How can Devils' defense improve in 2017-18?

August 22, 2017 - The Star Ledger - View Full Article

The Devils will look for ways to improve their defense next season, even with minimum personnel changes.

POINT PLEASANT -- After allowing 2.94 goals per game last season -- sixth most in the NHL -- the Devils will seek ways to return to their usual defensive success.

The Devils also went 18-10-14 in one-goal games last season, and that .429 win percentage in those contests was also sixth lowest in the NHL. Flipping a few of those results is a start in changing the narrative.

"It's experience and learning from those. Really bearing down and sticking to the system," goalie Keith Kinkaid said. "Getting back in our own zone to secure a lead, or attack to get a lead. I think we've learned from that and will be in really good shape."

Blandisi and McLeod on Zajac's injury

The Devils' defense won't look drastically different from how it looked at the end of last season. They brought in Mirco Mueller in a trade from the San Jose Sharks. They also signed KHL blue liner Yaroslav Dyblenko, who could be in competition for a roster spot.

Aside from that, the Devils will rely on internal improvement to get back to the defense John Hynes coached in his first season in New Jersey in 2015-16.

"It's a group effort. It's not on the goalies, the d-men or the forwards," defenseman Steven Santini said. "With our coaches and all our staff, we have to find ways to win hockey games. We do that by just having a good training camp and getting off to a hot start."

Santini will be entering his second pro season after spending the majority of his time in the NHL last winter.

Having a full year playing and training in the league should benefit Santini, who had a busy offseason on and off the ice.

Along with his training, Santini wrapped up his college degree and got married.

"People don't understand the transition for young kids is hard. Now I'm 22, I'm married, a full year of pro," Santini said. "There's definitely a comfort level. It's hard to explain, but hopefully I find my game early and help the team anyway I can."

Chris Ryan may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ChrisRyan_NJ. Find Devils on Facebook.

How Devils' Joseph Blandisi, MIchael McLeod will approach camp after Travis Zajac's injury

August 21, 2017 - The Star Ledger - View Full Article

Forwards Joseph Blandisi and Michael McLeod have a bigger opportunity in front of them with the Devils after Travis Zajac's injury.

POINT PLEASANT -- The Devils will need someone to help fill the void left by Travis Zajac's injury.

With the veteran center expected to miss four-to-six months following surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle suffered in offseason training, the Devils will need at least one other person to fill a role at center and on the roster.

Two players who could step into center roles are Joseph Blandisi and Michael McLeod, but both know what Zajac meant to the lineup.

"I don't think there's going to be any replacing Trav. That's a tough loss," Blandisi said. "He plays a lot of minutes in all parts of the game, penalty kill, power play. It's going to have to be a team effort really to carry that load, especially for the younger guys, we're going to have to step up. Especially for myself, being one of the older younger guys. It's a lot of weight on my shoulders as well."

Devils hit the beach (PHOTOS)

Blandisi played 68 NHL games over the past two seasons with the Devils, and he stayed in the NHL until the end of the regular season following an early February call-up in 2016-17. He has eight goals and 26 points over his two seasons.

While Blandisi has the benefit of NHL experience entering camp, McLeod will enter trying to secure a roster spot as a 19-year-old.

The Devils' 2016 first-round pick has been preparing throughout the offseason to make a run for the NHL during his second training camp, and in his mind, Zajac's injury won't alter his approach.

"Him being out is a huge blow for the team, but it doesn't really change my mindset," McLeod said. "I wasn't going to take his spot or anything. I'm just going into training camp, trying to work as hard as I can and see what happens from there. I'll go in there with a positive mindset and show the team what I can do."

The two young forwards will be in competition with Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha and others for time at center, where the Devils also have veterans Adam Henrique, Brian Boyle and Marcus Johansson. Boyle will definitely line up at center, while Henrique and Boyle can both play the wing.

McLeod said during Development Camp he was comfortable playing any position if it meant helping the Devils in the NHL in 2017-18, but he could get a shot at center with Zajac out. The Devils have a loaded center depth chart, and the flexibility of both Blandisi and McLeod to play center or wing adds to their value.

Regardless of how the final roster shakes out, Blandisi said the Devils will be missing a big piece when the puck drops on opening night.

"(Zajac's) one of those guys the younger guys watch and look up to, even myself," he said. "I've learned a lot from Trav, just how he prepares himself day in and day out. He brings the same mindset to the rink everyday and the same effort. He's such a consistent player, and that's why Hynes trusts him so much in all aspects of the game."

Chris Ryan may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ChrisRyan_NJ. Find Devils on Facebook.