Miles Wood was one of the fastest New Jersey Devils I’ve ever seen. I’m also fond of saying that the guy was born with four feet because he was all speed, no finish. Yes, he lacked hands. But that seemed to get worse the further into his career he got. I swear he didn’t struggle with scoring like this when he was younger and this video seems to confirm it.
Jesper Boqvist was a fast and skilled playmaker who disappeared a bit too often, but he also contributed to rush chances and looked great while doing so.
Tomas Tatar was faster than he appeared (I actually used to think he was slow but he seemed fast enough for the Devils last year, that’s for sure!). He also played a good possession game that complemented Nico Hischier especially well.
Those are three speedier players who have been removed from the team that was pretty darn good on the rush. Damon Severson, another player who left this offseason to division rival Columbus in a sign-and-trade deal, was a key aspect of the rush because I really think no one in the league hit the long-bomb breakout pass better than Severson.
So the Devils love to play that style under Lindy Ruff. One of the best transition, rush teams in the league. Who did they replace those cogs with?
Tyler Toffoli, a full season of Timo Meier and Curtis Lazar/Tomas Nosek/Nolan Foote. As for Severson, it’ll either be Colin Miller or Simon Nemec.
Toffoli isn’t exactly a speed burner. But I also believe that he’s fast (and smart) enough to keep up with the Ruff system. I literally think a player like him can fit in any system because he’s just a hockey savant. The guy knows where to go and when. And perhaps sometimes trailing a Hughes or Hischier on a rush might work out very beneficial.
Meier came to the Devils late in the season and he does have good speed for a big, physical guy. I think with a full training camp and time to acclimate to the what Lindy is trying to do, I don’t anticipate him being a problem, speed-wise.
As for the Lazar/Nosek/Foote combo, Foote has decent speed for a bigger guy as well. No one would call him a speed merchant by any stretch, but he isn’t Milan Lucic, either. Nosek isn’t that slow, either. And neither is Lazar.
I don’t think that they’re all particularly slow, but they’re also not a speed burner like Boqvist or Wood. And I just worry that maybe collectively, they might slow the rush game down a bit. Now, Luke Hughes will be a transition machine on his own and he will in all likelihood take a lot of the Graves minutes. The speed difference between those two is immense and Hughes also can hit long bomb passes fairly effectively as well from watching him during his Michigan years. Nemec is also a very good passer and Colin Miller won the fastest skater competition at the AHL All Star game in 2015, so he is no slouch either.
So am I nitpicking a roster? Maybe. This is where faith comes in that the coaching staff will be able to pull the pieces together and maintain the offensive juggernaut and even possibly improve upon it from last year. Look, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier know how to create chances off the rush. And they aren’t going anywhere for a very, very long time so as long as you aren’t taking away too much from that core group, it should still be great. John Marino is a phenomenal passer from his own zone. Dougie Hamilton knows what he is doing as well. And I do believe Luke Hughes will add a dynamic, incredible aspect to this team that will make it even better. His ability to not only transition defense to offense but also keep pucks alive in the offensive zone will make Devils fans breathless.
Ultimately, perhaps the fourth line will be even better this year without Miles Wood on it. Nosek or Lazar have very good defensive impacts and that will be vital for that line being effective. Chipping in a goal here and there would be great, but mostly you just don’t want that line killing you whenever it steps on the ice and in recent seasons, that happened a ton with Miles Wood on the ice.
If the third line winds up being Nolan Foote-Erik Haula-Ondrej Palat, that line should be a possession machine as well. So perhaps my worry that the Devils getting slower is completely unfounded. Not as long as the Hughes brothers are there, Jesper Bratt is there and Nico and Timo are there. Transition is the key to making Lindy’s system work and with the group they have now, it shouldn’t be too much of a drop off. Hey, it’s a long offseason to attempt to pick out holes in a roster. And it’s possible I’m being neurotic, but nobody ever said fanaticism involved rational thought. It’s something I’ll be watching closely when the puck drops on 2023-2024.
What do you think, Devils fans? Too much speed lost this offseason or does the Luke Hughes transition game make it a wash?