With the New Jersey Devils experiencing a Protocol Pause right now, today I decided to try a bit of a variety article discussing the Devils during the team’s downtime. While this may be the only edition of this that I write (the Devils could be back in action by next Thursday and if they’re lucky, may not have to deal with another extended break), the idea would be to discuss one major storyline for the team, talk about who’s hot and who’s not at the current stoppage point, and a brief outlook at where the Devils might resume their schedule. So without anymore explanation/rambling from me, let’s move on to today’s big topic:
The Kids are Alright
The 2021 New Jersey Devils were not expected to be a team competing for much of anything...well with the possible exception of a high draft pick. Yet, even as they come to a temporary stoppage in games played, they still sit fifth in the division, with a game in hand on a Pittsburgh Penguins team that is only one point ahead of them. What’s different? Is it just the fact that the Devils are playing the same set of teams all season?
Well, the jury is still out on that, but there’s one factor that is drastically different from last season: the young Devils. Through the first nine games, sophomore Devil Jack (ed) Hughes and Ty Smith share the team’s point lead with 8, and both have looked like a revelation on the ice. Hughes had a rough rookie season in 2019-20, but he has turned up his play since bulking up in the offseason. He looks not only stronger, but more confident in his skills, and there have been shifts, if not entire nights where he has looked like the dominant first overall pick we hoped he would be.
Smith meanwhile has been an impact player on the scoresheet since game one; the team also finally seemed to make a permanent change last game to get him away from Matt Tennyson, and put him next to Damon Severson. Smith and Severson looked good together in preseason, and they have continued to do so in games.
The team is also getting contributions from other youngsters as well; Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian and MacKenzie Blackwood (for the three games he was healthy) have also provided some spark and play ranging from solid to stellar depending on the game. If this trend proves to be sustainable, the Devils could finally be seeing the light at the end of the rebuild tunnel.
Hot and Not
Show of hands for anyone who had Miles Wood penciled in as tied for the team lead in points while also leading in goals scored. Anyone? Anyone at all? Okay, so Miles Wood may have been chosen by some fans to have a productive season, but I think his play so far merits some praise. He has been on fire, and noticeable everywhere on the ice (or in the opposing net at times) pretty much every game. While it may not be a sustainable pace (although I think we all hope it is), Wood is trying to establish himself as an important ingredient in the Devils’ recipe for success.
Honorable mention to Jack Hughes and Ty Smith here as well, even though I already spent the start of this article discussing their start.
As for who isn’t fairing so well, Nikita Gusev is colder than ice right now; with only one point in the team’s first nine games prior to the Protocol Pause. He also sports the worst 5 on 5 CF% (47.7) of any forward aside from a rookie in Egor Sharangovich, so it’s not as though he’s creating and just not getting puck luck. If Goose and to a lesser extent Kyle Palmieri (no goals through eight appearances) find their usual games, this team could be a pleasant surprise.
Also on the cold side, Matt Tennyson needs to take a seat; sporting a team worst 5 on 5 CF% of 41 (a full 3% lower than the next lowest in Nick Merkley, who has only appeared in 1⁄3 of the games) I’m just not certain how Will Butcher does not get a look over him at this point.
On the Horizon
The Devils could be back in action next Tuesday the 9th at home against the Penguins. However, with more players recently being added to the protocol list, I think resuming the season will be pushed back just a bit to one of the two games against the Second Rate Rivals. If that is the case, what better way to resume the season than to exact a measure of revenge against a team that the Devils have already dropped two games to?
What are your thoughts on the impact of younger Devils on the team so far this season? Who has surprised you? Who has disappointed you? When do you expect the Devils to return to play and what do you expect upon said return? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!