The New Jersey Devils are exactly halfway through their season and have a 22-11-8 record. Let’s take a look back at the first half and what to expect the rest of the way.
On Oct, 7, the Devils opened their season in a four to one win against the Colorado Avalanche. Before that game, and the season I wrote this article previewing the 2017-18 New Jersey Devils. Let’s take a look at my previews, predictions, and some highlights from the first half of the season. We’ll also preview the last 41 games of the season.
Before the season began I said the Devils would be a bubble team. So far they are exceeding those expectations being third in the Metropolitan division. The Devils were in first for most of the beginning of the season, but have since dropped. They do have games in hand on most of the teams in the division. Take a look at the current Metro standings below.
There is a lot of work to be done if the Devils are going to make the playoffs this season. They have positioned themselves nicely to get a chance at finishing top three in the Metro.
The Devils had a few notable arrivals this season.
For the most part, the players on this list have been playing well. Marcus Johansson has struggled to stay healthy. He’s seen IR three times already this season but in the 23 games that he has played, he has five goals and six assists. The Devils need Johansson to step it up if there first half success is going to carry over in the second half.
Brian Boyle has been awesome this season. He has been better than advertised on the ice posting 11 goals and six assists. Those stats are nice, but he has become a true leader on this team. It really seems like the younger guys are looking up to him, and he’s done all of this while battling cancer.
Nico Hischier was the first overall pick and has not disappointed. Hischier is in the top 10 of rookies in points, and top five in assists (eight goals, 18 assists). While he probably won’t win the Calder like I guessed at the beginning of the season he has been a solid player on this roster with a ton of room for growth.
Mirco Mueller has struggled this season with an injury so far and while he is recovering there is a chance we don’t see him with the big club until next season.
Drew Stafford got off to a red-hot start posting four points in four games, has had four in the rest of the games since. There is enough young talent on the roster that the Devils don’t necessarily need Stafford, but it could be a nice addition if he could pick it up in the second half of the season.
Last but not least Will Butcher has been awesome this season. The 2017 Hobey Baker award winner has not missed a beat coming into the NHL. Butcher is second in rookies in assists with 23 assists. He also has two goals on the season. He will continue to grow defensively, and he hasn’t missed a game yet.
There were three names that I didn’t mention prior to the season beginning who have made substantial impacts to this roster. Jesper Bratt, Brian Gibbons, and Blake Coleman. All three guys came from within the system and made the roster out of training camp.
Bratt has found himself in the top six with 10 goals and 16 assists this season. Many people thought the 2016 sixth round pick would have a short stay with the big club this season but he has really solidified a spot with the big club.
As for Gibbons and Coleman, they have both made a tremendous impact on the Devils bottom six. They do an awesome job contributing to the Penalty Kill. The Devils kill penalties at 83% which is good enough for eighth in the league. This is majorly led by these two players. They have both also contributed up front for the Devils. Gibbons is fifth on the team in points with 12 goals and 10 assists. Coleman isn’t nearly as productive but has five goals and six assists this season.
There were five major storylines coming into the season.
What does Nico Hischier bring to the Devils this season?
I said that Nico would have 55 points: 25 goals and 30 assists. While I believe these totals can be reached, he’s been more playmaker than goal scorer. The numbers will be a little more lopsided, but expect an explosion from Hischier in the second half. He could possibly reach 60 points.
Is there any more room for Taylor Hall to improve?
I said there was room for Hall to improve and he has made the case for that so far. It has come out that Ray Shero had asked more of Hall this season, and Hall has answered the bell. Hall has not only been the Devils MVP, with 15 goals and 27 assists but has a chance to win the league MVP. While I don’t believe he wins it, his name should for sure be in the conversation.
Cory Schneider WILL have a bounce-back season
Schneider was coming off his worst season as a Devil and is for sure having a bounce back year. Schneider has a .918 save percentage and 2.67 goals against average. While these aren’t the best numbers, the Devils haven’t exactly been the best defensive team in the league. They have allowed the ninth-most shots in the league when Cory is in goal. If the Devils are going to make the playoffs they need Cory to take his good game and bring it to the next level.
Can Damon Severson be a top pairing defenseman?
Severson is coming off the signing of a brand new six-year deal. He hasn’t been a trainwreck this season, but that’s about all we can say about him. There is major room for improvement if he is going to be a top-four defenseman for a long time.
Can the Devils make the playoffs?
Before the season started I said it would be unlikely that the Devils would make the playoffs. After 41 games and sitting ten games above .500, I believe the Devils will be playing game one of a playoff series in their arena come mid-April. There is a lot of work to be done but John Hynes has the tools to get this team there.
There have been many major storylines throughout the season for the Devils. We’ve seen them struggle with injury losing Kyle Palmieri, Marcus Johansson, and Travis Zajac for extended periods of time. We’ve seen them quickly jump into a playoff race. There was also a major trade that occurred.
The Devils traded Adam Henrique to the Ducks and in return got back defenseman Sami Vatanen. We’ve only had a small sample size of Vatanen so it will be interesting to see what he can bring to this team for the second half of the season.
Before the season began I said the Devils breakout player would be Pavel Zacha. That hasn’t been the case. Jesper Bratt has been the breakout player for this team, but since we’ve talked about him already we’ll take a look at Pavel Zacha.
Zacha hasn’t exactly been as advertised since the Devils drafted him sixth overall in 2015. Zacha has three goals and eight assists this season and it has been a struggle. There have been a few stretches of games where Zacha has seen the bench. He needs to find confidence from somewhere because I still believe he can be an impact for this team, but it’s getting late early for his time here in New Jersey. Not only is he playing for the playoffs, but he’s playing for a job in the 2018-19 season.
Midseason Team Awards
I said that Hall would be the team’s MVP, and he has been so far.
Comeback Player of the Year
Prior to the season, I said that Schneider would be the team’s comeback player. It’s hard to make an argument against him but Boyle is having a comeback season in his own right. He had three points with the Leafs last year and already has 17 this season. Oh, and he beat cancer.
Rookie of the Year
Before the season I said that Hischier would be the rookie of the year. It’s such a tough decision so at the midpoint, we go co-rookies of the year. Bratt also belongs to be in that conversation.
I said Hischier, Hall, and Schneider would be representing the team in Tampa. It’s just going to be Hall (check out my Devils Dish about the bye-week and the All-Star-Game here).
Second Half Predictions
In the second half of the season, I think the Devils do about as well as they did in the first half. I think they probably hover around ten games over Bettman .500 and make the playoffs as the second place team in the Metropolitan Division.