As the Jack Hughes era begins for the New Jersey Devils, the Winnipeg Jets have an opportunity to quickly bounce back from a season-opening defeat.
With the highly touted center ready for his NHL debut, the Devils open the season looking to end their recent struggles against the visiting Jets on Friday night in Newark, N.J.
New Jersey has made the playoffs once in the last seven seasons, but for the second time in three years had the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Following a 72-point season, the Devils shocked no one by taking the 18-year-old U.S. wonder Hughes with the top pick.
Hughes had more than 50 points in 24 international junior hockey games for the U.S. and seems eager for his highly anticipated NHL debut.
“No nerves,” Hughes said. “Now it’s just time to go. It’s game time.”
Hughes joins veterans in defenseman P.K. Subban and forward Wayne Simmonds and touted Russian winger Nikita Gusev as the new faces hoping to turn around a franchise that’s totaled 80 or more points three times in seven seasons. Having a healthy Taylor Hall should also provide a boost for the Devils.
Hall, the NHL MVP in 2017-18 with career highs of 39 goals and 54 assists, totaled 37 points while limited to 33 games due to a knee injury last season. New Jersey scored an Eastern Conference-low 219 non-shootout goals in 2018-19.
Goaltender Cory Schneider, meanwhile, has started just 63 games over the last two seasons because of injuries. The 33-year-old has a 2.90 goals-against average over the last three seasons, but is slated to split time with youngster Mackenzie Blackwood.
“On paper, we’re a better team than last year,” 2017 No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier, who has 99 points in two seasons, said.
“I got a good feeling. The excitement is there for sure.”
New Jersey also gets the early chance to end an 0-4-2 rut against Winnipeg. The Jets, who face all three New York City area teams as part of an opening four-game road stretch, look to rebound from a 6-4 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday.
Winnipeg still has plenty of offensive potency behind stars Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, who combined for three goals. The Jets outshot the Rangers 47-32 but showed why they are expected to struggle defensively with talented blue-liner Jacob Trouba now with the Rangers and star Dustin Byfuglien suspended while on personal leave.
“I think we played a really good game, to be honest,” winger Nikolaj Ehlers, who recorded three assists, said. “Obviously, we’ve got some things we can tighten up on.
“We got some bounces against us, but if we can continue this and keep improving and getting better, we’ll have a (heckuva) team here.”
Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck made 26 saves Thursday, but backup Laurent Brossoit, who had a 2.52 goals-against average in 21 games last season, is expected to be in net for this contest. Scheifele has seven goals with five assists during a seven-game point streak versus New Jersey.
–Field Level Media