New Jersey Devils

New Jersey Devils projected opening night lineup

After a franchise-best season, New Jersey Devils hockey is right around the corner. Let's look at our projected opening night lineup.

Our top six can be considered one of the most exciting top sixes in the league. Since we have a star-studded top six, the two lines can be shuffled around if needed.

The first line could look like Timo Meier - Nico Hischier - Dawson Mercer. Meier and Hischier had undeniable chemistry when Meier joined the team last season, which is why they should be playing together at the beginning of this season. Mercer is a smart, crafty, speedy player who would complement Hischier and Meier's playing abilities. With Mercer and Hischier both being good defensively, it takes some pressure off Meier, letting him focus on what he does best: creating offense.

Our second line could start the season looking like Jesper Bratt - Jack Hughes - Tyler Toffoli. I love the idea of this line because we have two very creative players in Bratt and Hughes. Not only are they creative, but they both have an underrated shot and can become great goal-scorers in the league. I see no reason why Hughes can not put up 50 in a season. Toffoli, one of our summer additions, gives Hughes another weapon on the wing. With Toffoli's goal-scoring ability, Hughes is more creative without having the pressure of finishing the play with a goal. If this line can build up chemistry, this can be one of the most dangerous lines in the league.

The third line creates a bit of controversy on who will take over the right wing. The two definitely playing on this line are Ondrej Palat and Erik Haula. Palat will play left wing while Haula plays center. The right wing is a question mark for most people. Some say Alexander Holtz, some say Tyce Thompson, some say Nolan Foote and some are even wondering if we will sign someone on a PTO. I do not believe Holtz should be in this position. With his skill, third-line minutes will limit him, causing less growth. Thompson or a PTO signing would be the best option for this line. Considering two-thirds of the line are veterans, this line will be looked at for leadership on and off the ice. Having a young prospect with them might let the player be more successful.

One of my favorite things about the Devils is how successful our fourth line typically is. Since Miles Wood has moved on to a different team, there was a question mark on who would take his spot. I do not think it is that hard to figure out. The line should be Nolan Foote - Michael McLeod - Nathan Bastian. With Foote's size and speed, he would fill in for Wood perfectly. If this is the line head coach Lindy Ruff decides to roll with, there is no doubt the physicality from this line will be top-tier.

The Devils' defense took a hit last year when they lost Ryan Graves and veteran Damon Severson. Losing two key defenders sent Devils fans into a panic, but I believe there is no real reason to panic.

The first defensive pairing will be Jonas Siegenthaler - Dougie Hamilton. This is the best example if you have ever wondered what a perfectly balanced defensive pairing looks like. Siegenthaler is one of the most underrated defensive defenders in the league, while Hamilton is one of the best offensive defenders in the league. Having this balance allows Hamilton to help on offense without the worry of having someone else to help if he loses the puck.

The next pairing will be Luke Hughes - John Marino. This is another excellent example of a well-balanced pairing. As we saw in a few games last season, Hughes will undoubtedly be an offensive weapon. Having a shutdown defender like Marino lets him use his offensive skills. If Hughes continues to showcase his talents, there is no reason why this pairing can not be as successful as the first pairing.

The third pairing also has a bit of a question mark. Kevin Bahl will undoubtedly be in this pairing, but we will have to wait to see who the other defender will be. Simon Nemec has to prove himself in training camp to get a spot on the roster. If Ruff wants to let him develop more, this opens an opportunity for Colin Miller, Brendan Smith or Cal Foote to take that last spot on the lineup. Whether Nemec makes the roster or not, we have options to take that spot, so it is not something to worry about.

Unless the Devils sign a goaltender to a PTO, it seems likely that the goaltending tandem will be Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid. Despite Vanecek's struggle in the postseason, he had a very successful season for the Devils and was one of the main reasons we even got to the playoffs. Schmid has shown what he can do in net and I see no reason why we would have to send him back to the AHL to develop more.

It is still a waiting game since none of these lines are confirmed. But, with this lineup and the different options, I expect a very successful season from the Devils.

The Devils will open their first preseason game at home on Sept. 25 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Gabrielle Nordstrom