#3 March 2nd: New Jersey Devils
At the beginning of the season, I never would have expected Devils-Panthers to be a meaningful game in March. In one of the shocks of the season, the Devils are where every team wants to be: young and winning. John Hynes has done very well at meshing this below-average looking squad into a contender for hockey’s toughest-looking division on paper. Even more surprising, it’s not even because 1st overall pick Nico Hischier is carrying them like Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel have done for their respective franchises.
This is a group of players who play for the each other. Taylor Hall has been an astounding pickup since 2015, with 45 points this season, he could be considered one of the NHL’s elite talents. The depth of the team is incredible, a true mosh pit of prospects like Jesper Bratt, Miles Wood, and Pavel Zacha, overlooked players like Brian Gibbons, Brian Boyle, and the veteran presence of Travis Zajac.
The defense is complemented with new Devil, Sami Vatanen, as well as versatile two-way players like Damon Seversson, John Moore, and Will Butcher, a defenseman who can quarterback a power play and get forward in short-handed situations. Corey Schneider has had less work to do in net, but don’t let that take away from his brilliance, which is still one of the league’s best.
The Panthers certainly can-and arguably should-be at the Devils’ pace, however signs of a slump out of those top three have shown lately for the Devs. This could be a wild card 4 pointer, but it will definitely be an intense affair between well-matched teams.