These are strange times for the New Jersey Devils.
Few teams started the 2020-21 NHL season hotter than the New Jersey Devils, but now 25-games in, most fans of the Newark-based franchise don’t know what to expect from their beloved team at this point in the season as they’re 1-7-2 in their previous 10 matchups.
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When the Devils came out of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft with three selections in the First Round, fans had more hope for the future than ever before, especially after the team took forward Alexander Holtz seventh overall — a highly-skilled winger with a bomb of a shot that can fill the top-six scoring role they so desperately need.
As the season began, nobody expected the New Jersey Devils to buzz around and compete with teams like the Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals right off the bat. Though as teams started to grind away the rust caked on from the offseason, the Devils quickly fell to the bottom and have almost lost all hope of making a Playoff run. Moreover, with each passing game, the play from some skaters like Nikita Gusev, P.K. Subban, and Dmitry Kulikov has left some games insufferable to watch.
While the hopes of any postseason magic are all but gone, it still leaves the remaining 2020-21 regular-season up in question for the New Jersey Devils.
The team is beginning to adopt the new-school style of hockey by phasing out the bigger, more gritty skaters and bringing in smaller, but faster and more skilled ones instead. The Devils no longer lead the NHL in hits on a nightly basis, as they’re transitioning to a more skill-focused style best represented by players like potential superstar Jack Hughes. Because of this process, however, it leaves the team in a rather awkward stage where it looks as though there’s no identity for this NHL squad.
When teams enter this phase of a rebuild, it leaves more questions than answers as to what the trajectory of the team is. Simply by watching 10 minutes of one of their games, you can see the missed passes, poor communication, and dumbfounded plays that you’d expect from a franchise trying to shake things up.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing the New Jersey Devils can do to resolve this dilemma, as it’s something that needs to run its course if they want to guarantee long-term success. While nobody is pleased with the performance of some players like those mentioned above, the organization cannot deal them away as they’re required for these growing pains.
Nikita Gusev can’t be traded for compensation solely because there’s nobody in the reserves to replace him. Yes, the team is very young with a ton of potential, but the majority of those players are too young to make their NHL debut. There needs to be a Gusev in the lineup to fill the void and, as unbearable as it can be to watch him play, without him, the team is worse off.
Without these veterans on the team, the rookies and young guns would have to learn through trial and error, which can either mold them into more sound hockey players, or it can diminish any confidence they have and hinder their growth.
Every fan, from the most diehard to the most casual, knew that the time is not now for the Devils to be competing for a postseason spot, but seeing the hot start to the New Year definitely did not make them feel any better about it. While it’s cliche, the fans need to genuinely trust the process. All of these years of poor play are translating to top selections in the NHL Draft, and in 2021, there’s one name that might give fans something to truly jump out of their seat for.
We all know of the highly-skilled brothers Jack and Quinn Hughes, but what most people don’t know is that there’s a third brother, Luke, and he’s currently a top-10 prospect for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Luke is another defenseman, left-handed, and is incredibly talented in all facets of the game, especially when it comes to puck skills and skating. On top of this, he’s also the tallest of the three, standing at a perfect frame for a defenseman at 6-foot-2, but could look to add some muscle as he’s roughly 175 pounds.
Again, watching the New Jersey Devils now may be hard, and even impossible at times, but just know that with these growing pains comes long-term success and even a Hughes family reunion that can lead to a Stanley Cup down the road. There are prospects in the feeder programs that will soon be churning out more talent than the team knows what to do with. Ty Smith, Jack Hughes, and Nico Hischier are just a few of the names that will become cornerstones to a competitive team for a long time. For now, though, you just have to trust the process.