The tide began to shift for the rebuild of the New Jersey Devils when they were awarded two No. 1 overall picks in the NHL Entry Draft. The Newark-based franchised used these picks to select now captain Nico Hischier and the skilled Jack Hughes, who are both emerging as stars in today’s NHL.
Behind the poster boys, Hischier and Hughes, players like Jesper Bratt, Dawson Mercer, and others began to fill the ranks.
The Devils’ general manager, Tom Fitzgerald, then went out in free agency to acquire cornerstone pieces in Dougie Hamilton, Ondrej Palat, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Vitek Vanecek.
The latest acquisition of power forward Timo Meier gives New Jersey a pure goal-scorer with good speed and a physical presence in the top six on offense. With the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline now passed, this team has the core group of players they feel they need for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With their roster set, the Devils are ready for the beginning of a new era.
It’s safe to say that everyone and their mother wasn’t expecting the Devils to do anything significant in the 2022-23 season. Fans around the league felt that this is a team still in the midst of a rebuild and could be as far away as two or three seasons before they start winning games.
In the first few weeks of the year, that’s how things were looking for ‘Jersey too, as chants of “fire Lindy” erupted from the disgruntled crowd.
However, it was after a 1-0 win against the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Colorado Avalanche, that this team came to life. The Devils would go on to tie the franchise record for 13 consecutive games won, which was achieved by the legendary team of 2001.
And now, sitting just one win away from succeeding the Carolina Hurricanes as the leaders in the Metropolitan Division, we’re witnessing the start of a new era in New Jersey.
Win or lose in the playoffs, they’re in a position where they can be a viable threat in the Eastern Conference for the next decade. A future led by Nico Hischier, two Hughes’, and a deep pool of young, talented players is set in stone for this team.
Now, for those still wondering why this team is as good as it is, let’s take a different look at this; one from the player’s perspective.
This season, there must’ve been a point in time in which 24-year-old Nico Hischier closed the doors to the locker room and held a players-only meeting.
This probably came at some point following an embarrassing loss at home, maybe the same point at which fans threw their jerseys onto the ice in frustration. No coaches, no equipment managers, and absolutely no cameras were allowed in the room for this meeting.
It was time for Hischier to hold the team accountable as the team captain.
It was in this room that the team took a long and hard look in the mirror and asked themselves what they could do to right this ship. They recognized all of the doubt and disrespect that were thrown their way from across the league for being some mediocre small-market team.
“Bottom feeders” some might’ve put it. The young group of players decided to use this as their motivation. They were going to start playing like bottom feeders and embracing the perception of being scrappy nobodies.
They wear this image as a badge of honor and take pride in making the lives of their opponents a nightmare.
With this chip on their shoulder, every game they went into became a playoff matchup. Every game, every period, and every shift began to matter. Everyone would hold each other accountable for a new and higher standard. Since this moment, the Devils have never looked back.
This is a turning point in the franchise, the very same way as when Lou Lamoriello was hired to be General Manager and he set a new tone in the building. That tone would become the identity of the New Jersey Devils.
Every time you step on the ice in New Jersey, you’re going to have to be willing to risk your body and mind to beat them. It’s a war of attrition.
With this rediscovered identity, the Devs know what they need to do in order to reclaim their throne in the Eastern Conference.
All of this will likely start in the highly probable, and most anticipated, matchup of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the New Jersey Devils taking on their arch-rivals, the New York Rangers, in the first-round Battle of the Hudson.