2. New Jersey Devils (2022-23, 52-22-8, 112 points, 2nd in Metro):
The Hurricanes indeed had the upper hand against the Devils in the playoffs last season, crushing them in five games. However, New Jersey looks pretty promising up front. With stars like Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt leading the charge, they have one of the most exciting offensive trios in the league.
Timo Meier is set for his first full season with the Devils and is locked in for eight more years at $8.8 million per season.
Tyler Toffoli, who clicked well with Bratt and Hughes during the preseason, was acquired from the Flames for Yegor Sharengovich.
Even the third line, featuring Ondrej Palát, Erik Haula, and Dawson Mercer, has the potential to be a force to be reckoned with.
The fourth line might not be loaded with scorers, but Tomáš Nosek, Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, or Curtis Lazar bring speed, physicality, and defensive responsibility.
Defensively, with players like Ryan Graves and Damon Severson no longer there, it’s time for Kevin Bahl and Luke Hughes to step into bigger roles. Bahl had a solid preseason and appears ready for an expanded role, possibly alongside John Marino. As for the younger Luke Hughes, there might be some early growing pains. Yet the 19-year-old has a bright future once he gains more experience.
Regarding goaltending, Vitek Vanecek should be reliable during the regular season with his .911 SV% from last year. The big question is whether he can elevate his game in the playoffs. Akira Schmid is relatively inexperienced but stymied the Blueshirts in the preseason. How he handles the increased workload remains to be seen, but the potential exists.
Overall, the Devils look well-rounded and are poised to be a juggernaut. Now, let’s dive into what the projected first-place team, the Hurricanes, brings to the table.