NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Coming off their worst season in nearly 30 years, the New Jersey Devils don’t expect Nico Hischier to lead them back to the playoffs after a five-year drought.
That would be asking a lot of the 18-year-old who was the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft.
That’s something for the not-too-distant future.
Coach John Hynes wants something more from Hischier and the rest of his team, which had the worst record in the Eastern Conference last season. Hynes wants to see intensity, toughness, desire and all the attributes that make a team tough to face every time they step on the ice.
That didn’t happen last season as the Devils won 28 games, had 70 points and finished the season with a 3-17-4 mark, winning one game in regulation.
“It’s about establishing the foundations of how we want to play, the identity of how we want to play, getting our work ethic up, our conditioning up, our battle level up,” Hynes said. “All those things have to be put in place after a long summer. It’s not about talent right now. It’s about establishing how we want to play and getting our systems in place, our identity in place and making sure we have all those things in order at a high, high level when the season starts.”
For those who have watched the Devils in training camp, practices have been intense. Everyone is fighting for a piece of the ice and a spot on the roster.
Hischier is the team’s future. The center had 38 goals and 48 assists in 57 games during his only season in Halifax. He has a great sense of the game for a teenager. He may even start the season skating on the top line with Travis Zajac sidelined following surgery to repair a pectoral muscle torn in offseason training.
“I just want to make the team, make an impression and be ready right from the beginning,” said Hischier, who has four goals and three assists in four preseason games. “Show my two-way game and help the team any way I can.”
He probably will.
Here are a few more things to watch with the Devils this season:
The Devils have struggled to score in recent years. Kyle Palmieri (26 goals), Adam Henrique (20) and Taylor Hall (20) carried the load last season, but they have not had much support. Hischier should help and so should Marcus Johansson, who was acquired in a trade with the Capitals. The other player who needs to step up is Pavel Zacha. The sixth pick in the 2015 draft had eight goals in 70 games last season. He has looked better in the preseason.
There is depth this season. Andy Greene, Ben Lovejoy, Damon Severson, who signed a new multi-year contract, and John Moore are back. The Devils acquired a young, big defenseman in Mirco Mueller in a trade with San Jose, and they signed Will Butcher, the Hobey Baker Award winner, as a free agent. Add in Steven Santini and veteran Dalton Prout and New Jersey goes eight deep.
After having an All-Star season in 2015-16, Cory Schneider slumped last year. His goals-against average jumped from 2.15 to 2.82, and his save percentage fell from .924 to .908 in 60 games. Schneider has looked good in preseason and his defense has played well in front of him, limiting his workload. Backup Keith Kinkaid may get a little more action this season.
Butcher gives Hynes an excellent skating defenseman who can guard his own end and play on the power play. In his first preseason game, the 22-year-old Wisconsin native played on both the power play and penalty kill. He led Denver to a national title in his final season, when he had seven goals and a team-high 30 assists in 43 games. He had 28 goals and 75 assists for 103 points in 158 games with the Pioneers.
Zajac is going to be out four to six months. The earliest he returns is Christmas. Brian Boyle, who signed with the Devils as a free agent, was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a treatable form of cancer. He wants to return as soon as possible, but his response to treatment will determine when he plays.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)