So I know there will probably be some immediate, strong reactions just based on the title of this article alone. I’m also sure there are others who will point out that the New Jersey Devils have only played five games so far in 2021-22. Despite the team having a winning record, I think there should be concern among the organization at the production of the team’s Top 6 forwards. Before I dive into this more in depth as well, I think I should just note that this isn’t an isolated issue unique to this season.
While I’m a Devils fan through and through, I don’t exclusively just watch their games; I’m a hockey fan, and while I don’t watch every team, I do tend to watch teams that have had success over the last few years. With those teams, there’s always a few forwards who contribute roughly 60 or more points each; the Devils haven’t had that happen for quite some time now and in shortened seasons, haven’t even had players pacing for that much. We also know goals and points helps leads to wins (defense and goaltending does play a role too to be fair) so if the Devils top forwards aren’t contributing enough, what’s there to do.
Now I will say, not all of the forwards should be names here, particularly Pavel Zacha, who is at a point per game pace right now. While that probably won’t last, we could see Zacha continue to score at a clip that not only produces some new career highs for him, but also puts him in true Top 6 forward territory in terms of points. I’m also going to exclude Jack Hughes; not only is Jack the youngest of all of the Devils Top 6 forwards, he also looked more dangerous than he looked in any prior season in the four periods and an overtime that he played prior to his injury.
As per the rest, well I’ll say the effort has been there, but the results right now are not good enough. Yegor Sharangovich may be the biggest victim of bad luck this season, as he has dented a few goal posts en route to having a three assist total at this juncture. He’s probably the one player that is part of the team’s usual Top 6 that I feel will get back on track with his goal scoring, and can still contribute a good chunk of points in only his second season.
It’s the other three I’m a bit more concerned about. Let’s start with Janne Kuokkanen, who so far has recorded a goal and an assists. I wrote just before the season began that Kuokkanen would need to post some higher totals this year, lest he be passed over by some of the upcoming prospects. So far, his play has not been good enough; aside from the fairly low point total, there’s been times where he’s been downright invisible on the ice, and for a player in the Top 6, even if the points aren’t coming, you want to see the little things being taken care of. If that continues to not be the case, I could see the Devils moving him and promoting someone such as Tomas Tatar.
Nico Hischier may still be adjusting after returning from last season’s injury, but two points in five games from your captain just isn’t good enough. Nico is being counted on to be one of the team’s top guys, not just for his leadership, and right now perhaps he’s doing the right things behind the scenes, but the stats are not there, at least not yet. Hischier has also been the victim of coming close on a couple of attempts to scoring a goal, only to have it not count or go in. Perhaps he, like Sharangovich, will continue to move the needle in the right direction, and the points will come. In this his fifth season, however, we may have to begin grappling with the fact that perhaps Hischier isn’t anything more than a 40-50 point per season player.
Jesper Bratt might be the biggest disappointment so far this campaign, as through five games, he is currently without a point. I will mention that I do think he should have had a secondary assist on the season opening goal by Dougie Hamilton, but even if that were the case, one point in five is not at all indicative of a top forward. The disappointment here has to be that Bratt was scoring at a 50+ point pace last season during the condensed campaign, but now he hasn’t even seen his name on the scoresheet. Small sample size for certain, but it’s worrisome nonetheless. Due to the aforementioned shortened season and injuries at times, Bratt has yet to break the 40 point mark, let alone 50. If he’s truly to be the big part of this team’s future that he’s expected to be, then he needs to use his creativity and ability to contribute more.
Maybe I’m being a bit nitpicky, or again, maybe it’s early in the season and things will equalize, but aside from Hughes and as of right now Zacha, the Devils Top 6 needs to be putting more points up on the board. If this is going to be the core that they have going forward, the players need to be dominating play and contributing more scoring each game. Granted every team will have an off game here and there, but this group needs to show more on a consistent basis. We’re still watching a Top 6 that is fumbling passes, shooting into the crest on opposing goalies and at times just looking sloppy in general with what they’re doing on the ice.
Maybe it’s a coaching/system problem (and with Alain Nasreddine still here, it’s possible some of the breakouts and passing plays that haven’t been good were carried over from the last regime) but how many coaches/systems does a team go through before looking at the personnel? I’m not saying the Devils won’t turn it around this season in terms of point totals, but if our leading scorer winds up having only 50ish points again (or being on that pace) then perhaps it’s time to look at the players and figure out who truly has a long term future in New Jersey.
What are your thoughts on the Devils Top 6 forwards right now; do you think five games is too early to evaluate? Do you have concerns based on previous seasons as I do? Do you think that anyone in the Top 6 other than Hughes has potential to break out into something more than they are now? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!