Up and down this New Jersey lineup, it’s littered with kids who are poised to take the next step in their game.
Throughout the Devils organization, there are tons of kids who have the potential to be great NHLers, but unfortunately, not all of them will end up getting there, and that’s hockey.
A few guys on this 2021 Devils roster have shown flashes over the years and are now primed to make that jump in their game.
Those three players are Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, and Mackenzie Blackwood.
I know putting Jack Hughes on a possible breakouts list is anything but a surprise, but I might as well take the layup anyway. This Devils team’s success will hinge on their young centers Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, and while I wanted to include Nico in this list as well, but I didn’t want to be lazy. With that being said, if you watched any Devils’ game this year, you don’t need to be a hockey analyst on TSN to understand that Hughes was the Devils’ best player on the ice night in, night out. Although 31 points in 56 games isn’t the sexiest stat line in the world, it doesn’t tell the full story of how dominant the 19-year-old was this past season.
Whether he was on a line with rookies Yegor Sharangovich/Janne Kuokkanen or Swedish wingers Jesper Bratt and Andreas Johnsson, his line dominated the opposition in time on attack, chances you name it. The former first overall pick has great things written all over his future, and there is a great chance this year he cracks 60 points and has the Devils in the midst of a playoff hunt.
Speaking of fellow linemates of Jack Hughes, 5th year pro Jesper Bratt, 23, defines a diamond in the rough. Bratt exploded onto the scene all the way back in the 2017-18 season and has steadily produced since then. While Bratt has struggled with consistency in his game, he makes up for it in his play driving ability and edge work. Overall, Bratt has all the talent in the world to be a top 6 forward on a playoff team, and if his buddy and centerman Nico Hischier stays healthy, there is no telling what these two can do together.
I’m banking on Nico to stay healthy and take a stay forward, which means Bratt’s play will improve significantly because of it. Bratt finished with 30 points in just 46 games while only played a handful of those with Hischier, but if the two are healthy, they’ll have a great upcoming season.
As for the young goaltender from Thunder Bay, Mackenzie Blackwood’s game will improve for the sole reason that the guys in front of him improved so much. Adding a top 5 defenseman in the league in Dougie Hamilton and Adam Graves will go a long way because not only are they already your two best defensemen, but it pushes all your defensemen down to what they should be playing.
For example, P.K. Subban isn’t the top pairing defenseman he once was, but he was still playing top-pairing minutes. Still, P.K. can slot into a lower pair and play less time against lesser competition because of the additions.
The last time the Devils had a defense core this complete, they were playing in a Stanley cup. Not that I’m saying this team is even close to competing for a cup, but it’s been almost a decade since they’ve iced a competent d-core. Blackwood has shown he has what it takes to be a top ten goalie in this league, he just must consistently put it together, and it’ll help a ton knowing he won’t have to go up against several odd-man rushes a game.
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