NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the New Jersey Devils.
The New Jersey Devils are counting on offseason additions, players in the pipeline and a new coach to turn their fortunes around.
“Being competitive right now is the most important thing to me,” general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “Putting a competitive team on the ice that can grow together. We can utilize Binghamton (of the American Hockey League) for some of our young players, and when they’re sniffing, we bring them up and give them a taste of the NHL.”
That will be the task for Lindy Ruff, who was hired as coach to replace Alain Nasreddine on July 9. Nasreddine, named coach when John Hynes was fired Dec. 3, 2019, remains as an assistant. Mark Recchi joined Ruff’s staff as an assistant after three seasons in a similar role with the Pittsburgh Penguins, when he primarily worked with the power play, which ranked third in the NHL during his tenure (23.8 percent).
“I know there’s a great foundation that has been built along with management and [Fitzgerald], the ownership, looking to build the rest of the pieces and take this team in the right direction, get in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and go from there,” Ruff said.
That foundation includes centers Nico Hischier, selected No. 1 in the 2017 NHL Draft, and Jack Hughes, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
Hischier will try to rebound after scoring his NHL-low 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 58 games last season. Hughes is expected to improve after scoring 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) while averaging 15:52 in ice time in 61 games as an 18-year-old rookie.
“You’ve got to get that first year under your belt, especially as a highly skilled offensive player,” assistant general manager Dan MacKinnon said of Hughes. “We’re confident his second year is going to be better, and his third year will be another step, so we’re looking for good things.”
The Devils did not qualify for the postseason and have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in the past eight seasons. They’re hoping the addition of veteran goalie Corey Crawford, a two-time Stanley Cup winner, can change that.
Crawford agreed to a two-year contract Oct. 9, one day after goalie Cory Schneider was placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of a buyout. Crawford will split starts with Mackenzie Blackwood.
“The goaltending situation has kind of been an albatross for us and weighed on us, heavily, so it was the first thing we were looking to address (in the offseason),” MacKinnon said. “You have to give a ton of credit to (executive vice president of hockey operations) Martin Brodeur. He and [Fitzgerald] worked together to make Crawford happen because it wasn’t a slam dunk at all. It took some selling, recruiting. But Marty’s relationship with Corey weighed heavily into it, and the opportunity for [Crawford] to do something really meaningful here in kind of a tandem role with Blackwood appealed to him.”
New Jersey also added defenseman Ryan Murray in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets for a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft on Oct. 8; forward Andreas Johnsson in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs for forward Joey Anderson on Oct. 10; and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who signed a one-year contract Oct. 22 after three seasons with the Winnipeg Jets.
Johnsson, who has three seasons remaining on a four-year contract he signed with Toronto on June 28, 2019, could fit on a line with either Hischier or Hughes.
“Our pro scouts like [Johnsson]; he’s got high compete, can track pucks,” MacKinnon said. “He does play a style that [Lindy] wants to bring to the table with an aggressive game, while hunting pucks and forcing things.”
“I think with the young players, they want to know that they’re going to be counted on in key situations, that they’re going to be an important part of the team,” Ruff said. “As a coach, it’s going to be my job to help develop that and put them in that position to help succeed and at the same time be very demanding of how we need to play as a team to be successful.”