Depth Scoring is Key to New Jersey Devils’ Success

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 23: Jesper Boqvist #70 of the New Jersey Devils watches during warm-ups prior to the game against the Boston Bruins during the game at Prudential Center on December 23, 2022 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 23: Jesper Boqvist #70 of the New Jersey Devils watches during warm-ups prior to the game against the Boston Bruins during the game at Prudential Center on December 23, 2022 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Despite their early season successes, the New Jersey Devils still face obstacles on their way to securing their first playoff berth since 2017-18. Chief amongst those obstacles is finding depth scoring.

The depth scoring has been an issue for the New Jersey Devils. Jack Hughes is leading the scoring effort, and if it’s not him, it seems to be Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Dougie Hamilton cleaning it up. Besides them, the Devils have had trouble finding scoring. However, back-to-back multi-goal comeback wins against two division rivals, the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, might suggest that things are beginning to change.

A lot has been made of the Devils’ scoring hibernation this winter, but after racking up a few wins, some fans have implied that the scoring is back. This is not necessarily true, especially when you consider Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier both went on five-game goal streaks at about the same time. However, at the midway point in the 2022-23 season, we can establish a trend in what happens when the Devils win and what happens when they lose.

New Jersey Devils
Dawson Mercer #91 of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Dawson Mercer recently completed arguably the best game of his young career, scoring two goals, including the game winner, and adding an assist in a 5-3 win over the ultra-competitive Hurricanes. Before his game-winning goal, Mercer assisted none other than Jesper Boqvist, who notoriously just went 19 games without a point before potting a goal and an assist alongside Mercer against the Canes. Boqvist then returned the favor, assisting Mercer’s game-winner. So, what’s the theme here?

For the sake of this writing, we’ll say that ‘depth scoring’ comes from all forwards on the roster who aren’t Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Tomas Tatar, and Erik Haula. Although Haula has less goals than Michael McLeod and only one more point overall, he’s well established in the top six next to Hughes. The same can be said about Tatar and Hischier since he’s level with Dawson Mercer in points, and Mercer bounces around a lot. Doing a deep dive into players’ individual performances over chunks of the season at a time, there’s an alarming trend when it comes to depth scoring, particularly in losses: games where the supplementary scoring can make or break the outcome.

Pick Analysis. LW. Belarus. 17. player. 10G, 7A, 17 PTS. Yegor Sharangovich. 85

Sharangovich was earmarked to take the next step alongside Jack Hughes in 2022-23, but after a good start, the bottom completely fell out. The Belarusian sniper racked up eight goals and six assists through his first 23 games but has just two goals and an assist in 18 games since then.

Yegor Sharangovich has strangely fallen out of favor and landed a depth role with which he has struggled. It seems like he’s used mainly on the penalty kill despite his propensity to be a scorer in years past. The Devils lost a lot in December, and in 15 total losses Sharangovich has appeared in, he’s scored just one goal. When the Devils lose, he’s nowhere to be found.

Pick Analysis. player. 10G, 15A, 25 PTS. RW, C. Canada. Dawson Mercer. 91. 85

Mercer joins Sharangovich in the higher expectations department, but it’s clear he has chemistry with Jack Hughes and performs better with more ice time and in an offense-oriented role. Mercer has tended to be a bit streaky, but his hand in four combined goals in the Devils’ two comeback wins against the Rangers and the Hurricanes have lifted the Devils to their greatest and second-greatest victories this season.

In 12 regulation losses, however, Mercer has just one goal and one assist to pair with a -12 rating. Lindy Ruff inexplicably threw the NHL sophomore under the bus to the public after his botched breakaway in the loss to the St. Louis Blues. Mercer’s body language during the play showed he had little confidence. His latest contributions are a testament to his mentality and willingness to work hard for his minutes and his team.

RW. 49. player. 5G, 9A, 14 PTS. Pick Analysis. Sweden. Fabian Zetterlund. 85

Fabian Zetterlund had a fine start to his NHL career in 2021-22, earning a call-up late in the season and hopping on a line with Nico Hischier. Zetterlund reprised his role on that line this season, only to bounce around after the injury to Nathan Bastian. While Zetterlund does play a somewhat physical style, it was an asinine decision by the coaching staff to try to force Zetterlund into Bastian’s role when the two play nothing alike.

The Swedish youngster hasn’t been the same since, posting just one goal and one assist in his last 15 games. In 12 total losses, Zetterlund has no goals and three assists. Zetterlund’s winter performance hasn’t been good enough, but neither have the circumstances he’s been forced into.

