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New Jersey Devils Slowly Developing A Contender

New Jersey Devils Slowly Developing A Contender
Published On: Mon, Aug 06
Apr 23, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur (30) makes a glove save in front of Montreal Canadiens center Alex Galchenyuk (27) and Devils defenseman Peter Harrold (10) during the third period at the Prudential Center. The Devils defeated the Canadiens 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL offseason usually revolves around the salary cap. Teams struggle to fit in as much talent as possible under a fixed ceiling, and are hindered in trade negotiations because of their limited cap space. The Edmonton Oilers for instance have done little this summer despite a desperate need to return to the playoffs, strangled by their expensive long-term contracts. Few teams in the league find themselves as unencumbered as the New Jersey Devils do currently, with less than $60MM in cap commitments for this season and only two players under contract for more than three years.

Even with the most cap space in the league the Devils havena€™t done much to improve their team this summer, instead deciding to take an extremely slow approach to developing a contender. Amazingly, it could pay off sooner than later. New Jersey returned to the playoffs last season on the back of a Hart Trophy-winning year from Taylor Hall and solid debuts from several of their young players. Will Butcher jumped from winning the Hobey Baker award as the best college player in the country to quarterbacking an NHL powerplay, and finished his rookie season with 44 points. That put him 20th in the league among defensemen, ahead of star players like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Aaron Ekblad and Zach Werenski. While there are other flaws in Butchera€™s game, the Devils used him perfectly in a role that was best suited to take advantage of his talents.

Jesper Bratt started the year off on fire with 12 points in his first 13 games, and finished the year with a solid rookie total of 35 points. After turning 20 just a week ago, Bratt will be relied on as a key piece for years in New Jersey, despite his sixth-round draft pedigree. At the other end of the spectrum was Nico Hischier, who put up 52 points after being selected first overall and took over the teama€™s first-line center duty by the end of the year. The teenaged Hischier looks like he could be a Selke candidate in the future, along with having big offensive potential.

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