Watching tonight's game it was evident to see. The New Jersey Devils have arrived. Clearly we could see from looking at the standings (www.nhl.com/standings) or from highlights that they were vastly improved. However, seeing them against what we currently have on our roster it was jarring to say the least.
The Devils will begin tomorrow with a .827 point percentage at 21-4-1 on the season. That's 43 points in just 26 games, the top team in the entire league. This is the goal for any organization, to be the best team in the NHL. This is where the Blackhawks want to return to.
So how did the Devils get here? Yes, it's obvious they have two #1 overall picks that they hit on. One, Nico Hischier, wasn't even expected to go #1 until just before the draft. The other, Jack Hughes, didn't have that much of an impact to start his career. They needed time and coaching to help them, something New Jersey invested in.
First 2 seasons: 117 games / 52 points
Last 75 games / 87 points
Nico Hischier has had good numbers since he came into the league, but his two way game as a center has really come forth in the last 3 seasons. These are two talented players that New Jersey has helped improve since they came into the league. It is evident by Jack Hughes vocally backing to retain head coach Lindy Ruff in the offseason. It's these type of relationships that any team can learn from, let alone Chicago.
The Devils have not qualified for the playoffs in 4 straight seasons. Not only that but 9 out of the past 10 seasons has seen them finish 20th or worse in the league standings. That means alot of top tier draft picks in those 9 seasons.
We already talked about the two cornerstone players: Hughes and Hischier (21 and 23 now). They have managed to acquire 8 first round draft picks in the past 5 drafts and seen their recent selections pay immediate dividends. Dawson Mercer, Luke Hughes, Shakir Mukhamadullin, Simon Nemec, Chase Stillman, Alexander Holtz, Seamus Casey, Nico Dawes, Tyler Brennan, and Samu Salminen are just some of the young talents in the 18-21 year old range that has yet to blossom at the NHL level. It's an elite and deep prospect pool that just will continue to develop with stars Hughes and Hischier. Basically, we should all fear the Devils for the foreseeable future.
So for the New Jersey Devils, it took 10 years. Nine of these seasons they were terrible and constantly were drafting in the top half of the 1st round. They didn't hit on those first couple of drafts (Smith, Zacha, McLeod etc) however they hit lately and hit big.
The Blackhawks will likely have a good pick this year, one in which we hope to land a star. If we don't, the rebuild will take longer until we start to hit in back to back, 3 in a row, or 4 in a row drafts.... This much I've gathered from the Devils timeline.
The Blueprint for the devils thus far: Develop your young 1st rounders by surrounding them with coaches they like and can learn from. Keep these coaches around through the growing pains and loses. Add in through the pipeline of high draft picks only when ready.... Sprinkle in some good locker room veterans with experience... Seems easy enough, but not every fanbase wants to wait 10 years like New Jersey had to. Oh and getting two #1 picks in years there are elite centers on the board doesn't hurt either!
Buckle up, this might take awhile!