Throughout the New Jersey Devils’ rebuilding years of most of the last decade (it feels really good to speak about it in the past tense finally), they struggled to find players who consistently would be the ones to take shots. Many of their better offensive players during that time were pass-first kind of players, distributors, and not pure shot-takers. One exception to that was always Kyle Palmieri, but he was not enough at that time to obviously get this team where it needed to go. It led to the team taking someone like Alexander Holtz, a pure shooter himself, as a way to get more pucks on net.
As we leave that era of the franchise behind, and enter this new one of hopefully lots of success and winning, one area that has significantly changed is shooting. The Devils went from having a dearth of shooters to now a surplus, and that is an extremely good thing. Check out the data from Natural Stat Trick of all skaters who played at least 200 5v5 minutes last season, and how many shots on goal per 60 they had. For reference, 707 skaters made the list. I am only listing the top Devils from last year as to avoid a very clunky and large chart.
I left out players who are no longer on the team now, but added Tyler Toffoli who was obviously not on the team at all last year. That leaves out Miles Wood, who was quite high on that list too, ranking 15th overall with 10.83 shots per 60 at 5 on 5. Also, Yegor Sharangovitch and Fabian Zetterlund were identical, both having 7.42 shots per 60 and ranking t-163, in between Bastian and Mercer on the chart there. After Mercer, there was a major drop-off with the sole exception of Tomas Tatar, again not currently on the team and so not relevant.
But what you see right there is a Devils team with a plethora of shooters, something they have not had in a very, very long time it feels like, at least to me. They currently have 6 skaters who rank in the top 100 shooters in the league. Realistically, if things were completely average, every team should have exactly 3 skaters in the top 96, but the Devils have double that. Plus, 5 of those 6 are forwards, only Dougie Hamilton is bombing his from the blue line most of the time. Everyone else is getting in most of their shots up closer to the net, with higher probabilities of scoring. Even better.
Of course, being able to get off more shots comes with having the puck in the offensive zone more often, and the Devils’ skaters were helped with this last year by having the 4th best Corsi in the league last year at 54.12%. That will give the guys on the ice more opportunities for shots on net, thus increasing the team’s total shots and getting more guys in the top 100 like we saw. Toffoli, on Calgary, benefitted even more, as Calgary ranked 2nd in the league in Corsi at 57.39%, trailing only Carolina. On the reverse end, Anaheim ranked dead last in Corsi and had only 1 skater in the top 100 shooters, Frank Vatrano, while Chicago was 2nd worst and had 0 skaters in the top 100 shooters. So having a team that plays a positive possession game does matter in this regard, and the Devils were good at that last year, again for the first time in what seems to be a long time, 2017-18 notwithstanding. And they weren’t even great at it that year, squeaking into the playoffs with a 48.59 CF%, good for only 21st in the league.
Overall, however, this is a fantastic development for this team. Offense was a struggle for this franchise for a long time, but with the number of shooters on this team currently, that should be a significantly smaller issue heading into this season. The top 6 is loaded with shooters, and there’s even Bastian on the fourth line who likes to shoot it when he can. That should lead to plenty of goals and opportunities to win games.