It seems counter-intuitive to say but last season was great for the long term future of the New Jersey Devils. For the last few seasons, the Devils have been outside of the playoffs but not high enough to get a top 5 pick. Luckily for them, the lottery ball fell their way and Nico Hischier fell into their laps. They’re still going to be bad this year (if they don’t finish last in the Metro, it’s a miracle) because their defensemen are an abomination but how bad is going to come down to goaltending and the progression of their young talent. The good news is their top six has a fair amount of talent for fantasy hockey so they’re not a complete wasteland. Let’s take a look at what the Devils are working with:
Must Draft – Taylor Hall did not have a great first season in New Jersey. The former first overall pick scored 20 goals and 33 assists in 72 games with an elite shot rate. Honestly, that seems like Hall’s floor. He’s 25 years old, should get a real center to play with (albeit an 18 year old) and the secondary numbers are still there. I have him ranked 65th overall in my Top 100 where you can find more thoughts on Hall. I’m still a sucker for his upside.
I’ll save Nico Hischier for the prospects section but he should be drafted in the middle rounds if you want to gamble on things clicking right away.
Kyle Palmieri proved that his breakout wasn’t a fluke scoring 26 goals and 27 assists. He’s a plus contributor in every category but not great at anything in particular. It’s enough for him to be a hold at the bottom of your roster in 12’ers but it’s pretty yawnstipating. There may be a little more upside getting to play with Hall and Hischier but I’m counting on a similar stat line to the past two years.
Streamers – Due to their cap crunch, the Capitals sent Marcus Johansson to the Devils for draft picks. Johansson was outstanding last season scoring 24 goals and 34 assists. However, call me skeptical that he can repeat it. One, he’s going from the Washington first power play unit to New Jersey which is quite the drop off. He also won’t be playing with anyone that compares to the talent on the second line in Washington. My main problem is that Johansson is a blank in penalty minutes and has a horrible shot rate. If he scores 45 points, he’s useless in 12’ers. If he gets to 50, he’s a solid streamer but only if you can afford streaming a three category player.
Adam Henrique is much better in real life than in fantasy. He’s good for 40-50 points but with a poor shot rate. There’s value in deeper leagues or leagues with extra categories but in standard 12’ers, he’s a mediocre streamer.
We still may be a year or two away from Pavel Zacha‘s full breakout but it’s coming at some point. The offensive talent he possesses gives him elite potential. Last season was disappointing scoring 8 goals and 16 assists but more importantly, he was only a shade over one shot per game. That has to change drastically for him to even be a streamer this year. If you want to shoot the moon with your last pick, I’m fine with Zacha, but odds are I’ll leave him on the waiver wire and see how he starts the year.
Drew Stafford recently signed a one year deal. He is prone to super hot streaks and going ice cold for a month or longer. Simply use him when he’s rolling and cut him at the first sign of slowing down.
I was tempted to write about zero Devils defensemen because they are a dreadful group. I’ll discuss two of them who have an outside shot of being 12’er relevant. Damon Severson is highly rated among Devil fans but it hasn’t turned into on-ice value yet. Last year he scored 3 goals and 28 assists but that came with a dreadful -31 rating. Maybe it improves in year 4? I’m not counting on it but if he can get to 40 points and the plus-minus isn’t dreadful, he’d be valuable in 12’ers because of solid PIM.
Will Butcher, the prized college free agent, signed with the Devils last weekend. My only assumption is that he signed there because of a guarantee he plays with the Devils right away. Since he played four years in college, Butcher could make an immediate impact by being forced into a big role. I wouldn’t touch him in 12’ers but it’s worth monitoring. I’ll talk about his game more in the comments section.
Cory Schneider had been a fantasy demigod for years until he destroyed everyone who drafted him last season. Schneider never had worse than a 2.26 GAA or .921 sv% in his previous six years receiving at least 25 appearances. Last year, he posted a 2.82 GAA and .908 save percentage. So what should be expect this year? Honestly, who the hell knows? Thanks for the great advice Viz! Well, I’ll break it down. Schneider should certainly be better but I have no idea how much better. The defensemen in front of him are among the league worst and it’s hard for him to bail them out constantly. He’s also in a brutal division. If you take Schneider as your #2, it’s a bit risky for my blood but it could pay dividends. If you can get him as your third goalie, that’s amazing.
Keith Kinkaid was solid last season with a .916 save percentage. Assuming Schneider stays healthy, Kinkaid’s playing time will be limited and the team won’t win many games. Stream him only in the best of matchups.
HITS / BLOCKS / FACEOFF LEAGUES
Travis Zajac becomes in play because he’s excellent at the dot. Otherwise, he’s super low upside and decent floor because he’s only good in assists. Henrique gets a nice boost for his faceoffs and blocked shots for a forward while Palmieri gets a minor boost for his hits.
Hischier slides into the top 50 overall pushing the top 25 and for rookie drafts, he’s the clear #1 pick. I would select Zacha in the later rounds and would slide Hall up a round or two just because he’s about to enter his prime.
Blue Chip – Hischier clearly deserved to be the first pick in the 2017 draft. His offensive upside is tremendous but his two way game is strong giving him a chance for significant playing time right away. For our purposes, Hischier is an excellent skater, has great hockey sense and can break the game open at any moment. He’ll be in my top 150 coming out next week in case things click right away. Long term, think 70 point seasons on a consistent basis with some years pushing a point per game.
Michael McLeod was the top New Jersey prospect before the most recent draft. The 2016 first rounder has the chance to be a modern power forward. His skating is terrific yet he plays with a force that makes him extremely difficult to play against. McLeod should be over a point per game again in Mississauga and I expect him to make Canada’s World Junior team. I’m a big fan for dynasties as McLeod should form a dynamic center duo with Hischier sooner rather than later.
Other Notables – Steven Santini is their third best prospect but I don’t see him becoming fantasy relevant. John Quenneville is a former first round pick with scoring upside. He was solid in the AHL last season and should be a main fixture in Newark within a year. Otherwise, they don’t have many notables.
That’s all for now guys, the Eastern Conference is done! I’ll be back on Tuesday after the long weekend looking at the Chicago Blackhawks. Please leave any questions or comments you have below in the comments section. I hope everyone enjoys their long weekend, take care and thanks for reading!