Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: New Jersey Devils
Last season: It was Year One under new GM Tom Fitzgerald, and he wasted little time in auctioning off the veterans and handing the reins to the team’s young core. Things started off well with a 4-3-2 start in January, but they were forced to pause their season for 14 days due to COVID-19, and upon their return lost all of their home games in February and could never quite get back on track.
There were a few more positives: former sixth overall pick Pavel Zacha had a career season, Jack Hughes looked like a legit superstar, Mackenzie Blackwood looked like he could be a legitimate starter and a number of their young supporting players had really good seasons. The end result – 29th in the league and a league-worst 0-5 in the shootout – wasn’t surprising, but there was definitely optimism at the end of the season and at the draft, where they picked a blue-chip defenseman in Luke Hughes.
Best option: Dougie Hamilton, D
He’s known as a power-play specialist, but that’s really not the case; over the past five seasons, Hamilton is just one of 17 defenseman who has scored more than 200 points, but ranks only 21st with 63 power-play points. Hamilton alone won’t turn the table for the Devils, who are unlikely to make the playoffs, but they’ll definitely be leaning heavily on him and he will likely average more playing time – especially at even strength – than he ever did in Carolina.
It’ll be tough for Hamilton to crack the top-five among defensemen in fantasy because his team is still very young and green, and it’s unlikely the Devils power play jumps from mediocre to the top of the league. THN’s Pool Guide is projecting Hamilton to lead the team in points with 55, which seems a little conservative because…
Hidden gem: Jack Hughes, C
… there’s a lot of people who think Hughes is going to have a big season. He made significant strides in his second season, and on some nights he could simply take over games, and he did it with linemates whose names you could barely pronounce. He looked like an elite offensive player, far better than the 51 points the Pool Guide has projected him to score. His 55.10 5v5 CF% (min. 500 TOI), according to naturalstattrick.com, ranked first on the team and it’s an exceedingly good result considering the Devils were, on average, getting outshot every game.
Having Nico Hischier in the lineup for the full season will also take some pressure off Hughes and help him get more favorable matchups, and if Alexander Holtz makes the team, it’ll also give him a scorer with elite talent to play with. Hughes is a fantastic high-upside pick who will be available in the middle rounds and should also be highly sought-after in keeper leagues. A 60-point season isn’t out of the question, and it would represent a big leap in Hughes’ development, but anything beyond that would also require a better and more experienced supporting cast.
Goalies: Jonathan Bernier should be an excellent mentor for Mackenzie Blackwood, whose play faded mid-season despite a very strong start. It should also be an easy start to the coming season with five straight home games, none of which are back-to-back, but it will eventually become a timeshare with Blackwood likely getting a small majority of the starts. The Devils aren’t expected to win many games and there are better tandems out there, but the upside to Blackwood and Bernier is their ability to steal games once in a while. There’s some hidden upside depending on the matchups and how much their young players continue to improve, and their blueline has vastly improved with Hamilton, Ryan Graves and 6-foot-6 rookie Kevin Bahl, which should only help Blackwood and Bernier.
Outlook: It seems far more likely the Devils are surprisingly good than surprisingly bad. They have a lot of the pieces necessary to compete, and they brought in a No. 1 defenseman they had previously lacked for years. Hamilton, Hischier and Hughes will be valuable fantasy assets, but beyond that and the goalies there’s not much else; Ty Smith would’ve been a sneaky pick had they not signed Hamilton, and Yegor Sharangovich, Jesper Bratt, Pavel Zacha and Janne Kuokkanen are players you pick up only when they’re on hot streaks.