Unbeknownst to most, the future of Miles Wood as a New Jersey Devil added some doubt in this offseason. So much so that I have to ask the question: How much longer will Miles Wood remain as a New Jersey Devil.
At first glance, it does not make much sense. Wood is a 23-year old left winger who is entering his fourth straight season with New Jersey. He is entering the second season of a four-season, $11 million contract he signed last Fall. No other Devil forward is currently signed through the 2021-22 season and his cap hit is only $2.75 million per CapFriendly. The Devils have 12 forwards signed for New Jersey also per CapFriendly.
For the uninitiated, a brief summary of what Wood is all about. Wood is a very fast left winger - when he is able to skate in a straight line. He is usually utilized to chase pucks down. He tends to shoot the puck and will shoot it from wherever. He can create shooting opportunities for others. Defense and off the puck play has been a weakness, but he has made some strides in those regards. Wood is not so young that he is a developing player but he is not so old that he cannot make a few more gains. He improved quite a bit in the 2017-18 season. After that season, I and many fans were happy with the current contract he signed. Some also claim he is quite handsome - your mileage may vary. Sure, the 2018-19 season was a poor one for him - and it was a poor one for the Devils. Surely, he’ll bounce back, so surely he is set to be a Devil until the end of his contract, right?
I do not think so considering what the Devils have done in this offseason and who they have in their organization. Let’s break it down:
Relevant Moves in This Offseason
First of the offseason moves relevant to Wood, the New Jersey Devils signed Jesper Boqvist to an entry level contract back on June 10. Boqvist was drafted out of Brynäs IF by New Jersey in the second round in 2017. He has produced at a high level last season in the Swedish Hockey League and did so while flying all over the ice. More importantly, his contract has a European release clause which means that if he does not play for New Jersey, then he can go back Brynäs IF. There will be no Binghamton option for Boqvist. In any case, one of New Jersey’s top forward prospects has been signed and, given the clause, there is a real hope he can make New Jersey’s roster this Fall. While drafted as a center, he can play any forward position - and he has a left handed shot. If he is not a center, then left wing is likely his next position.
Second of the offseason moves relevant to Wood, the Devils drafted Jack Hughes. This may have known well before June 21. The Devils did win the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery and Hughes was and remained the consensus #1 pick. Hughes has been signed to an ELC in July and he will make the New Jersey roster. He will almost definitely be centering one of the top two lines to start the season. This is relevant to Wood in that it sealed up a top-six spot for someone else - which matters given the other moves.
Third of the offseason moves relevant to Wood, the Devils signed Wayne Simmonds. The deal is short: only one season. The amount of money is not small: it is a $5 million contract. Simmonds is a right winger and he has been a power play force, especially down low next to the crease. He will undoubtedly be in the lineup whenever possible and on a power play unit. Even if that means it is a bottom-six spot. The power play part is relevant in that it will likely bump someone else down to the second unit, which may bump off Wood who was a fringe part of special teams to begin with. This may relegate Wood to be solely an even strength player.
Fourth of the offseason moves relevant to Wood, the Devils traded two picks to Vegas for the rights to Nikita Gusev and then signed Gusev to a two-season, $9 million contract. Gusev emerged as one of the highest scoring players in KHL history over the past few years. His skillset is wonderful and the production backs up how wonderful it was. Vegas wanted to bring him in for the playoffs, so much so that they signed him to an ELC in April. However, they could not come to terms with the player due to their cap issues. Shero swooped in, offered two picks, and got the right to talk to Gusev. He signed with the Devils. Important to Wood is that Gusev is a left winger. While he shoots right, he has been a left winger in his KHL career. A switch to the otherside is possible but it may require a switch for someone else. Either way, a player of his pedigree and skill pencils him into the second line left winger spot behind Taylor Hall. This move, combined with the others, effectively keeps Wood in the bottom-six. T
he Devils can roll out a potential top two lines of Hall, Hischier, Palmieri, Gusev, Hughes, and Bratt. Sure, one could try switching Bratt and Simmonds; but both are going to be in the lineup in one way or another. And the lineup is now crowded with forwards.
The Other Forwards in the System
Immediately, there are three other Devils forwards who are locks to make the roster albeit in the bottom six. Blake Coleman, one of the team’s top penalty killers and their most aggressive forechecker, will be there. He is 27 and has some positional flexibility, but he usually has played left wing. Travis Zajac, an assistant captain with a team and has been with the Devils for well over a decade, will also be on the roster. He will be a center, likely the third line center behind Hischier and Hughes. Zajac has been a jack-of-all-trades forward with his best uses coming in defensive situations such as penalty kills. Zajac, who is 34, also has a no-trade clause. Pavel Zacha, who is up for a new contract, should also be a lock. While he has not been nearly as good as those drafted around him, he has been a consistent NHL player. The 22 year old has shown flashes of offensive skill and demonstrated that he is one of the more effective penalty killers in the NHL. When he is not at center, he has been utilized as a left winger.
