Thursday at practice, after the atrocious showing against Boston on Tuesday night, John Hynes decided to switch up the New Jersey Devils’ lines to some degree. The fourth line that was out on the ice at practice was a rather intriguing one, instead of the Miles Wood - John Hayden - Kevin Rooney line that, before last night’s game in Pittsburgh, had seen the fourth-most ice time of any line this season, 5.7% of all forward line ice time.
Instead, Wood looks to be getting new linemates down on the fourth line, and it is not one you could realistically call a checking line. Instead, we see a much more talented bottom 3 in Wood - Pavel Zacha - Jesper Bratt. All three of these players have played above the fourth line before, even this season, and placing them on the fourth line could be a great idea moving forward in terms of generating depth production.
Just in terms of possession, the quality of teammates that Wood is seeing here increases significantly. Before last night’s game, here are your score and venue adjusted Corsi and relative Corsi stats for these guys, thanks to Natural Stat Trick:
So just to clarify the team rankings for relative Corsi, that was out of 22 skaters. So Wood has played much of this season with the two worst skaters on the team in terms of relative Corsi when adjusted for score and venue. And despite that, he still managed to pry himself up to 15th on the team, with a much better relative Corsi in comparison.
With his new linemates on the fourth line, Wood’s numbers should theoretically improve. Now, I probably would not expect some amazing transformations. Indeed, none of these players are dominating possession as it is. Bratt, the best one on this list, is under 47% overall, which is really very poor. His relative Corsi is positive because the Devils as a team are seriously bad at possession, sitting 27th in the league before last night’s games at 46.68%, and that probably will not magically change overnight.
However, some improvement has to be expected. First, as the fourth line, this team will more often than not be seeing the other teams’ fourth lines, which you expect to be some of their worst skaters. These guys will be seeing worse quality of competition overall, and while that is not as important as quality of teammates, it should help to improve the team’s fourth line production overall, especially when it comes to generating opportunities for. Rooney and Hayden are two of the three worst skaters on the team in terms of generating Corsi attempts for per 60, Rooney sitting at 42.98 attempts per 60 and Hayden at 36.98. Zacha and Bratt, while not the best on the team by any stretch, are better than that. Zacha is at 46.77 attempts per 60, and Bratt is up at 48.33, the best of these 5 skaters. Those numbers should improve if they are given fourth line minutes and play against worse competition, and Wood’s number of 47.35 should most likely improve by playing alongside better teammates.
A strong fourth line like this could be beneficial to the Devils and especially to their secondary scoring. Hayden and Rooney have combined for a grand total of zero 5v5 points this season, while Zacha and Bratt have combined for 15 and Wood is sitting at 5. Producing points on the fourth line is always a boost to the team whenever it occurs, and this line could generate much more of that than was taking place so far this season.
In the end, is this a major move? Perhaps not, the fourth line cannot carry the team on its shoulders like the top 6 needs to. However, when the top 6 needs a pick-me-up every now and again, which happens to every team, this fourth line, as constituted, could be a great trio to get the job done.