In all the articles I’ve written about the Devils so far, they’re all optimistic and only say good things about their future. Unfortunately, when it comes to sports and especially with the Devils, nothing ever goes as planned. Not every player can be the superstar they were drafted to be, and nobody can withstand injuries year in year out. While it causes me great pain to have to write about the Devils in a negative light, it must be done, so this week’s article will go into detail about two Devils who are bound to take a step back this upcoming season.
When it came to writing last week’s article, it was easy to pick three guys who are primed to break out because the roster’s stacked with young talent. As for picking two guys to decline, it’s much tougher considering the Devils finished with the fourth-worst record in the league, meaning not many players overachieved last season. With that being said, forward Miles Wood and defensemen Ty Smith are two guys who may struggle in their 2021 campaign.
Miles Wood is by far the easiest pick for a guy who is going to take a step back. Wood finished with 17 goals over 55 games, which over a full 82 game slate would translate to 25 goals for a fourth-line winger. Over the last few seasons, Wood has displayed his ability in being a top-tier, bottom-six guy for any hockey club, but 17 goals are ridiculous for a guy who had the 7th most time on the ice among forwards and only scored three times on the power-play. Yes, Wood’s fast, which allows him to get breakaways, and yes, he has cut down the number of times he wipes out into the goalie or boards, but he’s still a grinder who’s going to lose a good chunk of time on ice with the addition of Tatar and a healthy Nico coming back. I could see Wood tallying around 15-18 goals next year and finishing with 30 or so points, but the 25-goal pace isn’t happening next season.
Next up is Ty Smith, the rookie sensation who took the Devils by storm when he registered six points in the team’s first five games. While Smith’s hot streak cooled down, he still finished with 23 points in 48 games, which over an 82-game stretch would have got him to 39 points, 5th best among Devils rookie defensemen all time. So, you’re probably wondering, why would he take a step back if he had such a great rookie season, well, I’m happy you asked, and it’s because almost all defensemen go through growing pains. Defensemen are like tight-ends, never will you see a rookie tight-end dominate the league, it usually takes them a few years to put it all together. It takes defensemen some time to learn the tricks of the trade, to learn who to cover, to not get lost, when and when not to pinch, and the only way they can learn is through failure. So, excluding Cale Makar, young defensemen tend to take a little longer to develop than other positions. For example, former first overall pick Aaron Ekblad, he’ll be coming off an injury-shortened season that saw him putting up all-star numbers. Ekblad’s now going into his 7th season, and it took him until his 6th to figure it out, but then again, he is still 25. I can also see a world where Ty Smith outperforms his rookie season and takes another step because he’ll be matched up against lower skill and he’ll lead the number two power-play unit.
“Photo: Elsa/Getty Images”