NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the New Jersey Devils:
1. What impact will Dougie Hamilton make?
Hamilton agreed to a seven-year contract July 28 after scoring 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) in 55 regular-season games and five points (two goals, three assists) in 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season. He finished fourth in voting for the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL.
Hamilton has been an effective player on the power play during his NHL career, scoring 104 points (28 goals, 76 assists) in 607 games. Since 2017-18, he leads NHL defensemen with 59 goals.
Last season, Devils defensemen combined for 15 goals and 18 power-play points (three goals, 15 assists).
“He’s a player we felt would not only impact our team now, but when we’re really at the level where we want to be once we hit what we call the championship run,” general manager Tom Fitzgerald said.
2. What other new players could play key roles?
The Devils acquired defenseman Ryan Graves in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche on July 15, signed goalie Jonathan Bernier to a two-year contract July 28, and signed forward Tomas Tatar to a two-year contact Aug. 5.
The addition of Graves could improve a defense that was tied for 27th in the NHL in goals-against per game (3.38) and 22nd in shots-against per game (31.0) last season. Graves led the Avalanche with 91 blocked shots and was second with 77 hits, four behind forward Gabriel Landeskog, in 54 regular-season games. He also scored 15 points (two goals, 13 assists) and was plus-15.
Bernier could help alleviate the workload on projected starter Mackenzie Blackwood, who missed six games in January because of NHL COVID-19 protocol and played 21 of his 35 games on one day of rest or fewer last season. Bernier is 161-159-39 with a 2.77 goals-against average, a .913 save percentage and 18 shutouts in 394 regular-season games (355 starts) with the Los Angeles Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks, Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings.
Tatar might be able to provide some secondary scoring in a top-six role. He scored 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in 50 regular-season games with the Montreal Canadiens last season, and prior to 2020-21 he had scored at least 20 goals in six consecutive seasons.
3. Who needs to step up to help them qualify for the playoffs?
Forwards Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes along with defenseman P.K. Subban will be key for the Devils if they want to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in 10 seasons and first since 2017-18.
Hischier, who was named captain Feb. 20, was limited to 21 games because of injuries and illness last season, scoring 11 points (six goals, five assists). Hughes, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, showed improvement in his second season, scoring 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 56 games after he had 21 (seven goals, 14 assists) in 61 games as a rookie in 2019-20.
Subban is in the final season of the eight-year contract he agreed to with the Canadiens on Aug. 2, 2014. After scoring 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 68 games in 2019-20, his first in New Jersey, he scored 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) in 44 games last season.
4. Which young players could surprise in training camp?
Alexander Holtz scored 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 40 games last season for Djurgardens of the Swedish Hockey League, Sweden’s top professional league. The 19-year-old forward then scored three points (one goal, two assists) in 10 games for Binghamton of the American Hockey League.
Nolan Foote, a 20-year-old forward, scored 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 24 games for Binghamton and two points (one goal, one assist) in six games with the Devils last season. Kevin Bahl, a 21-year-old defenseman, scored five points (one goal, four assists) in 27 games for Binghamton and had two assists and 18 hits in seven games with New Jersey last season.
Dawson Mercer, a 19-year-old forward, scored 36 points (19 goals, 17 assists) in 23 games for Chicoutimi of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and six points (two goals, four assists) in seven games to help Canada finish second at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. Graeme Clarke, a 20-year-old forward, scored 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 31 games with Binghamton and had one assist in six games while on loan with HC Nove Zamky in the Slovak Extraliga, Slovakia’s top professional league.
5. Will special teams improve?
The Devils penalty kill ranked last in the NHL (71.0 percent) last season and their power play was 28th (14.2 percent).
“Some of the best power plays are five-man units that have been able to stay together, grow together,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “In the beginning, we had Nico, Kyle Palmieri (traded to the New York Islanders) and other moving pieces on the power play. The adjustments that we tried to make didn’t breed a lot of familiarity with the players. We tried a lot of different personnel on the penalty kill and I think there were some growing pains.”