Combined with Simmonds and John Hayden, who was acquired in a trade from Chicago and was a fourth line regular for them last season, five spots for the bottom-six may already be filled. Wood makes six - and there are players who were brought into the roster at points last season who have plenty of incentive to make the roster this season. Here are three who are left wingers or shoots left and could be a winger.
- Kevin Rooney - He’s 26 and his contract will pay him $700,000 one-way this season per CapFriendly. While he is a center, his inclusion would force someone else to shift to the left or right. I do not think he brings much to the table but, like Hayden, his status may compel the Devils to keep him around. Keeping him at center may mean someone like Zacha has to be moved to the left side. By the way, he shoots left, so it may be possible he can shift to the left side as needed.
- Brett Seney - Seney played in 51 games last season at both left wing and center. He is a “sparkplug” type of player; someone who has a few energetic shifts in the hopes of changing the pace a bit. He’s 23 and he’s entering the last year of his ELC. More time in NJ may guarantee a more lucrative contract.
- Jesper Boqvist - The very first other player mentioned in this post. Boqvist’s European assignment clause may compel the Devils to keep him around. Keeping him in North America will help him get acclimated to the style of game here, the lifestyle of being a pro hockey player here, and opportunities to play in New Jersey. And Boqvist would likely do it as a left winger.
This is to say nothing of Joey Anderson, Nathan Bastian, Michael McLeod, or others in the system who could rise up in camp. While they may be right wingers or centers, someone being added to the roster may force someone else to shift to the left side to make it work. There are a lot of candidates for a forward corp that has few openings. Regardless, the left wing depth chart now looks like this:
Top Guys: Hall, Gusev
Bottom-Sixers: Coleman, Wood, Zacha (if he’s not at center), Rooney (maybe, if he’s not at center)
Potential to Make NJ Roster: Boqvist, Seney
That is eight potential left wingers for four spots. Seven may be more accurate given that Rooney really has not played much at wing. And the bottom six is almost set to have Coleman, Zajac, Simmonds, Zacha, Hayden, and Wood. Yet, the one that is starting to look less like a fit is Wood.
I like Miles Wood. There is a lot to like. When the play is working in his favor, his speed and eagerness to shoot is noticeable and exciting. The issues arise when it is not, and last season featured a lot not working for the Devils.
The 2018-19 season was a downturn for both the team and Wood. Wood’s shooting hit some real bad luck as his shooting percentage dropped from 11.2% down to 6.3% - resulting in just ten goals after nineteen in the season prior. His on-ice performances became more or less lackluster as he was justifiably dropped to the fourth line on many occasions. While his 5-on-5 on-ice rates were actually among the better forwards, he was still below breakeven in terms of Corsi, expected goals, scoring chances, and actual goals per Natural Stat Trick. All drops from the previous season. Further, Wood maintained his penchant for aggression by leading the team in penalty minutes for a second straight season. He went from 84 PIM (31 minors, 2 majors, 1 misconduct) to 91 PIM (22 minors, 3 majors, 1 misconduct, and 1 game misconduct). While it was good to see fewer minor penalties from him, he has some ways to go to avoid sitting in a box unable to help his team.
It is entirely possible and even probable that Wood will bounce back in 2019-20. His shooting percentage may rebound. Being kept to a third or fourth line will hide some his off-the-puck concerns. He could even be coached up to be more judicious with his shots or more disciplined. A return to his 2018-19 form is possible. Which is where one starts realizing this is hoping he bounces back from a 10-goal, 0.38 point per game season for 24 points while largely being kept to even strength play to a 19-goal, 0.42 point per game season for 36 points while largely being kept to even strength play. And he will very likely remain at even strength play. I do not see a path where he will be a power play regular and he definitely is not good enough defensively (better than he used to be but still) to play on a penalty kill. While that may be good enough for a bottom-six player, is it really worth it to keep Wood around?
At least other players can provide more than what Wood did in his best season so far. Take Blake Coleman for example. He can produce at about the same as Wood and out-did him in terms of goals and shots last season. Coleman is as aggressive as Wood (for better and worse) while being a much better forechecker and is actually good on the penalty kill. Coleman is older but he also does all this for less money than Wood, too. Take Pavel Zacha for another example. Pavel Zacha may not be able to hit the levels of production we may want. However, Zacha actually knows how to play well in both ends, his flashes of skill really do pop, and he has his uses on both special teams units - especially on the PK. In my view, that makes it more important that Coleman and Zacha stay in the lineup on a regular basis. Wood is the odd-man out in that situation. Moreso if the coaches think Boqvist or Seney can contribute to special teams in the future.
