Coming into this season, there were very few major additions to the New Jersey Devils’ forward group, as offseason money was instead largely spent on retaining current roster players like Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt. Tyler Toffoli was traded for, but that was about it. And this was the right decision, this is a group that made the second round of the playoffs and has a clear ability to continue to improve.
One area that the forward group could look to improve over last year’s numbers would be in the penalties drawn category. Overall, the forwards on this team, last season, were not great at forcing the opposition into the penalty box and drawing some power plays. A couple of guys weren’t bad at it, but on the whole, the group was below average in this category. Take a look at the forwards on this team from last season, how many penalties they drew per 60 minutes of 5 on 5 play, and their rank in the NHL when compared to all forwards who played at least 500 5v5 minutes. Stats from Natural Stat Trick. Any name that is italicized is not returning to the team next season, and I will add in Toffoli.
So I cut it off there, but that left out two guys who were even worse, but I couldn’t fit them on the cropped photo to add to the post. Yegor Sharangovitch was next on the list, but he’s gone to another team of course, and then came Dawson Mercer to round out the list. But as you can see, there was one real stud this past season at drawing penalties, and that was Miles Wood. He was the only one over 1.5 penalties drawn per 60 and was in fact over 1.75. However, Wood just signed a long-term deal with Colorado, a bad deal I might add, and we as Devils fans should be happy that Fitzgerald did not offer Miles that deal. But in leaving, NJ lost the forward who was able to draw the most penalties per 60.
After him, there still are 3 forwards who drew penalties last year at a decent rate. Nico Hischier, Michael McLeod, and Timo Meier were all decent at it, all posting over 1.2 penalties drawn per 60. This put them in the top 100 forwards in this category last year, although in the back end of that 100. These are numbers you wouldn’t complain about, but they aren’t overly noteworthy either.
After them, however, the forward group was downright poor at drawing penalties. The next best was Ondrej Palat, who ranked 200 among forwards with 0.82 penalties drawn per 60, a subpar number. And it goes down from there, all the way down to Mercer, who ranked 368th out of 382 eligible forwards with 0.33 penalties drawn per 60 minutes of 5 on 5 play. Those numbers are poor overall as a group. If you take 200 and divide it by 32 teams, each team should have somewhere between 6 and 7 forwards in the top 200 on average. If you remove Miles Wood who is no longer with the team, the Devils for next year have 3, four if you want to include Palat who comes in right on the number at 200. But really, there are three who were competent at it last year, Hischier, McLeod, and Meier. That’s it.
Last season, the Devils ranked 13th in the NHL in power play percentage at 21.9%, so they were not bad at converting power plays into goals, but think how many more they could have scored if they had forwards who were able to draw more penalties. This season, they lost their one true good player at it in Wood, and while that was a good subtraction for this team for many other reasons, they will want to find other guys who can step up and draw penalties to get this team on more power plays. If other guys do not step up to replace what Wood did, the Devils will most likely have far fewer power play opportunities next season, which can potentially be detrimental over an 82-game season. Yes, the Devils are a great 5 on 5 team, but having more minutes with a man advantage can only help. It will be interesting to see how that plays out next year.