Tonight marks game 27 for the New Jersey Devils this season, meaning that not only has one fourth of the season been played already, but after tonight, the team is essentially a third of the way through the 2018-19 campaign. As the team has been way worse than expected this season, and my day job is a Language Arts teacher, I decided to assign grades based on individual performances so far this season.
Joey Anderson: C
Anderson hasn’t been in the lineup for very long, nor has he contributed much (2 points in 11 games) however he’s been mostly used in a fourth line role and has brought energy and hope in that role. Considering that expectations are low for him right now, I think an average grade for an average performance is just about right.
Brian Boyle: C-
Outside of one really good game where he scored a hat trick, Boyle hasn’t been much of a force on the ice this season. While he is being used in a fourth line role, he hasn’t looked all that good defensively at times, resulting in a somewhat low grade.
Jesper Bratt: A-
Bratt’s return to New Jersey’s lineup has been a breath of fresh air, as his play has sparked his linemates into relevancy. He’s played a mere 12 games, but has already cracked the top 10 in Devils scoring with 9 points. Fans wanted to see more consistency out of Jesper this season, and so far he’s delivering. Let’s just hope for the team’s sake (both now and long term) that he continues to grow and continues to help those around him to contribute on the score sheet.
Blake Coleman: A
I was so close to giving Coleman an A+, but due to a couple of foolish penalties he’s taken, I couldn’t round him up. That doesn’t stop Coleman from shining the brightest on what has been a fairly dull Devils team so far. With 8 goals, 7 assists and an energy level that never seems to dip (even when the team is playing like garbage), Pickles has been all he was advertised to be and more. For someone who was supposed to be a bottom 6 energy guy, he’s looking more and more like a skilled contributor.
Blake earns my First Trimester MVP honors for playing the way all of the Devils should be playing night in and night out.
Taylor Hall: B+
Don’t get me wrong here, Taylor Hall is still Taylor Hall and he’s the only Devils averaging a point per game or better. The issue appears to be that he’s trying to do too much. Hall is turning the puck over more than last year; he seems to be making a few more mistakes than he did last year. Perhaps he’s still adjusting from the offseason surgery, or perhaps he’s again playing through something; Hall will continue to produce, but if he can shore up the mistakes, he can improve his grade as well.
Nico Hischier: B+
Hischier has also been fine for the most part, but parts of his game have taken a step back it seems when the hope is that he would be progressing. His production (in terms of points per game) has increased, but his faceoff percentage his dropped, and the Devils need him to be winning draws. His defensive decisions have also been somewhat questionable, but I guess whose haven’t? Nico will be fine, but I think for him to truly thrive, the Devils need to be more than a one line team and so far that hasn’t been the case.
Marcus Johansson: D+
For a player in a contract year, Johansson hasn’t been much help for Jersey’s team either on offense or defense. He has struggled mightily at times, and looked disinterested at others. Half of Marcus’ points have come in his last 6 games, so maybe he’s turning a corner on this season. The Devils will need him to if they hope to right the ship.
Stefan Noesen: D+
The next in a line of disappointments this season, Noesen has failed to improve upon a fairly good 2017-18 campaign. As such, he’s seen his role reduced and has even found himself (deservedly) scratched on a couple of occasions. The Devils could use for some of their depth to get going; Noesen would be a prime candidate to find some semblance of last season’s game going forward.
Kyle Palmieri: B
Palmieri started the season off hot, but has cooled considerably as of late, resulting in the letter grade seen above. The Devils need Kyle to be filling the net to remain a successful team, and right now he has no goals in his last 6 games. It’s hard to fault just him, but Palms is paid to score, and he’s not doing that right now. Hopefully, the West Coast trip starts another hot scoring streak for him.
John Quenneville: Incomplete
Quenneville appeared in only 5 contests before being assigned to Binghamton; while his performance in those contests was overall disappointing, it’s too small of a sample size for a young player to be able to give a grade.
Brett Seney: C
Much like Anderson, Seney has mostly been used in a bottom 6 role with low expectations. While he’s recorded a few more points than Joey, he’s also been on the ice for more goals by the opposition. Again though, he’s not supposed to be leading the team, so he’s another average player in an average role for the time being.
Drew Stafford: D-
As a fourth line player who has appeared only sporadically this season, I don’t much is expected out of Stafford, but when he has come into the lineup, he’s not bringing much positive. Slow skating coupled with turnovers fairly regularly has left Stafford as part of the problem and not the solution. It also makes you wonder about team management; why not waive him instead of J.S. Dea? One contributed this season (before being reacquired by Pittsburgh) while one did not; why keep the one who didn’t?
