Last week, I discussed the possibility of the New Jersey Devils ending the regular season with a 20 goal scorer at 5 on 5 action. This week, in a similar vein, let’s look at a similar question, but instead of focusing on full strength action, let’s look at the power play.
Last season, there were 31 skaters who had at least 10 goals on the power play. This is strikingly similar to the 34 skaters who had 20+ goals at 5v5 play. Perhaps not surprising given their regular season record, Tampa Bay had the top two scorers on the power play, with Brayden Point generating 20 goals on the man advantage, and Steven Stamkos producing 19. Both were ahead of the 18 Alex Ovechkin got on his one-timer from the dot. All-in-all, 18 different teams had at least one 10 goal scorer on the power play, and of those, 5 teams had two different skaters achieve that feat, while another four teams (Tampa, Florida, Colorado and Winnipeg) had three skaters reach that number.
But unlike last week, where no Devil had 20 goals or better during 5 on 5 action, there was a Devil who had over 10 goals on the power play. Kyle Palmieri actually had 11 of them, a solid number, and tied with the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, Matthew Tkachuk, and others. Palmieri was much of the offense for the power play on New Jersey, producing 83 shots as well, the next highest being Damon Severson at 43, and the next forward being Nico Hischier at 29. Palms having 54 more shots than the next forward on the PP tells you all you need to know about how one dimensional the PP was last season. In fact, Palmieri was ranked 8th in the entire NHL last season in shots taken with a man advantage. Without him, no one was shooting for NJ, a problem indeed.
The question, then, is this year will the Devils continue to have at least one player produce ten goals on the power play? Right off the bat, I have to feel optimistic about the answer to this question, if only for the additions to the roster. The biggest addition will of course be not from the outside, but from the health of Taylor Hall. Two seasons ago, the Devils had two 10+ goal scorers on the power play. Palms, once again, had 11 goals, and Hall had 13. They were also considerably more even on shot distribution, with Kyle taking 61 shots and Hall 56. That diversification of offense right there is huge for a power play unit that doesn’t have someone named Ovechkin, and would greatly benefit the club this season.
The biggest outside addition to the team for the purposes of power play offense has to be Wayne Simmonds. The man has made millions of dollars posting up right in front of the goalie and grinding out tough goals in front of the net. He was especially productive doing this on the power play for Philadelphia, and you have to think that John Hynes will want him to reprise that role here in New Jersey. Simmonds had 11 PP goals in 2017-18, 16 of them in 2016-17, 13 in 2015-16, etc. He was a consistent offensive producer on the power play, and will certainly boost the Devils’ power play offensive capabilities by being here. You can say he is beyond his prime, but given his consistent production throughout his career, he will be a benefit one way or another.
There are other options for players who could break the 10 goal barrier on the power play this season, albeit the chances they reach 10 are less likely. Based on pure usage, both Nico Hischier and Travis Zajac played over 200 minutes on the power play last season. Neither are real snipers, but with that level of volume, the chance is always there with some luck or some change in play.
Also, there are others who could gain a lot more time this season. Jack Hughes could gain significant time on the PP, perhaps on the second unit if Nico is playing the first. What could he do? He is a playmaker of course, not really a shoot first guy, but either way that could open up things for others on that unit with him. Jesper Bratt had 110 minutes last season on the man advantage in only 51 games, so he could get more minutes, perhaps alongside Hughes. And you have Gusev too, who will most likely see power play time. Where will he slot, and will he be able to pot plenty of power play goals?
All in all, even more so than having a 20 goal 5v5 scorer, I feel very confident that the Devils can get at least one 10 goal power play skater this year. With so many options, Palmieri, Hall, and Simmonds all hitting that mark in the past, and multiple new options who could emerge, you have to feel good about it. And considering New Jersey was ranked only 21st in the league last year with a 17.7% power play conversion rate, that bodes well for potentially seeing improvement on that number heading into this season.