Yes, I did just reference an 18 year-old movie quote for this title. What of it?
It’s the start of Devils training camp and you know what thats means… Arguing about line combinations before the team has even played a single regular season game. The Devils are now a week into training camp and initial lines have been formed. Undoubtably some of these lines won’t last another week, but the coaching staff had all summer to plan. Therefore it’s reasonable to think that there was a good amount of thought put into the initial line combinations put together in camp, even if some of the logic is just testing things out. Take, the Hughes line for example. Palat - Hughes - Holtz isn’t the line I’d have put together given how well Sharangovich and Hughes have played the last couple years, but it makes sense. Palat was just given a contract with a $6 million AAV and was always going to start on the top-6, and Holtz was essentially drafted to play on Hughes’s wing, so they’re going to give him every chance to prove he’s ready. On the other hand, Wood - Haula - Mercer is a line we’ve seen 2 games worth of scrimmage play and a preseason game from and I already hate the idea of it. It may be premature and nitpicky, but I stand by the point. Miles Wood is not a top-9 forward.
For pure entertainment, Miles Wood is one of my favorite players to watch on the Devils. Let him build up a head of steam through the neutral zone and his unique combination of raw speed and size allows him to power through the opposing defense on a regular basis. This leads to a lot of breakaways, and occasionally, there’s even a goal at the end of the play.
He’s a goalie’s nightmare because even if Wood ends up harmlessly shooting the puck into the goalie’s chest protector, a frequent occurrence, there’s a decent chance there’s a 200 lb man crashing into said goalie immediately afterwards. Wood also brings an element of physicality and pugnacity that the less evolved part of my brain enjoys seeing every once in a while.
I really like having him on the Devils because he does bring a dimension that few other players can bring to the table. You can count the number of NHL players who could beat or match him in a straight line race on 2 hands and have a few fingers left over. But despite his blazing speed, Wood is best suited for a limited 4th line role.
This is because as dangerous an offensive weapon Wood can be driving through the neutral zone, outside of this situation he doesn’t bring much to the table. He’s not a smart, creative, or skilled player. If he were even average in this regard he’d probably be a lock for a spot higher in the line-up, but his game is overly simplistic to the point that his presence in the top-9 becomes more of hindrance than a help. Not that he’s necessarily dragging down a line on his own, he’s not that bad; you’ll even get the odd game here and there where he’ll look like he’s finally figured out how to use his teammates more, such as with the nice assist he had on Erik Haula’s goal against the Islanders last night.
Wood with the speed, Haula with the finish. We like this. pic.twitter.com/3VxHVZ8TYN— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) September 28, 2022
But these flashes of skill and playmaking are relatively infrequent. More common are all the times that Wood kills a play by either making a poor read, being out of position, or failing to anticipate what his line mates were thinking. If we take a look at Wood’s player card from JFresh and TopDownHockey, you can see some of what I’m talking about. While Wood is rated as a strong player in terms of his even strength offense, my suspicion is that this is largely a result of his ability to generate offense from the rush and his tendency to shoot the puck a ton. For example, in the 2021 season he had 127 shots in just 55 games. These are both great things, but they don’t change my argument. And if we look at his assist rate and his defensive impact, we can the limitations in his game. He’s a liability in his own zone, and lacks the IQ to find his linemates for a pass or to create opportunities for them.
If the Devils are going to run with Haula and Mercer on a 3rd line, the coaching staff should choose a LW that can complement and elevate the line, rather than limiting its potential effectiveness. And having Wood on the third line means someone like Tatar, whose down year production-wise last season (15-15-30) would be an excellent season for Wood, sitting in the press box. As deep as the Devils are at forward, this seems like a misuse of resources to me. Even putting Sharangovich, who has shown he doesn’t need Hughes to be successful, alongside Haula and Mercer is an idea I like more than putting Wood in this spot.
Wood is at his best when he keeps things simple. Use his speed to beat a defender. Forecheck and create a turnover. Hit something. Crash the net. All hallmarks of a great 4th line player. He works perfectly with someone like Nate Bastian, who can both complement Wood’s style of play, and cover for Wood defensively. And ultimately, I think this is where he will end up. Even if it takes Ruff a few games to realize it.
Now that you’ve heard my opinion, what are your thoughts on Miles Wood? Do you agree with my take that Wood should be glued to the 4th line? Or am I underselling his capabilities? What would your ideal 3rd line look like? Should the Devils spread the wealth or load up the top-6? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading.