Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The New Jersey Devils

J.J. Regan
NBC Sports Washington

The Capitals enter the 2019-20 season looking for their fifth consecutive Metropolitan Division title.

But this could be the most challenging year yet. The bottom of the division has improved dramatically with offseason moves and the top of the division still has quality teams. It's hard to figure who will crater and finish last. The winning team might not top 100 points.

For the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington will take a look at each Metro team and where they stand with training camps opening in less than a month. Today: The New Jersey Devils.

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There may be no more improved team in the league this season than the Devils. New Jersey added the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, arguably the best player in the world who was not in the NHL and a former Norris Trophy winner all to the roster this summer. The fact that the addition of a player as significant as Wayne Simmonds was essentially an afterthought speaks to how great an offseason this was.

A lot of teams in New Jersey's position would have been satisfied with winning the draft lottery and would not have felt the need to make any more splashy moves. The Devils, however, were aggressive and became a much better team as a result.

In 50 games with the U.S. Development team last season, Jack Hughes scored 34 goals and 78 assists for an astounding 112 total points. He may be a few years away from maxing out his potential, but there is no doubt the Devils added a player with tremendous skill who could potentially step into a top-six role very quickly.

Nikita Gusev is a bit of a wild card in that he is 27 and has never played an NHL game, but if you are the Devils, what do you have to lose? This was a sneaky good trade to acquire a player who could immediately become a dominant offensive player considering how much he dominated the KHL in recent years.

Simmonds is a player who was in the top-six in Philadelphia, but he seemed to struggle towards the end of this time there before getting traded to the Nashville Predators. He played in only two playoff games for Nashville before the Predators saw their season end in the first round. Considering the physical style in which Simmonds plays, getting a long offseason to rest as well as a third-line role in New Jersey won't be the worst thing in the world for him. If he can find a way to make an impact in that role, he will prove to be a valuable asset.

These players join an offense that boasted other offensive talents such as Kyle Palmieri, Nico Hischier, Travis Zajac and, oh yeah, last year's Hart Trophy winner, Taylor Hall.

It sounds really weird to say this given the team's history, but New Jersey is going to be a team to watch for its offense next season.

Defensively, the addition of Subban could be potentially huge. There is no doubt he suffered a down year in 2018-19, but that has completely overshadowed the fact that the year prior to that he was a finalist for the Norris Trophy. That will help a defense that was exploited last season and a goalie tandem that remains a question mark.

Keith Kinkaid got a majority of starts in net last season for the Devils, but he was traded away to Columbus. Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood will enter the season as the team's netminders. Goaltending was not a particular strength for the team last year, but Schneider and Blackwood seemed to improve late in the season leading some to believe there is hope they can be serviceable together for 2019-20. Schneider was a punch line for much of the year, but finished with a .903 save percentage, 3.06 GAA and six wins despite going over a full calendar year without recording a W. Blackwood stepped in for 21 games and registered a .918 save percentage and 2.61 GAA.

If there is one thing on the Devils' to-do list for the summer that they were not able to get done, it was to re-sign Hall. Hall is entering the final year of his contract and, as exciting as all the other pieces the team added may be, he remains the most important player on the team. It would be devastating should the team lose him next season and his contract will be a distraction for the team the longer he goes without a new deal. If the team struggles, we could even see Hall traded during the season.

But that seems unlikely. New Jersey will be closer to being a playoff team than a bottom-feeder this year.

The Devils earned only 72 points last season and ranked second to last in the Eastern Conference. The team, however, was decimated by injuries and ultimately was better than it showed. It may be a jump to think this team could go from 72 points to competing for a playoff spot, but they ultimately were not nearly that bad.

Hall almost single-handedly dragged New Jersey into the playoffs in 2018. He will have a lot more help in 2019-20 to try to get them back into the postseason. It is not out of the question that they could get there.

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Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The New Jersey Devils originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

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