The New Jersey Devils welcomed a friendly face to the lineup on Sunday. For the first time this season, Miles Wood would take his spot on one of the wing spots. He was his usual self, which is surprising since he’s coming off hip surgery. He even got a penalty, which isn’t great but shows us he’s back to his normal type of play.
Wood brings a certain physicality that the Devils have mostly been missing this season. Prior to getting Nathan Bastian back from the Seattle Kraken, it seemed like nobody on the team was willing to lay down a hit. Now, Bastian leads the team with 173 hits. Michael McLeod is second on the team, but he has 60 fewer hits than Bastian.
In his first game back, Wood recorded two hits right off the bat. It shows he was still the engine that drives this Devils team every time he’s on the ice. Some were worried the injury could make him a little tentative. It did not. He had that same fire he had last year, really made an impact on every shift, and it was clear where number 44 was at all times. Wood even stopped a few icings showing he didn’t lose a step during rehab.
Wood’s injury put the Devils in a major hole for most of the season. They had some decent runs in the bottom six from the likes of Andreas Johnsson and Jimmy Vesey, but they were short lived. Wood found a consistency last season that we haven’t seen since.
Wood’s also ending his four-year contract this season, and he will become a restricted free agent in the offseason. He has to prove himself for the rest of the season to the Devils as he tries to find a long-term spot in the lineup. Things might get even more complicated if the Devils decide to move on from Lindy Ruff, who has gotten the best out of Wood since he was hired. Is the next coach going to be as patient with Wood as Ruff is?
The Devils should expect Wood to go all out for the next few weeks until the season ends. Then, they have a decision to make about where he fits in the timeline of a great NHL team. He’s not someone who fits on Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes line, but does he fit long term on the bottom six? If they get the Wood from last year, or even the Wood from Sunday night, then yes he has a place here. He just needs to prove it.