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Can the Devils get a 10 Goal Scorer on the PP?

Last season, the Devils did not have a 10 goal scorer on the power play. Can that happen this season? Who would be the most likely candidate?

Florida Panthers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Last season, according to Natural Stat Trick, there were 35 skaters who scored at least 10 power play goals last season. Those 35 skaters represented 20 different teams. The New Jersey Devils, on the other hand, were one of the 12 teams that did not have a 10 goal scorer with the man advantage. Jack Hughes, despite only playing in 49 regular season games, potted 7 goals for NJ, which was the team lead. In terms of points, Jesper Bratt led the team, but he had only 3 goals to go along with a ton of assists.

Now, across 82 games, Hughes would have made 10 goals easy. 7 goals across 49 games would be good for 11.7 goals in a full season, clearly over the 10 goal threshold. So last season, the Devils did have someone who was on track to get 10+ power play goals. Nonetheless, he did not make it thanks to injury troubles, and it became a year where NJ did not have a 10 goal scorer on the power play. Since the start of the 2018-19 season, after the Devils’ last postseason appearance, the only Devil to have reached the 10 goal threshold was Kyle Palmieri, who did it twice, with 11 goals in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. No one else has reached that mark over the last 4 seasons. And with Palmieri long gone, and Hughes hurt, no one else was able to step up.

However, it was a better year overall for the power play. In 2020-21, the top power play goal scorer was Pavel Zacha, who managed a whopping 5 goals. No one else had more than 3. It was a really down year for the power play in general, and this past season was an upgrade without a doubt. This year, the goal will be to continue that improvement in the power play, and if that happens, it will almost certainly coincide with a 10 goal scorer with the man advantage.

The question will be, of course, who will hit that mark if it does happen? The obvious answer is indeed Jack Hughes if he can stay healthy. He was on pace for it last year and is only getting better, so there is no reason to think that it cannot happen with good health. However, as a center and more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, it isn’t someone you might automatically jump to if you did not know the numbers from last year. You might mention Bratt, who led the team with 18 power play points last season. However, 15 of those were assists, and if his role remains similar this upcoming season, it might be difficult for him to make that happen. Even if he jumps to 25 power play points, he would need every one of those extra points to be goals in order to reach 10, and that seems improbable barring a specific change in power play philosophy by the team.

Outside of those two, the pickings are slim. Newly acquired Ondrej Palat had one whole PP goal last year across 160 power play minutes, so it was not his role on Tampa. Nico Hischier had 4 goals across 70 games played, but he has always been more of a distributor, so while getting to 10 would not be impossible for him, it also is not likely. Tomas Tatar was signed to score goals last year, but he managed only 2 power play goals last year. You might mention Alexander Holtz if he makes the team and plays the full season in Newark. He is a pure scorer who maybe could find his stride early as Dawson Mercer has. But, again, you can’t really say that it’s likely. And finally, among defensemen, Damon Severson led with 5 goals, and Dougie Hamilton had only 2 over 62 games. There was also only one defender who reached 10 power play goals last season, and that was Roman Josi, so don’t expect that to happen in NJ this year.

Therefore, in the end, I have to think that Jack Hughes is still this team’s best bet to reach that threshold. Everyone else either has underwhelmed, like Tatar, is more of a playmaker, like Nico and Bratt, or is as yet untested, like Holtz. Could someone from one of those groups change their trajectory and make it happen? Absolutely. However, I wouldn’t bet on it. Power play goals might be spread out this year for the Devils given this information, as there really aren’t players on this team who do nothing but fire on net when they can. If some of those people underperform, it could mean a shaky power play unit this upcoming season. However, if they all do their jobs and chip in, and if Hughes can shine with 10+ goals and remain healthy to reach it, then the unit could do fairly well across the season. And that would be a huge boon to this team’s chances to make the playoffs.