“They know how to win. You can’t play every game with your ‘A-game’, but they know how to win with their ‘B-game’. I feel like for our team when we’re playing well, we’re hard to beat. But our bad games are – to be honest – so far off. It’s hard to play each game, like I said you’re best, but you can’t give a ‘C-effort’, you have to play with your B-game and win with that. They’re a great team, they’re a Stanley Cup team, they’re a veteran team, they just…know how to win.”
That was a quote from a New Jersey Devils player following a recent loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins when asked why Pittsburgh is so successful and so hard to play against. The response is very blunt, detailed, and sounds like the thoughts of a savvy and experienced NHL veteran.
That was 25-year-old Miles Wood’s answer. Currently, he has played 309 NHL games, the most of any forward and fourth-most on New Jersey’s roster. PK Subban leads all skaters on the roster with 754 games played, while fellow defenseman Damon Severson has played in 471, and Ryan Murray has played in 380.
This season in 41 games Wood leads the team in goals with 14 (five away from his career-high of 19 in 76 games during 2017-18) and has already matched his previous season-highs in power-play goals (3) and game-winning goals (2). Since the departures of Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri via trade, Wood has been one of the Devils’ alternate captains.
Miles and Miles of Heart
Now in his fifth full season, Wood has come a long way from the early part of his career when he was just a player who could skate really fast and throw board-rattling hits. It would appear that the combination of Lindy Ruff’s coaching philosophy and Wood’s game maturing have made him a very valuable player on a very inexperienced roster.
“I’ve really liked where Miles has got his game to. We spent time before the season talking about the highs of his career and where I thought he could be, how he could affect our team,” Ruff told the Hockey Writers. “I love his speed. I love the energy he plays with. I think he has scored a lot of big goals for us, he’s created a lot of opportunities just by using his speed.”
Wood is the second oldest forward on the team – Andreas Johnsson is 26-years-old, as are defensemen Severson and Will Butcher. Murray is 27, Scott Wedgewood is 28, and Aaron Dell and Subban are both 31-years-old. That’s it. That’s New Jersey’s current elders.
“I think he’s got his game in a really good place – you look at the number of goals. I think the plays that are going unnoticed now, he’s starting to make more plays inside the game,” added Ruff. “He’s adding that part of his game to where maybe that hasn’t been there before. I think his game has come a long way.”
The details of his game have been fine-tuned, and maybe understood a bit more than when he was a 21-year-old who made the jump from the NCAA to the NHL after one season at Boston College.
“It is weird (being an older guy on the team),” said Wood, smiling almost in disbelief. “I still like to think I’m young at 25-years-old, but (for me) to have guys like Andy Greene, Kyle Palmieri, (Adam) Henrique, and Trav back when I broke into the league, it was nice to have that support group and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do with our young group here.”
His reaction when THW told him that the game against the Penguins on Apr. 9 was the fifth anniversary of his first NHL game was priceless.
“That’s crazy actually, I didn’t know that,” he said while grinning and shaking his head. “Time flies; I’ll tell you that for free. I can’t believe it was five years ago. (I remember) it was against Toronto here at home. It was a great opportunity for me and I had a lot of fun. Certainly, time flies…its crazy to think about it. One game doesn’t make a career, you have to play well for a long time.”
Part of the Future?
There’s no mistake that this new-era New Jersey Devils team is Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Ty Smith, and Mackenzie Blackwood’s. They are the foundations, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a player like Wood to be here for a long time besides those pillars.
He is a player that can play up and down the lineup, a player that can play in all situations, and a player that management knows very well of course since they drafted him in 2013 with the 100th overall selection at the NHL Draft. He’s still signed for another season, but there is an expansion draft this summer. We don’t think he’ll be left unprotected, or used in a deal for another player, but never say never.
“Miles Wood, he’s made huge strides. He’s had a great year thus far, he’s taken advantage of the opportunities he’s had,” Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald told THW. “We all know what Miles does; he has 14 goals this season, he had 11 all of last season. But he still plays the same way, and that’s the most important thing – staying true to who he is as a player. He’s made great strides in the production department, but he still plays the same way: hard, fast, and relentless.”
If you asked Wood after his debut where he saw himself in five years, he probably wouldn’t have said ‘being one of the oldest, more experienced players on the New Jersey Devils’. But here we are. Wood has embraced the role, and he could be a fixture in the lineup for quite some time – he has one year left on his current contract and will be an RFA following the 2021-22 season.
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime and they have to capitalize on it,” Wood said of his message to the younger players on his team. “It’s a cutthroat league and there are so many guys vying for a spot. It’s up to them to show up each day, try to make a mark on this team because you never know if you’re going to get that chance again. That’s one thing I took on super early in my career, I was fortunate enough to step right in (to the NHL) and I tried to play my best and make a mark.”
So far in his NHL career Wood’s left a mark on a lot of players with his speed and body, but now he’s doing so with his presence and humanity.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.