The New Jersey Devils broke out last season, emerging as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Unfortunately, they didn't get a chance to directly compete for the Cup. Their playoff season ended in round two against the Carolina Hurricanes. But the Devils showed that they are a force to be reckoned with moving forward.
New Jersey underwent a bit of a roster overhaul during the summer. Their biggest addition came in the form of veteran Tyler Toffoli, who joined via trade with the Calgary Flames. But the team lost two of their top-six defenseman in Ryan Graves and Damon Severson, as well as some forward depth in the form of Tomas Tatar and Miles Wood.
That said, it strangely feels as if the team is mostly unchanged from a year ago. New Jersey's core of Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Dougie Hamilton is still in place. Promising stars like Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt have also returned. In a way, not much changed for this team, even with the departures.
New Jersey once again has their eyes on the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2024. But before that, let's get into some predictions for how the 2023-24 season will go for the New Jersey Devils.
Jonas Siegenthaler gets his flowers
The Devils made an incredibly shrewd move back at the 2021 NHL trade deadline. New Jersey acquired Jonas Siegenthaler from the Washington Capitals in exchange for a conditional third-round draft pick. It was a bit of a gamble on behalf of the Devils. Advanced analytics really liked Siegenthaler, and suggested there was some upside. But he just hadn't shown that upside at that time.
He made the Devils look incredibly smart in short order. Siegenthaler emerged as a shutdown defenseman in 2021-22, and established himself as a top-four blueliner in the league. Even when he took a step back last season, Siegenthaler remained one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL.
In 2023-24, that changes. Siegenthaler will rebound and finally earn the respect he deserves. Where head coach Lindy Ruff players him remains to be seen. He could slot back next to Hamilton on the top pairing. Or he could replace the now-departed Ryan Graves on the second pairing with John Marino. Either way, the 26-year-old will return to form as a formidable shutdown player on the blueline.
Tyler Toffoli defies regression
The Devils acquired Tyler Toffoli with the hope that he could provide a much-needed scoring punch this upcoming season. In a similar vein to the Siegenthaler trade, this is a gamble on behalf of the Devils. It's a different bet being made by New Jersey, but the gamble remains all the same.
Can Toffoli replicate, or at least come close to, his career-high point production from 2022-23? There's an argument to be made that he might not. The 31-year-old earned more opportunities in Calgary than he had in previous seasons. That certainly factored into his 73-point campaign. In New Jersey, he could receive fewer opportunities given the talent around him.
However, I don't believe that to be the case. While the Devils have options, they brought Toffoli in to play on the top six. And given his production on the power-play last season, there's no reason for them to not give him time on the top power-play unit this year. And given that he has a better supporting cast with the Devils, it's hard for me to see Toffoli majorly regressing in 2023-24.
Devils finally win the Metro
Devils fans may look at this and wonder how it's a bold prediction. After all, with the talent New Jersey has, it's certainly not a stretch to say they can win the Metropolitan Division. But the team just hasn't won their division in recent times. Even when they make the playoffs, they come up short in the division.
In fact, the last time the Devils entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs as division champions, you have to go back to 2010. Back then, the NHL had three divisions consisting of five teams in each conference. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets were still in the Western Conference back then, to put this in perspective.
Hell, the Devils had their best regular season finish in team history last year. No team in New Jersey's history won more games (52) or finished with more points (112) than the 2022-23 squad did. And yet, that still wasn't enough to claim the top spot in the Metro.
This season, the Metro will be tougher than last year. The Carolina Hurricanes will be tough to knock off their perch. And you can't overlook the New York Rangers or Pittsburgh Penguins. But this team has more than enough talent to pull this off. I think this is the year the Devils finally make the playoffs as division champions.