Last season, the New Jersey Devils were a very, very good 5 on 5 team. There are some playoff teams that, on occasion, really do their damage on the power play and are only decent at 5 on 5. It isn’t usually a recipe for continued success given the low time on ice you get on the power play, but it isn’t unheard of. Just look at Leon Draisaitl, who had 52 goals last season, but only 17 at 5 on 5. He was a power play machine, that was his job. The Devils, thankfully, were not that last year, and were a good even strength team. So much so, that they had multiple 20 goal scorers at 5 on 5.
Last season, there were 39 forwards who scored at least 20 goals at 5 on 5. If averaged out, that would be 1 for most teams in the league, and a second for some. By the end of the regular season, however, the Devils had 4 of them on their roster, a very impressive feat. Jack Hughes led the way with 28 5v5 goals, which ranked him t-6th in the entire NHL among forwards. Timo Meier did not score 20 5v5 goals for the Devils alone last year, but combined between San Jose and New Jersey, he ended the season with 22. And beyond him, both Dawson Mercer and Jesper Bratt ended the year with 20 goals as well, cracking the list.
So again, 4 of the 39 forwards who scored at least 20 5 on 5 goals last year were on the Devils roster at the end of the season. That is very impressive. Only one other team was able to achieve that feat last year: the Buffalo Sabres. Watch out, they might be good sooner than later, and for a while once they get there. Not far behind them, both Dallas and Ottawa had 3 each, really strong showings too. Every other team had either 2, 1, or 0 skaters meet the threshold. There were 10 teams that did not even get 1 forward with 20 goals at 5 on 5. From the Metropolitan, Columbus, Philadelphia, and the Rangers were not able to get anyone on that list.
Now as you can see, having multiple 20 goal scorers at 5 on 5 does not automatically equate to success. Buffalo and Ottawa, two of the four teams with at least 3 forwards to make the list, missed the playoffs. Now, both teams are liked by analysts at the moment as up-and-coming teams leaving rebuilds soon, but the fact of the matter is that they weren’t successful last season despite those goal scorers, so it isn’t an automatic invitation to the playoffs. Among the six teams with 2 forwards to make the list, two of those teams missed out on the playoffs as well (Pittsburgh and Vancouver). This just furthers the notion that it takes more than this to do well.
That being said, it obviously helps enormously if your team has at least one forward who is adept at potting goals at even strength. Of all the teams to make the playoffs last season, only the Rangers did not have a forward score at least 20 5v5 goals in the regular season. So, if your team did not have a player achieve that feat, odds were that they were missing the playoffs unless they have an otherworldly goaltender. The Devils, of course, do not have an otherworldly goaltender, but with Hughes, Meier, Bratt, and Mercer doing their thing at 5 on 5, they were doing just fine in the offense department.
Next season, the Devils look primed to continue having success with forwards scoring goals at 5 on 5. They should once again have numerous players hit 20 goals at 5 on 5, barring some serious setbacks. There is no reason that Jack Hughes and Timo Meier should not hit that mark again, and you have to think both Jesper Bratt and Dawson Mercer could easily do so again as well. They also added Tyler Toffoli, who reached 19 last year, so it is possible that he could hit that mark too this season, especially if he mainly plays alongside Nico Hischier, who is fantastic at setting up his linemates for grade-A chances. Speaking of Nico, he only hit 14 5v5 goals last year, but he is really a playmaker first and goal scorer second, so this is not a knock on him whatsoever. Expect those who play alongside him to hit the mark, but he will probably not make it unless he changes his game, an unlikely thing to happen as there is no reason to do that.
Going into the 2023-24 season, the New Jersey Devils are really set at the forward position and are not hurting for goal scoring, something that could not be said about this team for quite a long time it feels like. They have a very, very strong top 6, and some quality depth pieces behind them to fill out the four lines. Goaltending might be an unknown with Akira Schmid coming off of his playoff performance fighting for the top spot with Vitek Vanecek, and the defensive pairings could be fluid as we wait for Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec to secure their long-term spots on this roster. But for the forwards, goal scoring is there as the numbers show us from last year, and 5 on 5 should be a strength once again for the Devils heading into this season.