The New Jersey Devils start their 2016-17 campaign tomorrow night at home to the St Louis Blues. But it’s a new look top line that will skate onto the ice to open proceedings. Three high-stakes off-season acquisitions signal the Devils’ intentions to be more than bystanders in this season’s competition.
Few who follow SSG Hockey with any attention will be unaware that star forward Evgeni Malkin came to the Devils over summer after ten seasons with the Penguins. In a renewal deal for Pittsburgh, they picked up hot prospect Pavel Zacha and a first-round pick. For the Devils, who had cash to burn and an ambition to win, the deal for Malkin’s six-year, $56 million contract brings in the guy who will anchor their title tilt.
Playing on Malkin’s right wing will be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the 23-year-old former first-round pick from the Edmonton Oilers, who came to New Jersey via a stint last season with the Washington Capitals. Nugent-Hopkins racked up 15 points (3G/12A) in 17 games over the last three months of the Capitals’ season; all the more impressive given the quality of the opposition the Caps were facing on their way to the Stanley Cup. Partnering Nugent-Hopkins on Malkin’s left wing will be Kyle Palmieri, a 25 year-old who looked better and better with every game he played with the Devils last season.Palmieri has forced his wayn into the top line at the expense of veteran Mike Cammalleri, but with Malkin at Center to steady the ship, the two young guns are expected to rack up some serious points for the Devils.
The first-line defence is led by Finnish defender Jarkko Näppilä. Näppilä became a free agent in the off-season after playing with Ilves in the Finnish Liiga. An offensive defenceman, who claimed 9 goals and 17 assists in 55 games for Ilves, Jarkko will partner with Adam Larsson in even strength situations but with attacking righ defender Eric Gelinas in power-play situations.
With this sort of lineup, it’s clear that the Devils have thrown away their conservative mentality of recent years. This team intends to score goals, even if it means that Goaltender Cory Schneider will be tested more often. But given Schneider’s recent performance, that has to be a risk New Jersey is happy to take.