By: Nathan Shield
The New Jersey Devils are a very young team. They've had two first overall picks since 2017 and have an average roster age of 25. The Devils opened their season with a double header at home against the Boston Bruins before heading to New York for a two-game series against the Rangers. While outmatched, on paper, they took five out of six possible points and made a strong first impression for a team that many have counted out. So, who stood out for the Devils?
If you’re talking about the Devils this season, it going to be hard to not mention goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood. Blackwood was phenomenal in the first three games of the season stopping 109 of 115 shots and allowing only a single even strength goal.
He has quickly established that when he’s on his game, he is one of the top goaltenders in the NHL. With the sudden retirement of newly acquired Corey Crawford, Blackwood will handle a vast majority of the games for the Devils this year and his play will be crucial for them to make a playoff push in a competitive east division.
The 2019 first overall pick made great strides in the off-season and looks like a new player. After a slow start in the first game, Hughes really turned it on and looked significantly more comfortable in the NHL game.
Clearly, the Devil’s coaching staff agrees as his average time on ice has increased to 19:56, a large jump from his average of 16:04 just a season ago. He also seems to have gotten quicker, showing off impressive acceleration and break-away speed.
Hughes also contributed offensively with two goals and three assists in his first three games. Jack seems to have found his stride both offensively and defensively and I look forward to seeing what he can do this season.
Sharagovich made the Devils after two seasons with the Binghampton Devils in the AHL and a strong showing in the KHL earlier this year where he scored 17 goals and 8 assists in 34 games.
Sharangovich has an impressive shot and high hockey IQ. His first NHL goal came with about two seconds left in OT to defeat the Bruins. He anticipated the pass from Severson and made no mistake, beating Halak to clinch the victory.
While he didn’t put up any points in their first game against the Rangers, Sharagovich looks to be a pure goal scorer and he’s definitely a player to keep your eye on.
The first-round pick of the Devils back in 2018 had been impressive in the WHL before making the jump to the NHL this season. He has great vision and did a lot of little things right.
He also managed a goal and two assists in his first three NHL games, impressive for a rookie defenseman. While he doesn’t log significant minutes, Smith has taken a great first step and looks to be the future of the Devil’s blue-line.
It's only the beginning of the season but New Jersey's young guns are already making an impact,. and they still await the return of Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt. New Jersey is a team to watch for in the Mass Mutual East Division this year.