With the NHL set to start up sometime in January (or February if things go wrong), 2021 will see the entire league return to play for the first time since the shutdown in the first quarter of 2020. While a number of changes have been made by the New Jersey Devils since then, the roster still leaves many worried that this will be another fruitless season. Even if they’re correct, that’s not to say there won’t be any positives in this campaign. Today, we look at four things to look forward to in 2021.
The Return of Devils Hockey
March 10, 2020; that date was the last time the New Jersey Devils stepped on the ice this past season. While I’m sure everyone wants to see a more competitive product than what was being iced then, the mere prospect of the Devils returning should be exciting for any true fan. There’s still going to be some growing pains with the plays that the team has now, but the fact that the red and black (and green for reverse retro games this season) will be back on the ice should be celebrated.
Growth of Young Players
It’s going to be a super important season for a lot of players who have now spent quite some time in New Jersey; Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt have all now spent 3 (or more) full seasons in New Jersey, with Wood at 25 being the oldest of that crop. While he may be what he is in his development (a physical energy player who chips in points here and there), the rest should arguably be starting to round into their prime. It would be nice to see Nico and Jesper in particular each have a breakthrough season; while player point totals will be down across the league due to fewer games, a higher ppg average would be a good indicator that these guys are on the right path.
Speaking of the right path, it will be year two for Jack Hughes and more than likely year one for at least one rookie defender as implied above, the team needs young talent to start making an impact. Hughes hopefully takes a leap forward from where he was in 2019-20, and said defender (possibly Ty Smith) cements himself as at least a regular player, if not a Top 4 caliber guy.
There’s one last player I’d like to mention, but I think he needs his own section…
The Reins to Blackwood
MacKenzie Blackwood should be the clear cut #1 on the New Jersey Devils this year. Despite the fact that the Devils upgraded their backup from Cory to Corey, Mac should still be getting the lion’s share of the workload to continue his development. He looked pretty good behind what was otherwise a bad Devils team last season. His foil this season was also pretty good last season on a pretty meh Chicago Blackhawks team, so at the very least, it looks like the Devils should have a shot to win in net every night in 2021.
Even with two legitimate options this year, the Devils need to invest in their young netminder who just turned 24, rather than the stable veteran who will turn 36 prior to the start of the season. The more repetitions he gets, the better for the long-term future of the Devils. Depending upon how many games the season is and how consolidated said games are, I believe Blackwood should get at least 60-70% of the games. If for nothing else, he’s earned the chance to shine even more after last season.
Travis Zajac’s 1000th Game
This one doesn’t deal with the on ice product, but still celebrates something important that has happened on the ice. Travis Zajac is the longest tenured member of the Devils and after only nine games this season, he will be skating in his 1,000th NHL contest. 1,000 NHL games is impressive in general, but even more impressive is that all of them for Zajac have come with the Devils.
Zajac has taken a lot of flack over the years from fans (mainly due to his contract versus the point production offered for it), but he’s been one of only a few forward that have helped to move the puck in the correct direction and keep it out of the team’s net over that time. When the team needed to shut down someone on the opposite side, Zajac and whoever was with him would be the one to get the call.
The ninth game of a season usually isn’t important; in 2021 at least for us Devils fans, game nine will be big.
Which of the above items are you looking forward to in the 2021 season? All of them? None of them? Is there anything that you’re excited for that isn’t on this list? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!