New Jersey Devils: Dawson Mercer Finding Chemistry With Jack Hughes

New Jersey Devils center Dawson Mercer (18): Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey Devils center Dawson Mercer (18): Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports /
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Going into the season, Dawson Mercer found a great space as the New Jersey Devils‘ third-line center. It gave the Devils the opportunity to play Pavel Zacha in the top six as a winger, and it filled a need the Devils weren’t 100% sure they were going to fill going into training camp. It allowed the entire lineup to gel as new pieces looked to find their space. This rookie looked like he was going to be in the Calder Trophy race until a few other players started having ridiculous seasons.

It started off very well. Mercer was great on a line with Andreas Johnsson and Jesper Bratt. In fact, he helped them both grow after their separate struggles to start the season. At one point, the Mercer-Bratt-Johnsson line was better than any other line on the Devils. They were driving play and it led directly to goals.

Then, the Devils put Bratt on other lines, and it led to Mercer struggling more than expected. Johnsson fell off a cliff, but Mercer was still getting the occasional goal. Finding the right line combinations was harder, and it seemed like there was no great pairing for him. The Devils tried putting another struggling forward in Tomas Tatar on his line, but the chemistry wasn’t there. We called for the Devils trying Mercer back at wing roughly a month ago. Back then, we were talking about going on Nico Hischier‘s wing, however, playing him with Jack Hughes is even better.

The Devils showed how well Mercer, Hughes, and Yegor Sharangovich play together on Monday against a tired Vancouver Canucks team. All three players finished the game with a goal and an assist in a 7-2 rout. For now, the Devils finally found the right line combination for Jack Hughes.

Think about how much this impacts up and down the lineup for Lindy Ruff. Now he has Jesper Bratt to put on a line with Hischier and Pavel Zacha, a line that has had great chemistry in the past. It also helps increase Zacha’s value playing him in the top six. It gives an opportunity for Jesper Boqvist to take over the third-line center position, a place where he’s been thriving as of late. He also scored a goal and added an assist on Monday night.

This clearly gives the Devils a true top six and a true bottom six. On a nightly basis, keeping Mercer on the top line makes the most sense. It will give the Devils consistency for the rest of the season. An injury or trade might change how the lineup looks over the next few weeks, but for now it’s nice to have some consistency.

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This might not be where Mercer lands for the rest of his career, but for his rookie year, it’s best to have him paired with one of the best young players in the league. Mercer is incredibly skilled, but he can’t carry a line yet. Jack Hughes can, and he can take Mercer to new heights. This line could lead to superstardom in the future for both Mercer and Hughes.