After a few weeks of avoiding discussing the thing that everyone in Devils fandom has been discussing incessantly for seemingly months now, I’m going to give in and discuss what might happen if the New Jersey Devils happened to acquire the biggest fish of the 2023 NHL trade deadline: San Jose Sharks forward Timo Meier.
Let’s just push aside the cost and potential trade scenarios. We shall just assume Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald was able to get his man and lock him up in New Jersey through the rest of his 20s and into his 30s.
What would a Timo Meier in New Jersey stint look like? Well for one thing, he’s got the speed and skill to keep up with Jack Hughes.
But if there’s one thing you need to know about Timo Meier, it’s that he LOVES to shoot the puck. More than almost anyone else in hockey. In fact, the only player that has taken more shots than him in 2022-2023 is David Pastrnak. In fact, if you look at the past two seasons, Meier and Pastrnak are separated by one shot right now - 582 to 581. That’s ahead of Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Alex Ovechkin. No wonder one of my favorite radio shows on Sirius XM, The Point with Boomer and Jake, refers to Meier as the shot prop king.
Here’s where Meier coming to the Devils gets interesting. The Devils have not only one, but two players who LOVE shooting the puck as well. One of them is Dougie Hamilton, who is one of only two defensemen to have crossed the 200 shot threshold this year (Dougie is at 206 shots). The other being Roman Josi at 232 shots in Nashville. The closest defenseman to those two without looking? I bet you said Erik Karlsson, didn’t you? Maybe Rasmus Dahlin? Nope, Brandon Montour in Florida at a measly 171. Bear in mind I’m writing this Thursday before any of the games happened so this could’ve changed.
The other player on the Devils who hasn’t met a shot he didn’t love? The one and only Jack Hughes, who currently sits in fourth in the entire NHL in shots with a whopping 241 shots on goal behind only Pasta, Meier and McDavid. Interestingly, of those four, Jack has averaged more shots per game than any of them except the guy from Boston. Pasta sits at 4.82, Meier at 4.47, McDavid at 4.36 and Hughes is at 4.55. Nathan McKinnon blows them all away at 5.36 but he’s only played in 44 games thus far.
Why all this talk about shots on goal? I’ve been wondering who the Devils would put Meier with if they got him. And part of me thinks that Jack Hughes is so smart, so dynamic and understands and thinks the game on a better level than most players in the NHL that he’s started taking all those shots because he didn’t think there was a better option playing with him this season. As Devils faithful, we know how much of the year Jack has had Erik Haula stapled to his wing. Maybe that’s not the case as Jack shooting a ton goes back to his injury-riddled last season. He averaged 3.37 shots on goal in 2021-2022. So he was trending in this direction as many of the hockey experts tried to figure out what Jack Hughes was going to be. Was he a distributor? Goal scorer? Ultimately, it seems like his stats are lining up to say he’s both and does what a fantastic hockey player does, takes what the defense is giving him. If they play the shot and there isn’t a way to get it through, he looks for the dish, but if they let him waltz into a high-danger area and let him rip it, he will do that too.
So perhaps a Timo Meier on Hughes’ wing would play to that strength? I just wonder if Hughes would possibly subconsciously (or maybe consciously?) think that he would look to feed Meier for those chances instead of just going himself. I’d give Jack the benefit of the doubt because players with his hockey IQ are rare and I’m not sure it would mess him up. I think he would fire when necessary and look to feed Meier when it’s there.
But here’s the thing, I personally think Meier might be better suited for Nico Hischier’s line. Beyond just the fact that they’re both Swiss and friends and have experience playing together before in the World Championships, Nico himself has often looked to be a distributor over shot guy himself. Though this season, Nico has averaged more than three shots per game and is approaching his career high in shots on goal in a season (his rookie year when he played all 82, he had 180 and he’s at 175 right now - he possibly could’ve surpassed it already with a really good game against the Kings Thursday). Chemistry is a hard thing to quantify in hockey. But when it clicks, it’s a beautiful thing because the individuals become better as collective. It doesn’t always make sense but you know it when you see it. The Devils history is littered with cases like this. The A Line is one example of how chemistry just clicked for two Czech players and a big, bruising Canadian. The Crash Line making Bobby Holik, Mike Peluso and Randy McKay a driving force behind their 1995 Cup win. And more recently, the Devils have tried to get a more modern-day version of that with the BMW Line with less than ideal results this year (though the B has been sitting the last few games). Why they keep running it out, I’m convinced they think they see the intangible chemistry there. Or at least they’re trying to force it to happen.
I believe Meier will be perfect for Hischier, not only because Hischier is sound defensively, but they could possibly pin some of the best lines in the league in their zone. Plus, Jack seems to thrive no matter who is on his wing. In this case, it would likely continue to be Jesper Bratt, but Hischier could use a bump in xGF which currently sits around 38 while Meier sits north of 50. Granted, Nico’s xGA is around 28, so he is suppressing things sufficiently enough. Hughes, on the other hand, has an xGF around 45. As this article points out,
The article earlier on points to the fact that Meier kind of lives for run and gun hockey, and Hughes kind of already does that a bit.
Ultimately, Meier will probably get lots of time with Hughes, regardless. They will be on power plays together. I just think that in all likelihood, a team goes into games thinking that in order to be victorious, they need to shut down Jack Hughes. If you leave Bratt on Hughes’ wing and play Meier with Hischier, you’re then creating a matchup issue with teams.
Yes, I get that this is putting the cart way before the horse. There’s probably a good chance that Meier winds up in Carolina or Vegas or someplace else. But the reason the fanbase has been frothing at the mouth over Meier is that he would fit so well in multiple different places on the Devils roster. The Devils have two centers that could play at Meier’s pace and help complement what he does on the ice. He’s in the right age range for a prolonged run of success in Newark. And ultimately, it’ll be Lindy Ruff’s challenge (or pleasure!) to determine whether Hughes or Hischier gets Meier pushing pace with them. But one thing is for sure, Meier would be a near-perfect fit for this roster. All we need is a GM to go out and actually commit to getting it done.
What do you think? Would Meier be better served playing the high event hockey he already does with with Hughes? Or does he need to be riding shotgun with his Swiss mate? It’ll sure be fun to find out.