3 NHL teams outside the playoffs who will ultimately make it

The NHL playoff picture is razor thin right now, and there are some teams on the outside who will be in come April and May.

Dec 27, 2023; Newark, New Jersey, USA; New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (86) skates with the
Dec 27, 2023; Newark, New Jersey, USA; New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (86) skates with the / Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
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The NHL season is right at the halfway point. Usually, we know who is really good, who is really bad, and who is going to make the playoffs at this point. That's not the situation this season. In the Eastern Conference, only the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators are truly "out of it." Everyone else is within seven points of a playoff spot, and six teams are within four points of the final two Wild Card spots. In the Western Conference, the Ducks, Sharks, and Blackhawks are the only teams more than seven points out of the playoff spot.

That makes the concept of sellers a little foreign this season for the NHL Trade Deadline, but that's for another article. For this article, we are looking at teams who are on the outside of the playoffs both in points and points percentage. That makes it a little more interesting with so many teams still in the race.

There are a few reasons why teams might get back into it. Some have dealt with injuries in the first half. Others have to learn a new system and we expect a big second half. Then, there are divisions where we expect teams to rise above the rest. Let's start with an interesting team who could make a run, not only in the regular season, but in the playoffs.

3. New Jersey Devils — Currently two points out of a playoff position

This one is hard to explain, as the New Jersey Devils have been the strangest team in the NHL this season, even weirder than the Edmonton Oilers, who have ridden two massive win streaks to a playoff spot. The New Jersey Devils were expected to make "the jump" this season. They made it to the second round last season, but their inexperience caused them to be outclassed by the Carolina Hurricanes.

Fast forward six months, and the Devils are middling in the standings and losing to the likes of the Ducks, Canadiens, and Sharks while desperate for points. However, there are two reasons why the Devils can make a run. One, changes are likely coming. It could be in coaching philosophies changing or a major trade, but changes will likely happen, especially in net where the Devils are one of the worst teams in the league. They can't get a stop, and there are some good goalies like Jacob Markstrom and John Gibson available.

The other is stars returning from injury. Jack Hughes was just announced as a captain for the All-Star Game. One would assume that means he will be back before then, as he's currently nursing an upper-body injury. The Devils just got back Timo Meier, and he should acclimate to the lineup soon. Ondrej Palat should be back eventually. Jonas Siegenthaler, too.

When Hughes returns, it will help the Devils score. They have a lot of games within the Metropolitan Division left, and they can eat those points. We'd be floored if the Devils didn't make a goalie move and they were kept outside the playoff bubble with that talent pool.