Devils’ Depth Key to 2022-23 Playoff Appearance

After the New Jersey Devils’ 5-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, I did some digging and found two interesting statistics. This season the team is 5-0-0 when Jesper Boqvist collects a point and 4-0-0 when Michael McLeod records a goal.

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It serves as a reminder that if head coach Lindy Ruff’s squad wants to remain competitive and in playoff contention, they will need to continue to get scoring up and down their lineup. Through the first half of the season, the Devils heavily relied upon their big three of Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt, who have each collected at least 40 points thus far. However, it is their secondary scoring that has given them their 26-12-3 record.

No Passengers Approach Will Be Key to Postseason

There is a chance that Hughes can singlehandedly propel his club into the postseason, similar to Taylor Hall’s 93-point performance in the 2017-18 season. But as fans know, once in, the playoffs are an entirely different beast.

Superstars alone do not win Stanley Cups. It requires commitment and contributions from every single player on the roster. If Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can’t propel the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup Final, there is not a lot of hope for any other dynamic duo in the league. A team’s depth, or lack thereof, will always be exposed in the postseason.

Through the first 41 games of the season, it’s apparent that in order for the Devils to remain near the top of the Metropolitan Division standings, they need contributions for their entire forward group. Secondary scoring became an issue during the team’s six-game losing streak from Dec. 9 – Dec. 20. In that span, only two goals were scored by players utilized in the bottom six, Miles Wood’s lone goal against the Dallas Stars on Dec. 13 and Erik Haula’s goal against the Florida Panthers on Dec. 17.

During that stretch, Yegor Sharangovich, Jesper Boqvist, Alexander Holtz, and Fabian Zetterlund did not contribute offensively, and it exposed a hole in the team’s forward depth. The good news is only one forward remains on injured reserve, and he is working his way back.

Reinforcements Are on Their Way for the Devils

On Jan. 9, Nathan Bastian stepped onto the ice at practice for the first time since suffering an injury against the Washington Capitals on Nov. 26. He was utilized as the extra defenseman, taking similar steps as Ondrej Palat when he rejoined the team after his injury.

Related: Devils’ Bastian Will Be Bigger Loss Than Blackwood and Palat

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After practice, head coach Lindy Ruff was asked if there was anything from Palat’s return that can be applied to Bastian as far as how many practices he will participate in before being game ready.

“No, I think we are in a different place because of where the injuries were on both players. Some guys can get a couple of skates in and start to look really good. Some guys need sometimes seven to ten days or five-six practices. Sometimes you can start praciticing sooner with an injury, but it might take you longer to get into a game.”

The Ontario native is currently with the team on their five-game road trip.

Nathan Bastian New Jersey Devils
Nathan Bastian, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

His return will help solidify the team’s depth, as the coaching staff would most likely reunite him with Wood and McLeod. That trio is one of the team’s most consistent and can be counted on to play a physical game, provide energy, and contribute to the scoresheet.

Fitzgerald Can Still Add to His Forward Group

Whether it is finding a skilled winger to play alongside Hughes or bringing in a gritty physical forward to add toughness up front, Devils’ general manager Tom Fitzgerald has plenty of options as the trade deadline approaches. Ahead of the team’s most recent playoff appearance, they bulked up and brought in Pat Maroon via trade from the Oilers. The club could do something similar, but I don’t see Fitzgerald seeking out a short-term rental.

Fans have seen the general manager be strategic in who he acquires via trade. Jonas Siegenthaler, John Marino, and even Vitek Vanecek are all similar in age and complement the young core that Fitzgerald has put together. Any move that the Devils make would most likely involve a player who would return for at least one additional season.

Tom Fitzgerald, general manager of the New Jersey Devils
Tom Fitzgerald, general manager of the New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Devils’ forward core has held its own through the first half of the season and is now in a good position as the playoff race heats up. Bastian’s return will add stability to the team’s bottom-six and will bolster the play of Wood and McLeod. In the meantime, the Devils will look to win their third consecutive game when they visit the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 13 at Honda Center.

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