The first month of the season has been riddled with injuries for New Jersey Devils forwards. Centers Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes are both out with upper-body injuries. Other injured forwards include Nolan Foote and Tomas Nosek. When a team is down players, especially two of its biggest stars, there’s an opportunity and a necessity for other players to step up.
Following a strong sophomore season, Dawson Mercer seemed poised to continue developing into a star. His disappointing performance in the first ten games of the season was not what we expected.
As the weeks wore on and Mercer failed to record any points, we wondered if we should worry. With players like Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt doing a lot of the heavy lifting on offense, Mercer had time to figure things out. Despite the slow start, he continued to stay positive and put the work in.
Mercer has looked better in the past week, even though he remained snake-bitten prior to Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks. He has been more involved on both sides of the ice, has created opportunities, is skating well, and has taken more shots on goal.
Losing Hischier, a versatile two-way center, to an injury was tough to swallow, and then they lost Jack Hughes. The Devils might have avoided the worst-case scenario with Hughes’ injury on Friday night, but his loss in the lineup is still a problem. Before his injury, Hughes was leading the NHL in points. He was a staple on the lethal power play.
Since their defense has struggled early in the year, the Devils must maintain their wicked offense. Without two elite players, we expect the other stars to answer the call. Players who had gotten off to slow starts were suddenly out of time to figure it out. With his valuable ability to play both wing and center, Mercer needed to get out of his funk.
On Sunday night, Mercer answered the call and finally had a big night. Right away in the first period, he was buzzing. He was aggressive and playing a more physical game, showing he wasn’t afraid to throw himself in the mix.
At last, Mercer scored his first goal of the season during a power play. The goal was the Devils’ first of the night, tying the game 1-1. Not only was this a great moment for Mercer, but it also proved the power play is still dangerous without Hischier and Hughes. Mercer’s goal was assisted by Erik Haula and Dougie Hamilton. The Devils went up 2-1 off a goal by Max Willman, recently called up from Utica. They went on to win 4-2.
It was a strong game overall for Mercer. He saw another chance on the power play in the second period, he took four shots on goal, and the Devils made more shot attempts than the Blackhawks with him on the ice. He held a 66.67 CF% for the game. He looked like the version of himself we grew accustomed to last season.
Mercer was all smiles in an on-air interview with Erika Wachter during the second intermission. When asked about his first goal of the season, Mercer was quick to redirect to the team’s play as a whole but not before acknowledging how good it felt to get his first goal out of the way especially early in the game. That first goal was a relief and a confidence booster. Perhaps now the floodgates will open for Mercer.
The Devils’ next game is against the tough Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night. It’s unclear when the Devils will get Hischier and Hughes back. In their absence, other players will continue having opportunities to make a difference.
It was only one goal, but his first of the season was far more important than just the number one in the goals and points columns. Mercer finally showed up when the Devils needed him most.