I am really looking forward to this core group for the upcoming 2022-23 NHL season. If they can stay healthy, the New Jersey Devils top six forwards could be amongst the NHL’s elite in scoring.
Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier
Let’s start off with the obvious with Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. We all know that Hughes will absolutely build on his 56 point season (26G, 30A) after missing 33 games due to injuries. He showed brilliance with the puck and was deadly when he had room to operate. What was more impressive was that Hughes averaged at least one takeaway per game. Expect Jack Hughes to develop more into an elite two-way player as he starts his new eight year extension signed in last November.
Nico Hischier had a rough start after being named captain in early 2021. After battling injuries, including getting the puck into the face by a shot from P.K. Subban, he showed resilience and kept battling his way back to lineup like a true warrior. And towards the second half of last season, he started to flourish and ended with a career high of 60 points. Will Hischier perhaps hit 30 goals this season?
Ondrej Palat and Jesper Bratt
Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald may have missed out on the Johnny Hockey sweepstakes or trading for Matthew Tkachuk. But he did sign one of the most underrated player in NHL free agency in Ondrej Palat. Certainly, Fitzy may have overpaid for the two time Stanley Cup champion. However, Palat brings experience and will be called upon to mentor a very young Devils team. He will make his teammates around him better.
“He’s so responsible,” Point said. “He’s always in the right spots. He’s got a ton of talent, he sees the ice really well. He’s just a complete player, and he battles and he blocks shots and you know what you’re gonna get from him every night.
“He always brings it, and he’s got your back. I think that’s why he’s such a good teammate. And that’s why guys love to play with him. I know I do. He’s just a workhorse for us all-around. And it’s been a pleasure. I’m happy for him to get to 400.”
Just like Palat, who plays the wing and was a late draft pick, Jesper Bratt will be looking to continue to improve on his breakout performance last season after putting up career high of 73 points (26G, 47A). Bratt wanted to be a core leader and has thrived under head coach Lindy Ruff regime. Could Bratt top 100 points this upcoming season? If he does, Bratt would certainly earn himself a big fat contract extension.
Dawson Mercer and Yegor Sharangovich
Dawson Mercer had an impressive rookie season. The 18th overall pick in 2020 played all 82 games last season. When Jack Hughes was hurt early in the season, he was thrust into the role as a second line center. When Hughes came back, the Devils put Mercer on the wing and developed some good chemistry with Hughes. No matter what, Mercer is a top six forward in my opinion and should remain there, regardless of position. But will Mercer take it to the next level or fall into that proverbial “sophomore slump”?
Speaking of sophomore slumps: Yegor Sharangovich had a bad start to last season and didn’t do much scoring till the second half. He still managed to put up 46 points (24G, 22A) in 72 games. Like Palat and Bratt, he was a late round pick and had been an underdog throughout his career. Could Sharangovich be the next Palat or Bratt in the making?
If all goes to plan, the Devils will be tough to beat every night.
PODCAST - WOO REPORT EP237: Examining The Devils Top Six Forwards
Sam Woo is co-host and executive producer of the Let's Go Devils Podcast which can be heard live every Sunday at 9pm ET and Wednesday at 8:30pm ET.