NEWARK, NJ – DECEMBER 06: Lee Stempniak #20 of the New Jersey Devils celebrates scoring a goal against the Florida Panthers during the first period of an NHL hockey game at Prudential Center on December 6, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Three surprising players are leading the Devils offense

Things are looking up in New Jersey.

The New Jersey Devils underwent significant change this offseason. Former Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero was brought in to take the reigns while longtime president and general manager Lou Lamoriello was demoted and bolted for Toronto. Shero proceeded to go off-book by naming John Hynes from the AHL as head coach.

The Devils didn’t make many roster adjustments, yet the team has gotten off to a solid 14-10-4 start, which on the surface doesn’t sound great, but is favorable compared to 2014-15’s 32-win season and when you factor in this year was supposed to be the start of a rebuild. There are many reasons for the improvement, such as Corey Schneider playing like one of the best goalies in the NHL, or the club’s improved possession (which has nosedived in December). But there have been three surprising contributions from forwards which have come from nowhere and helped catapult the Devils to respectability – those players being Mike Cammalleri, Lee Stempniak and Kyle Palmieri.

New Jersey signed Cammalleri to a huge five-year, $25 million deal during the 2014 offseason with expectations he could repeat his success he had with the Flames the year prior where he scored 26 goals. He ultimately didn’t disappoint, scoring 27 goals in 68 games, but this year he’s taken it to another level. He’s scored at over a point-per-game pace with 11 goals and 30 points in 28 games, tied for sixth in the NHL. He’s found chemistry on a line with Stempniak and Adam Henrique, as the trio has combined for 32 goals. Cammalleri is known for scoring goals, but he’s second in the NHL in first assists with 10 and has already equaled or tied his assist total from each of the last three seasons.

While it’s unlikely he’ll continue the pace (his 12.92 5v5 Sh% is not sustainable) Cammalleri is having a dazzling season, and should he stay healthy, he’s got a chance to put up some fantastic numbers.

The most unlikely contribution comes from Cammalleri’s linemate Stempniak. He joined his eighth NHL team on a PTO, and made the club, signing a one-year $850,000 contract. Expected to fill out the bottom-six, Stempniak has exploded out of the gate with seven goals and 22 points in his first 28 games.

A big reason for the increased scoring? Opportunity. The 32-year-old is logging seven more minutes per game than he did in 2014-15. He’s getting regular time on the power play and has rewarded the club with nine PP points. Now it speaks to the Devils depth that a player like Stempniak could get so much ice-time, but he’s making the most of it. He’s got a solid chance to hit the 15-goal / 40-point mark, which is tremendous given he came into camp without a contract.

Arguably the biggest acquisition the Devils made this offseason was bringing in Palmieri from the Anaheim Ducks. The cost was high, as the Devils gave up second and third-round picks for him, but it was a decent gamble. The 24-year-old former first-round pick was coming off back-to-back 14-goal seasons, despite being slightly buried in Anaheim behind solid offensive talent.

So far the gamble has paid off, as Palmieri has scored 12 goals and 21 points in 28 games, playing with a variety of different linemates. With more opportunity, his numbers have seen an uptick. He hits restricted free agency at season’s end, and if the Devils lock him up, they’ve got a legitimate piece to build with going forward. Also, it doesn’t hurt he’s a hometown boy.

The Devils aren’t one of the best teams in the NHL, but they’ve shown significant strides this year and Cammalleri, Stempniak and  Palmieri have been a big part of that.

About Liam McGuire

Social +Staff writer for The Comeback & Awful Announcing.