When the New Jersey Devils announced their opening night roster for the 2017-18 season there were a few eyebrows raised when Blake Coleman and Brian Gibbons were in the NHL as John Quenneville and Joe Blandisi were sent to the AHL. But now 13 games into the season the only eyebrows being raised are those in excitement when Gibbons is scoring or when he and Coleman are killing penalties, quickly turning defense into offense.
Head coach John Hynes and GM Ray Shero obviously know what they were doing this offseason and just about every move or tinker they have made with the roster or lineup has worked out brilliantly. Gibbons is a prime example of that as he entered the season with five career goals in 66 career games and at the moment he has a team-leading seven goals in thirteen games. One of those goals came during a 3-on-5 disadvantage and another came via a shorthanded penalty shot.
Coleman, on the other hand, doesn’t have the offensive production with just one goal through 13 games, but he has been tenacious every shift on the ice, often giving the Devils a boost of adrenaline or energy once he starts using his speed to force their opponents into mental mistakes or turnovers.
The two have played most games together on a line or killing penalties this season and due to their history last season in the AHL you can see the chemistry that the 29-year-old Gibbons and the 25-year-old Coleman have developed. “He’s a worker,” said Gibbons of Coleman, “you know exactly what you’re going to get from him each shift and every game. As long as you know what your linemate is going to do it makes it easier to play with him; especially when you know he’s going to outwork the other guy. He’s going to be in all of the right spots defensively. Then it’s just kind of – defense leads to offense and Blake’s playing really well right now.”
“I didn’t play much penalty kill with him last year in Albany until the end of the year, but he was always a staple on that unit,” added Gibbons.
“We played the entire season together on a line when we were down there (in the AHL),” Coleman told us. “We had a lot of chemistry and a lot of success together down there. I’ve always known what kind of talent he was, kind of hiding down there. I’m really happy for him – he’s off to an incredible start.”
Score a goal, get picked up by @BColes25. Literally.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 6, 2017
For Gibbons, this is his third crack at staying in the NHL after previous stops in Pittsburgh (41 games) and Columbus (25), but for Coleman, this is his big opportunity after making his NHL debut last season (23 games). He certainly has made the most of this opportunity after getting a taste of what he needed to work on last year in New Jersey.
“I’m just trying to bring it every night, playing with a lot of energy. There’s been a lot of emphasis from coach about being hard on pucks,” said Coleman describing his success so far to The Hockey Writers. “Speed is a lot of my game and the PK is also a big part, but I’d like to start making that translate into some offensive production as well.”
Jersey Fitting Fine
As mentioned this is Coleman’s first extended look in New Jersey with a defined role and after beating out others for a job here during camp he’s slowly becoming somewhat comfortable that if he makes a mistake during a game he won’t be making the trip back to the AHL the next day. “Yeah, for sure you could say that,” Coleman replied when asked if his comfort level has eased a bit this season compared to last.
“I come to the rink and I have the best job in the world. I’m happy to be here and it’s a lot of fun when you are winning games,” he added. “My biggest goal here is just trying to find ways to help the team keep winning.”
One of the biggest differences between this edition of the New Jersey Devils and the previous four-five incarnations is speed. These Devils are fast. Really fast. Whether it’s Coleman, Gibbons, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, or Taylor Hall — there is always a speed on the ice for them it seems and they have played in some entertaining games through the first five weeks.
“It’s a lot more exciting hockey and we take away time and space pretty well,” said Coleman. “The game is a lot easier when you have guys jumping in holes and a lot of speed out there with you. Everybody’s done a good job and I think it really comes out in our PK too; it’s a fun time to be playing (here).”
Gibbons is also having fun. It’s amazing what a little confidence in yourself and belief from the coaching staff can do for a player’s psyche. “The main thing is that we’ve been winning games, that’s the main goal. Individual success comes with that and it doesn’t matter if you’re not winning,” Gibbons replied when asked about his personal success this season. “I’m happy to contribute in different ways to help the team win.”
No one predicted during the summer months that Coleman and Gibbons would be here in the NHL, but then again no one predicted the Devils would be near the top of the Metropolitan Division standings either. Not sure one happens without the other in place. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out for both players and New Jersey after their collective amazing starts.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.