New Jersey Devils: Forward Grades Through One Quarter Of The Season

New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (86): (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)
New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (86): (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports) /
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New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils center Pavel Zacha (37): (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports) /

The New Jersey Devils officially hit the quarter mark of the shortened season and are sitting with a mediocre but considering the last few seasons good record of 6-6-2 (prior to Thursday night’s win). This is an improvement over the last few years especially considering they were missing key players for a good chunk of it including new captain Nico Hischier and starting star goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood.

For clarity, the players are going to be graded on performance versus expectation. A 4th liner having a higher grade does not mean that they are in any way a better player than a first liner with a lower mark.

(Editor’s note: Story was written before Thursday’s game versus Buffalo.)


Jack Hughes

GP:14 G:4 A:7 PTS:11

After a disappointing season that had fans outside of New Jersey thinking he was the next big bust or possibly too small for the NHL, Jack Hughes has come out and proven them all wrong. His puck control, tenacity, and hands have really taken the big step to make him look like the player he was in the USNDTP the season before. He already at the young age of 19 is able to not only hold his own but drive and carry a line through NHL games. He creates each and every game for this team. For Hughes, the ceiling of his future play looks incredibly high and he is trending to be a legit NHL #1 center and a top 10 in the league in what  may be a short amount of time.

Quarter season grade: A+

Travis Zajac

GP:10 G:2 A:0 PTS:2

Travis Zajac started off the year looking strong playing alongside Miles Wood, but since the lineups were shaken up he has been rather invisible. For the most part he’s been on the weakest line, a rarity for him. His defensive play is still where it needs to be and he is only -2 on the season, but his inability to generate much offense has had him passed over by a lot of players. The future for Zajac, who just played his 1,000th game for the Devils, looks a little uncertain. He still is an NHL quality player even if it is as a bottom six defensive center

Quarter season grade: C

Pavel Zacha

GP:14 G:4 A:5 PTS:9

Pavel Zacha has always been a player who left you wanting more after being drafted at #6 but he may have really found himself this season. He has always had the tendency to get hot for 10 games and then coast while showing zero offence for the next 20. It will be something to keep an eye on. Having played center for most of his career he was slotted into the third spot for what looked like forever on a team with two first overall picks in that position but since the return of Nico Hischier is getting a chance on the wing on the top line. So far, this has not worked out but the chances have been there so perhaps this experiment will work out giving him an offensive spark with the solid defensive play. This season, a big change has been his shot which looks to have taken a step in the offseason allowing him to beat goalies more cleanly. So with the Devils star playmakers, Zacha could thrive in a big way. At his current pace, in a full season, Zacha would be looking at 57 points, a massive leap from his career high of 32. His development while not the highest priority for the young Devils would be a game changer.

Quarter season grade: A

Nico Hischier

GP:3 G:0 A:0 PTS:0

With only three games played, there is not a lot to say on captain Nico Hischier except that he is getting better each and every game. We all know what he brings on every end of the ice every shift and it was a long time between games for him so there is nothing to worry about for the young star.

Quarter season grade: Incomplete

Micheal McLeod

GP:14 G:3 A:1 PTS:4

There is no bigger surprise than the 4th line this season and Michael McLeod was written off by a ton of Devils fans, myself included. With the center depth the team has and the talent coming up via the draft and deadline trades not to mention his poor performance in the NHL and AHL over the last two seasons, McLeod was heading for a short career in the minors.

This season however he came out strong with his long time teammate and close friend Nathan Bastian and set a pace that brought the fight to the other team each and every shift of every game. He backchecks as fast as someone skates on a breakaway and something has lit a fire in his heart and the passion he needed is clear to see. This style of play is 100% needed and the toughness he is bringing as a depth player makes this team harder to play against, something desperately needed for years. If he keeps this up, even if he is only good for 20 points he will be a lock in the lineup for a long time.

Quarter season grade: A