Miles Wood: F
Perhaps the single most disappointing forward on the Devils roster this season is Miles Wood. With only 2 goals and 4 assists through the first 26 games, Wood is a far cry from the 19-13 player he was last season. Additionally, he’s been prone to taking dumb penalties this year, which was something that we all wanted to see worked out of his game. The good news is that Wood’s shooting percentage is unbelievably low, so hopefully some of his shots will start going in sooner rather than later allowing him to once again be a positive contributor.
Pavel Zacha: D-
I was tempted to fail Zacha as well, but he had one series of games where he went on a small scoring streak which has inspired just enough to barely pass him for this trimester. He is, however, another player like Wood who has seemingly heavily regressed rather than improved this season. Bratt’s return has seemingly given him some new life, so it’s worth seeing if he can continue to contribute now that he has a winger that he shares some chemistry with. For a former 6th overall pick, 4 points in 21 games is still unacceptable; Zacha needs to be better.
Travis Zajac: A-
Another forward who has been a bright spot is Zajac, due to the fact that the expectation was regression due to age. So far, Zajac is putting together a good season on a bad Devils team; tying Blake Coleman’s stat line (with one fewer game played) puts Travis in a 4 way tie for 4th place in team scoring. While again the team has fallen short of expectations, Travis has exceeded the individual ones forecast for him.
Will Butcher: D+
If Miles Wood has been the biggest disappointment at forward, then Butcher takes that dubious honor for the defense. The hopes were high that he would be able to handle an increased load this season, but he has fallen instead into one heck of a sophomore slump. There’s still time to turn it around, but Butcher’s dynamic offense from a season ago has yet to appear this season and his defense is still suspect.
Andy Greene: D-
Despite having one year left on his contract after this one, the writing is looking more and more like it is on the walls for Captain Greene. He looks slow, he contributes very little offensively and his defensive ability is not what it once was. Andy was a good soldier for a long time, but last season’s regression has continued into this season and for a player his age, it’s rare to see one overcome Father Time.
Ben Lovejoy: D
While putting The Rev in a reduced role is definitely a good idea, as the team has done since last year, this season he hasn’t exactly been thriving in it. Lovejoy has lost (another) step this season and has gotten pinned into his own zone more times than I can count; Butcher’s inability to take a step forward may have something to do with his most regular partner here taking a step backward.
Mirco Mueller: B-
I was down on Mueller due to last season’s inconsistencies and his lack of growth. This year has been a different Mirco so far, and while he certainly still has work to do, he’s one of the few defenders on this team that doesn’t seem to be completely lost at all times. Again, we need him to keep improving, but Mueller isn’t the problem right now.
Steven Santini - Incomplete
Santini has unfortunately appeared in only 2:33 of action this season due to a puck hitting him and breaking his jaw in his first game. Hopefully, he can return to the lineup soon and improve the team’s lowly defense.
Damon Severson - B+
Severson has been the Devils’ best defender so far this season, both in terms of offensive production and defending against the opposing team. He’s more physical, he’s realistically the only defender moving the puck well and his ice time is ticking upward as a result. In a season where so much has already gone wrong, Damon taking steps towards being legit top pairing defender is encouraging.
Sami Vatanen: C
Vatanen has been disappointing this season but still has managed to have an alright start. He’s contributing offensively at the very least, so Sami isn’t useless like a few other defenders. He does need to up his defensive game back to where it was last season so that he can help the team to stop bleeding goals.
Egor Yakovlev: C+
While his action has been limited, Yak hasn’t been bad, and maybe it’s due in part to low expectations; no one knew what he would or could be coming in. His defense has been average, he’s tallied 3 points in 8 contests, and much like Vatanen, he’s not a liability on the ice like some older defenders are becoming. Hopefully Yak will get some more games and be able to fully show the player he is.
Keith Kinkaid: B-
Kinkaid’s early play buys him a better grade than his last few games along would have given him. The early season Devils were bolstered by some of Kinkaid’s excellent play, coupled with timely saves and the goal post helping out. The luck has seemingly run dry though and Keith has struggled along with the rest of the team lately. It will be interesting to see how he performs on the California road trip.
Cory Schneider: F
Maybe this grade won’t be seen as entirely fair to some, as the general awfulness of most of the defense isn’t helping here, but Schneider has been flat out bad. Maybe he came back from injury too soon, maybe he’s officially done as an NHL caliber player; whatever the case may be, letting in a Schneider Softy at least once per game is not helping the Devils’ woes.
Your Take & Grades
I wanted to rank the coaching and general manager as well, but decided to just stick to player grades and justifications for today. If anyone wants to know how I would score the aforementioned pair, let’s just say the word “low” is applicable.
What do you think of how the Devils have played this season? Was I too fair or too harsh on any players? What grades would you assign to each based on the season so far? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!