To the relief of New Jersey Devils fans everywhere, Miles Wood made his triumphant return against the Montreal Canadiens. On Nov. 8, 2021, the team announced that he had undergone surgery on his right hip and would be out indefinitely. He made his season debut at Prudential Center, playing 11:46 of ice time. He registered one shot on goal, two hits, and one blocked shot. After the game, the media asked him how excited he was to be out there.
“I was very excited. But I am really tired right now. If I’m being honest,” Wood said. “I felt great throughout the game, and I feel great now. But the big test will be how I feel tomorrow once my adrenaline has calmed down. That will be the big test.”
Related: Devils Will Miss Miles Wood
Fans were reminded very quickly of what Wood brings to the team. His speed was on display early, and he did not shy away from bringing his “Miles Wood” brand of hockey in his first game back. His speed, physical play, and net-front presence have been missed, and no one can wait to see him pick up where he left off from last season.
Wood’s Success in 2020-21
Wood’s 17 goals last season were tied for a team-best along with Pavel Zacha. He finished the 2020-21 campaign with 25 points in 55 games. During the shortened COVID season, he moved up and down the lineup, playing alongside 12 different linemates. He began the shortened season with Travis Zajac and Jesper Boqvist, and by the end of May, he was playing with Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian. On occasion, he also played with Zacha, Jesper Bratt, and even Jack Hughes.
Wood averaged 14:59 of ice time last season, which was a career-high for the Buffalo native, and he saw increased time on the power play. The speedy winger led all forwards with 25 blocked shots along with Bastian and finished with 38 hits. He had some impressive highlights last season that included becoming the second Devils player in the last three seasons to score in each of New Jersey’s first two games, earning his 100th career point, and skating in his 300th career game against the Washington Capitals.
Where Does Wood Fit Into the Lineup?
A few Devils forwards are close to returning to the lineup – including Zacha, Tyce Thompson, and
Janne Kuokkanen – which raises some questions about line changes. Earlier today, Amanda Stein reported from practice that this was the healthiest she has seen the team, and with 15 healthy forwards on the roster, decisions will have to be made as we approach the end of the season.
Wood will not be a healthy scratch down the stretch, but where will the coaching staff utilize him? While some would like to see him reunited with Jack Hughes and fall into the role of protector, others will want to see him add more depth to the team’s bottom six. New Jersey has options on their third and fourth lines, but head coach Lindy Ruff will be looking to see which combinations get the most of his players down the stretch, and I know of one player who needs to boost this offensive production over the next month.
Can Wood Help Johnsson’s Offense?
Andreas Johnsson played his best hockey this season alongside Bratt and Dawson Mercer. Since the coaching staff dismantled that line, he has gone on stretches without scoring. It seems that he benefited from Bratt’s speed and Mercer’s peskiness and net-front presence. Since Jan. 2, the 27-year-old has nine points (two goals, seven assists). Over the past few games, he has played with Jimmy Vesey and Boqvist and has not scored a goal since Jan. 31. Ruff will be looking for him to find his scoring touch, and the addition of Wood could help in that department.
Last season, Johnsson and Wood played a handful of games together. Both forwards are listed as left-wingers, but he was moved to the right side as recently as March 15, against the Vancouver Canucks. The preference would be to keep Wood on the left, have Johnsson on the right, and utilize Boqvist at center. Wood can match Bratt’s speed and is known for setting up shop in front of the net. The coaching staff should give this trio a chance over the next couple of games to see if it can reignite Johnsson’s game.
The Devils are a better team with Wood on the ice, and even if it took four months, they’re happy to have him back. He performed well in his first game and will only get more comfortable as time progresses, and with the team out of the playoff hunt, there is no pressure on him to perform at a level he may not be ready for. Today at practice, he was, in fact, on the third line on the right-wing alongside Boqvist and Johnsson. We will have to see how the lines shape up when they play the Boston Bruins on Thursday. In the meantime, fans can sigh with relief, knowing that one of the team’s leaders is back in the locker room.
“The hardest thing for me is…if I played golf, it wouldn’t be a problem because it’s all about me., But when you bring a team environment into that choice, you’re not only hurting yourself, but you’re hurting the team,” Wood said in an interview with NJD.TV. “That was the toughest pill to swallow.”