Photo Credit: Dave Janosz

Devils' New Additions Shine in Preseason Home Opener

Coming off a win the night before in Montreal, a new squad of Devils took the ice trying to remain unbeaten in the preseason. Many opined this summer that the Devils failure to go big game hunting via trade or free agency would result in another year of mediocrity and missing the playoffs. General manager Tom Fitzgerald disagreed, and instead chose to find complimentary pieces with the hope that those pieces in conjunction with the healthy return of impact players like Dougie Hamilton, Jack Hughes, Mackenzie Blackwood, and Miles Wood. After two games it appears that Fitzgerald's approach was the correct one.

While fans are cautioned to never put too much stock in either pre-season games or games at the end of the season when a team is out of contention, it is difficult to watch the Devils and not be excited for its future.  Playing against the Islanders on Tuesday, the Devils deployed it's likely first, third, and possibly fourth lines and it's first and third defensive pairing controlling the game from halfway through the first period on, coasting to a 4-1 victory.

New addition Erik Haula centered the third line and showed the grit and skill that caused the Devils to trade former first-round pick Pavel Zacha.  Haula's line with Dawson Mercer and Miles Wood were dominant all night leading to a goal by Haula after receiving a drop pass from Wood on the rush.  One huge bright spot for the team was the faceoff play of Haula who won faceoffs at a 67% rate, raising the team win percentage to 58%, a welcome change from last season when the team relied on Michael McLeod to take the vast majority of defensive zone draws only to immediately leave the ice.

Also standing out was the newly formed "H2O" line of Hughes, Alexander Holtz, and Ondrej Palat.  Holtz flashed his improved skating and an elevated compete level along with his underrated passing skills in digging a puck out from a scrum along the boards to find and feed an open, cutting Hughes leading to a Devils goal.  It is still early but it appears that Holtz is now a favorite to not only make the roster but to be given top six minutes and be relied on for offense.

Fans should also be buoyed by the play of a healthy Hamilton who seemed refreshed quarterbacking a recharged power play that unleashed several new looks.  Hamilton looked back to his early season form from last year before he fractured his jaw and toe.  He led the team with 21:44 in ice time including shifts on both the power play and penalty kill.

The defense also appears to be bolstered by the very steady defensive play of John Marino and Brendan Smith who appear to be functioning as the third pair and have the potential to lock down top lines of opponents while still being able to move the puck up effectively.  The pair did not yield a goal despite logging over 17 minutes of ice time each including over five penalty kill minutes.

The news however, is not all good. Today, coach Lindy Ruff reported that the leg cramps that Captain Nico Hischier experienced in the opening game vs. Montreal was actually a sign of a strained hamstring. Hischier will not travel to MSG to play the Rangers tonight and will be reevaluated in approximately ten days.

In his place, the Devils have moved Mercer back to center on a line with Wood and Grahame Clark while Fabian Zetterlund, another rookie with a real chance to make the team, will be joining Haula and veteran Tomas Tatar on the first line. Goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood reported to the facility today feeling ill and may not make the trip. If he does not, he will be replaced by Vitek Vanecek and likely instead play in tomorrow's home contest against the Rangers.