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Way Overboard Wednesday: These Devils are Unprecedented

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From both an individual perspective, and a team-wide perspective, this Devils team’s surprising start is more than unusual -- it’s unprecedented:

Colorado Avalanche v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

That’s right — unprecedented. That description, in some places in this article, will be undeniable. In other places, it is merely a subjective observation of this team’s potential place in the annals of Devils history. In this blatant rip-off of Mike and Mike’s “Too Far Tuesday,” I will show some unprecedented aspects of players on this team, as well as the team on the whole.

Jesper Bratt

Let’s start with the most obvious one. Jesper Bratt’s hot start puts him in pretty good company.

As you can see, he is also the first in Devils history to do so. But, it’s actually even more ridiculous than you might think. Of the 3 goals he netted, one was even-strength, one was a powerplay, and one was a shorthanded goal. In the last 20 years, only 12 players have managed that in the first two games of the season. Unsurprisingly, he’s the only rookie on the list. It get’s better. He did it in three shots. That’s right. In 3 consecutive shots on goal, Jesper Bratt recorded a goal in every situation. That has never happened for any player of any age/experience at any point of the year since the relevant stats have been recorded. He literally made NHL history in his first two games. IT GETS EVEN MORE RIDICULOUS. He was a 6th round pick. Anyone doing what he’s done is impressive. A rookie doing it is even more impressive. A rookie who was drafted in the 6th round just over a year ago is freaking absurd. Chris Ryan put into context just the fact that he’s playing at all already:

Will Butcher

The Devils have been a revelation offensively, which has distracted from the fact they’ve been exactly as good defensively. As of the writing of this article, the Devils rank 3rd in the league in both goals for and against. This is thanks to an uncharacteristically young and effective defensive group. First let’s start with the most obvious one: Will Butcher.

Once again, the first Devil in history. Also, Ilja Byakin was 30 when he did it and had played 8 years in Soviet Championship League and Jarno Kultanen was 28 and had played 6 years in Liiga, so neither of them even qualified as rookies. Therefore, Butcher is only the 3rd rookie defender to record 3 points in his first game.

Rest of the Defense

The Devils defense as a whole has been very impressive actually. From such a young group, it’s so encouraging to see what they’ve been able to do. In fact, its STILL impressive, even if we completely ignore Will Butcher! Of our top 4 defenders in ice time so far, 3 of them are 23 years old or younger — Damon Severson, Mirco Mueller, and Steve Santini. The oldest of them is Severson. This is not only unusual for the Devils, but unusual in the league. Since ice time started being recorded 20 years ago, only 15 teams have started that many defenders that young in their top 4. The chart below shows the number of 23 or younger defenders that finished top 4 in ice time for each team each year.

They’ve been very good, also. According to Corsica, Severson is #3 in the NHL in expected goal ratio (xGF%) amond defenders who have played 20 minutes so far. Point of fact, Andy Greene is one of the only one’s better right now — he’s 1st! And Butcher isn’t too far behind in 7th. Santini and Mueller have struggled in advanced metrics, but that’s because they’ve been given the treatment that the Lovejoy Greene pairing was given last year — heavy usage in the defensive zone. This has freed up the Severson-Greene pairing to absolutely tear it up since the defensive responsibility has been somewhat alleviated.

The Young Depth

The Devils got 3-point games from both Bratt and Butcher. Bratt is also the 4th most used forward in ice time. One of the guys ahead of him is 20-year-old Pavel Zacha. And I’ve done all of this without mentioning another key factor...

Nico...Nuff said.

Conclusion

The performances have been great. The style has been the most fun part though. This team has FINALLY looked fast, attacking, and supportive. And the NHL is noticing. In a segment about which surprising team could see sustained success, Mike Rupp chose the Devils (skip to 2:30) due to the fact that this is a speed that the Devils haven’t seen in their entire history since they moved from Colorado. In other words, it’s unprecedented.

In the midst of all of this, the most important thing is the overall performance of this team. We are 2-0 and it hasn’t been a fluke because they have the the highest expected goal ratio (xGF%) in the league right now. Can this team continue this style of play that is peerless in franchise history? Only time will tell. But tonight they get their first true test in a matchup of what are, possibly, the two most exciting teams of this young NHL season. Their game against the Maple Leafs is must-watch TV, and regardless of the pertinacity of the wins, the very fact that that descriptor is apt for this team is, in itself, reason for excitement that is, to me, unprecedented.

Your Thoughts

What do you think? Is this team unprecedented in Devils history? Do you think the Devils are playoff contenders? Do you think this is merely a product of facing two of the worst teams in the NHL in our first two games? Which of the surprises do you think are legit and which are flashes in the pan?

Can Butcher continue his powerplay effectiveness? Or does his low ice time indicate other weaknesses and/or lack of trust from the coaching staff? Can Bratt continue his scoring ways? Or does the 3 goals in 3 shots fluke render his production meaningless to interpret? The sensational centers from the preseason, Nico and Zacha, have combined for only 1 point despite the scoring bonanza. Will that change? Leave your thoughts below and thank you for reading!