Going into the 2017-18 season, the New Jersey Devils started out with a stronger roster on paper than they had in previous years. Running with Taylor Hall and Marcus Johansson as their top two left wings, the team actually wound up scratching speedy scrappy skilled winger Miles Wood for the first game of the season. He would join the lineup after that first game, and hasn’t left it since.
The reason he hasn’t left the lineup? Wood has started to become a more complete player, and is playing as the team’s second line left wing right now. For a player that many predicted to be a bottom six energy guy, Wood has started to add finish to an unpolished speed game that he demonstrated last season. Results so far? Wood is second on the team in goals with 14 (4 behind Taylor Hall) and sixth in points with 22; while his assist total is a bit low, his goal scoring has him on pace to score 24 goals this season, which would be a true second line scoring pace.
How does a transformation like this happen? Wood last season didn’t even finish with 24 points, let alone goals. Part of the reason is that he’s shooting more; in 60 appearances last season, Wood took 105 shots on goal. He has already just about equaled that total (104) in 12 less games so far this season. Additionally, his shooting percentage has gone up from a low 7.6% last season to 13.5% so far this season; while the percentage might regress, the additional volume of shots should help Miles to at least reach the 20 goal plateau this season.
Additionally, some of the credit for his new success should be given to any coaches he has been working with, be it someone over the summer, or New Jersey’s coaching staff. 2016-17 Miles Wood had the speed component to his game down, but he was usually out of control and did not convert on as many scoring chances as he probably could have. This season has seen him have better control over his body while still demonstrating the same blazing speed.
The last clip in particular is a prime example of how Wood has evolved; I don’t think there are many fans that would disagree that 16-17 Miles would have wiped out (and possibly clipped the goalie) without putting that puck in the net. The most notable change for me is seeing his hands; whereas he seemed almost clumsy at times last season, now he is much smoother with the puck on his stick.
If Wood continues to add elements to his game, and continues to play at this pace or higher, than the Devils may have another true top six player in their mix. At only 22 years old, Wood fits in to the team’s window of success both now and in the near future. If he demonstrates this consistency beyond this season, he should be an important piece and a legitimate scoring threat for the Devils going forward.
As a second season NHLer, there is obviously still room for Miles to grow; he’s not a superstar player the caliber of say Hall, nor will he ever be more than likely, but he can still round himself into a complete player. His offensive game is coming along nicely, and he has stayed feisty on the defensive side as well. Wood was a -21 last season and this season, has improved that differential at this point to a -2. His pairing with a strong defender (or at least stronger than Wood at this point) in Pavel Zacha has helped to limit the number of chances the team is giving up while he is on the ice. Additionally, Zacha and Kyle Palmieri have benefited from playing with Wood, picking up points on his recent goals and together looking like a legitimate strong possession line. For the team’s sake and playoff chances, let’s hope John Hynes keeps them together and the trio keeps up their recent play.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on the improved play of Miles Wood this season; do you think he has legitimately grown, or is this season just a result of some better luck? Do you see him hitting the 20 goal mark before this campaign ends? Can he be a legitimate second line winger for the Devils behind Hall going forward? Have you enjoyed Zacha/Palmieri/Wood as a line? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!