The Stanley Cup Playoffs have finally arrived, and there’s no shortage of emotions as the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers prepare to face off in what promises to be an intense and thrilling series. With a long-standing rivalry between these two teams, fans on both sides are gearing up for an unforgettable series. From seasoned veterans to up-and-coming stars, the Devils have an extremely talented roster that could set them up for success against a more experienced Rangers team.
Which Devils should we keep an eye on as the key players in this series?
The biggest X-Factor for the Devils could be the continued elevation of Ondrej Palat’s production in the postseason. When GM Tom Fitzgerald signed the free agent to a 5-year contract over the offseason, he invested every cent of Palat’s $6M annual salary in the invaluable championship pedigree, leadership, and experience he brings to this young Devils team. There’s a reason he wears the ‘A’ on his jersey.
After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, Palat put up 21 points in 23 games in last year’s playoff campaign for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 32-year-old already has 94 playoff points and 138 playoff games to his name.
The New York Rangers know as well as anyone: Ondrej Palat was born for the clutch moments. In 13 career playoff games against the Rangers, Palat has racked up an impressive 15 points, his best against any team in the postseason. The Ranger-killer completed a comeback against New York in game 3 of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, burying a last-minute game-winner that sent Amalie Arena into a frenzy.
Jack Hughes is another Devil that strives against the Rangers. The Devils went 3-0-1 in this year’s season series, and a big reason for that was Jack’s team-leading 6 points. Hughes’ success playing the Rangers extends beyond just this season, too. In his 16 career games against them, he’s tallied 15 points – which says a lot when you consider the struggles he had early on in his career.
Hughes plans on continuing this trend against the Rangers on the big stage, after recording the best individual season in Devils’ history, potting 43 goals and 99 points in 78 games.
“I don’t plan on shying away,” the 21-year-old told MSG Networks. “I’m really excited…we gave ourselves a chance to ultimately win the cup.”
He’s certainly not the only one excited. Come playoff time, Jack Hughes is the type of player that brings the fans out of their seats every time he touches the puck. Devils faithful haven’t had a player to root for like that since Taylor Hall’s absurd MVP campaign in 2018.
Depth, experience, and passion are essential to winning games in the playoffs. Erik Haula provides all of that and more for New Jersey as the team’s third-line center. The first-year Devil does the little things right – wins faceoffs, plays hard, kills penalties, blocks shots – and has the second most playoff experience on the team behind Ondrej Palat.
After a brutal eight goals in his first 73 games, Haula rediscovered his confidence and has been chipping in offensively now, too, ending the season with the highest goal total on the team since March 5, including six goals in his last seven games.
Added in a one-for-one trade with Boston as the return for Pavel Zacha over the summer, this guy was brought in to help the young Devils stars learn how to win big games. Erik Haula is a big game player.
It’s worth noting that Yegor Sharangovich has been very quiet this season from an offensive standpoint. The 5th-round draft pick emerged as an instant fan favorite for his wicked release, celebrations, and hilarious interviews.
Sharangovich followed up a 24-goal, 46-point season with a dud this year. With the Devils’ depth at forward only getting stronger in the coming years, Sharangovich has a lot to prove after being a healthy scratch in multiple games this season.
It’s now or never for the Belarusian winger, who is an expiring RFA at the conclusion of the 2023 playoffs. He happens to be another Devil who has found the most success in his career when facing the Rangers. 11 points in 16 games, including one of the coldest Devils pictures in recent memory after a goal he scored on Igor Shesterkin:
It would be nothing short of electric to see Sharangovich step up at the right time and join the likes of Palat, Hughes, and Haula in their first test of the postseason against their rival from just across the Hudson River.