New Jersey Devils: Mike McLeod, Nathan Bastian, and Miles Wood Have Shades Of Old Fourth Lines

New Jersey Devils center Michael McLeod (20): (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)
New Jersey Devils center Michael McLeod (20): (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports) /

The New Jersey Devils are winning games thanks to the play of Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, and Miles Wood.

The New Jersey Devils played one of their best games of the season on Sunday afternoon. Right before the game, players found out Kyle Palmieri wouldn’t be available because of was on the NHL’s COVID protocol list. He joins Travis Zajac, Mackenzie Blackwood, Aaron Dell, and now Sami Vatanen. That’s a lot of talent out of the lineup. Add Nico Hischier, who’s missed the entire season with a lower-body injury, and it’s a wonder the Devils have won any game. To win a game like this, it takes some secondary players taking over.

That’s exactly what the Devils’ “fourth” line did. Michael McLeod and Miles Wood combined for four goals (including the go-ahead goal with 10 minutes left in the fourth and the empty-net goal to seal it). They were insane all game long. Nathan Bastian only had one assist this game, but he was still very active on the ice.

Those three have been very good since they came together on Saturday. McLeod and Bastian had assists on the Janne Kuokkanen goal that tied the game with under six minutes remaining. That led to the Devils getting a point, securing a crucial three-point weekend in Buffalo.

Wood, McLeod, and Bastian have only been together for two games, but it’s hard to believe they will be broken up in the near future. They have a certain chemistry about them. It feels familiar. In fact, fans from all eras will have that familiar feeling. It’s because they feel almost exactly like two fourth lines that helped drive the Devils to Stanley Cup Finals.

Of course, there’s “that” fourth line from the 2012 Devils team. Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier, and Ryan Carter were legendary in their work ethic that season. Bernier was the big body who could score. Gionta was the skilled player that got in the dirty areas. Carter was the surprisingly skilled player who made things happen. They were causing turnovers at a serious clip in the playoffs, and they earned themselves ice time each and every game.

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However, the skill set of this Devils fourth line feels different. It honestly feels closer to the very old school Devils line of Jay Pandolfo, John Madden, and Sergei Brylin. They all contributed in entirely different ways when they were apart, but every single game, they made a serious impact with limited ice time.

At his peak, Madden was putting up 35-45 points with 15-20 goals. He was known for his ability to score on the penalty kill, which seems to match the future of McLeod. The Devils would do backflips if McLeod puts up a career like Madden’s. On paper, one might not want their former 1st-round pick to play like an undrafted free agent, but Madden is a different specimen.

Bastian could easily play the Pandolfo role. Obviously, Bastian is bigger, but Pandolfo played the biggest on that line. Unfortunately, hits weren’t a regular stat until late in his career, but Pandolfo was always in the play. He didn’t get a ton of points, but he was always doing the things that lead to team goals. He didn’t need recognition. Bastian is the same way in how he plays. He will slow up defenders, poke things in the right place, and use his body to make a play.

Then, there’s Wood. There haven’t been many with the talent of Wood, but Brylin had a similar mindset. Brylin’s 2000-02 seasons were great. He scored 52 and 44 points in those two seasons. He was contributing everywhere, and he was a fan favorite for how he brought the fight every game. Wood isn’t a fan favorite right now, but he was three seasons ago when he scored 19 goals. He had a rough two seasons, but all that can be erased if he keeps playing like this.

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The Devils have something special with Wood, Bastian, and McLeod. McLeod was on the way to Bustville before he started this season on fire. He went from the first player out of the lineup when Nico Hischier returns to the last one anyone would want to sit. If this line keeps it going, then this is going to be a fun season for these young players.