What about his speed? Yes, in a straight line and in pursuit of a puck, Wood is arguably the fastest player on the team. However, look at the rest of the left wingers. Hall flies on the ice. Gusev has been very mobile and shifty at the KHL level; he will not be slower in the NHL. Coleman is also quick on his skates. Seney works hard on his pushes and is not a slow player. Zacha isn’t a plodding skater either. Boqvist is a prospective player and his skating is one of his best assets. He will not be slow at the next level either. The point is that Devils have plenty of mobility and speed at left wing. No one is faster than Wood but the Devils are not short on speed on that side of the depth chart.
And if the roster shakes out such that Wood ends up being the fourth line left winger, then cost efficiency comes into question. The Devils have the room now to afford to have a $2.75 million player on their fourth line. It is very hard to justify that salary with only 10-12 minutes per game. It would be one thing if the Devils utilized Wood on special teams so he could contribute in other ways, like Brian Boyle. They do not and I do not see how he will get onto either special team in this coming season. Sure, Wood may be a better option than Brett Seney but Seney would be more likely to prove his worth of $782,500 (his 2019-20 salary) in that role than Wood proving his worth of $2.5 million (his 2019-20 salary). The Devils could put Wood on a third line, which would give him more minutes; but the line would have to be structured in a way that would use his skills to his fullest. I’m not sure that will happen given who else is on the roster.
One final question comes to mind: Wouldn’t Jesper Boqvist be able to do a lot of the same things and develop him more for the future? If Boqvist is really ready for NHL hockey, then wouldn’t putting him in the same spots Wood was in last season yield about the same or even more beneficial results? You may not like seeing an offensive-minded forward in a bottom-six spot but unless injuries happen or Gusev busts (I doubt that), someone is going to be there. Rather than sending him back to Sweden or keeping him as a spare forward, receiving consistent minutes at all will help him acclimate to the North American game and doing so in a more sheltered spot in the lineup. He would be cheaper than Wood and the potential gains would be higher as he is only 20 years old. It is a tempting thought and I find myself preferring Boqvist getting his shot on a fourth line as opposed to Wood.
All together, I am thinking that Wood is less and less of a fit on this team. He should be better than someone who is kept to a fourth line. He is certainly paid that way. However, Wood also demonstrated last season that he may be fourth-line worthy. And given how the roster may be constructed this season, he may return there. Even in 2017-18 when Wood was playing much better, his production was still limited to around 20 goals and less than 40 points and the vast majority of his ice time was at even strength. Other players in the bottom-six that will or could play left wing could do more than Wood. And others are paid less such that they could more easily justify their salary in a fourth-line role than Wood could in that role. And when you consider Boqvist’s situation, it is tempting to give him a chance to shine instead of seeing if Wood could bounce back at all and hoping he will somehow bounce higher than ever before.
Lastly, Wood may have more perceived value in a trade. He plays an exciting style of hockey. He is fast, which is not teachable. He has some good offensive qualities that may need refinement, but they are there. He is still young at age 23. His contract is not odiously large. I think he would command more in a trade than someone like Coleman or even Zacha, who is a little younger but has yet to really get going in this league. It is yet another reason why I think he may not be a Devil by the time 2021-22 ends.
Of Course, I Could Be Wrong - What Do You Think?
As ever, I could be misreading this whole situation. Wood may end up on the fourth line but only out of necessity. Injuries do happen and when they do, the Devils may be relieved to have the depth they do have at left wing when players are moved around. Wood could see his opportunity for more minutes and a larger role then. That may also happen in future seasons and the team may change quite a bit between now and next season and the season after that one. Wood could even be someone on the verge of truly breaking out as a player on and off the puck and so the Devils would want to keep him around to benefit when it does happen. There are arguments to be made that Wood can and will stick around with the Devils.
I just think that given who the Devils brought in, who is in the system, where Wood may end up in the lineup, and what Wood’s potential may be, he is starting to look like a player the Devils may not really need. Wood is certainly not going to supplant the skills of Hall or Gusev. He does not bring as much to the table as Coleman or Zacha. He is paid a bit much to be a “sparkplug” player, something Seney has shown he could do. His potential is not as high as Boqvist, who will either be in the NHL or SHL in 2019-20. It would not surprise me at all if Wood ends up on the trade block in this coming season or even right now.
Again, I like Wood and I understand why people would be fans of Wood. I think his future with the team is in doubt and I am not certain that will change in the next season or two. I think the question is a fair one to at least ask. How long will Wood remain as a Devil? We will have to wait to find out.
In the meantime, I want to know what you think. How long do you think Wood will remain as a Devil? You can vote in poll below if you do not want to leave a comment to answer that question. In general, what do you think of Miles Wood as a player? Will he bounce back in 2019-20? What do you think he can contribute to the team? What do you think he needs to do to stay as a Devil? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Miles Wood in the comments. Thank you for reading.
Miles Wood is signed until the 2022 offseason. How long will he remain as a New Jersey Devil?
This poll is closed
Through the end of his contract; he’ll be a Devil in 2019-20, 2020-21, and 2021-22.
Through the next two seasons: 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Through this coming season, 2019-20.
He will be dealt before the end of the 2019-20 season.