The New Jersey Devils are in a good spot thanks to the past several years of drafting and developing. Tom Fitzgerald has utilized his cap space by re-signing key players and also making a low risk move in getting a veteran RHD in Colin Miller is an important piece in replacing Damon Severson, at least in the short term.
Losing players like Ryan Graves and Miles Wood in free agency theoretically opens spots for guys like Kevin Bahl and Nolan Foote to become full-time. Foote could fit on the fourth line with Nathan Bastian Michael McLeod. Foote would provide a big body, strong puck handling, and a player with a heavy shot on net. He will benefit from the speed and grit of Nathan Bastian and Michael McLeod driving the rushes. A player of Foote’s caliber would work well on the 3rd and 4th line especially now the Devils could interchange all lines accordingly.
This kind of offensive scoring depth makes it a lot harder for teams like the Capitals, Rangers, and Islanders to keep up. These teams are looking to shut down the Devils speed, but the passing game and special teams around many other guys will make it feel like a physical playoff game. There will be a lot of speed, grit, finesse, and outsmarting the opponents with this nucleus that it’s only going to be a nightmare for teams looking to defend against the elusiveness of a player like Luke Hughes. The Colin Miller slapper makes it scarier knowing opponents will deal with facing Dougie Hamilton as well.
As you probably know, Head Coach Lindy Ruff loves to change lines during the season, and even sometimes within games. It is those in-game adjustments that make it a lot harder for teams to forecast how each lines coordinate. Dawson Mercer makes it easier to slot lines. He is a top-nine forward, and a very dangerous shooter that can fit anywhere the Devils need him. Speaking of shooters on this team, Tyler Toffoli makes it even more like a “pick your poison” type situation for defending teams. Adding him to a top six that includes Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Timo Meier could have the Devils at the top of the league in skill.
Toffoli scored 34 goals and 73 points last season for the Calgary Flames. He brings a reliable track record in the playoffs, already scoring half a point per game when the games matter most. His 88 career playoff games is second only to Ondrej Palat, who now has 150. He has 44 points in those 88 games and is the kind of veteran that alleviates the pressure for the Devils to move deep in the playoffs.
Back to defense, it is time to focus on the Colin Miller addition. The New Jersey Devils added another Sasquatch-type player. Miller’s 2.25 shots, hits and blocked shots per game gives him a nice SiD rate (our own stat recording those three stats to prove a two-way impact). He’s a really solid shot suppresser and offensive shutdown player interfering with opponents on multiple shifts.
Even for a 3rd line defender, he can also help be a very good influence for Simon Nemec in training camp and during the season. Miller is a veteran who knows how to use his heavy bomb of a shot. He used it very well under Ryan McGill when they were both in Vegas. The familiarity of Miller and McGill will make it easier to pick up the defensive system, and his connection with his good friend Erik Haula also goes back to their time in Vegas.
There is more veteran leadership, young veterans, and young rookies flowing into this team that can raise a lot of hell all year round. Having a change in offensive schemes under Travis Green will make the Devils’ power play become more improved and set up a lot cleaner on offensive zone entries. The Devils did improve to an above-average power play from previous associate coach Andrew Brunette but with Green, there will be new tactics utilizing more shooting and clean passing from low danger to near the bumper versus setting up and over passing.
If the Devils can improve in the power play to Top 10 in the league, this will be a very entertaining and scary deep lineup. As the Devils push for a playoff clinching spot again, it will be very interesting if the Devils pursue a playoff goaltender to help bolster their chances of getting back to the Stanley Cup and looking to hoist it for the first time since 2003.