New Jersey Devils Are Really Good, and Their Opponents Know It

New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier (13) celebrates with center Jack Hughes (86): Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier (13) celebrates with center Jack Hughes (86): Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports /

I get it. The last four or five years have made New Jersey Devils fans nitpicky. However, despite the consternation, the Devils are a good hockey team this season. After all this fanbase has been through, it’s a hard concept to swallow. This is a really good team; dare I say – a playoff team.

Going into the All-Star break after a 3-2 overtime win in Dallas, the home of West’s best team, the Devils have 68 points (32-13-4). New Jersey is third-best in points percentage (.694), second in regulation + overtime wins (31), ninth in goals scored (171), third in goals-against (131), second in goal differential (+40), and they have the league’s best road record (19-3-2).

Some folks like to examine every facet of every play with a high-powered microscope. Hockey is a fast game with ice and bounces. Despite that, it’s just the way some sports fans are these days. But when Damon Severson or Jesper Bratt makes a bad pass or has a brain fart in Game no. 17 or 45 or whatever, it doesn’t mean that either isn’t a good player, or should be traded, or not re-signed.

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New Jersey Devils Vitek Vanecek celebrates with Brendan Smith: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports /

GM Tom Fitzgerald had a plan, and he stuck to it. Now, Devils fans are reaping the benefits. Even the ones who doubted and poo-pooed his plan. He built and maintained the core of the team through the draft and savvy trades and added key veterans to help insulate the kids as they grew and continue to grow. His Devils will be in the playoffs this spring, and he should be in the running – if not the favorite – for GM of the Year. I said what I said.

New Jersey’s stars are playing like stars and leading the way. Jack Hughes is just scratching the surface of the player he is going to become (which is a scary concept). He’s still just a kid. Nico Hischier has ascended to one of the best two-way centers in the NHL not named Patrice Bergeron. He should be in the Selke Trophy conversation going forward.

“We’re not the young guys anymore, I guess. We’re growing in this league as a team. We knew we wanted to get out of there – where we were the last few years – and we’re going in the right direction,” said Hischier, who has been everything the team needs as their captain and more.

Dougie Hamilton is four points away from tying his career-high with 1/3 of the season to go and making Fitzgerald look like a genius for investing so much cheddar in the defenseman. Vitek Vanecek (21-5-2) looks like the no. 1 goalie that the franchise has craved since Martin Brodeur stopped playing at an elite level. Everyone on the roster has contributed in some way, shape, or form through the Devils’ first 49 games.

Don’t take it from me. What do I know, right?!? Here’s what some of their opponents have had to say this season about the new-look Devils.

“They look good. They look like the young players have matured – particularly Nico, Jack, and Bratter – and I really like the additions that they made to their team,” said Nashville Head Coach John Hynes, who guided New Jersey to their last playoff appearance in 2017-18. “(They made) some good decisions adding players that fit with what they’re trying to do. They’re a solid team; they play quick, fast, and they’re a team that is not just off to a good start. They’re a good hockey team.”

Predators center Ryan Johansen echoed his coach’s statements after their visit to New Jersey; Nashville is one of the few teams that has not lost to the Devils this season, and Johansen has had a big hand in that with four points (2g-2a) in the two wins and the overtime winning goal at The Rock.

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Dougie Hamilton #7 of the New Jersey Devils celebrates his overtime goal. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

“It’s always a measuring stick playing the top clubs in this league. They’ve earned where they’re at, and we earned a win against them tonight,” Johansen told Pucks & Pitchforks after the Preds win.

“We don’t see them a lot at all, and they have some new additions (this season). They’re a young, fast team. You try to just focus on your game and what you have to do rather than what they are going to try to do,” Johansen added. “We have a lot of respect for that team. They’re a great club; but you don’t want to give them too much respect and play them as hard as possible.”

It’s been a great season so far, and with 33 games to go, a lot can happen down the stretch. After all the pain, suffering, and bickering amongst ourselves during the last few years, it’s time to put down the heat maps and graphs and enjoy the ride of a team on the cusp of becoming something special. “Everybody’s buying in and if we keep playing the way we have been playing right now, it is going to be a fun season for us,” added Hischier.

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Enjoy the fun, Devils fans, and try not to nitpick every little play. They’re having a normal season, which good hockey teams have. A lot of ups, a few downs, and a whole lotta promise heading into the Spring. As things stand now, New Jersey would face the New York Rangers in the opening round of the playoffs – think of the many possibilities that kind of series could turn out. Buckle Up!

And don’t forget, Luke Hughes is on the horizon.