Injuries happen in any contact sport, and with the amount of contact in the NHL (along with a frozen puck being slung around at high speeds) they wind up being a certainty for every team in any given season. That being said, you don’t want to see it happen to an important piece of your favorite team, and certainly not in game 2 of an 82 game campaign. Yet right now that is exactly the situation our New Jersey Devils find themselves in after Jack Hughes was hit hard by Seattle’s Jeremy Lauzon in Tuesday’s game.
Now the purpose of this piece isn’t to discuss the hit itself; regardless of what you believe about it we have to look at what this means. At practice yesterday, the Devils ran these lines (image and penmanship courtesy of Amanda Stein):
In the absence of #NJDevils Jack Hughes, lines have certainly changed at practice.— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) October 20, 2021
McLeod moves up, and Gauthier getting in on the fourth line. pic.twitter.com/Mw1fGlZJsT
For right now at least, the Devils are going to try simply bumping up Michael McLeod and bringing Frederik Gauthier into the lineup. Call me crazy, but that move doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the team’s center depth. The Devils are already resorting to bringing in a guy who looked alright at best during the preseason, and elevating a player who really shouldn’t be in the Top 6 even as a fill in. I want to stop for a second to just point out that I’m not trying to bash McLeod here either; while I was cold on him in the past, I’ve grown to appreciate what he brings in his speed and work ethic. I just fully believe his game is best served in the team’s Bottom 6.
I will say the one move I can understand from the team right now for certain is not promoting Dawson Mercer up into Hughes’ spot. First of all, his line with Tomas Tatar and Andreas Johnsson has looked great through the first pair of games, and hopefully they continue to make the most of their opportunities tonight. Additionally, said pair of games is the only NHL experience Mercer has, and keeping him in a spot where he’s both comfortable and likely to success is the best place for his development. I’m sure some fans saw the McLeod bump up and were frustrated that it wasn’t Mercer going up a line as well, but again I think this is what’s best so as not to overload the soon to be 20 year old.
The Devils, with Nico Hischier and Mercer still in the lineup, could be in trouble nevertheless; even if you consider Gauthier capable, what happens if ANOTHER Devils’ center goes down while Hughes is still on the mend? What if both players have to miss a few weeks? The team’s 2-0 start is certainly encouraging, but if the team continues to lose centers, their ability to win faceoffs could be (further) impaired, resulting in less puck possession, which as we know, results in the lack of success we saw from the team from the past couple of years.
One option the team could look at would be moving Pavel Zacha back into the middle. It’s not the most ideal situation, as Pavel seems to play better at wing, but it could alleviate some of the lineup stress until Hughes is cleared to return. If they go that route, they could move Tomas Tatar into a Top 6 left wing role, or perhaps even call up Alex Holtz to fill the winger spot left open by shifting Zacha. An alternative would be to call up an AHL center, such as Jesper Boqvist, although I don’t feel the organization thinks too highly of many of the players they sent down
Center depth, much like defensive depth, is important for success in the NHL. If the Devils lose one more man down the middle, their depth will be almost non-existent. Certainly the hope here is that the injury to Hughes is not serious, and he’s able to rejoin the lineup sooner rather than later, but if he is out long-term (and again, if other things go wrong, which they easily can in a physical sports league) the Devils could wind up getting exposed, and their fast start could turn around and see them plummet down the standings. For the sake of the team, their growth and their success, let’s hope the injuries are minor and stay to a minimum this season.
Do you believe the Devils are weak in terms of center depth? Will this affect their season if they run into injuries or other issues? Are you more open to shifting around guys on the NHL team (such as pushing Zacha to C) or calling up players from the AHL? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!