Meier to look closer to the 44.5 goal-pace this season.
Meier admitted transitioning into the Devils system was difficult. It’s a different system than what he was used to in San Jose which requires a full training camp and preseason to understand. Well, Meier got that this fall and looked quite good on a line next to Nico Hischier. Alexander Holtz flanked the duo on their right side, however, it looks more like Dawson Mercer will fill out New Jersey’s second line.
In the preseason, with Meier and Hischier on the ice together, the duo accrued a 66.67 CF% and 67.42 xGF%, per NaturalStatTrick. The duo combined for two goals and seven assists in three games played. Take the statistics with a grain of salt, but Meier, Hischier, and Mercer should be among the NHL’s best trios this season so long as Meier keeps building chemistry in New Jersey’s top six. As for the power play, well, there’s nothing to worry about with all that firepower.
Best Case Scenario: New Jersey’s defense replicates its efforts from last season and the goaltending even takes a step forward. As a result, New Jersey competes for the top of the division again and potentially wins the Metropolitan Division.
Worst Case Scenario: The goaltending and the defense take a step backward. As a result, they allow much more than last season 2.71 goals against per game, and risk making the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, or missing completely. A fall this large seems unlikely with how many goals New Jersey will certainly score this season, however, a goaltending collapse would be reminiscent of the 2021-22 regular season.