Preview: Jets at Devils
The New Jersey Devils look to begin putting a disappointing 2018-19 season behind them as they unveil a more exciting, much healthier team to open the campaign Friday night against the visiting Winnipeg Jets. The Devils followed up a playoff berth in 2017-18 by finishing 15th out of 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and last in scoring after losing reigning Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall with a season-ending injury before Christmas.
Hall is ready to go to start the season and New Jersey has added former Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban, 2019 first-overall draft pick Jack Hughes, veteran power forward Wayne Simmonds and high-scoring Russian rookie Nikita Gusev to a team that averaged 2.67 goals a game last season. Winnipeg, which finished second in the Central Division last season, continued its tumultuous few months by coughing up a one-goal lead in the third period of a 6-4 loss at the New York Rangers in the season opener Thursday night. The Jets are without defensemen Dustin Byfuglien (team suspension) and Nathan Beaulieu (upper body) along with center Bryan Little (concussion), and did not sign forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor until the end of the preseason. Captain Blake Wheeler scored twice for Winnipeg in the opener while Mark Scheifele, who led the team with 38 goals last season, added another as the Jets finished with a 47-32 edge in shots.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, NHL Network; TSN3 (Winnipeg), MSG (New Jersey)
ABOUT THE JETS (0-1-0): Winnipeg’s defense is also without Jacob Trouba, who had a goal and two assists against his former team Thursday, as the Jets dressed one blueliner who opened the season in the lineup a year ago. Speedy forward Nikolaj Ehlers took nine games to accumulate three points last season, but registered three assists in the opener against the Rangers, while Connor had a goal after signing a seven-year contract Saturday and Laine (two-year deal) added an assist but finished with a minus-3 rating. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck turned aside 26 of 31 shots to start the season and coach Paul Maurice told reporters after the contest that backup Laurent Brossoit would get the call against the Devils.
ABOUT THE DEVILS (2018-19: 31-41-10): Hughes averaged two points per game in juniors over the last two years and the 18-year-old Florida native will step right in while Gusev, a 2012 draft pick of Tampa Bay, finally comes to the NHL after scoring 82 points in 62 Kontinental Hockey League contests last season. Those two, plus an offensive defenseman such as Subban (408 career points, 645 games) and Hall (93 points in 2017-18), should give the Devils a more dangerous offense after Kyle Palmieri led the team with 27 goals and 50 points last season. New Jersey will also need goalie Cory Schneider to come back to form after injuries and inconsistency has led to a downturn in his numbers the past year and a half.
1. Winnipeg 18-year-old D Ville Heinola made his NHL debut Thursday and posted an assist in 18 minutes, 24 seconds of ice time.
2. New Jersey C Nico Hischier, the first-overall pick in the 2017 draft, needs one point to reach 100 while starting his third NHL season.
3. Ehlers is slated to play his 300th NHL game Friday and Wheeler needs two points to reach 700 in his career.
PREDICTION: Devils 5, Jets 3