If we were handing out report cards for the 2021 NHL offseason, everyone besides maybe Rangers fans would give the Devils an A+ for the moves they made.
However, two years ago, the Devils have similarly crowned the kings of the offseason after acquiring former Norris Trophy winner PK Subban, former KHL MVP Nikita Gusev, and first overall pick Jack Hughes.
The buzz surrounding the Devils going into the 2019-2020 season echoed around the league as not only were they projected to make the playoffs, but they were one of the hottest picks betting wise to win the cup. With all the hype, they jumped out to a 4-0 lead in their season opener, and the rest of the season was history as they went on to blow the game, traded their MVP Winger Taylor Hall, and finished with the 6th worse record in the league.
The point being, the Devils have already won an offseason championship before, and it translated into nothing but more losing, and for them not to repeat the past, their young stars must take the next step and play to their potential.
Over the last few years, in most rankings for NHL teams with the brightest futures, the Devils have consistently been in the top 3, but unfortunately, potential doesn’t bring home Stanley Cups.
Most of the potential is derived from their two first overall picks in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, and this 2021-22 team will go as far as these two will take it.
Hischier, 22, is the youngest captain in the league and the biggest piece of the puzzle for the franchise’s future. Hischier has battled with injuries over the past two seasons, but when he’s healthy, he’s the best all-around player on the ice. Besides having an elite stick defensively, Hischier is above average in the rest of his game but still needs to take that next step in becoming a 65+ point scorer in this league. If he’s healthy and develops into the elite center he was drafted to be; the New Jersey Devils are a playoff team next year.
As for their other center in Jack Hughes, 20, the kid will be a superstar; it’s as simple as that. Night in, night out, Hughes was the best player on the ice as a 19-year-old; not only is he one of the top skaters in the league, but his playmaking is as good, if not better than his skating, and I haven’t even mentioned that he finished 4th in takeaways among forwards this year. He may have had some bad puck luck last season as he finished top three in league with most posts hit, his shot will come around, but if his young line-mates develop, he won’t have to worry about his shot. Soon enough, 80+ point seasons will be the norm for Jack Hughes.
The young wingers like Sharangovich, Bratt, Zacha, and Holtz will all have to do their part in improving their game too, but their job will be much easier if both Hughes and Hischier develop into stars.
Hughes will blossom into a superstar this year, but the success of the Devils depends on their captain; if he performs like he is supposed to, all those years of praying to win the first overall pick in the draft lottery will pay off.
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