How Can New Jersey Devils Get to Toronto Maple Leafs Level?

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 18: John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Taylor Hall #9 of the New Jersey Devils skate after the puck during the first period at the Prudential Center on December 18, 2018 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 18: John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Taylor Hall #9 of the New Jersey Devils skate after the puck during the first period at the Prudential Center on December 18, 2018 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images) /

For the second time this season, the Toronto Maple Leafs showed the New Jersey Devils exactly how elite teams play every single night. They came into Newark and defeated the Devils by a final score of 7-2.

The Maple Leafs have a guy on each of their top three lines that would be top line centers on most teams. When Auston Matthews comes off, John Tavares comes on, followed by Nazem Kadri. A trio of this magnitude is very hard to contain, and the Devils simply don’t have the depth to compete quite like that. Especially when they have complimented by wingers like Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Patrick Maeleau, Kasperi Kapanen, and the list goes on. Of course they can beat the elite teams every now and then, but the lack of depth on the New Jersey side makes it very difficult to contain.

If you make a simple mistake, the Maple Leafs will pounce on you and score on those chances a decent amount of the time. The Devils did a lot of that and the Leafs buried their chances.

Every Devils fan should love Nico Hischier. He is really rounding into the number-one overall pick that he was, and is a very good player. With that said, my biggest gripe with him is his lack of willingness to shoot the puck. Everybody can see it, he’s a pass first guy and that is okay, but he needs to recognize when the best option is to shoot.

That moment came short handed when he elected to pass instead of shoot on a two on one and as the Devils penalty was expiring. As you can probably predict, the pass was deflected, and it led to a three on one for Toronto which John Tavares buried to make it 1-0 Leafs. These things can and will be coached as time goes on, but it is proof that a team like the Maple Leafs will capitalize on a mistake like that when given enough opportunities.

So that begs the question? What do the Devils need to become a team like that? Do they need to come in last again and strike a high pick? Perhaps. Can it be done without that? Perhaps.

I won’t lie, a center core of Hischier, potential first overall pick Jack Hughes, and Travis Zajac would not look bad on paper at all, especially with complimentary wingers like the NHL’s reigning MVP Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and Jesper Bratt. The Devils need to do something to amp up their second and third lines to be as dangerous offensively as the Maple Leafs. The top line of Taylor Hall-Nico Hischier-Kyle Palmieri cannot do it by themselves every night.

The Devils defense core is the biggest difference. The Maple Leafs do not have a top defense core, but they do have an all world number one guy in Morgan Reilly. That is the main difference in the two teams defenses. They also have a Vezina caliber goaltender in Frederik Andersen, which Cory Schneider used to be for the Devils, but he hasn’t been that in going on three seasons.

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The Maple Leafs have been much better at drafting than the Devils have in recent years. Toronto drafted William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Auston Matthews in years the Devils drafted John Quenneville, Pavel Zacha, and Michael McLeod. The Devils selections so far, have been much less successful. That doesn’t mean that those Devils selections can’t be good players, but there were three elite core pieces drafted by the Maple Leafs in a row that are a direct result of them being as good as they are.

The Devils have made some very good trades in those years like acquiring Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri, but if they complimented those trades by drafting better this team could really be something.

Nico Hischier and Ty Smith, the Devils’ two most recent first-round draft picks hope to be the beginning of a string of good drafting by the team. I’m confident that both, especially Hischier because he is proving it in the NHL, can be part of a core that competes at a high level.

There is a lot of work to be done to enhance the second and third lines from an offensive standpoint, make the defense better including getting a true number one defenseman, and either getting Schneider back to elite level or finding his replacement. This season is about developing the youngsters and getting Taylor Hall resigned once he becomes eligible on July first and if he doesn’t express interest look to trade him.

It is possible that a year three Nico Hischier, Hall, Palmieri, Ty Smith becoming a New Jersey Devils player full time, and the addition of a top five overall pick if he is ready that the Devils could see much improvement next season. It will take great scouting, coaching and a little bit of luck to be as good as the current Toronto Maple Leafs, but it is certainly possible.