Pick Analysis. LW. United States. 85. player. 7G, 9A, 16 PTS. Miles Wood. 44

Miles “tired of losing” Wood has done very little to help the team avoid losing this season, to put it bluntly. Wood has just one goal since November 10 vs. the Ottawa Senators, which was two months ago. In these past two months, Wood has fanned on a king’s ransom of scoring chances in front of the net, where a forward who plays Wood’s style is supposed to be worth his weight in gold.

Wood’s speed is another overstated asset because once he gets onto a loose puck, nothing positive will come of it; Wood is shooting just 6.8% on the season. If the Devils want to have any chance in the playoffs, the brazen power forward will need to aspire to produce more than two goals in 14 losses and seven goals on 103 shots overall.

C. Canada. Michael McLeod. 4G, 14A, 18 PTS. 20. player. 85. Pick Analysis

Michael McLeod has mostly been a pleasant surprise thus far in his third full NHL season, with four goals and 14 assists. He has an outside chance at 40 points on the season, which would shatter his career high of 20. For a fourth line center who plays a ton of defensive-oriented minutes, his production isn’t bad at all. It’s good, aside from the fact that McLeod, like Wood, cannot shoot the puck whatsoever.

McLeod boasts a shooting percentage of just 7.8% this season, which is more reflective of his abilities than the unsustainable 15% he recorded in 2020-21. McLeod was ice cold in December, scoring no goals in 13 games, but has one on the board already this month with two assists to go with it. His production will likely improve again when his best bud Nathan Bastian returns from his shoulder injury, but scoring no goals and having two assists in 15 losses correlates to those games being losses.

Jesper Boqvist. 70. Pick Analysis. F. Sweden. player. 85. 4G, 2A, 6 PTS

Jesper Boqvist is perhaps the player most reflective of the point of this article. All six of Boqvist’s points this season have come in games that the Devils won. After doing absolutely nothing offensively for two months, Boqvist couldn’t have picked a better time to show signs of life, adding a goal and an assist to help the Devils knock off the skidding Hurricanes.

Boqvist needs to shoot a lot more and get involved in the offense; he’s shooting 13.3% but is averaging less than one shot per game at the moment. His winter production has been infuriating to watch, but the young Swede has potential, having just reached 100 NHL games played at the end of last season whilst doing so largely in a 4th line role.

3G, 1A, 4 PTS. RW. Sweden. 85. Pick Analysis. Alexander Holtz. 10. player

There’s not much to be said about the performance of Holtz thus far, having produced equally (virtually zero) in both wins and losses. That said, Holtz’s only goal in a loss was the first goal of the game in the season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Holtz played really well against the St. Louis Blues and the Detroit Red Wings, scoring one goal and an assist in a win against the latter, only to be benched against the Rangers and scratched for the following game against the Canes.

This is what can only be described as the story of Holtz’s season, despite shooting an impressive 15% with highly unfavorable circumstances pitted against him, such as being buried with Wood and McLeod to pair with an average time-on-ice of just 10:18. While he was the 7th overall pick in the 2020 draft, the poor kid doesn’t even have a fighting chance with this coaching staff right now.

LW. Czech Republic. Ondrej Palat. player. 85. 3G, 0A, 3 PTS. Pick Analysis. 18

Ondrej Palat has barely played and may or may not be rejoining the top-six alongside Nico Hischier permanently. Still, the wily Czech veteran has hardly looked the part of an experienced, hard-nosed, Stanley Cup-winning winger so far in New Jersey. Unsurprisingly, in four losses, Palat has zero points, and his three goals have all come in wins.

Palat certainly needs more time to try to settle in again, as well as get back to 100% fitness, but his performance will be paramount to the Devils’ success down the road.

85. Pick Analysis. RW. Nathan Bastian. 14. 3G, 5A, 8 PTS. Canada. player

Nathan Bastian has been out for almost two months with a shoulder injury, but even before then, his production was about average. Bastian amassed only three goals in 21 games and had zero power-play points despite the substantial amount of time he received on it with the first unit. Bastian was well on his way to surpassing his production from last year, and the Devils have only lost three games with him in the lineup thus far this season. He has one goal in those three games, and his impact has been sorely missed on that 4th line alongside Wood and McLeod.

Next. Tomas Hertl Is A Perfect Fit For Devils. dark

Excellent performances from the bottom six vastly correlate with wins and losses, and Lindy Ruff and the rest of the coaching staff will be tasked with finding the remedy that gets these guys going more consistently.