The New Jersey Devils only have 3 games left for this 2018-19 regular season and obviously, we will not be in the playoffs this season.
The Devils are in 29th place with 68 points (to compare, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a whopping 122 points and clinched the President’s Trophy in only 73 games). Since my last article, the Devils have dropped below the Detroit Red Wings (yay, tank!).
For my latest interview, I spoke with Ben Ascone (@BenAscone) and asked him a few questions…
Q: Who is your favorite player on the current roster? Why?
A: Ben – “The easy answer here would obviously be Taylor Hall. With how much he means to this team and all he does, it’s a fair answer. However, my choice is Blake Coleman. The style of hockey that he plays is so important in today’s game. He is not afraid to go into the corners and battle for the puck. He’s our best penalty killer, and he creates offensive chances almost every shift. He has shown that when given the opportunity, he can play with the top 6 and make them better. Last year, he made a huge jump in his development and really figured out what type of player he needed to be in order to stay in the lineup. This year was just another step in the right direction.”
Q: Pavel Zacha’s performance seems to split the fans. What are your thoughts on his play?
A: Ben – “Obviously Zacha has not panned out the way that we hoped he would when the Devils took him 6th overall. While I do understand why people are tough on him, I try to look at what he can bring to this team in the future. If the last 10-15 games are any indication of what Zacha can bring in the future, I’d be very happy. He’s been chipping in points and showing that he could possibly become a solid bottom 6 player. If he can keep up this level of play, I can see him becoming a John Madden type of player. That bottom 6 grind it out guy who is defensively responsible and can chip in some points here and there. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like he will ever become that 90 point offensive dynamo that we had all hoped he would be. But if he can solidify himself in that 3rd line role and be effective, I’ll be pretty happy.”
Q: What do you think of the Devils goaltending situation currently? Was trading Keith Kinkaid the right move?
A: Ben – “I am very happy with the Devils current goaltending situation. Mackenzie Blackwood has really shown this year that he is capable of being an NHL goaltender. He looks comfortable and is giving the Devils a fighting chance every time he is in goal. He’s still young and has a very bright future ahead of him. In addition, Schneider has had a career revitalization of sorts this year. That game in Minnesota in early February where he came on in relief was really the turning point for him. Since then, he has gotten consistently better and really found his old game. Of course his injury history is a legitimate concern going forward, but if he can stay healthy and play at the same level he is now, I think he will have no problem being the every day starter again next year. Having two very capable goaltenders creates a good competition for the both of them to show what they have got. I wholeheartedly believe that trading Keith Kinkaid was the right move. Yes, he was good down the stretch last year, helping the Devils make the playoffs. However, he once again showed this year that he is not that consistent goaltender that we saw last year. He’s a serviceable backup, but moving on from him was the right thing to do. It allows Blackwood to stay up with the big club which is where he belongs. It also allows Schneider to get back into his role as the true number one.”
Q: What is the biggest move General Manager Ray Shero needs to make this off-season?
A: Ben – “Number 1: SIGN TAYLOR HALL TO AN EXTENSION! This is the biggest thing, hands down. Nothing else is as crucial to the organization right now as it is to sign him to an extension. This will be huge in influencing other players to come here, showing them that there is a commitment to creating a winning team. Number 2: There are so many quality RFA’s coming up this off-season. Jacob Trouba, William Karlsson, Mitch Marner, and Andre Burakovsky just to name a few. I know that NHL GM’s don’t like to offer sheet players all that often, but if there was ever a time to do it, this offseason would be it. The compensation would be well worth it in order to get any one of the few games I named above. Number 3: Sign Jeremy Davies and Reilly Walsh. These guys are studs. Losing either of them would be a mistake. Sign them now, and bring them into the mix and see what they can bring next season.”
Q: Do you think Taylor Hall will re-sign with the Devils?
A: Ben – “I do. I genuinely feel like Hall really enjoys it here. He and Nico have created such a “brotherly” type bond. He stated in the “Beyond The Glass” series that he really enjoys living in the area because he isn’t constantly being mobbed by fans or media, allowing him to just be himself and live his life. All of these are huge influences when deciding where you want to spend the next ~8 years of your life. With all of these in mind, I can say that I really believe that he will stay here and sign an extension.”
Q: Biggest question – Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko?
A: Ben – “Originally, I was team Jack Hughes. Fast, smart, flashy and puts up points. However, his size worries me. Will he be able to play the same style of game that he does now in the NHL? In addition, we already have two star players who are rather small in Hall and Hischier. Someone like Kappo Kakko would complement them on the wing. He’s known to be a very smart, patient player who can handle himself in tight. He’s 6’2” and 190 lbs at only 18 years old. He’s only going to bulk up more as he gets older. Having him on that top line is what dreams are made of. I will obviously he thrilled with either Hughes or Kakko, but Kakko is my choice right now.”
Thanks Ben for taking the time to answer some questions!
Stay tuned for next week for a new set of questions and a new interviewee!
Stats: nhl.com; cbssports.com Featured Image: Julio Cortez/AP Photo