2017 brought the New Jersey Devils many twists and turns, but the current 2017-18 squad is way better off than it was just 12 months ago.
If I were writing this article on Jan. 1, 2017 this article might have read something like this.”The New Jersey Devils are currently in last place in the Eastern Conference and we are already looking forward to the draft. Of course, this is the one season that there is not a definitive number one overall pick, and it is likely going to be a long remainder of the season. Heck, it could be a long calendar year.”
As it turns out, it isn’t 2017, and it is indeed 2018. The New Jersey Devils have done a 180 since the beginning of 2017 and currently sit in second place in the Metropolitan division. Let’s take a look at how we got here.
Record on Jan. 1: 14-16-7
Entering the New Year the Devils were the worst team in the East and the third worst team in the league. It was becoming very apparent that the Devils were going to be sellers at the trade deadline which was looming a few months away. The one “major” move that general manager Ray Shero made was claiming Stefan Noesen off of waivers from Anaheim. This wasn’t necessarily a huge transaction at the time, but Noesen has turned into a solid bottom-six forward.
The Devils had a decent month reaching 51 points, but it would have taken a miracle for them to come close to reaching the playoffs.
Record on Feb. 1: 21-21-9
The Devils entered February after a 7-5-2 January. In February the Devils hovered around .500, and they didn’t do much off the ice. It was another mediocre month, making it apparent that the team needed to tank.
Record on March 1: 25-25-9
The Devils would go .500 once again, but it became very clear that losing had to be a priority here on out and the Devils began trying to aid that process by making two trades on March 1st.
Quincey to CLB for Dalton Prout
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) March 1, 2017
The first was Kyle Quincey for Dalton Prout, and in the long run, this trade meant virtually nothing. Dalton Prout is no longer with the club and Quincey is just an aging veteran who would hold no value on the current Devils roster.
The second trade they made on this day involved P.A. Parenteau.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 1, 2017
Parenteau had a nice little run with the Devils, posting 27 points in 59 games. The Devils would end up trading that sixth-round pick, but we will get to that a little later.
Record on April 1: 27-37-14
The tank was fully on at this point and the Devils had to just play out their schedule and move into the offseason. An offseason that would treat them very well.
The Devils did not make any significant moves in April because the trade deadline had passed. The Devils finished their season at 28-40-14 missing the playoffs for the fifth straight season. Little did they know, they would have 22 wins in the 2017-18 campaign by the new year.
The biggest thing that has happened to the Devils since the Taylor Hall trade happened on April 29.
I’m calling this the biggest thing that happened to New Jersey, but it was also the luckiest. Going into the lottery selection, the Devils had the fifth best odds at landing the number one pick and with two of the top three picks already belonging to the Philadelphia Flyers and the Dallas Stars, it was looking bleak that the Devils would select in the top three, but they did and won.
In May the Devils would only make two transactions and considering they weren’t playing actual hockey games this is the only news to write about at the time.
It seemed like one of the more irrelevant things the Devils did all offseason, but it was far from that. The Devils signed their 2016 sixth-round draft pick, Jesper Bratt, to a three-year entry-level contract.
Because the NHL playoffs were still going on in June there was not a lot of Devils news until the Entry Draft on June 23 and 24. Because the Devils won the Draft Lottery they selected first overall.
They had to select between two players, Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier, and it appears they made the right decision.
The Devils would have ten other selections in the 2017 draft.
You can read who these players are, and a little bit about them here in Chris Ryan‘s article for NJ.com.
The Devils made a few other moves before free agency began on July 1.
They acquired Mirco Mueller for a second and fourth-round pick from the San Jose Sharks. Mueller never really got a fair shake with the Sharks so he probably welcomed the change of scenery.
They resigned Kieth Kinkaid to a two year 2.5 million dollar deal. They lost defenseman John Merrill to the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. Finally, they put Michael Cammalleri and Devante Smith-Pelly on unconditional waivers for buyout purposes.
July is always a busy month in the NHL considering it is the beginning of Free Agency, and Ray Shero wasted no time.
