This past Sunday was a significant day for Devils news. Two more players added to the Covid protocol resulted in the Devils game Monday night against Tampa being postponed. In other news, Miles Wood, who you can be forgiven for completely forgetting was still a member of this team given he hasn’t been with the team since the preseason, posted to social media that he skated for the first time since his hip surgery. That doesn’t mean a whole lot other for the near future, he could still have months of rehab left before being ready to actually play in a game. But it was a good reminder for me that he still exists.
Wood is not my favorite hockey player or New Jersey Devil by any means. He has pretty significant flaws in terms of his hockey sense and has a pretty limited skill level for an NHL player. On the other hand, his physical tools make up for his deficits in other areas and he brings a rare combination of speed, size, and physicality that can make him a very dangerous player in transition.
I’ve gone back and forth on Wood for most of his career between wanting him out of the line-up and feeling like the Devils should give him an extension. If he was only above average in terms of his skating speed, instead of one of the fastest and most powerful straight-line players in the league he’d be an AHLer. On the other hand, if he had NHL average hands or edge-work or “hockey IQ” he’d be a lock for 20 goals a season. He can’t play up the line-up because he isn’t a smart enough hockey player to anticipate the play when playing with guys like Bratt or Hughes and he isn’t good enough in his own zone to be more than an energy-line player. As is, he is pretty much a one-trick pony, but it’s a very useful trick. Get him going in transition and there’s a good chance he’s going to end up with a 1 on 1 with the goalie. Sure, his success rate on these attempts isn’t anything to write home about. Michael Grabner is a similar player to Wood in a lot of ways. A one-trick pony who relied on speed and didn’t have the skill or hands to take advantage of the number of breakaways he generated, but Grabner still managed a 13% career shooting percentage, which is above NHL average. Wood, on the other hand, has a career 9.2% shooting percentage, which is below average for a forward. And I’m not doing a very good job selling him so far, am I?
To use a baseball analogy, I see Wood as a type of utility player. He doesn’t have a starting spot in the line-up, but if you need someone to steal a base later in the game (I don’t watch baseball very often, but I think this metaphor works) he’s your man. Which is part of why I believe the Devils miss his presence on the bottom-6. Particularly if he shows himself capable of playing at the level he did last year.
Last year, Miles Wood had his best season as a New Jersey Devil. In addition to 17 goals, 2 shy of his career high in 21 fewer games, Wood managed to actually be NHL average defensively, slotting in at the 50th percentile. He also had a positive GAR value for even strength defense (0.6) for the second time in his career. Given Wood’s skillset, he doesn’t need to be a plus defensive player, just don’t be a liability and he’s fine. And while it may sound odd to be praising a player for being average, considering his previous two seasons (visualized below), average is a big step forward.
If Wood can return to last years form he can be a solid bottom-6 forward who gives the Devils a different dimension with his elite speed. Wood won’t drive play, he’s not going to create much for his teammates, and I’m not convinced he won’t regress defensively. However he also has been a positive GAR player every year of his career except one and he is never afraid to shoot the puck, finishing top 10 on the roster in shot attempts every year of his career, despite generally averaging 3rd or 4th line minutes. In addition to what he brings to the table, Wood is a significant upgrade over what the team is currently trotting out there. His presence puts players like Studenic, Boqvist, Foote, down a slot to allow them to (hopefully) develop a little more before becoming full-time NHLers. He might even be an upgrade over someone like Kuokkanen, given the way the latter has played this season. Finally, it’s clear the Devils value his leadership qualities, and have given him an A several times in previous seasons. Bottom line, despite his flaws, Wood is a net positive for the Devils.
How do you think Wood’s absence has affected the Devils? Do they miss his presence on the bottom-6? Do you think he can replicate last season’s performance, or even come close? Or will he regress back to the level he was at two seasons ago? Do you think the Devils should re-sign the pending RFA long-term or should they let him go to free agency next season? Leave your thoughts below and thank you for reading!