At this point, I think all fans of the New Jersey Devils are thinking pretty much the same thing: with both Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier out, what constitutes basically the backbone of this team is on the shelf. In that time, the Devils simply need to keep their heads above water and remain in a decent position within the division so they are not spending the next few months trying to play catch up.
Now, ideally, the main improvement in this team with the spine of the roster gone would be the goaltending. The Devils have mostly gotten really poor goaltending so far this season, with both Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid having save percentages below .900 at 5 on 5 heading into the game last night. If they could step up and save some goals above average, that would do wonders for this Devils team for the foreseeable future.
However, someone else who really needs to bring his A game right now is Timo Meier. Yes, the other main forward to call on would be Jesper Bratt, but the man has 19 points through 12 games, he has not only brought his A game so far this season but his A++ game. We don’t need to call out Bratt because Bratt is already playing like an absolute beast this season. Timo, on the other hand, has most definitely not. Check out his early season player card from Andy & Rono from before the Colorado game:
For someone making more money on the team than anyone not named Dougie Hamilton, that is extremely suboptimal. He has provided absolutely nothing defensively, of course, but his offensive numbers are really mediocre and do not make up for it. The only area he has been positive has been the power play, and that is good, the Devils have relied heavily on early-season power plays to win games as I wrote about last week, but that is not enough from the forward who signed the massive new contract recently.
Now, there is no doubt that his player card should have improved after the Colorado game, even if it was a 6-3 loss. Meier was perhaps the best Devil on the ice in that game, not only scoring a goal but also producing the highest expected goals of anyone on the team at 0.863. The only other Devils skater above 0.35 in that game was Bratt, so Meier really did step it up there. I can’t bash him for this entire article when he clearly did do exactly what I asked on Tuesday night. You will also be reading this after the Washington game, but I had to write this beforehand, so I cannot add those numbers in to this discussion. You can make the determination now about how he played in that game and if he continued to show up like he did in Colorado, or if he went invisible once again.
With goaltending continuing to be an issue, and the defense not consistently locking down the opposition into low-scoring games like we would want with Jack and Nico out, the offense is going to need to step up and score even more than they have so far in this early season. And in that offense, no one is better primed to step up and start producing more than Timo Meier. He is not someone who should have a 29 impact as shown by his player card from earlier this week. He is someone who should have a 90+ impact, as he certainly did last season. Everyone has cold stretches, and even the best skaters do from time to time. I mean, just look at Connor McDavid’s player card from earlier this week as well, he is clearly not performing anywhere near normal McDavid levels. But the best players also know when they need to turn it up a notch and carry more weight for a team than they might normally have to during the good times. And right now, the Devils need Timo to step up and carry a little more weight until Nico and Jack return. If he can do that, if he can play more like he did in Colorado as opposed to how he did in October, the Devils have a decent chance to tread water and remain in the hunt while Jack and Nico are out. But if he doesn’t rise to the challenge, and teams can keep scoring on this team too easily, it could get a little ugly for a stretch.