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The Devils Have A Goal: Generate Rush Attempts

Some teams like to slow things down and set up in the offensive zone. The Devils, however, are the exact opposite. They love to generate rush attempts.

New Jersey Devils v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Each team has a different approach on how to generate attempts on net. Some teams focus on speed and rush up the ice, while other teams want to methodically matriculate up ice, set up in the offensive zone, and then go to work from there. Both approaches can lead to success, it all depends on the system, the players, and execution.

The coaching staff for the New Jersey Devils clearly worked hard last year on dominating the former of those two plans. When you look at forwards last year and rush attempts generated at 5 on 5, you will see numerous Devils near the top, enough that it jumps out at you. In the following chart, I list Devils forwards and their rank in total rush attempts at 5 on 5 versus all forwards in the league who played at least 500 minutes at 5v5. 382 forwards qualify, and the info comes from Natural Stat Trick.

Those are some statistically significant numbers if I’ve ever seen them. The Devils had, at least at one point on their roster during the season, 12 forwards who ranked in the top 38 in rush attempts per 60 minutes of ice time. And again, that is out of 382 qualified forwards who played at least 500 5v5 minutes last year. There were 12 Devils in the top 38 out of 382. If that doesn’t scream that the focus of the offense was on rush attempts and generating attempts off of speed and transitions up the ice, I don’t know what else would.

Particularly high on that list is Miles Wood, who ranked 1st in rush attempts per 60 last year, but that should not be surprising to any Devils fan who knows he is super fast in a straight line and thus well-suited to rush attempts. Even with him gone, however, the Devils still retain the much better Jack Hughes and Timo Meier, who both sit well in the top 10, generating around 2 rush attempts per 60 minutes. Nico also cracks the top 10 at the back end, and Ondrej Palat cracks the top 20. Up and down the four forward lines, there were guys last year who consistently produced rush attempts for. It was a focus for the coaching staff, clearly, and the players delivered successfully.

It will be interesting to see how this affects newcomers next year, and if their rush attempts improve. This obviously most pertains to Tyler Toffoli. Last year, Toffoli had 8 total rush attempts and recorded 0.48 rush attempts per 60, which ranked him 151st on the list, significantly lower than the Devils skaters I listed above. Will that number grow next year on the Devils under a new system for him? You would think so, especially playing alongside either Nico or Jack, both of whom generate lots of rush attempts. It could be a whole new ballgame for Toffoli in that regard. Will it lead to more points and a better year? Who knows, but it worked for someone like Tomas Tatar, so no reason it can’t for Toffoli either.

Overall, numbers like this make it clear that among all 32 NHL teams, the Devils were clearly at the top when it came to rush attempts last year. It was a major focus for the team and the coaching staff, and it bled into how they played and what they did. And basically, all forwards benefitted from it with high rush attempts per 60. Even those that I did not add to that list were still in a relatively higher position compared to the league. Even Michael McLeod ranked 121st, so it isn’t like only certain forwards were doing this. This permeated all four lines, and it really defined the team’s offense. Plus, it is really fun to watch, so let’s see if this focus continues next year.