Ben Lovejoy New Jersey Devils
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Less than a week away from the start of preseason hockey, we look at five things fans should keep their eyes on for the New Jersey Devils.

The New Jersey Devils will begin their preseason on Monday, Sept. 18 with a game against the Washington Capitals at the Prudential Center. After another summer of acquisitions and losses, New Jersey came out winners. What will the preseason hold? Here are five things to keep an eye one.

Nico Hischier

The chosen one will make his debut in Devils red and black this season. If you’ve been living under a rock or haven’t seen any YouTube clips, then get ready. Hischier is a great two-way player that has lethal speed and brings size to the table. There is a reason this young man was selected first overall in the 2017 NHL draft over Nolan Patrick, who many thought would go No. 1.

The preseason will also be a time of learning for the first-ever Swiss-born first-overall pick. It is a time for chemistry to build. It will also show if he is ready to play at an NHL level. It’s not the end of the world if he’s not, but it’d be nice if he is. The Devils have a good farm system and perhaps a year of tearing it up in Binghamton might do him some good. Only time will tell.

Defense

One area the Devils needed a massive overhaul in was defense. New Jersey has allowed 200-plus goals in each of the past four seasons. While the goaltending might get some blame there, it doesn’t help when the defense doesn’t do its job.

The team brought in Mirco Mueller from San Jose and Brian Strait from Winnipeg. The Devils then also won the Will Butcher sweepstakes, signing the prized college defensemen to a two-year entry level deal. Also, the team recently resigned Damon Severson to an Adam Larsson-like contract: Six years at an annual average value of $4.1667 million.

Whether or not all of these pieces will mesh remains to be seen. With veterans such as Ben Lovejoy and John Moore under contract, not everyone listed above will make the cut. Making an impression in the preseason will go a long way to secure their regular season spot. Team captain Andy Greene, the senior defenseman, will lead the blueliners in an attempt to help out Cory Schneider and whoever his backup is.

Backup Goaltender

Speaking of who will be backing up Cory Schneider, this is a topic head coach John Hynes and company should be looking at carefully. The Devils overpaid Keith Kinkaid this offseason to remain with the team. A two year, $1.5 million deal for a guy who has never had a pro season where his GAA was under 2.50 is a bit steep. The team also re-signed the man who should be the backup this year, Scott Wedgewood, to a one-year deal.

Wedgewood won his NHL debut and followed that up by shutting out the Pittsburgh Penguins. Let that set in. He shut out the team that has won the Stanley Cup the past two seasons in his second NHL game. Granted it was two seasons ago, but the man hasn’t been given a chance since then. This preseason could be his chance to show the Devils that it should be him, not Kinkaid backing up Schneider this season.

New Faces Up Front

The Devils have a new look this season. Marcus Johansson, Brian Boyle, and Drew Stafford have all joined the ranks in Newark. Not only does this give the Devils depth, it gives them options. Drew Stafford is a former 30-goal man that should be good for 10-15 goals and, if the team is out of contention, he could be this year’s Lee Stempniak or P.A. Parenteau and be dealt at the deadline.

Boyle is a solid player that will give the Devils depth and center the third or fourth line. He also brings his massive frame to the table—at six-foot-six, he is the tallest player on the team. Johansson is a playmaker who can dish the puck, as well as put it in the back of the net. With the Devils being one of the worst offensive teams in recent years, he will add new life to the Devils offense.

Split Squad/Neutral Game

For the second season in a row, the Devils will play a game on neutral ice. Last year, the faced the Panthers at Point West. This year, they will take place in the Kraft Hockeyville game against the Ottawa Senators in O’Leary, Prince Edward Island. That same night, a split squad will take on the New York Islanders. Only two preseason games will be played at the Prudential Center this year.

The New Jersey Devils are looking at, potentially, the brightest season they’ve had in years. The main goals of the preseason should be to develop chemistry and stay healthy. It will be a time for young players to prove themselves and veterans to prepare for the long ride.

But if another player of Travis Zajac‘s caliber goes down, then it’s going to be another long season for the Devils.

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