Devils' beat reporter Andrew Gross highlights what to watch for at training camp. Andrew Gross/NorthJersey.com Andrew Gross/NorthJersey.com
Training camp, of course, fosters optimism as a new season approaches.
That’s even more true for the rebuilding Devils given how many new players will be in camp, most notably No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier, top-six forward Marcus Johansson, veteran forward Brian Boyle and young defensemen Mirco Mueller and Will Butcher, the Hobey Baker Award winner as college hockey’s top player.
But for the Devils, 100-1 to win the Stanley Cup in the latest Bovada odds, success this season will not be determined by whether they lift the NHL trophy in June. Instead, it will be measured by what growth and improvement the team’s young foundation shows in the third season of general manager Ray Shero and coach John Hynes’ rebuilding program.
That journey starts Thursday as 57 players report to Prudential Center as training camp opens with off-ice testing. The first on-ice sessions are Friday, the seven-game preseason schedule opens Monday night against the Capitals at The Rock and the regular season begins on Oct. 7 at home against the Avalanche.
The Devils have gone five seasons without making the playoffs and last season were a disappointment in terms of advancing the rebuilding process. The Devils added top-line left wing Taylor Hall to boost their offensive production yet still finished last in the Eastern Conference in the standings at 28-40-14 and with their 183 goals and minus-61 goal differential. They finished the season on a 3-17-4 slide with just one regulation win over their final 24 games.
So, a makeover, even a partial one, was to be expected. Forwards Michael Cammalleri and Devante Smith-Pelly were bought out. Jacob Josefson and Beau Bennett were not re-signed.
Now, training camp is about configuring the pieces, both new and old, into the best fit.
One of the first priorities will be figuring out how to compensate for the loss of No. 1 center Travis Zajac, out four to sixth months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. Boyle, 32, the ex-Ranger who signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal as a free agent after splitting last season between the Lightning and Maple Leafs, will take some of Zajac’s penalty kill minutes and also some of the important faceoffs in both the offensive and defensive zones that Zajac took.
Free agent center Brian Boyle, in 2012 when he was part of the Rangers, has agreed to join the Devils on a $5.1 million, two-year deal. He previously was with the Lightning. (Photo: Frank Franklin II, ASSOCIATED PRESS file)
But Boyle is a bottom-six forward and the Devils need a center to skate between Hall and, most likely, Montvale’s Kyle Palmieri. Adam Henrique, 27, along with Zajac and captain Andy Greene the only holdovers from the Devils’ squad that lost to the Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, is the most obvious candidate to center the top line.
Washington Capitals center Marcus Johansson (90), of Sweden, tangles with New York Rangers right wing Ryan Callahan (24) during the first period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff game in 2012. (Photo: Nick Wass, ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Johansson, 26, was used mainly as a left wing as he scored 24 goals with 34 assists in 82 games for the Capitals last season. But he was also a center during his seven seasons in Washington and it would be shocking if he wasn’t given an audition in the middle during camp.
Centering the top line would almost certainly be too much responsibility immediately for the Swiss-born Hischier, 18. Ultimately, though, the Devils want Hischier, a strong skater with good on-ice vision and strong offensive instincts, to develop into a top-line pivot.
First, though, he has to make the team.
Michael McLeod, 19, selected 12th overall in the 2016 draft, will contend for a forward spot, possibly as a center. John Quenneville, picked 30th overall in 2014 and who played 12 games for the Devils last season, can be used on either wing. Blake Speers, 20, who can be used either as a center or wing, made the Devils out of training camp last season, before being returned to Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League.
The Devils missed out on free agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk of New Rochelle, N.Y., who instead signed a four-year, $26.6 million deal with the Rangers, but did acquire Mueller from the Sharks with the hope that the 22-year-old, selected 18th overall in 2013, can better develop his game with more playing time in New Jersey.
In this March 25, 2017, file photo, University of Denver's Will Butcher skates up the ice during the first period in the regional semifinals of the NCAA college hockey tournament against Michigan Tech, in Cincinnati. college hockey's top player is an NHL free agent after Butcher allowed a deadline to pass without signing with the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche selected Butcher in the fifth round of the 2013 draft and had until Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, to sign the Hobey Baker Award winner who led Denver to a national championship in April. (Photo: AP file photo)
The Devils then capped their off-season by signing Butcher, 22, out of the University of Denver after the Avalanche’s fifth-round pick in 2013 failed to sign with Colorado and re-signing defenseman Damon Severson, 23, to a six-year, $25 million deal with the expectation that he can form a top pair with Greene.
Indeed, the only position where the roles are set is goalie, where No. 1 Cory Schneider will look to rebound after a poor season and Keith Kinkaid returns for his fourth season as Schneider’s backup.
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Source : http://www.northjersey.com/story/sports/nhl/devils/2017/09/13/devils-camp-countdown-previewing-training-camp/663438001/