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The New Jersey Devils Need Finishers

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While there are many areas where the current New Jersey Devils team is deficient, the lack of proven finishers has become a glaring issue that needs addressing.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Boston Bruins
When this guy is your only double digit scorer at this point in the season, things are not good.
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday’s defeat, which saw our New Jersey Devils get swept in an eight game season series against the Washington Capitals, was a depressing moment of this truncated NHL season. While things were not perfect back in January, there was a lot of hope and a hot start. Now, while the luster of the young talent still holds some power, the rest of the glow surrounding the team is gone.

What’s gone so very wrong in 2021? Well, we knew the defense would most likely still be an issue, and even with Ty Smith being a revelation, there’s still work to be done. Today, however, I want to focus on another major thing that sticks out like a sore thumb and that would be the lack of goal scoring. Again, not saying this isn’t something that we didn’t see coming prior to the season starting, but it’s worse than we had initially projected.

At the time of this writing, the Devils sit tied for the third worst goal total in the league with Detroit; only Anaheim and Buffalo are having worse luck putting the puck in the net. Worse still is only one Devil has reached double digit goals, and that is Miles Wood who, while a talented player, is not the guy you would expect to be leading the Devils when you look over the roster. Speaking of that roster, let’s examine what has gone right and what has gone wrong with it. Yegor Sharangovich has been a great rookie story, with eight goals so far from a player who no one expected on the roster prior to training camp. Travis Zajac meanwhile is ludicrously shooting over 20 percent while adding seven tallies so far, which now sees him tied for third all time with the Devils. I’ll also give Miles Wood another shout-out here, as he has done his part and then some this season to lead the team.

Then we have the opposite end of the spectrum with our underachievers; Kyle Palmieri has to lead this list even with eight goals of his own. If this were a full season, he would project to only score 19 goals, which is a far cry from what is expected of him. While not in the leadoff spot, Nikita Gusev’s regression has to be even worse; 2 goals (both in garbage time of lost games) in 20 contests would pace him for 8 in a full season. Definitely not good enough for a guy that’s supposed to be a Top-Six player. Speaking of “supposed to be a Top-Six player” I’m going to pick on Andreas Johnsson again. Expected to be a contributor after his acquisition, Johnsson sits with 3 goals in 36 contests and 0 in his last 23.

Having these types of totals from players who are expected to contribute more is how this team continues to toil in mediocrity (I’m using that term generously) after its last meaningful run almost a decade ago.

So how can they fix it?

Well as I mentioned, I think there’s some talent worth not giving up on. Jack Hughes is still putting everything together; Nico Hischier is putting himself back together from a P.K. Subban slapshot. Damon Severson, for all the warts that he has as a player, actually cares about winning — as evidenced by him destroying his stick in the tunnel after being robbed of a goal from a beautiful save yesterday. Jesper Bratt’s talents lie more in his passing than his finishing, as do some others on the team like Hughes.

So again what should we do?

Well, to oversimplify it as I did in the title, the team needs scorers. The problem is that is easier said than done, as they don’t just grow on trees. Parting with a scorer like Kyle Palmieri (which is heavily rumored right now) despite his struggles this season won’t help either. And the Devils are not in a position to be lining up and signing every proven goal scorer that makes their way to free agency, nor will many of those players want to sign here with the state of the franchise right now.

A still rebuilding team like the Devils also shouldn’t be sacrificing assets for a “win now” mentality that could just see them fall back into another rebuild in a few years. The goal needs to be sustained success. If there are some guys who can pot goals that are willing to come for the right price, sure bring them in. Heck, a “Kyle Palmieri Trade” type of deal would also be helpful if it were to happen again.

The Devils need to start focusing their high end draft picks on prospects known for scoring; even boom or bust picks. We have made more than enough “safe” or middling choices that have not impacted the franchise for too long now. We’ve talked about the defense still being troublesome, but there’s at least a good chunk of potential in the pipeline to fix that issues. For goal scorers, I think that’s the next area for the team to refill the prospect pool. Alexander Holtz was a good start in 2020; Tom Fitzgerald has more work to do in 2021.

Do you believe the lack of finishers on this team is their biggest problem? Or do you think the problem lies somewhere else and is then preventing the Devils from scoring goals? How do you propose the team go about fixing its scoring woes? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!