Why write a piece about lineup decisions when the Devils have played only one game? Well first of all, it looks like he’s sticking with those lines/roster — at least for now. Second of all, even though 40 games have been played, only one has been by our Devils and none have occurred since the victory over Edmonton in Sweden — i.e. there’s not much else to write about and I have an article due every Wednesday so here it goes!
So first of all, who did and did not make the team.
Anderson, McLeod, and Studenic all played pretty well in the preseason, but certainly weren’t transcendent. And given that none of them has played pro hockey yet, it seems very reasonable to put them in the Bing and let them show us what they can do against the AHL. If one of the three stood out, I’d say it was Anderson who was a +5 CF%Rel and a few scoring chances. If he was a little more lucky and managed to put 1 or 2 home, I bet he’d have made the last round of cuts.
Speaking of which — Seney, Smith, and Rooney were the last to leave the team. Ty Smith may very well have been one of the 6 best defenders available but, as I said in September, that wasn’t necessarily going to be enough — we were at a roster crunch that took loyalty from Yakovlev, us going 14F/8D, AND the Smith re-assignment just to get a legal lineup. Seney played well on the eye test but didn’t have much to show for it as a negative possession player with no goals or assists in the preseason — he didn’t earn a spot. Rooney was certainly close and, I thought he’d have a shot due to his penalty killing, but when the Devils went and got Jean-Sebasitan Dea off waivers, Rooney’s speed and forecheck became redundant.
With regards to who DID make the roster, the only one anyone seems to have gripe with is Stafford. Personally, I’d rather have the young guys playing big minutes in the AHL than jostling between playing 4th line minutes and sitting with the NHL team. Stafford is a veteran, who is not as bad in transition as you may think, and is still fine in the offensive zone and PPs, and was a +4 penalty differential. He’s a perfectly fine 13th forward to have while we let the McLeods and Andersons of the world develop.
The Forward Lines
We all know Hall-Hischier-Palmieri would be fine. However, if there was a 2nd most common expectation of the lines this year, it was the TNT line (Travis and the Texans — Coleman & Noesen). However, we arrive at game one and NONE of the three of them are together. Noesen was playing up on the “2nd” line with Zacha and Mojo, Zajac was having his career revived by Miles Wood on line 3, and Coleman was doing his thing on the 4th line.
The 2nd line was surprisingly well-balanced — each of the 3 players got 2 scoring chances according to Natural Stat Trick. If Noesen proves to be able to handle that spot for now, that’s great — I’d suspect he’s merely keeping the seat warm for Jesper Bratt, who will only make the line’s ceiling higher upon return from his fractured jaw.
The 3rd line was the find of the day Wood and Zajac’s games complemented each other very well, and John Quenneville was also there. The guys talked about it with Amanda Stein the game and Miles elaborated here. What you get from those responses (other than that Miles Wood’s smile, voice, and personality are utterly infections #WoodCrushWednesday) is that Zajac is thrilled to have Wood generate the offense with his speed and improving vision/creativity, while Wood called Travis “the smartest player he’s every played with.” Each player makes up for the deficiencies and highlights the strengths of the other.
The 4th line was just okay. I expect that Dea and Coleman will be trading off being complete nuisances to opposing teams, while Boyle will continue to be ridden for his faceoffs and physicality. Dea actually was one of only two players (Nico) that had 2 high-danger chances. That reminds me of what Coleman did last year and I think they have the potential to find really good chemistry.
All-in-all, despite breaking up what felt like a really well-structured line in the TNT guys, Hynes may have found a way to maximize the impact of each players’ strength. Obviously it’s too early to tell, but what could have been a confusing decision on day one certainly demonstrated, Saturday, the big picture Hynes foresees.
The obvious thing that sticks out like a sore thumb here is Mirco Mueller on the top pairing. He was my “bold prediction” in our season preview.
“After averaging 15 minutes per game for the first 4 years of his career, Mirco Mueller will play over 20 minutes per game and trail only Sami Vatanen in average ice time. Mueller has been spending a lot of time on a top pairing in the preseason, played 20+ minutes in 2 of the last 3 regular season games last year, and led the Devils D in EVGAR/60 (even-strength goals above replacement). I am personally skeptical of his skills, but I think he is the only young blueliner on the roster that has the trust of the coaching staff in the defensive end.”
He did well in that spot. I think that he fits much better with the speed Vatanen and the forwards have. It also gives Andy Greene the ability to not be completely cratered by ridiculous usage. And it lets Damon Severson have a reliable defensive partner that can be the Travis to his Miles. And, of course, it keeps in tact one of the most productive possession pairings in the NHL — Butcher/Lovejoy. That pairing was 3rd in the NHL in CF%Rel (behind only Doughty/Muzzin and Hamilton/Giordano), 9th in GF%Rel, and 6th in xGF%Rel (via Corsica).
In this new John Moore-free defensive alignment, we have a top pairing that could be competent, a middle pairing that will maximize the effectiveness of each skater on it, and a 3rd pairing that will absolutely feast on the dregs of opponents all year long.
As someone who regularly criticizes the roster decisions of this coaching staff — it really feels like they nailed it this time. That’s not to say we should stick with this forever. I’m sure that effectiveness of groups will wax and wane, but it does seem that we have unlocked a few nuggets that have the potential to be constants over the year. And that’s not to say the AHL guys should stay there — there will be times when I’m sure they’ll be needed. But this is a great starting point.
What do you guys think? Do you like the roster right now? What would you have done differently? Was there something you really DIDN’T like about what you saw? Thanks for reading as always and leave your thoughts below!