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Pleasant and Unpleasant Surprises for the New Jersey Devils So Far

There have been a number of surprises, both good and bad for the New Jersey Devils in 2023-24. Today, we look at how they’re affecting the team and what impact the pleasant surprises could continue to have.

Boston Bruins v New Jersey Devils Photo by Rich Graessle/NHLI via Getty Images

Coming off of a 2-1 comeback overtime victory over the Boston Bruins last night, the New Jersey Devils still find themselves battling to get back into a good spot in the Metropolitan Division standings. The season has not gone as expected for many reasons, some foreseen, some unforeseen. With the unexpected, at least in sports, there wind up being players that surprise, either for good reason or for bad. Today, we take a look at four surprises and discuss the impact they’re having and could continue to have.

The Surprises so Far (in This Writer’s Opinion)

Pleasant: Tyler Toffoli Third on the Team in Scoring and First in Goals

When the Devils went out and acquired Tyler Toffoli this summer, I don’t think anyone expected him to score at the same pace he did last season with the Calgary Flames. Technically, he isn’t (on pace for 64 in 82 games compared to 73 last season) but he’s still been an unbelievably valuable contributor for the Devils to this point. His twelve goals have him tied with Jesper Bratt for most on the team and his 21 points have him alone in third for overall scoring. Toffoli has run a bit cold recently with no points in the past six contests, but he is known as a streaky player. This recent slide could easily segue back into a hot streak for him where the goals and points come in bunches; if the Devils hope to keep climbing back higher in the Metro, they’ll need Toffoli to keep up his scoring pace.

Unpleasant: Dougie Hamilton Tied for Fourth in Scoring

I’m not saying I’m surprised by Hamilton’s offensive output here; after all, the Devils knew that was his best asset when they inked him back in the summer of 2021. The unpleasant surprise here is due to the fact that Hamilton has been out since November 28th, and he’s still tied for fourth in team scoring. Now maybe this in due in part to other big names on the team (namely Nico Hischier and Timo Meier) missing time as well. Still, one would hope that some of the depth options would have stepped up, and so far no one has really risen to the “consistent threat” level of Bratt and Jack Hughes.

Pleasant: Simon Nemec

While Hamilton's injury has been unfortunate, the arrival of a heralded defender other than Luke Hughes has helped to soften the blow. Simon Nemec may not be lighting up the scoreboard on a nightly basis, but he’s playing solid hockey for a player already averaging over 20 minutes of ice time per game. Additionally, three points in six contests isn’t bad at all; it’s the exact same stat line Nate Bastian is rocking after 25 appearances (can I count that as a minor unpleasant surprise?) so no one should be judging Nemec negatively for that. The best news? Since his NHL call up, the Devils have gone 4-2-0; not the best record, but the Devils are still finding success more often than not with Nemec playing a big part.

Unpleasant: The Lack of Adjustment from the Coaches

This might be more of an anecdotal take, or an eye-test take, but as the season has gone on, the Devils have struggled to claw back from deficits in many of their losses. After it has kept happening, I’m not sure this is a personnel issue, but rather to me seems to be an issue with coaches struggling to adjust to the gameplans of other teams.

I’m not suggesting that they need a different plan for all 31 teams, but if a team is neutralizing the primary plan, why not have at least a backup? The only option the coaches seem to be using is “shuffle the lines and pray a different combination works” which can useful, but isn’t really a different gameplan. While Lindy Ruff and his staff should be commended for last season. they also should maybe be feeling the heat under their seats (especially Dave Rogalski) from the team underachieving.

Your Take

What are your thoughts on the surprises of this season so far; any in specific you agree or disagree with? Is there something that surprised you that I didn’t include on this list? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!