The Devils have played two preseason games so now seems like an appropriate time to (over) react to what we’ve seen so far.
The Devils came into training camp with a lot of questions lingering from last season. Will the goaltending be any better? Can the power play do anything productive? How will the new veterans mesh with one of the youngest rosters in the NHL? After two games, with two separate Devils rosters, we have seen some glimpses of hope that the Devils may have addressed these concerns in a positive way.
Goaltending was far and way the Devils biggest issue last season. Using 7 goalies and none of them playing at an NHL level was probably the biggest cause of the disaster that was last season. Well, there is reason to hope that the same issue will not repeat itself this year. In his first press conference of the preseason, Mackenzie Blackwood said he was never fully healthy last year but feels fully healthy now. Blackwood started the first preseason game and stopped 15 of the 16 shots he faced in the Devils win in Montreal. He moved across the crease well and looked much quicker than last season. A healthy Blackwood is a key piece to a successful Devils season. Vitek Vanecek, who the Devils acquired in a trade with Washington at the draft, played last night against the Islanders and also looked good. Vanecek stopped 13 of the 14 Islanders shots he saw and also looked solid. Vanecek stood particularly tall when the Devils took two penalties almost back to back in the second period. If the Devils can have a healthy pair of NHL level goalies in Blackwood and Vanecek play all year, they have a much better shot to compete for a playoff spot in the eastern conference than they did last year. It would also be good for the future of the franchise to allow Nico Daws and Akira Schmid to develop more by playing consistently in the AHL.
We all already know that Jack Hughes is an elite player in the NHL. He proved that last year and if he can stay healthy its not bold to say he could score 100 points this season. However, some of the question marks coming into camp were about his two line mates last night, Alexander Holtz and Ondrej Palat. The H20 line (Holtz, Hughes, Ondrej) generated numerous chances throughout the night and got on the board with the goal shown above. What I really like about that play is Hughes having a more physical line mate like Palat that can battle in the corners while Hughes gets open for a scoring opportunity. It was also nice to see Holtz go into the corners and fight for the puck instead of just waiting for an opportunity to unleash his lethal shot. The perfect pass from Holtz to Hughes, followed immediately by a perfect shot from Jack, is another thing I could definitely get used to seeing. A line mate like Palat, who has registered over 140 hits in three seasons in his career but can still play an offensive game can really help Hughes find more open ice and be even more productive this season than last season.
Not everything from these first two preseason games was encouraging. Nico Hischier left the game in Montreal early due to “cramping” and is still being tested. This is hopefully nothing but that’s not going to stop me from worrying about it. I remember a time where Miles Wood was listed as day to day in training camp and ended up missing just about all of last season. I’ll know this injury is nothing to worry about when Hischier is a full participant in practice and plays in a game again. Until then, I’m nervous about the health of the Devils captain. Hischier was fantastic last year and really showed what he capable of in the late stages of the season. If Hischier is out for an extended period of time that takes the Devils best two way forward off the ice and likely bumps Erik Haula up to the 2C role, which is less than ideal. Haula is a good piece, but he shouldn’t be relied on to contribute meaningful offense like you want out of your 2C.
All in all, it was an encouraging start to the preseason for the Devils. The goaltending looked solid and top free agent signing Palat looks like he is fitting in well. If we can just get Nico back to feeling 100% and avoid anymore injuries I will be feeling really good about this team heading into the season. Follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth.