Who would have that as we approach the All-Star break in late January that the New Jersey Devils would be right in the thick of things in the Metropolitan Division? Currently with 56 points, the team trails only the Washington Capitals who have amassed 61, albeit in three more games. The Devils have played 45 games so far, and through the same amount of games last season, they had 45 points.
Much of the credit can be given to the young talent that has surprisingly emerged this year, adding speed and dynamism. Even though he is thought of less highly when compared to the more recent number one overall draft picks, which include phenoms such as Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, Nico Hischier has certainly lived up to the standards that were set out for him. The 19-year old product of Brig, Switzerland has accrued 28 points playing in all 45 games, while proving to be a solid two-way player.
Other notable young players include another 19 year-old in Jesper Bratt, a sixth-round pick of the Devils in 2016 (162nd overall), who has come out of nowhere to provide 30 points while skating on the top line with Hischier and Taylor Hall. Speaking of Hall, he has certainly taken a step forward as a leader on this team in his second full season in New Jersey. He is on pace for a career year with 48 points in 43 games, looking to achieve a point-per-game pace for the first time since he did it in the 2013-2014 campaign with the Edmonton Oilers.
Other standouts include Miles Wood, Brian Gibbons, and Blake Coleman, who have provided big goals as well as being strong presences on the penalty kill. But where do the Devils go from here? Many projected them towards the bottom of the Metropolitan standings, but here they are in line for a playoff spot. The question for general manager Ray Shero is does he continue in a rebuilding direction, potentially trading some veterans to stockpile more draft picks, or be buyers and aggressively try to acquire more supplemental pieces to lead this team to its first playoff berth since their run to the Stanley Cup Finals back in 2012?
It seems as if he would be leaning towards the latter, as at the end of November he made a trade sending longtime Devil and fan favorite Adam Henrique to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for defenseman Sami Vatanen, realizing that his team needed help on the blue line. Furthermore, goaltender Cory Schneider will be turning 32 years old in March, and thus the window of his prime may be closing sooner rather than later. The Devils have plenty of draft picks upcoming in 2018, and could you some to acquire an impact player before the February 26 trade deadline. Recall that key forwards Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson were both acquired solely for picks, so Shero has the ability to get creative. Either way, the team is certainly headed in the right direction, as they look to get out of the basement and into the playoffs.