The preseason was not terribly kind to the Devils, who look for a fresh start as the beginning of the 2021-22 season nears in New Jersey.
After a deep playoff run in their inaugural BEARD Hockey season, the New Jersey Devils came out of the preseason gate extremely sluggish, netting 2 wins, 2 losses and 2 overtime losses.
This is despite having mostly a pro roster dressed for all games. The Devils struggled to score goals with only 16 (tied for 2nd last in the Eastern Conference). Conversely, goals against was middle of the pack for the Eastern Conference at 21.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins led the way with 5 goals, 2 assists for 7 points. Alex Killorn had 5 assists, and Kevin Labanc had 2 goals and 2 assists for 4 points. The line of Nugent-Hopkins, Killorn and Labanc was dynamite in the pre-season.
Unfortunately, beyond that, head coach John Tortorella struggled to find any kind of chemistry. Alex Wennberg finished with no points and -6 in 3 games, while Vladimir Tarasenko managed just 1 assist in 5 games.
On defense, K’Andre Miller struggled at times in his transition to the pro team from the farm with 2 assists and a -4 in 6 games. Ethan Bear and Dennis Gilbert also got injured and missed a few games. As a result, GM Chernuka ended up claiming Jordie Benn off of waivers to server as a 7th defenseman.
Keys to the season:
1. Can Vladimir Tarasenko find his offense? Tarasenko managed only 43 points in 77 games last year. At $5.5M/season, his contract is very concerning. New Jersey doesn’t have the offensive depth to withstand another season of struggles from Tarasenko.
2. Can Illya Mikheyev build upon his breakout season and take a top 6 role on the New Jersey Devils? Mikheyev exceeded expectations in largely a 3rd line role with New Jersey last season, posting 29 goals and 29 assists for 58 points in 81 games. The Devils desperately need someone to mesh with Jonathan Toews.
3. Who will replace the scoring from Taylor Hall and Mike Hoffman? Hall notched 14 goals and 22 assists for 36 points in 39 games with the Devils after coming over in a trade. Hoffman had 12 goals and 5 assists for 17 points in 37 games for the Devils after also coming over in a deadline trade. The Devils will look to have players like Kevin Labanc, Pontus Aberg, Zach Kassian and Illya Mikheyev make up the difference.
4. Can the younger D core fill in the gaps left by departing veterans? Kris Russell and Jason Demers will not be returning this year. In their place, Troy Stecher and K’Andre Miller will try to fill the holes.
5. How patient can GM Corey Chernuka be with this club before he is forced to make a change? It’s no secret that this team is less skilled than last year’s team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.