Entering tonight’s game, the New Jersey Devils are on a hot streak; winners of seven in a row for the first time in over a decade, the Devils find themselves among the NHL’s best teams currently. What’s encouraging is that the team’s best players for the most part have been their best players. Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt are each above a point per game pace right now. Jack Hughes hasn’t looked like the Jack Hughes of last year, yet still has 12 points in 13 contests. Dougie Hamilton looks like the offensive defender the team signed him to be, while John Marino and Jonas Siegenthaler have played lights out defense. Vitek Vanecek has also been great, as outside of his first appearance, he’s given the Devils the goaltending that they need.
There are some players, however that we’ve been looking for them to take a step forward or play as consistently as last season, and they have yet to do so this season. Those players are the ones who have been shuffled around and mainly featured as the team’s “third” line: Dawson Mercer, Yegor Sharangovich, Jesper Boqvist and Alexander Holtz. All of these young players were expected to be contributing to various levels this season, yet none are currently performing at the level we would like or expect from them. So is this cause for concern?
When it comes to Sharangovich, I think there is both reason to not worry and reason for concern. Yegor was a slow starter last season as well; in fact he has the same point total right now as he did through 13 games last season. He eventually wound up finding more of his scoring touch to finish with 46 points in 76 games last season. What gives me reason to be concerned is that he had stronger linemates last season, particularly Jack Hughes when he was healthy. While Mercer is no slouch, he’s not Jack either, and this oculd result in Yegor producing less. If the top producers continue to put up points, then this shouldn’t be a problem. But if the top guys slow down, not having as much secondary scoring could be disastrous for the team.
Mercer is a player that I’m worrying less about for a couple of reasons. Firstly, this is only his second season in the league, and sophomore slumps are real. Additionally, it will take time for a player as young as Mercer to develop fully, so him being a point every other game player (as he was last season) isn’t exactly cause for concern. Even if Dawson tops out as a 40 point center/wing who contributes defensively and on the penalty kill, is that honestly so bad? Every team needs players who can fill roles like Mercer’s current one. Sure the hope is that he grows and becomes an even bigger point contributor, but as long as he doesn’t regress, and continues to play the game the way he has this season, I don’t think there’s much, if any, cause for concern.
Boqvist and Holtz I both have some concern about, albeit for slightly different reasons. Both are the lowest point recorders in this article, with Boqvist having a lone assist in his seven appearances, and Holtz just his opening night goal in four games. I think Boqvist is to be worried about more only because this is now his sixth season in the Devils organization and his fourth where he has seen NHL time. He had one good stretch last season, but hasn’t been able to replicate it. With his lack of production, I think the thought has to be entering people’s minds that maybe Boqvist is more of an AHL player, or one of those tweeners who performs strongly in the AHL but just can’t get his game to translate to the NHL.
Holtz has more time as he is again just as young as Mercer; I think with Holtz, it may be just some more impatience from the fan base due to his draft position. We know what the reviews were of Holtz during his draft year; we saw what he did in the AHL last season. I think fans just want to see him produce and contribute sooner rather than later and when he isn’t doing that, or he’s sitting in the press box, people are getting worried about it. I think if in two or so years down the road this same conversation is being had, then maybe we question Holtz’s production.
Perhaps the real issue needing to be discussed here is the lack of cohesion on the line; some of the other players elsewhere in the lineup (Erik Haula with Jack Hughes sticks out as a major example) aren’t exactly working either. While the Devils could eventually look at forming more cohesive three man groups overall, I can understand right now why they are not fixing something that overall isn’t broken. The team is winning, and as long as that continues, I don’t think there will be much concern over individual accolades and point totals. If, as stated earlier, the offense dries up at the top, and the third line continues to struggle, then we might see some adjustments that could spark one of more of our third line players. For now, let’s just enjoy the way the team is performing overall, and hope that these players can put it together to supplement those performing strongly.
What are your thoughts on the Devils third line right now; are you concerned about the players not taking a step forward? Do you think it is too early in the season to worry? Are you more concerned about some of the names than others, or are you content with what they’re doing as long as the team is winning? Leave any and all thoughts below and thanks as always for reading!