The New Jersey Devils are off to an incredibly hot start and it could be for real.
Hands up if you saw this coming? Okay, no disrespect to the New Jersey Devils, but who thought they would be this good to start the 2020-21 NHL season? And, not only good, but incredibly dynamic and looking like they could really make some noise in a stacked East Division.
We’re a week into the season and the Devils are 2-0-1 on the year, beating both the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins while they only lost to the B’s in a Shootout. It has been an incredibly impressive and encouraging start for New Jersey who were thought to be still navigating their way through a rebuild.
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After all, as we mapped out in our Season Preview for the Devils, this year was always going to be about ensuring New Jersey’s crop of young talent developed under the guidance of veteran Head Coach Lindy Ruff, including franchise cornerstones Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes and Mackenzie Blackwood.
However, and while a very small sample size, the New Jersey Devils are busy smashing through any measly expectations the rest of the hockey world had for them, excelling in all three zones and being led by their phenom forward in Hughes, who is enjoying a spectacular start to his sophomore season.
Of course, the cynics out there will say that the Devils are merely putting lipstick on a pig and they will regress back to being a punching bag for the rest of the East Division sooner rather than later. However, there’s enough evidence to suggest that the New Jersey Devils could be for real, and that this start is not just a simple mirage.
Are the New Jersey Devils for real this year?
Let’s kick things off with an incredible stat I saw from Dan Rosen of nhl.com; the New Jersey Devils have played more than eight full periods and almost two full overtimes (9:58), yet they have only allowed one even-strength goal. That is truly amazing.
A lot of that is down to Mackenzie Blackwood who has been almost unstoppable to start the year, posting a stellar .948 Save Percentage and a 1.90 Goals Against Average. He faced 50 shots in New Jersey’s win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday, stopping 47 of them and giving his team the perfect security blanket. Blackwood has also allowed just six goals on 115 shots through three games, which just adds to the well-deserved hype.
Then there is Jack Hughes who is forging his very own fierce redemption tour, and it is absolutely outstanding to watch right now. As our Matty Breisch so brilliantly put it, those who dared to call the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft a bust, and who would after just one year, now look a bit silly.
Hughes has come out swinging hard this year and he currently has six points (2 G, 4 A) in four games, including a three-point game, his first career two-goal game and he has now matched the franchise record for the most points through the Devils’ first three games.
He is carrying this team on his back right now and, when you consider that Kyle Palmieri will no doubt start hitting his stride soon, coupled with the goalscoring machine that is Miles Wood and young studs in Ty Smith and Yegor Sharangovich on the rise, plus the No. 7 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft in Alexander Holtz waiting in the wings, there is a hell of a lot of talent on this Devils team.
Throw into the melting pot the tantalizing ingredients that are No. 1 center Nico Hischier (lower-body injury) and forward Jesper Bratt who are still to return, then there is enough evidence to suggest that this team as it is currently constituted will only improve and, therefore, be able to maintain this excellent start.
Of course, growing pains are to be expected but Lindy Ruff appears to be the perfect Head Coach for this team and for this franchise’s bevy of high-end studs, and the high-tempo system that he has put into place allows the likes of Hughes and Sharangovich to play their more natural games and do what they do best.
Players in the ilk of Nikita Gusev, Travis Zajac, Andreas Johnsson and Pavel Zacha should start to contribute more too and, once both Hischier and Bratt are back in the lineup, then things could really ramp up for this New Jersey team.
And, do you want more good news? The Buffalo Sabres aren’t going anywhere unless they acquire elite goaltending, the New York Rangers are going to be an inconsistent team that will suffer growing pains all year and the Pittsburgh Penguins look a shadow of their former selves, thus there is an opportunity for the New Jersey Devils to potentially sneak into the Playoffs in 2020-21 but, whatever happens, there is tangible reason to think that they could well be the real deal this year and the future looks incredibly bright for Jack Hughes and company.