Not a lot has gone right for the New Jersey Devils this season. Whether it’s poor defense, poor goaltending or a combination of both, it’s resulted in them being near the bottom of the league. While that’s the case, there have been a couple of bright spots, with one being Blake Coleman.
Coleman broke out last season, when he finished with 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 79 games. Through 42 games this season, he’s already matched his goal total from 2017-18 and is on-pace to finish with 25 goals and 39 points. What’s the reason for Coleman’s big jump in production?
How Coleman Has Increased His Scoring
Coleman was one of the Devils’ stronger players at five-on-five in 2017-18, and it’s been no different this season. Through 42 games, he has an expected goals for percentage (xGF%) of 51.3 percent, ninth-best on the team. The team also has a 108-93 advantage in high-danger chances with him on the ice.
His five-on-five production has also jumped from last season. He averaged 1.23 points-per-60 minutes (P/60) last season but is averaging 1.59 P/60 this season. He’s even underperforming his individual expected goals for (ixGF). He has eight five-on-five goals but has an ixGF of 9.82, so there’s room to score more.
A big reason for Coleman’s jump in production has to do with his shot rates. Last season, he averaged 1.84 shots-per-game. This season, he’s averaging 2.88 shots on goal per game and is on-pace to finish with 236. At five-on-five, he’s averaging 17.08 shot attempts per-60 minutes, which is up from the 13.61 he averaged in 2017-18.
Coleman has scored a lot of dirty goals around the net this season. That didn’t come easy last season and was a learning experience for him heading into 2018-19.
“Every game you play in the league you’re learning something new,” Coleman said to Abbey Mastracco of northjersey.com. “I think for me it was maybe a little poise around the net and patience, understanding how good the goalies are in the league. I don’t think there was a lack of chances, they were there all year, whether it was 5-on-5 or on the PK, I always seemed to get a lot of opportunities…” (from ‘What Devils’ Blake Coleman wants to build on next season’ – northjersey.com – 5/9/18).
Coleman Should Get Power-Play Time
After a hot start to the season, the Devils’ power play has been on a steady decline. It ranks 19th in the league with a success rate of 18.38 percent. It also doesn’t help that Taylor Hall and Marcus Johansson, two of their best power play options, remain out with injuries.
The Devils don’t generate a ton on their power play. They average 90.06 shot attempts per-60 minutes, ninth-worst in the NHL. And they have the ninth-worst scoring chance rate per-60 minutes in the league. Not where the team would like to be, given their poor results.
Coleman has established himself as one of the Devils’ best penalty killers. And it’s not just the defensive aspect that makes him one of their best. He averages the second-most shot attempts, scoring chances and high-danger chances per-60 minutes of the team’s penalty-killing forwards. It’s no mistake that he’s tied for the team-lead in shorthanded goals either.
It’d be a stretch to say Coleman will mend the Devils’ power play woes. But there’s a reasonable argument to be made for him getting a look. He’s shooting the puck at a high rate and is on-pace to have a career season on offense. He may not be big in stature, but he scores dirty goals and has good net-front presence. That makes him a reasonable candidate to be the spark they need to have a more effective power play.
Coleman’s Step Forward Key for the Future
Even with the team’s poor performance, there’s always a positive to take away and Coleman has been one through the first half of the season. The Devils were counting on development from within the organization to take the next step forward. That hasn’t happened with players like Miles Wood or Pavel Zacha, but it has for Coleman.
The Devils are in a pretty good spot with Coleman too. His contract, which he signed this summer, runs through 2020-21 at a very reasonable cap hit of $1.8 million. He’s one of their best defensive forwards and he now has the offense to compliment his defensive game, making him a complete two-way forward. Not to mention, he has his own line of pickle juice too. It may not seem like much given the team’s results, but it’s a positive that can’t be ignored and serves some purpose moving forward.
The Devils will have over $31 million in cap space this summer and there’s a good chance that money won’t be spent on depth forwards. Knowing that Coleman can provide depth scoring entering 2019-20 will be crucial. There’s no reason to believe he can’t continue his current pace given his shot rates.
If he does so, it gives the Devils one less thing to worry about in the summer and it’ll allow management to focus on going for top free agents like Erik Karlsson and Artemi Panarin instead of worrying about spending money on depth players. That will benefit the team as they head into 2019-20.
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Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017