Devils’ Sharangovich on Fire After Slow Start

Yegor Sharangovich’s journey to NHL winger has been a heck of a ride. He was a fifth-round selection of the New Jersey Devils in 2018, and after breaking out with Dinamo Minsk while on loan in the KHL to start the 2020-21 season, he’s settled in as one of Jack Hughes’ most common linemates.

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Sharangovich got off to a slow start to 2021-22, much like he did a season ago. But since the Christmas break, he’s been one of the Devils’ best players, totaling 14 points in 17 games. With the Devils’ playoff hopes all but gone at this point, seeing their young players thrive to finish the season is one positive they can take heading into the summer and 2022-23. If his recent play is any indication, he’s on track for another strong close to an NHL season. 

Multiple Reasons for Sharangovich’s Slow Start

The 2021-22 campaign has been a tale of two seasons for Sharangovich to this point. He totaled 10 points in his first 27 games and was the victim of some poor shooting luck at five-on-five. He shot 5.71 percent and had only totaled two goals on 3.45 expected goals (xG) at that game state. 

It’s not like Sharangovich was playing poorly, however. He had a Corsi-for percentage (CF%) of 50.33 percent and xG% of 50.79 percent at five-on-five. Not only was he having poor shooting luck himself, but the Devils had an on-ice shooting percentage of 6.45 percent when he was on the ice. Pretty much no one was scoring during his shifts. 

Not having Hughes as his linemate certainly played a factor in the lack of production from Sharangovich too. After Hughes dislocated his shoulder in the second game of the season, Sharangovich moved around the lineup quite a bit. Head coach Lindy Ruff had a hard time finding the right fit for him, and that’s probably not a surprise given Hughes and Sharangovich’s track record dating back to last season. 

Yegor Sharangovich New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils forward Yegor Sharangovich (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

For those who follow the Devils closely enough, they’ll be familiar with Sharangovich’s breakout last season after he moved to a line with Hughes once the Devils traded Travis Zajac to the New York Islanders ahead of the trade deadline. From April 8 to the final game of the regular season, Sharangovich finished eight goals and 17 points in 19 games — a 73-point pace over 82 games. He had a CF% of 52.06 percent and xG% of 49.19 percent while averaging 2.48 points per 60 minutes, making him the Devils’ most efficient five-on-five scorer over the final five weeks of the season. 

Sharangovich’s production (13 points in 35 games) before joining Hughes on a line in 2020-21 is not far off from how he started this season. It’s probably not a coincidence most of it came without him being on a line with Hughes before Christmas too. As we’ll see in a second, having Hughes as his center has helped him. But it’s not Hughes just propping up Sharangovich’s game anymore. Both players make each other better, and that was not the case last season. 

Sharangovich Making Strides Compared to 2020-21

Sharangovich’s production since the Christmas break is close to a carbon copy of how he closed out last season — 14 points in 17 games is a 67-point pace over 82 games. This time around, he has 32 more games to add to his totals, unlike he did a season ago. But there are other differences than just having more games to play; his five-on-five results have improved significantly. 

Since the extended NHL Christmas break, Sharangovich has been one of the Devils’ two- or three-best players. His CF% of 57.06 percent is second to only Jesper Bratt, while his xG% of 58.97 percent ranks third to Bratt and Hughes. Those three were linemates for a good stretch after Christmas, so it’s not a surprise they have similar numbers. The Devils mostly dominated teams when they were on the ice. 

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Ironically enough, Sharangovich is averaging 2.48 points/60 since Christmas, the same rate he averaged over the final five weeks of 2020-21. That puts him behind Bratt, Hughes and Dawson Mercer as the team’s fourth-most efficient scorer since Christmas. That will change because there are still so many games left, but he’s back to being one of the team’s better five-on-five scorers for the time being.

There’s also the Hughes and Sharangovich connection, which is pretty obvious at this point. As linemates this season, they have a CF% of 54.4 percent and xG% of 56.84 percent. Hughes has looked more like himself since recovering from his dislocated shoulder, but his numbers actually improve with Sharangovich compared to without him:

Jack Hughes, Yegor Sharangovich
Jack Hughes and Yegor Sharangovich’s on-ice results with and without each other (via Natural Stat Trick)

That wasn’t the case last season, as Sharangovich’s CF% and xG% were well underwater when he wasn’t on a line with Hughes. Both metrics were comfortably below 50 percent, so Hughes was clearly making him a better player. That speaks volumes to Sharangovich’s improved game off the puck, something that Ruff mentioned earlier this season as a reason for Sharangovich’s struggles. 

Seeing improvement off the puck is not always easy to describe, but it is something we can visualize by looking at his regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) chart from 2020-21 to this season:

While Sharangovich is not an elite defender, he’s been about a league-average defender and is not having a negative impact in that regard like he was a year ago (chart on the left). His offensive impact has improved quite a bit as well, as he’s gone from about league average impact in CF/60 and xGF/60 to being above league average. Those are the kinds of strides you want to see from year one to year two of a player’s NHL career. It also further validates that his close to last season wasn’t a fluke and more a legit showing of what he can be in a scoring role. 

Sharangovich Close to Securing Long-Term Role With Devils

The Devils are in evaluation mode to end 2021-22. Fortunately for Sharangovich, he has much more runway to build on his recent stretch of play than he did to end 2020-21. If he keeps it up, he’ll eventually cement his place in the team’s long-term plans. And he’ll have ample opportunity to do so coming out of the team’s eight-day layoff tomorrow. 

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Sharangovich will return from that week-long break on a line with Hughes and Mercer, who showed well as a trio against the Tampa Bay Lightning in their most recent contest on Feb. 15. That could be a line that sticks around for quite some time if it produces, and the expectation should be that they do some damage with how Hughes and Sharangovich gel together. 

Sharangovich’s recent play and a strong close to the season are unlikely to change the Devils’ desire to add up front, as they could use another scoring winger or even two. But him turning into a consistent top-six scoring threat doesn’t make the situation look as dire as it did before Christmas. That’s a plus, and it may be a sign the Devils aren’t that far away from having the set of forwards they want heading into 2022-23. 

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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick