It’s hard to say a team that finished in 7th place in their division with 84 points overachieved but I’d argue that the New Jersey Devils did just that. Amazingly, they were in playoff contention for the majority of the season until their all-world goalie Cory Schneider went down with an injury. The Devils had plenty of surprises among their forwards while their defense is as bad as it gets from a fantasy perspective. Will their forwards repeat or was last season a fluke? Let’s take a look!
The aforementioned Schneider was fighting for both the Vezina and Hart trophies before his injury. He posted an outstanding 2.15 GAA, .924 sv% and 27 wins in 58 games played. None of those numbers are outliers for Schneider showing just how good he is. If it wasn’t for injury, he could have played 70 games as well giving us huge workhorse potential. Schneider is a clear #1 fantasy goalie, a step behind the true elite because he’s a step behind in wins but as good as anybody in the ratios.
Keith Kinkaid was the backup for the second straight season in New Jersey, taking a fairly big step back. In his 23 games, his save percentage was only .904 and the 2.81 GAA isn’t any better. Stay away in all leagues.
If Schneider were to go down again, I’d expect Scott Wedgewood to get the majority of the starts. He looked the part when he received time last season, albeit in 4 games. Wedgewood is a name to keep on the radar in deep leagues simply in case of injury. I expect Wedgewood to be the backup after this season; I don’t see why the Devils would retain Kinkaid once his contract is up.
Good lord, this is one of the worst defensive groups I’ve seen in years. I know I talked about how bad Detroit’s defense is in their preview but the Devils are even worse, especially from a fantasy perspective. None of these guys should be drafted in an RCL putting them outside of the top 60 defensemen. The only guy on the team who has the potential to be on 12’ers eventually is Damon Severson. The Devils like this kid a lot but offensively, he took a step back last season. The shot rate fell quite a bit and combined with some bad luck, he scored only one goal. Severson will be on the first pair and first power play unit so the opportunity is there but I have a hard time seeing him push 40 points. With his lack of shots and medicore PIM, I see someone worth a shot in maybe 14 man leagues but certainly 16 or deeper.
John Moore is okay in the deepest of leagues for the assists and power play points. Honestly, that’s all I have to say about any of these guys. The Devils defensemen are going to struggle to average 20 points a piece.
The big move of the offseason was acquiring Taylor Hall in a trade rape with the Edmonton Oilers. The Devils finally got an elite offensive talent and it cost them an average defenseman. Nothing fixes a team like making a trade with Peter Chiarelli. Anyways, Hall was a man on a mission the first half of last season sitting in the top 5 on the player rater. He fell off a bit down the stretch but still finished with 26+39 playing all 82 games. The penalty minutes were a career high 52 and the shot rate was among the league’s best nearing 3.5 per game. I assume most people are going to be worry about Hall leaving Connor McDavid but I don’t think the trade hurts him much. The Devils roll their top guys big minutes and Hall will be a man on a mission. He’s just outside my top 20 making him a great pick at the back end of round 2 or anywhere in round 3.
The biggest surprise in all of fantasy last season was Kyle Palmieri. After years of being decent in Anaheim, Palmieri set career highs in all categories and it wasn’t even close. Palmieri scored 30 goals and added 27 assists with decent PIM, strong special teams points and an above average shot rate. He’s an extremely tough player to rank because we don’t know if last year was a fluke or the new norm. Palmieri will be on the first line to start giving him every opportunity to succeed and he’s still only 25 years old. Simply put, I don’t love him but I definitely don’t hate him. I have a hard time putting him in the top 100 because of the uncertainty but he won’t be far off.
The third member of the first line should be Adam Henrique. After a stepback in 2014-15, Henrique found his goal scoring again, reaching 30 goals for the first time in his career. He played almost 20 minutes a game and I expect that to happen again. Additionally, playing with Hall is going to do wonders for him; he’s never played with anybody close to Hall’s level. My concern is that while he’s always been a high shooting percentage player, Henrique shot over 20% last year. That’s not going to happen again and since he takes less than two shots per game, I can’t see 30 goals repeating. I expect him to trade some of those goals for assists this season which hurts his value a bit. He should still be drafted in standard leagues, just don’t reach for him.
Michael Cammalleri was incredible last season scoring 14 goals and added 24 assists in 42 games before injuries derailed his year. If we knew that Cammy would stay healthy, he’d be in the top 100 no question. The problem is that he hasn’t stayed healthy for years and while his 2015-16 goal rate is repeatable, his assist rate simply is not. I much prefer Cammalleri in shallower leagues where an injury doesn’t hurt you as much. He’ll be someone worth targeting in the middle rounds if you need goals.
If your league counts faceoffs, Travis Zajac becomes a viable option. Zajac scored 14 goals and added 28 assists last season with 20 of those points coming on special teams. He played almost 20 minutes a game and while I don’t think that time is deserved (Zajac has been a horrible possession player two years running), he’s going to get that time again because of the lack of alternatives. In standard leagues, Zajac belongs on the waiver wire; the lack of shots isn’t worth the mediocrity everywhere else. In deep leagues, his consistency makes him worth a roster spot.
Devante Smith-Pelly was acquired at the trade deadline last season and was a bright spot in the closing weeks. DSP scored 8 goals and added 5 assists in 18 games as a Devil. I certainly don’t expect anything close to that over a full season but he’s someone to keep an eye on to see if he sticks in the top 6. He was a frequent streamer over the closing stretch and could be again this year.
Early indications are that Pavel Zacha will be the third line center to start the season. The top prospect for the Devils was terrific in Sarnia last season with 28+36 in 51 games and a whopping 97 penalty minutes. I’m a huge fan of Zacha for dynasty leagues and think he could be worth the flier in 12’ers as your last pick. At the least, if he’s on the waiver wire, I’d look to grab him early, especially if he switches lines with Zajac and goes into the top 6. Zacha is a tantalizing combination of size, speed and skill.
Reid Boucher played quite well for the Devils in the second half of last season scoring 8 goals and adding 11 assists in 39 games. To begin the season, Boucher isn’t going to have the role necessary to be relevant in most fantasy leagues but he’s worth keeping an eye on in case of a Devil injury. Same goes with Beau Bennett who will get a chance to play every day in Newark. He has plenty of potential but it never clicked in Pittsburgh, perhaps the new opportunity will help him put things together.
TOP 5 PROSPECTS
1) Pavel Zacha
2) Reid Boucher
3) Michael McLeod
4) Mackenzie Blackwood
5) Nathan Bastian
That’s all for now guys. I’ll be back tomorrow with a breakdown of an interesting sleeper team, the Carolina Hurricanes. As much as it pains me to say it, I wouldn’t be shocked if they make the playoffs this year. As always, feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments below. Take care!