The offense is clicking, the goaltending is better, and the Devils are starting to beat some really good teams.
Unfortunately, any hope of making the playoffs is long gone for the Devils. The poor goaltending and poor all around team play from November through January sunk this team’s chances of a playoff birth several weeks ago. That does not mean however that everything is terrible and nothing good is happening in Devil land right now. There are several reasons for optimism that this team can finish the season strong and carry that momentum into a playoff push next season. Within the last seven games, the Devils have beaten the Penguins, Blues and Avalanche, all of whom are Stanley Cup contenders.
Jack Hughes has 17 goals and 26 assists (43 points) in only 37 games. He signed an 8 year contract extension earlier this season for $8 million per season. People were saying at the time that it was an over payment for a player who had not proved anything yet. The contract has not even taken effect yet and it already looks like a steal. Hughes dominates just about every shift he is on the ice for. Last night, Hughes was on the same ice as player such as Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri, and Mikko Rantanen and Hughes still stood out as one of, if not the, best skater out there.
It is not just Hughes though. The entire Devils offense is absolutely on fire right now. Jesper Bratt has 54 points in 52 games played so far this season, including 14 points in his last 11 games played. Captain Nico Hischier, who is battling injuries right now, has 14 points in his last 12 games played to bring him to 38 points on the year so far. Dawson Mercer, a rookie, has 11 points in his last 13 games and is fourth on the team in points this season. Yegor Sharangovich has 14 points in his last 13 games played and has matched his point total from last season in three fewer games played. The Devils have one of the best offenses in the NHL over the last month or so and now are up to the top half of the NHL, 14th, in goals scored for the entire season. Not only are the Devils scoring goals, but the guys doing the majority of the scoring are young and will (hopefully) all be here for several years to come.
I feel like I have buried the lead here. The Devils offense has been good a while now, but the goaltending remained an issue. However, that has changed in recent games with the continued development of Nico Daws. The 21 year old Daws has won three of his last five starts, with a save percentage of .905 in that stretch. For the season, Daws is now at a 2.75 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. Not elite by any means but still a significant improvement over the performances of Mackenzie Blackwood and Jon Gillies this season. Daws has played only 38 professional hockey games in his life to this point, 10 of them being in the NHL. He is still very young, inexperienced and developing in his career. What these last five starts have shown us though is that Daws has the talent to grow into a solid NHL goalie. It is not much of a stretch to say that with a regular NHL starts for the rest of the season, and maybe some playoff starts for the Comets in the AHL, Daws could come to camp next year ready to compete for one of the goalie spots on the NHL roster. That would be hugely important for the Devils, as Blackwood and Bernier are both trying to come back from significant lower body injuries and it remains unknown how well they will be able to play.
While the playoffs are out of the question for this season, it would be nice to see this team end the year on a roll and finish with a record better than NHL .500. Not all hope is lost for this rebuild to end soon and if you aren’t excited about the future of this organization, I don’t know what you’ve been watching lately.
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