Last season, there were 34 skaters who scored 20 goals or more at 5 on 5 action. These were your elite scorers who were able to dominate in full strength settings and give their teams much needed production in that setting. John Tavares led the way with 33, Jake Guentzel right behind him at 31, but many different names make that list, down to three different forwards who were moved mid-season, all having been moved from Ottawa to contenders. Not counting those who were traded, those skaters represented 17 of the 31 teams in the league. Four of those teams had two skaters achieve this feat (Toronto, Edmonton, Chicago and Calgary), while another five teams had three different skaters hit that number (Washington, Montreal, Columbus, Tampa and San Jose).
Furthermore, of those 17 teams, 11 of them made the playoffs. So of the 16 playoff teams, 11 of them had at least one 5v5 20 goal scorer, or 68.75% of the playoff teams. That just goes to show you the importance of having skaters with the ability and production to hit that feat. The New Jersey Devils are a good example of this too. Taylor Hall achieved that feat two years ago, and the Devils made it in. Last year, no one was too close to achieving the feat, Kyle Palmieri being the only one above 15 5v5 goals (he had 16). And of course, the team was nowhere near making the playoffs either.
Of course, I am not trying to imply that this is a guaranteed predictor or marker of a playoff team. That would not make too much sense. The Stanley Cup champs, St. Louis, did not have a skater achieve it this season (Vladimir Tarasenko had 19). However, I am trying to say that it is important to have skaters, particularly forwards, who are adept at scoring goals during 5 on 5 play. Without that scoring ability from at least one skater, the ability to generate enough offense to win enough games to make the playoffs does go down. As even though St. Louis didn’t make the list, they did have Tarasenko at 19, and also Ryan O’Reilly at 18. Both were right there.
The good news on this front is that with the new additions to the Devils, along with the health of the very same Hall, you have to think that the odds of New Jersey producing at least one skater this year with 20 5v5 goals has to be pretty good. The best chance obviously comes from the top line, with Hall himself providing the biggest opportunity. In 76 games played in 2017-18, he scored 20 of them. Even last year in only 33 games, he had 7 goals. That pace would have put him slightly under 20 goals, but it would have been fairly close, and you never know what he would have done if healthy.
Also, back to two years ago, Nico Hischier in his rookie campaign had 18. That was a full season playing alongside a healthy Hall, which we should all hope to see again. He only had 11 last year, but had to play the majority of the season without that dynamic presence on the top line. A full season of Hall-Hischier-Palmieri could see two of those players hit the 20 goal plateau at 5v5, and really you could bet on any of them. Palms getting 16 last year, again without Hall for the majority, is a good sign.
However, the chance for a 20 goal scorer on this New Jersey team this year is not definitively tied only to the top line. Is the best chance there? Absolutely. However, with the depth of this forward corps improving during the offseason, a dark horse chance could come from someone else. One of the main contributors to that could be newcomer Jack Hughes, although not specifically with him having the chance to produce those goals. Last year with the USNTDP, of his 112 points, 78 were assists. He was a machine at setting up his teammates to score goals. While he most certainly won’t match those 78 assists in his rookie NHL season, that ability is there. If he can manifest it on the second or third line, those around him could reap the benefits. One of those, interestingly enough, could be Blake Coleman, who crazy enough had 13 5v5 goals last season, good for second on the team. That could be a fluke, but if it isn’t, and he plays significant minutes with Hughes, that could be something to watch.
Of course, it could also come from someone else who could benefit from time with Hughes. Jesper Bratt could be that person, someone who has shown flashes of really good potential. He only had 6 goals at full strength in 51 games last year, not a great pace, but if his development jumps, especially alongside someone like Hughes? Well, I mean it isn’t impossible to see happening, even if it is not likely.
And then, of course, there is the wild card that is Nikita Gusev. What will he do? Many have likened him to Artemi Panarin, considering their similar numbers in the KHL before coming over here. Well, in his first season in the NHL with Chicago, the bread man had 18 5v5 goals in 80 games played, coming pretty close to the mark. Is Gusev as good? Will he produce as similarly? He really is the ultimate unknown wild card in this scenario, but simply just being on the roster, he ups the odds that New Jersey sees a 5v5 20 goal scorer this season.
This will be something interesting to watch as the season progresses. The Devils have needed improved offense for years, and one area it would be especially beneficial if it manifested would be in 5v5 scoring. Having elite scorers in this scenario is vital, and for the Devils to gain 20+ points in the standings over last year, they will need them. Will they have a forward with 20+ 5v5 goals this year? What do you predict? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.