New Jersey Devils 3 Things
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The New Jersey Devils had their locker room clean out earlier today, and while the season is over, we learned some good things about this team moving forward.

The New Jersey Devils surprised the hockey world this past season after head coach John Hynes and company clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012. There are a number of question marks and storylines for Jersey’s Team heading into the 2018 offseason, but there are also three things that we learned from 2018 that may also help answer those questions.

Nico Hischier is the real deal

There’s always too much speculation and pressure whenever an 18-year-old is selected number one overall in the NHL Entry Draft. Yet, Switzerland native, Nico Hischier handled that pressure better than most would; especially considering that he was joining a team that wasn’t expected to make the playoffs in 2018.

The six-foot-one center proved that’s he’s the real deal and should pan out to be one of the NHL’s top centers sooner rather than later. As the 2017-18 season progressed, and when it mattered most down the stretch, Hischier displayed his High Hockey IQ with his two-way play and presence of mind away from the puck.

No. 13 for Jersey’s Team not only posted 52 points (20G-32A) and played in all 82 games during his rookie campaign, but he proved to be fearless when crashing the net with the puck on his stick and tough to get pushed off of the puck as well.

This year was a great learning experience and exposure for the future star of the New Jersey Devils. Another promising sign was his ability to skate and keep up with the team’s newest hero and leading goal-scorer, Taylor Hall. Expect Hischier to put up 60 or more points next season.

The organization is looking to win now

As the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline approached in late February, the New Jersey Devils found themselves in the heat of a playoff race and were buyers at the NHL Trade Deadline for the first time in a handful of seasons.

Devils general manager, Ray Shero, pursued size and veteran depth for New Jersey’s offense in order to strengthen the team’s roster for the challenge that the Stanley Cup Playoffs would offer this spring. The Devils acquired two different types of veteran skaters at the deadline. New Jersey traded for a power forward in Patrick Maroon from the Edmonton Oilers and a special teams asset with the likes of Michael Grabner (New York Rangers).

Keep in mind that both skaters are set to become unrestricted free agents (UFA) this offseason, and until they’re re-signed, then consider them as rental players.

Maroon (3G-10A –13PTS) proved to benefit the Devils by causing havoc in front of the net on the power play, and his ability to create offense below the goal line helped generate scoring chances on a regular basis for New Jersey in just 17 games played.

While Maroon only recorded one goal in this year’s playoffs (five games played), those same offensive qualities were apparent and could be appreciated by Jersey’s fan base – characteristics that had arguably been missing and needed all season.

Though, it was apparent that Maroon’s role would have thrived more, and will potentially moving forward, if he was utilized less often. If the Devils plan to re-sign Maroon this offseason, he’s better off playing on the third or fourth line rather than being paired with the Devils’ top six skaters on even-strength shifts.

Expect there to be mutual interest between the two sides, but don’t be surprised if another playoff contending team for 2019 overpays for the key depth that Maroon can offer.

As for Grabner, most would think that the No. 40 won’t return to New Jersey. The former New York Ranger and Islander was clutch on the team’s penalty kill after he was acquired at the deadline, however, he only found the back of the net twice in 21 games and was a healthy scratch for the team’s last three games against Tampa in the playoffs.

I have a feeling that it won’t matter how Grabner performed and produced during the regular season with New Jersey, but instead, his future with the team will ultimately be decided by how he played during the postseason.

Grabner was acquired for one reason—to be an x-factor in the playoffs. If the two sides do come to an agreement then Grabner would be utilized best as a bottom six forward and top penalty kill unit asset.

New Jersey needs a true number one defenseman

The Devils’ 2018 blue line had a good mix of veteran depth and promising youth with skaters such as Andy Greene, Sami Vatanen, Will Butcher, Damon Severson, John Moore and Mirco Mueller.

Shero acquiring Vatanen from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Adam Henrique earlier in the season was good hockey trade. Sorry ladies, it had to happen…

Vatanen is a dynamic defenseman who saw a lot of ice time since he was brought over to New Jersey to help fill one void on the backend.

Yet, Vatanen is not a true number one defenseman and would benefit the Devils more if he saw less ice time on a nightly basis. If that were to be the case, then the Finnish native wouldn’t have to be paired against the opposition’s top scorers on a nightly basis, and would let Vatanen have more opportunity to blossom offensively for New Jersey.

In order for a team to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender its needs that elite “I-formation” down the middle of the ice; a top center, defenseman and goaltender.

Perhaps the team would be willing to part ways with draft-picks, prospects and more to acquire Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators…or the front office could look to sign New Jersey native and 2018 UFA, John Carlson (Washington Capitals).

Either way New Jersey’s top priority this offseason should be to acquire a true number one defenseman; and as Jersey witnessed in its first round exit during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs—depth is of the essence.

Still, the New Jersey Devils made its fanbase as proud as it’s been in years, and perhaps this group of Devils needed to lose and watch another team win in front of their own eyes first—in order to take that next step forward.

Kyle McKenna is a freelancer who covers the NHL for Elite Sports New York, Hooked On Hockey Magazine & Fansided. Follow him on Twitter @KMcKenna_tLT5 and use the hashtag #McKennasDigest to have your NHL questions featured in an article or answered over his weekly NHL podcast.