New Jersey Devils: Analyzing Miles Wood’s Breakout Sophomore Campaign

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 22: Miles Wood
NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 22: Miles Wood /

It’s no secret that Miles Wood is having a breakout season in his second year with the New Jersey Devils. But how exactly has Wood made himself valuable to the Devils?

The New Jersey Devils drafted Miles Wood in the fourth-round of the 2013 NHL draft. Considering that most fourth-round draft picks never develop into significant NHL players, it was a pleasant surprise when Wood made the opening day roster as a 21-year-old for the 2016-17 NHL season.

Over the course of his rookie season, Wood managed to score 8 goals and 9 assists in 60 games while averaging 12:51 of ice time per game. These are certainly respectable numbers, but there was much reason to believe that Wood would improve significantly in his sophomore campaign.

Obviously, he was expected to show the basic jump in production NHL players experience from their rookie year to their sophomore season as a player develops hockey-wise, physically, and mentally.

Also, Wood’s shooting percentage of 7.6% was below the league average of 8.7%, which indicated that Wood was due for some better puck luck, especially since Wood’s speed creates so many breakaways and high danger scoring chances. Thus, Wood seemed particularly on the verge of a breakout season.

In his second season, Wood has surpassed all expectations. While Wood’s average ice time has actually dipped to 12:41 per game, there doesn’t seem to be a concrete explanation as to why Wood is not getting significant minutes for the Devils, as Nick Villano wrote, though the lack of substantial ice time does make Wood’s numbers that much more impressive.

Despite the limited ice time, Wood has posted 17 goals and 12 assists in 69 games. Wood ranks 94th overall in the NHL in high danger scoring chances generated (per Natural Stat Trick). Wood is essentially producing like a borderline first-liner while playing under 13 minutes overall and under a minute of powerplay time per game (per Fox Sports).

Miles Wood has the third most goals and sixth most points among Devils players, aided by his shooting percentage rising to 11%. He has been invaluable to the Devils this season. So, what exactly makes Wood so dangerous and apt at creating high danger scoring opportunities?

For anyone who watches the Devils on even a semi-regular basis, the answer is simple; speed. Wood’s number one asset is his lights-out speed and acceleration, which sometimes catches defenses off-guard. After all, it is not often that you see a gritty 6-2 4th-liner barreling down the ice past everyone.

Wood’s speed makes him a threat to score anytime he’s on the ice. Wood put together his raw speed and a solid net-front presence and wrist shot to have a fantastic season. Observing a few plays demonstrates how effective Wood has been this season for the Devils, and just how much of a weapon Wood is anytime he is on the ice.

Here is a play from last season that amazes me every time I see it :

Boston Bruins defenseman Austin Czarnik begins the play roughly five feet ahead of Wood in the race to the Bruins net. However, Czarnik makes the mistake of taking too sharp an angle towards Wood. He blows past him so quickly that by the time Czarnik gets to Wood, Wood is already several feet ahead of him. Despite both players beginning to accelerate at the same time and Czarnik starting five feet ahead of Wood, it took Wood from the faceoff dot in the Devils zone until center ice to be so far ahead of Czarnik that Czarnik couldn’t do anything to slow down Wood. Wood comes in for a 2-on-1 and slides a perfect pass to Kalinin for the goal.

Here is another play from last season:

Travis Zajac slips the puck towards Miles Wood in the neutral zone as the Devils break out. It is a 1-on-2 for Wood, and Oilers defenseman Eric Gryba, very aware of Wood’s speed, is playing Wood 15 feet back.  Wood turns on the jets towards the wing. He gets there so quickly, he beat out Gyrba by the faceoff dot. Gyrba can only watch as Wood scores a slick goal.

For some context on this next play, the Devils had just iced the puck and had been trapped in their own end for quite a while. Nico Hischier had just blocked a powerful Capitals shot and was slow to get up, but because of the icing, had to stay on the ice. Furthermore, this game had major implications for the Metropolitan Division playoff race. Here is what happened:

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Nico wins the faceoff back to Sami Vatanen, who settles the puck down. As this all occurs, Wood starts to speed down the ice. Orlov notices what is happening and tries to match Wood, but he has no chance as Wood rushes past him. Vatanen drops a terrific over-the-shoulder pass in front of Wood, who comes in all alone on Holtby. Orlov is so far behind Wood that he is no more than an afterthought as Wood slides the puck through Holtby’s five-hole for the goal. A similar play ensued against the Kings, though Wood ran out of room in front of the net.

As Miles Wood slowly perfects his game, his sky-high potential becomes more and more obvious. Wood is a physical presence, often acting as a spark for the Devils with a big hit or a fight. His speed makes him a threat anytime he is on the ice. As he gains confidence in his shot, he is becoming even more dangerous. If Wood can continue down this path, he looks to be a major piece of the Devils core.

All statistics are courtesy of Hockey Reference, unless otherwise noted.