The Devils won a franchise record 52 games this season and blew my relatively optimistic preseason prediction out of the water.
The Devils wrapped up their season with a dramatic come from behind victory in Washington. In what was likely Mackenzie Blackwood’s last appearance in a Devils uniform, he allowed four goals on 11 shots and was pulled in favor of Akira Schmid early in the second period. Schmid came in and made 20 saves on 20 shots, allowing the Devils to come back and win in OT. In total this season, Blackwood appeared in 22 games and mostly looked like a low end backup. He had a good game here and there but was mostly mediocre. His save percentage was .893 and his GAA was 3.20. Blackwood was vastly outplayed by both Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid all year and there is no reason for Blackwood to even be dressed for a playoff game, let alone touch the ice. Blackwood’s comtract his up and the Devils have better goalies under contract for next year so I would put the chances of Blackwood returning to the Garden State at under 0.01%. Schmid and Vanecek will be the two NHL goalies next year. I had much higher hopes for Blackwood heading into this year and expected him to be an above average starter. I was very wrong.
The Devils have one of the youngest rosters in the NHL and they just called up a 19 year old defenseman that is one of the most highly touted prospects in all of hockey. Luke Hughes has played the two seasons for the Michigan Wolverines and absolutely dominated the NCAA. After his team was eliminated in the frozen four, (a Wolverine team losing in the playoffs, par for the course) Luke was called right up to the Devils roster and played in the final two regular season games. L. Hughes played just 11 minutes in the first game against Buffalo, but got far more time in the game in Washington. Luke played 21:13 against the Capitals, earned his first NHL assist, and scored his first NHL goal to win the game in overtime. Luke did not look out of place at all and even at the NHL level was one of the better skaters on the ice. He did not have any costly turnovers and was usually in great position on the ice. I don’t think Luke is being over hyped at all. He has all the tools to be an elite defenseman in the NHL for a long time. I don’t know if the coaching staff will trust him enough to play him in the playoffs, but I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Luke Hughes in the lineup at the expense of Brendan Smith.
Coming into this season, I was one of the most optimistic Devil fans out there. I predicted the Devils would go 43-30-9, finish 4th in the Metro and 2nd in the wildcard. In reality, the Devils ended up going 52-22-8 and finished second in the Metropolitan division. Vitek Vanecek was much better than I thought he would be and really carried the Devils for stretches of the year, especially November, January, and April. I also underestimated the positive impact the John Marino acquisition would have. Marino was one of the Devils most reliable shut down defensemen for much of the year and I underestimated him. I did say having Hamilton healthy all year would be a game changer, but not even I expected him to have the best year of his career. As far as the forwards go, I predicted a bigger year from Yegor Sharangovich than we got. I thought he would make a run for 30 goals but instead he only got 13, and had the worst year of his career. Sharangovich was a healthy scratch at times and has become mostly a fourth line player. At the same time, I did not expect Tomas Tatar to bounce back like he did and become a key piece in the Devils top six and on the second power play. I also did not expect Dawson Mercer to take such a big step up in offensive production, as he ended up scoring 27 goals and putting up 56 points. I thought Alexander Holtz would make the team and be a part of the top six, but he only ended up playing in 19 games, scoring three goals and earning 1 assist.
It’s been a fantastic, record setting, year for the Devils. 52 wins and 112 points. The best part is, this season isn’t even over yet! Now the real fun begins as next week the Devils start a playoff series against that poverty franchise from Manhattan! I can’t wait! You can follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth.