There’s only a week left before the New Jersey Devils begin what will be a crucial offseason. General manager Ray Shero will have plenty of work to do to get the team back into playoff contention for 2019-20. And one of their needs is finding more offense to give Taylor Hall some much-needed support up front.
The Devils will likely make a transaction or two to help Hall — via a trade, free agency, or both. That said, they’ve never been a team to spend to the salary cap, at least not under Shero. It’s unlikely that changes this summer, so they’ll need some more scoring from what they have on their current roster.
Two players who can help in that regard are Miles Wood and Pavel Zacha, who have been playing well to close the season. Wood is producing at a 53-point pace over his last 23 games, while Zacha is producing at a 49-point pace over his last 28 games. Can they have some of that translate to 2019-20 once it rolls around?
Wood & Zacha’s Strong Close to 2018-19
Wood got off to a rough start this season, with three goals and eight points in his first 35 games. Despite the lack of scoring, he was shooting the puck at a high rate, with 84 shots on goal. His individual expected goals for (ixGF) was 7.24 over this span (via Offside Review), so he was a bit unlucky. That said, he wasn’t always getting into high percentage shooting areas, which didn’t help either.
Since then, his luck has taken a positive turn. Wood has 15 points over his last 23 games played. He’s still shooting at a high rate, with 62 shots on goal, but he’s finally converting on some of those chances, with six goals over that span. That’s a 9.6 shooting percentage, which is close to his career 8.5 shooting percentage.
He’s also getting the job done at five-on-five. His points per 60 minutes (P/60), individual Corsi for per 60 minutes (iCF/60), individual scoring chances for per 60 minutes (iSCF/60), and individual high-danger chances for per 60 minutes (iHDCF/60) are among some of the best on the team since Dec. 23:
- P/60: 2.68 (best)
- iCF/60: 18.09 (best)
- iSCF/60: 7.9 (third-best)
- iHDCF/60: 3.12 (seventh-best)
As bad as Wood’s start to the season was, Zacha’s was that much worse. He had no points in his first 10 games and was eventually sent to the Binghamton Devils (AHL). Even after he was recalled to the NHL, he struggled to put up points, with just four in his next 18 games.
Things began to change around Christmas for Zacha. Since Dec. 21, he has 17 points in his last 28 games played, which is a sharp contrast from his four points in his first 28 games. However, he hasn’t been generating shots and chances the way Wood has at five-on-five:
- P/60: 1.72 (sixth-best)
- iCF/60: 8.02 (24th-best)
- iSCF/60: 5.34 (14th-best)
-iHDCF/60: 2.67 (11th-best)
Zacha has been able to rack up some more points thanks to a bump in his shooting percentage, which is 16.3 percent (all situations) over his last 28 games. That’s well above his career norm of 9.8 percent, so it probably isn’t sustainable going forward. And that’s especially true if his shot and chance rates don’t improve at five-on-five next season.
Which Devil Keeps It Up?
Wood did get off to a slow start and he’s dealt with some injuries, but he’s starting to look more like his self. He finished 2017-18 with 19 goals and 32 points in 76 games, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He had an expected goals for percentage (xGF%) of 53.26 percent, ranked fourth on the team, and he averaged 2.00 P/60, also ranked fourth on the Devils to Hall, Patrick Maroon, and Nico Hischier.
Wood is a key part of the Devils’ future, having signed a four-year extension this past September. He has the size and speed that makes him a valuable piece of their lineup and has shown a knack for producing offense in a limited role. And he provides a net-front presence they’ve been missing since Brian Boyle’s trade to the Nashville Predators.
Zacha, on the other hand, is producing at a rate we haven’t seen from him in his young career. It’s nice to see him playing well, but I’m much more skeptical of him continuing his current pace into next season. He’s played 196 games in his career and has never topped more than 25 points in a full season. Maybe he’s found his offensive game, but I wouldn’t bet money on it at this time.
The bottom line is the Devils do need secondary scoring. Assuming Wood gets off to a better start in 2019-20, he’s the best bet of the two to keep producing next season. And with a bit of an expanded role, he could break out based on his scoring rates at five-on-five. That alone would be a huge development that could get the Devils’ offense heading back in the right direction.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick except where noted