Two words, New Jersey Devils fans: Player development.
As a die-easy New Jersey Devils fan who unfortunately got into the team just after their last Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2012, I have incredibly mixed feelings about the 2020-21 NHL season.
On one hand, hockey is back. Yay. After 10 months without a meaningful game of Devils hockey gracing my NHL.TV Monthly Pass, I – and the rest of the fanbase – get to watch MacKenzie Blackwood and the boys take the ice once more.
Then again, how soon will that excitement turn to frustration?
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Why? Because the Devils are going to be bad this season.
After giving the Taylor Hall-era one last college try before shipping him out to Arizona last spring, the Devils are entering a full-on rebuilding phase where player development gets the nod over winning enough games to make it to the playoffs. Granted, it’s not like the Devils would have a particularly easy time making it to the postseason, as the new-look East Divison is a brutal collection of players who will surely punish Lindy Ruff‘s squad for all 56 games of their intradivision-only schedule, but at least they have an excuse for the losing.
But hey, even if the team doesn’t win a lot of games – giving their 2012-13 lockout-shortened season’s win total a real run for its money – that doesn’t mean the Devils can’t still make waves and show glimpses of a bright future in the not too distant future. They just need to answer a few questions before any sensable fan should open their hearts up to hope for a playoff run, even if they secretly know it’ll all but surely end in heartache.
4. When will we see Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt?
In a cruel twist of fate, the New Jersey Devils will be without two of their brightest young players to start out the 2020-21 season – one rather predictably and the other anything but.
As the regular season inched closer and closer and Jesper Bratt remained in restricted free agency limbo, it felt like a borderline foregone conclusion that the Devils would be without their 2016 sixth-round pick for at least the first few games of the 2020-21 NHL season.
Could this situation have been handled better, maybe agreeing to a deal back in December with plenty of time to spare? Sure, but that’s neither here nor there. With Bratt now having to fly over from Sweeden, quarantine for 7-10 days, and then get acclimated to Lindy Ruff’s system after signing a two-year, $5.5 million deal, it may be weeks before we see the 22-year-old sharpshooter on the ice in a Devils uniform.
Granted, at least Hischier is in New Jersey, that’s half the battle, and received an off-ice education in Ruff’s scheme, but coming back in late January versus late February could make for a significantly different season for the Devils.
On one hand, a lineup without Hischier and Bratt makes room for players like Jesper Boqvist and Nathan Bastian to see meaningful on-ice time, but at the same time, it’s still important to see if two top-six players can take steps forward and become even bigger parts of the Devils’ ‘Process’ moving forward? If this season is all about player development, isn’t it kind of important to see how the players on the ice actually develop? Boy, what a novel concept.