Jack Hughes suffered an injury during the April 3 game vs. the New York Islanders. It was revealed that the New Jersey Devils player suffered an MCL sprain and will miss the remainder of the season. He missed 17 games earlier this year after he injured his shoulder on Oct. 19 against the Seattle Kraken. Despite his ailment, he managed to have an amazing season with 26 goals and 30 assists in 49 games. He will be missed as the young Devils team will need other players to step up in his absence.
The Devils are dealing with injuries to Nathan Bastian and Jimmy Vesey as well. Bastian left the game against the Islanders with an undisclosed ailment and is day-to-day. Vesey suffered a lower-body injury during the April 5 contest vs. the New York Rangers and is also considered day-to-day. After leaving the Rangers game due to an ailment he sustained after getting into a fight with Braden Schneider, Yegor Sharangovich was in the lineup for the Devils’ next game on April 7 against the Montreal Canadiens. Let’s take a look at some players who need to maintain their production for the Devils in the absence of Hughes.
The rookie’s first season with the Devils has been a success. Dawson Mercer elevates his potential further if he finishes 2021-22 as one of the top offensive players by maintaining his production over the remaining 11 games of the season. He is the only player on the Devils’ roster to play in all 71 games this year. He has benefited from no time missed due to injury or COVID-related illness. He has stepped up for the team and contributed in the absence of other players such as Hughes and Nico Hischier.
Throughout the year, Mercer has been moved throughout the lineup by head coach Lindy Ruff. The rookie has versatility as he can play both center and wing. His ability to be effective both offensively and defensively is noticeable to the head coach, “He’s always been known as a good two-way player and that’s the one quality that’s helped him put himself in position whether it’s offensively or defensively.”
Despite the team’s struggles, Mercer looks forward to the opportunity to finish the season on a positive note, “A lot of games in a short amount of time. For a young group, keep that pace and make sure we don’t really fall off. This month can be really great for us.”
Mercer has proven to be one of the versatile forwards for the team and has not gotten frustrated with playing on different line combinations and at the three forward positions. He displays maturity for a young player and is eager to keep gaining experience. The 20-year-old is in the top 10 in offensive categories among rookies including Calder Cup favorites in Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond (Detroit Red Wings). If he were to finish the season on a hot streak offensively, that elevates him among rookies in the running for the Calder Cup and proves he is capable of picking up the slack for the Devils in the absence of Hughes.
Sharangovich has had stretches during the season in which he has looked like one of the top players on the Devils. His production for the team comes in bunches. Recently, he had a hat trick during the April 2 contest against the Florida Panthers. He is capable of being one of the productive players for the franchise at even strength, as 38 of his 40 points have come at 5-on-5.
He has been one of the top complementary players behind the core of Hughes, Hischier, and Jesper Bratt. It is a good sign for his production that he has surpassed his offensive totals from his rookie year. He got off to a slow start this season but has progressed to become a dependable player with an opportunity to be a reliable forward for the Devils down the stretch.
Sharangovich ranks third on the Devils in total individual expected goals at 11.61 behind Bratt and Hughes. The stat recognizes shot location, rebounds and rush chances. Expected goals assigns value to each shot, based on the likelihood of the shot resulting in a goal (from ‘An advanced stat primer: Understanding basic hockey metrics,’ The Athletic, 10/9/17). Playing with Hughes helped him be in a good position for chances as the Devils’ injured star is one of the best at setting up scoring opportunities for his teammates in the offensive zone. He has the chance to take on a lead role in the absence of Hughes. While he has been streaky this season, he is one of the team’s top goal scorers and can end the season providing hope for the fan base that he is capable of being one of the Devils’ best players.
Bratt has been a force on offense for the Devils this season as he has 23 goals and 44 assists in 66 games played. He is the Devils’ best option to carry the team offensively in Hughes’ absence. During the difficult game the team had against the Bruins on March 31, his production was missing as he only had one shot on goal during over 17 minutes of ice time. Even though the Devils were getting dominated, it was evident that New Jersey missed his reliability on offense.
Bratt is due for a contract extension after the season as he is due to become a restricted free agent. He has demonstrated his potential to be a top player for the franchise and has proven he is worthy of a multi-year contract with the Devils. He is one of the other core players and would further cement his significance to the Devils by having an excellent end to his season during the final 11 games.
Mercer, Sharangovich, and Bratt can remain productive with Hughes out for the final three weeks of the regular season. When the Devils have good games offensively, they show the potential they have. However, the team has been inconsistent on offense and that has been evident in the games they have lost this season. The Devils have several games where they have tallied two goals or less and they need to work on scoring first and maintaining their leads in order to become a contender. Mercer, Sharangovich, and Bratt have proven they are all capable of providing offense for the Devils and can be relied upon for steady production. The three players can each prove their significance to the Devils by maintaining their offensive numbers with Hughes out for the season.