As NHL teams are eliminated from Stanley Cup contention, theScore NHL freelance writer Katie Brown looks back at the highs and lows of their seasons, along with the biggest questions ahead of 2018-19. The 20th edition focuses on the New Jersey Devils.
Nico Hischier. The Swiss star's rookie season was, by all indications, a success. Hischier wasn't a Calder Trophy finalist, but that won't diminish his achievements. He recorded 20 goals and 52 points, good enough for second on the team. Hopes are high for the 2017 No. 1 pick.
Taylor Hall. Hall is a finalist for the Hart Trophy alongside Nathan MacKinnon and Anze Kopitar, and for good reason. He was the Devils' best player all season and put together an incredible 26-game point streak. Hall finished with 39 goals and 54 assists, and his 93 points were 41 more than the next-closest player on the team (Hischier).
A major improvement. The Devils went from finishing last in the Eastern Conference in 2016-17 to snagging the second wild-card spot in the playoffs this year. That climb featured a 16-win, 27-point bump from last season. While they were eliminated in the first round by the Tampa Bay Lightning, there are plenty of reasons for optimism going forward.
Goaltending issues. John Hynes chose to start Keith Kinkaid - who took over for injured starter Cory Schneider midway through the season - for the first two games of the Devils' first-round series. Halfway through Game 2, Hynes replaced Kinkaid with Schneider, who made 34 saves in the Devils' only win of the series. Kinkaid did well in the regular season while Schneider was out, but it's easy to imagine the Devils faring better with their No. 1 goalie in net to start the playoffs.
Secondary scoring. Secondary scoring was an issue during the season and became even more of a problem in the playoffs. While Hall is a prolific scorer, he and the top two lines can't be expected to do it all.
Goals against. The Devils allowed 240 goals for the second consecutive year, putting them in the middle of the pack. New Jersey must improve in this area next season if it wants to make a deep playoff run.
Which free agents will stay? Patrick Maroon, Michael Grabner, and John Moore will all be unrestricted free agents this summer. Grabner and Maroon were acquired at the trade deadline; of the two, Maroon made a better case to be kept. Moore might be cut loose to make room for younger players.
What is Ray Shero's plan? Ray Shero traded for defenseman Sami Vatanen, and it wouldn't be a stretch to expect him to target another defenseman this summer, with the likes of John Carlson potentially being available. He's integrated rookie Will Butcher with veterans Andy Greene and Ben Lovejoy while upgrading the blue line the last couple of years, and it's possible he'll want to add a top-four defenseman to that group.
Who is the No. 1 goalie? There could be a battle in training camp for the No. 1 goalie spot. Kinkaid was outstanding during the second half of the season filling in for Schneider while he was down with groin and hip injuries, and was one of the reasons the Devils were able to push for a playoff spot. He won 16 games in the last two months of the season. Shero seems fine with having two No. 1 goalies on his roster, though. There are worse problems to have.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)