Devils Take Step in the Right Direction
By Patrick Hoffman
When you're a team that had not made the playoffs since 2012 coming into this season, it's hard to get excited for a new season.
That was not the case this season for the New Jersey Devils. With a young core and a superstar in Taylor Hall, the team found themselves in the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
This was a team that was exciting, created a lot of offense, played well enough defensively to win a lot of hockey games, and showed the fans that in general manager Ray Shero and head coach John Hynes, this franchise is building this team in the right way. They may still have some work to do, but after their play this year, there is a lot to like about this team moving forward.
It all starts with the play of All-Star and Hart Trophy finalist Taylor Hall. After being traded by the Edmonton Oilers to the Devils in the off-season of 2016, it was clear that Hall used last year to get acclimated to the franchise and the city and then when this year came around, he took it by the horns and was not only the team's best player, but was one of the league's best players.
Hall, 26, finished the season with 93 points (39 goals and 54 assists) and did absolutely everything for his hockey club. He played on the power play, killed penalties, was on the ice in critical situations,a dn he lead by example.
He also excelled in the postseason, a situation that he had never played in before with the Oilers. He had six points in five games in showing his team and its fans that he is a player that can excel no matter what.
What was also great for the Devils this year was the play of their youngsters, in particular their rookie Nico Hischier. Hishier, 19, finished the season with 52 points (20 goals and 32 assists) and played more like a veteran than a first year NHLer.
Hynes put Hischier in all kinds of situations this year and Hischier proved that he could play in all of them. This player proved that he belongs in this league and that he should continue to get better with each passing season.
Another Devils' 19-year-old that had a good season this year was Jesper Bratt. While he may have cooled off after a blazing start, he still finished the season with 35 points (13 goals and 22 assists) and showed that he has a lot of potential in ebing a guy that can put up solid numbers as he matures.
College free agent defenseman Will Butcher was another youngster that had a good rookie season. He picked up 44 points (5 goals and 39 assists) in the regular season and added another five points (1 goal and 4 assist) in the playoffs while showing everyone that he has the potential to be a stud defenseman for this franchise.
One also cannot forget the inspirational play of Brian Boyle. After being diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia prior to the season, Boyle thrived as a Devil not only showing that he is a great defensive forward, but is also someone who can produce (23 points in 69 games).
Boyle also provided tremendous leadership to this young Devils team this year. As someone who has been in the league for a while, has played in a lot of postseason games, and who has come close to winning the Cup, he showed the team what it takes to get to the next level and that nothing is impossible if you play the right way.
Lastly, Hynes deserves a lot of credit for the team's success this season. Hynes accepted that Shero was in the process of rebuilding this franchise and because of that, it allowed Hynes to play his younger players without any added pressure of making the postseason because in reality, this hockey club was not supposed to be playing in April this year.
Instead, Hynes proved doubters wrong by getting his guys to buy into his system, letting his players be creative offensively, and trusting his team to play the right way every night. This is a good coach who pressed the right buttons this year and took the franchise to a play it had not been in six years.
For the first time in a long time, the Devils and their fans have a lot to look forward to moving forward. They took a big step this season and as the younger players mature and more leaders develop, this team is seto have more success and perhaps get back to contending for the Cup again.
Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.