What the New Jersey Devils are thankful for heading into 2021
Pro Hockey Rumors 2hrs ago

We’ve now made it past the holiday season. Like the last few years, PHR will take a look at what teams are thankful for but this year comes with a bit of a change. Normally teams would have an idea of where their season was heading, coming up on the one-quarter mark with mountains of statistics to analyze. Instead, in this unprecedented year, the season hasn’t even begun. We’ll still take a look at what each group is excited about and what they could hope for as the calendar turns to 2021.

a hockey player standing in the snow: Kyle Palmieri is one of the more consistent scoring wingers in the league. © Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports Kyle Palmieri is one of the more consistent scoring wingers in the league.

What are the Devils most thankful for?

The future down the middle.

While they don’t have the best of rosters on paper and are faced with playing a season in the extremely deep East Division, there is cause for optimism in New Jersey. Nico Hischier has had some ups and downs, but the 2017 top pick is a core piece who is locked up for the long haul. Jack Hughes’ rookie season wasn’t the greatest, but the expectation remains that he’ll rebound and give the Devils a potent one-two punch if they can both reach their potential. Pavel Zacha continues to show gradual improvement, while Michael McLeod has shown flashes of upside in his first NHL stints. An entirely homegrown center group (all of first-round picks, no less) is something that is rare to see, but they are the Devils' future.

Who are the Devils most thankful for?

Given that Hischier and Hughes are their building blocks of the future, either one of them would be a logical choice — but that’s too simple. Goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood was a full-time NHL player for the first time last season, and the results were certainly encouraging. He posted a goals-against average (2.77) and save percentage (.915) that were above the NHL average despite the fact that the Devils allowed the third-most goals in the league and finished last in the Metropolitan Division by a notable margin. With Cory Schneider not panning out (and ultimately being bought out), Blackwood gives New Jersey hope that he can be the long-term goalie of the present and future and be another of those core building blocks.

What would the Devils be even more thankful for?

A contract extension for Kyle Palmieri.

While the focus is justifiably on the future, the present still matters. The veteran is one of the more consistent scoring wingers in the league, ranging from 24 to 30 goals in each of the last five seasons. While the UFA market wasn’t too kind to wingers this year, consistency still matters, which will certainly bolster his value if he happens to make it there. The 29-year-old is in the final season of his deal, which carries a $4.65M AAV. While it’s doubtful that he could command a max-term extension of eight years, he should still be in line for a decent-sized raise. If this isn’t at the top of the priority list for GM Tom Fitzgerald, it will need to be. If they can’t come to terms on a new deal in the next few months, Palmieri will almost certainly be among the most sought-after players by the trade deadline.

What should be on the Devils’ holiday wish list?

Everything but goaltending, which is set with Blackwood and veteran Corey Crawford. Fitzgerald has added to his back end over the offseason with the pickups of Ryan Murray and Dmitry Kulikov, but it’s still a group that could stand to be improved both in terms of adding a top-four option and overall depth.

Up front, the Devils were just outside of the bottom five in goals scored last season and haven’t done much to improve on that front with the addition of middle-six winger Andreas Johnsson in a cap dump from Toronto. While this is shaping up to be a season to evaluate some of their younger players, adding a veteran or two to help ease the prospects into those regular roles certainly wouldn’t hurt.

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