With only three games under their belts, the 2016 New Jersey Devils are already proving they have taken great strides toward building a better franchise.
Seeking their first win of the season, the New Jersey Devils came out executing the Hynes/Shero “fast, attacking, and supportive” game plan to a tee in their home-opener. And this wasn’t the first glimpse we saw of the new, speedy, and young Devils this season, despite the club losing its first two games. Even in their defeats, many players have stood out and shown promise for the season to come. Here is my early-reaction list of the best three Devils this season.
3. Cory Schneider
Oct 13, 2016; Sunrise, FL, USA; New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider (35) makes a save on a shot by Florida Panthers center Colton Sceviour (7) in the third period at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
With no back-to-back games to start the season, the Devils have relied on starting goaltender Cory Schneider between the pipes for each of their first three games. Allowing only six goals in three starts, his GAA is at a very respectable 2.00. In the first loss, the only two goals he allowed were a deflection off his own defenseman Ben Lovejoy after making the initial save, and an overtime game winner by a wide open Aleksander Barkov after Devils defenseman Damon Severson left Schneider out to dry.
In his game against Tampa, Schneider let in three goals, but only due to a defensive collapse on the Devils part, blowing a very early 2-0 lead. Schneider was screened on the game-winning third goal. However, Schneider bounced back against Anaheim, notching his (and the team’s) first win of the season. After letting in the first goal of the game, which came on the power play, Schneider stopped all remaining shots, accumulating 23 saves against the Ducks.
Had it not been for Schneider’s performance in the first game, the Devils would not have come away with the extra point for the overtime loss, and the two points gained against Anaheim certainly would have been in jeopardy had Schneider not been at the top of his game.
2. Taylor Hall
As memories of last season’s sputtering start began to flood the minds of Devils’ fans, Taylor Hall scored his first goal as a New Jersey Devil, tying the third game of the season. He would assure victory 4:11 later by scoring his second power play goal of the night.
And while Hall’s two goals secured two points for the Devils, he’s had impressive plays in the first two games as well. He’s set up players with great chances, only to have them get robbed by the goalie, or just shoot wide. He’s helped improve the speed of the Devils game, and it’s evident anytime Hall streaks down the side carrying the puck or trying to beat a defender to it.
Hall exemplifies the “fast, attacking, and supportive” mentality that the Hynes and Shero have been wanting from the new era of Devils. Hall will surely put up some impressive numbers as the season goes on but when Hall didn’t score any points in his first two games, nobody panicked. Coaches and fans chalked it up to him being “snake-bitten” but I’m sure we’ll see many more high-caliber performances from him this season.
1. Yohann Auvitu
Sep 29, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New Jersey Devils defenseman Yohann Auvitu (33) in action against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
A few months ago, the majority of fans reacted to the signing of Auvitu the same way: “Who?” How blind we were. Yohann Auvitu has exceeded every expectation by far. The 27 year-old Frenchman came over from a Swedish league, wanting to prove he could compete at the NHL level. With only three games to show on his resume, he’s proven he can compete and then some.
For a few minutes, it was believed that he had provided the Devils with their first goal of the season on a blast from the point against the Panthers. Eventually, it was deemed that the puck grazed newly-claimed P.A. Parenteau, thus crediting Auvitu with the primary assist. Aside from that shot, Auvitu has had numerous notable shots from the point, all with quite some heat on them, including one against the Ducks that went into the net, just as the play was blown dead for a Reid Boucher high-sticking penalty.
Perhaps his most enticing addition has been his ability to keep the puck in the zone, especially on the power play. It doesn’t seem to matter if the puck is just rolling along the glass, or being fired out hard along the boards; Auvitu almost always seems to keep the puck in. Between his clearing saves, and his hard, precise shot, he makes for a great power play presence.
The reason I’d put Auvitu above other Devils on the team would be expectations. We know and expect to get top quality play from guys like Schneider and Hall. However, Auvitu had to fight for a roster spot in preseason, so it makes his notably solid play that much more impressive.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: P.A. Parenteau, Vernon Fiddler, Travis Zajac