He didn’t arrive with the fanfare of the last two players at the top of the draft class, but No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier represents the biggest hope to turn things around for the New Jersey Devils. The 18-year-old Hischier will make his NHL debut when the Devils open their season against the visiting Colorado Avalanche on Saturday afternoon.
“As a young player, who dream about this moment, to play your first game and finally it comes up and I’m really excited and happy,” Hischier said. “Every night you’ve got to compete as hard as you can. I just try to help my team every night as much as I can and try to get wins with the team.” New Jersey ranked 28th in the league in scoring last season — Colorado was No. 30 — and looked to address the shortfall by acquiring Marcus Johansson from Washington and adding veteran Drew Stafford. The Avalanche finished with a league-worst 48 points last season — 21 fewer than any other team — but surprised the New York Rangers 4-2 at Madison Square Garden. It ended a 12-game road losing streak for Colorado, which won back-to-back games away from home only once in 2016-17.
TV: 2 p.m. ET, Sportsnet, Altitude (Colorado), MSG-Plus (New Jersey)
ABOUT THE AVALANCHE (1-0-0): Veteran Semyon Varlamov was limited to 23 starts last season before undergoing hip surgery, but he showed what a difference maker he can be with a 37-save performance against the Rangers. “That’s what we’re hoping he can be,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “We don’t want to get into a game where we’re relying on him every night, but we’re going to need him on some of those nights.” Matt Duchene, who went from 30 goals in 2015-16 to 18 last season, got off to a fast start by scoring once and setting up another tally.
ABOUT THE DEVILS (2016-17: 28-40-14, 8th in Metropolitan): Hischier, who had four goals and three assists in four preseason contests, is expected to center the second line of Stafford and Johansson, who established career highs with 24 goals and 58 points last season. Another young center expected to shoulder a heavy load is Pavel Zacha, the No. 6 overall pick in 2015 who will be flanked by leading returning goal scorer Kyle Palmieri (26) and Taylor Hall (53 points) on the No. 1 unit. Captain Andy Greene heads a defensive corps that includes Damon Severson and Hobey Baker Award winner Will Butcher. The Devils need a bounce-back year from Cory Schneider, who spiraled to a 2.82 goals-against average and .908 save percentage last season — well off his marks in his previous three years with the club.
1. Hall, who played his first six seasons in Edmonton, has 14 goals and 27 points in 24 games versus New Jersey.
2. Colorado finished 9-30-2 on the road last season.
3. New Jersey allowed a league-high 12 short-handed goals last season.
PREDICTION: Devils 3, Avalanche 2