The Devils struggle to win games, but they are finally starting to put the puck in the net.
In their last six games, they have gone 3-3. In those same six games, the Devils have scored 30 goals, an average of 5 per game. When you can average five goals per game, and still not have a winning record, you know there is a pretty big problem on the back end. In the case of the Devils, as I addressed in my last blog, it’s the goaltending that is costing the Devils these games. The Devils cannot count on their goalies to make big saves and even minor mistakes regularly end up in the back of the Devils net. But, in the midst of a lost season, we still have some positives we can focus on. The Devils offense is a well oiled machine right now.
Hughes and Hischier have been playing like the elite centers the Devils thought they were getting when they drafted each of them first overall in 2019 and 2017 respectively. Jesper Bratt is probably the best draft steal in the NHL in the last ten years. Drafted in the 6th round in 2016, Bratt is currently 7th in career points among all players drafted that year. 161 players were drafted before Bratt and he currently has the 7th most points and goals among them all. I can’t think of a better draft steal in the last 10 years then him. Damon Severson, despite his defensive lapses and bad habit of constantly taking penalties, has been proving his worth by driving offense from the back end. His pass to spring Jesper Bratt on a breakaway last night is one of the most impressive things a defenseman can do.
Not mentioned on the list above but still producing at a high level is Yegor Sharangovich. Sharangovich got off to a slow start with only 7 points (3G, 4A) in his first 18 games. However, he has absolutely caught fire in his last five games, where he has 8 points (4G, 4A). Since the start of 2022, Sharangovich has 13 points in 17 games. Sharangovich can also go into the draft steals category as he was picked by New Jersey in the 5th round of the 2018 draft but ranks 7th in points among that draft class. 140 people were picked ahead of Sharangovich in the 2018 draft, yet only six of them have more points than he does so far in their careers. Perhaps more impressively, Sharanagovich is 5th in goals among his draft class. All of this despite the fact that Sharangovich has only played 100 NHL games and many of the guys who have produced more than he has so far have played over 200 games. He seems to have found a role where he thrives on the wing of the Jack Hughes line and Devils fans should be giddy as hell that we were able to steal guys like Bratt and Sharangovich in the late rounds and now we get to watch them terrorize the rest of the NHL.
The Devils also have Dawson Mercer. Mercer was selected by New Jersey with the 18th pick in the 2020 draft, which was part of the Taylor Hall to Arizona trade. In 52 games this year, Mercer has 12 goals and 17 assists for 29 points. Mercer is a natural center but recently has had success playing as a winger in the Devils top six forward group. The 20 year old Mercer has 6 points in his last 8 games and is currently 5th on the Devils in points and 6th in goals. Among all NHL rookies this season, Mercer is 7th in points and 5th in goals. It’s always an encouraging sign when talent that your organization drafted and signed are making an impact in the NHL shortly after being drafted. Especially a guy like Mercer. The Devils acquired him with the pick that they got for trading away the franchise’s only Hart trophy winner, Taylor Hall. Missing on that draft pick would have really hurt. Thankfully, the opposite happened and the Devils got a very good young forward as a part of the package for Taylor Hall.
So not only do the Devils have players like Hughes, Hischier and Bratt entering their primes and starting to really dominate, but we also have players like Sharangovich and Mercer who are still in the very early stages of their careers showing that they have what it takes to be great players in the NHL as well. You also cannot forget the fact that the Utica Comets are rolling over pretty much everyone in a very dominant AHL season. That team has young players like Alexander Holtz, Fabian Zetterlund, and Nate Schnarr who are having fantastic seasons. The offensive present and future are very bright in the Garden State. Now if we could only get a consistently decent goalie…
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