New Jersey Devils head coach Lindy Ruff made the unpopular decision to keep Brendan Smith in the lineup, but this time as a forward. Despite the consensus on the move, it’s worked perfectly, at least on Saturday.
The New Jersey Devils won a big game on Saturday night, destroying the Buffalo Sabres 7-2. Everything went right, even something that felt impossible. Brendan Smith, who at times has been considered the worst player in the lineup, was one of the best players on the ice. That might be hyperbole, but he was really good.
Smith was on the ice for 11 chances and seven chances against. Some of his other numbers were pretty average, but that’s good for a line of Smith (a defenseman), Chris Tierney, and Nathan Bastian. The Devils didn’t allow a 5v5 goal, so Smith couldn’t be on the ice for that (although, two power-play goals were scored).
Individually, Smith was just as good. He actually got two shots off at 5v5, and he even had an individual high-danger chance. This was the second game he played at forward. The first didn’t go well, but the Devils made up for it on Saturday night. Still, Smith was still better playing “out of position.”
Brendan Smith is proving to be a useful forward for the New Jersey Devils.
Prior to Friday’s game, Smith was on the ice for a shockingly low amount of high-danger chances. His HDCF per 60 was .58. Only Colin Miller had fewer, and he had none because it was an incredibly small sample size during the Devils’ worst run. Meanwhile, Smith is on the ice for 2.02 HDCF against per 60. Smith as a defenseman was a problem.
Smith was on the ice for two high-danger chances in 14 minutes of 5v5 time on Saturday. This is never going to be what he brings to the table, but at least he isn’t sticking the puck in mud when he’s on the ice. The team is still able to contribute offensively with him at left wing, and he even helped on the Devils second goal.
We’re not saying this should be the long-term plan. Smith is best served as a healthy scratch with a full lineup, but he’s proven his worth. He has value as a hybrid player, especially now that Colin Miller established himself as a useful defenseman after returning from injury. The Devils defense is getting better, and Smith is better off in another role. Maybe Lindy Ruff was onto something when he made this move.