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FanFirst Friday: Hot Takes Edition

We are heading into August. News has been slow. Time to reveal some possibly unpopular takes.

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NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New Jersey Devils at Carolina Hurricanes
Should Luke Hughes get PP1 time right off the bat?
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hot outside. Like, I mean REALLY hot. So I have two hot takes to offer you here today. What can I say, there’s no escaping the heat right now.

First hot take: I’ll start out with the one that probably isn’t nearly as hot as my second one because I wanna build to it. Colin Miller will be just as good as Damon Severson was in a similar role last year. I want to thank the Athletic for writing and publishing this piece yesterday. It’s essentially a piece that looks at when analytics numbers were used to draw wrong conclusions about a player. One player featured was a guy the Devils traded for around the NHL Draft. Colin Miller. Here’s a snippet:

“Acquiring a bottom pairing who’s delivered excellent results in a sheltered capacity,” you say? That kind of seems like what the Columbus Blue Jackets did getting Damon Severson from the Devils. They’re probably going to expect him to be in the top pairing with Zach Werenski or possibly second pairing with Ivan Provorov. Buyer beware because Severson (I don’t hate him like many other Devils fans did) was so excellent last year because he thrived and basically chewed up the lesser competition. Maybe he will excel in a bigger role again, but we kind of know what the Devils looked like whenever Severson was forced into a big role. The results were, well, less than great.

But back to Miller. Miller will be the third pairing right side defenseman. Essentially inheriting exactly what Severson was last year. I know, a lot of people will argue that Nemec should be in that spot, but I honestly think that given Dougie Hamilton and John Marino are above him on the depth chart, a season in Utica where he gets top minutes and the top power play at 19 years old will probably be the best route of development for him. The thing is the Devils don’t NEED to rush him just like they didn’t NEED to rush Luke Hughes. But Luke will chew up significant minutes now, likely as a foil for John Marino. Miller is a perfect veteran for those sheltered minutes where he can thrive with Kevin Bahl (or Brendan Smith) against the lesser competition just like Severson did. And as I’ve mentioned before, it’s like no one knows this better than the guy in charge of the Devils defense. Ryan McGill, who happened to be that Golden Knights defense coach when Colin Miller experienced those statistically juiced years in those sheltered minutes. Those in the know last season roundly celebrated the Marino acquisition when it happened, but I think few expected him to be as good as he was last year. I’m not saying Miller will be Marino, far from it, but if he can be that really surprise great low-key addition to solidify a defense corps and perform really well for a season and keep that spot warm while Nemec cooks, it’ll be a HUGE success.

This leads me to my second hot take. And this one will likely meet with a ton of pushback and probably will not happen. I want Luke Hughes to start the season on PP1 with Dougie as the other point man. Yep, I said it. Will it happen? Probably not. But first listen to my reasoning before Lindy Ruff even fails to consider it.

In today’s NHL, the first power play unit is often the one that gets a minute and 20 seconds or more of the opportunity. And some of the best PP operate exactly this way. Edmonton. McDavid and Draisaitl sometimes stay out close to the full two minutes and that PP is historic. Toronto features Matthews and Marner with Reilly for the majority of it. Tampa Bay? Kucherov, Point and Stamkos. Dallas Stars? Pavelski, Robertson and Hintz. The only outlier really in the top five power plays of last season was the Los Angeles Kings...but even they played Doughty and Fiala and Kempe a ton as a part of that first unit. Even six and seven were the Avalanche and Rangers. The Avs play MacKinnon, Rantanen and Makar for near full power plays and the Rangers second unit barely ever even sniffs the ice.

So I’m betting the question you have right now is this. If Luke Hughes and Dougie Hamilton are manning the points, who gets those coveted other three spots? Well, I might anger a few people, but I would bump Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier down to the second unit. I’m putting Timo Meier and Tyler Toffoli flanking Jack Hughes out there as the first unit. This way you have two guys just wiring pucks from both sides of the ice. Jack gets to dance around the ice and distribute the puck cross seams to monsters on the wings. You also get the insane Dougie shots and Luke Hughes dancing along the blue line and distributing the puck all over like Quinn does in Vancouver. Luke also has a great shot himself. We all saw what he did against Washington. But simply watch this collection of highlights and tell me this kid won’t be stellar for a power play?

Yes it’s a bit dated now and against much lesser competition, but the kid did it in Michigan constantly as well. His moves at the blue line to open up space are already on par with guys like Makar and Fox. That unique ability isn’t something that he needs to learn, it’s there. And if you want to have a strong second unit, you can do so with Bratt, Hischier, Mercer, Holtz (or someone else like Bastian to be netfront) and Marino. And you can potentially trade a minute for each. But I imagine the first unit will be absolutely deadly. My problems with Hischier and Bratt on the PP is that they often times just circle and search for that perfect play. Jack does it as well, but he often creates that perfect play just by how dynamic and shifty he is. I also have more faith in Toffoli and Meier being able to retrieve a dump in if that’s necessary than many other higher-end players on the Devils. As we saw in the playoffs, the Rangers and then the Canes both stacked at their blue line to keep Jack Hughes from carrying the puck in. And the Devils never adjusted. The only time they seemed to have success if when they relented and surprised the other team by letting Bratt carry it in. That aspect can be a part of the second unit.

Now, do I expect Ruff to read this and then adjust to my wishes accordingly? No, I do not. In fact, I’d be shocked if they let this happen early on in the year. My feeling is that Luke will show them enough...that he’s just too dynamic an offensive talent to keep away from the power play. My bet is that he’s on PP 2 to start the season even though the Devils have let the opposition get SO many offensive opportunities while they’re on the power play. Having two defensemen on power play 1 would hopefully cut down on those chances the other way while simultaneously opening up opportunities with Jack and Luke using those elite edges to carve up opponents and create lanes and scoring chances that might not have been there before.

Regardless, that’s my offseason, end of July wish right now. I want Luke swimming in the deep end of the pool right off the bat. He’s a Hughes with Hughes skating who is 6’2”. He was made for this.

I get that this Devils franchise is in a different spot now than it was when Jack came into the league and they don’t NEED Luke to do the heavy lifting on the PP. I mean they have a ton of talent up front and to use two defenseman on the first unit would fly in the face of every hockey power play strategy right now. Yet, I suggest this not because the Devils are desperate for a 20-year-old (he’ll be 20 before the season starts) to run the show, but because I have never felt this high on a Devils defense prospect since Scott Niedermayer was drafted third out of Kamloops. Luke had two seasons worth of incredible college hockey and some of the biggest tournaments around. Regardless, I know I sound like old man yelling at cloud right now. Still, in my dreams, Luke and Dougie will be playing catch on the points on PP1 and it will emerge as one of the best decisions the Devils have ever made. If you have Superman in waiting, you don’t force him to sit in the phone booth while Metropolis is in peril:

Can you tell I’m a bit excited to watch this kid for a full 82 games in Devils red?