On July 1st, the Devils signed Brian Boyle and Blake Coleman to two-year deals. Both of these moves were important because both players currently play every night for New Jersey.
On July 2nd, Shero made his biggest splash since acquiring Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson.
2018 2nd round pick
2018 3rd round pick
— 🚨SiriusXM NHL Network🏒 (@SiriusXMNHL) July 3, 2017
Ray Shero took advantage of the Capitals who were in salary cap trouble. He used two draft picks that they received as compensation for Ilya Kovalchuk retiring and Lou Lamerillo leaving for the Toronto Maple Leafs. A top six player in return for that is a nice trade.
On July 15, Nico Hischier signed a three-year entry contract with the team.
On July 26, the Devils resigned Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen.
Come August the Devils roster was beginning to take shape for training camp, with Jersey signing Drew Stafford and offering Jimmy Hayes a player tryout, but caught another stroke of luck.
The 2017 Hobey Baker award winner who was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche never signed his entry-level contract, so he was a free agent. He expressed interest early with New Jersey and ended up signing a two-year entry-level contract with the Devils. He has been very successful with the Devils thus far.
Training camp was competitive for the Devils, but there was a lot to be done before the season began. One of the major questions looming around training camp had to do with the fourth line, and who would rise up and make the team.
At the end of camp, Ray Shero and John Hynes decided to give the last two spots to Brian Gibbons and Blake Coleman. A lot of people thought those spots belonged to Joseph Blandisi and John Quenneville but they were simply beat out for the job. Neither player has relinquished their current role and are both key contributors to the roster.
Jesper Bratt also had a very good training camp to make the roster out of camp.
Record on Oct. 1: 0-0-0
There were many questions circulating the Devils at the beginning of the 2017-18 season. It was a new young roster, and a lot of people wondering if the Devils were going to have a repeat of the 2016-17 campaign.
There were also questions circulating around Hall and whether he wanted to be playing in New Jersey or would just be making a pit stop to move onto a contender.
All of these questions were answered by the end of the month. As the saying goes, winning cures everything, and the Devils went 8-2. They were off to one of their hottest starts in franchise history, were being led by unfamiliar faces and were dealing with injury.
Cory Schneider went on IR on Oct. 20, but it was not a long IR stint.
As for the unfamiliar faces, Gibbons, Coleman, and Bratt were providing a lot of offense for a team that couldn’t score in 2016-17 they posted 40 goals in just ten games.
Record on Nov. 1: 8-2-0
November brought New Jersey their first losing streak of the 2017-18 season, losing four in a row in the beginning of the month. Add that to a laundry list of injuries the Devils had to deal with and some fans were concerned that they would once again be basement dwellers this season.
The Devils saw two of their top six forwards, Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson, go on IR. It happened to Palmieri twice. Missing these players could have presented problems for them but they are resilient and overcame these hardships.
On the last day of the month, the Devils made a huge trade.
🚨 TRADE ALERT 🚨
The #NJDevils have acquired defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional third-round pick from Anaheim. New Jersey sends forwards Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a 2018 third-round pick to the Ducks. https://t.co/ik2k08usnx pic.twitter.com/lO5iR6x9n9
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 30, 2017
This was a trade that was tough for the fans but needed to happen. Vatanen has come in and done a nice job on the blue line, plus Adam Henrique was getting lost in the mix a little bit. The Devils are deep at forward and Henrique was expendable.
The Devils would finish the month 6-4-4 and given the injuries that they faced, you could consider that a win.
Record on Dec. 1: 14-6-4
December was really good to this hockey team. After a semi-slow start, the Devils saw a homestand over the holidays and went 5-0-1 on said homestand. They basically sat in first place in the Metro up until the day before the New Year.
The biggest thing that happened in this month besides the homestand was the fact that they are one hundred percent healthy again. Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri, and Marcus Johansson have all returned to the lineup.
The Devils finished the month 8-4-2 which brings their record to 22-10-6.
The Devils have come a long way since last January when they were ranked 27th in the NHL. The Devils front office, coaching staff, and some luck has turned this team into a contender and hopefully, they have continued success in the New Year.