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With the NHL being on a COVID pause, what better time is there to give out report cards for each devil forward this season based on their play than now. A lot of players are going to be upset with the grades they get back, but when you’ve won two games in the last month, it’s what you should expect. As for the list, I’m ranking them on their overall play, not just one facet of their game. That being said, this week, we’ll start with the forwards:

Nico Hischier: B

The youngest captain in Devils history may never live up to the spot he was picked. He’s not going to be a McDavid or Matthews, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be an elite two-way center. Hischier is on pace to hit 52 points, the exact point total he reached his rookie year, and the same total he was on pace to reach his 2nd and 3rd year. Hischier’s been great at creating chances and driving plays, but the goal-scoring hasn’t been there. The clock is ticking for him to improve his game, as it is year five.

Jesper Bratt: A

Undoubtedly, the Devils’ best player this year, Bratt, is on pace for a career-high 68 points. While his play has dropped off the last few weeks, it’s the same story for every Devil. It’s no secret that Bratt’s skating ability and edgework have made him the Devils’ most dynamic forward. Not many developing Devils’ players have managed to take the next step in their game, Bratt has, and he’s going to get paid for it this summer.

Pavel Zacha: C+

After starting this season right where he left out last year in producing, he has been invisible on the ice for the last month. Zacha has put the puck in the net once in the last month. Too many times over Zacha’s career has his consistency of play been in question. One week he’ll look like a strong forward with a great shot, and then you’ll forget he exists for the next week.

Jack Hughes: Incomplete

After those first two games, it seemed like Hughes was ready to become a star. Since returning from his shoulder injury, the numbers haven’t been there. To be fair, since Jack’s return the nobody has looked sharp, considering they’ve won one game in that stretch. Hopefully, this COVID break can revive Hughes and the Devils.

Andreas Johnsson: A-

Tell any Devils fan last year that Johnsson would be receiving an A- for his game so far through this season, they’d be more shocked he made the team, to begin with. After finishing with 11 points in 50 games last season, he passed that total in 18 games. The Devils winger is on pace for a career-high 52 points, which would shatter his 43-point total from three seasons ago.

Yegor Sharangovich: C-

If Sharangovich’s career ended after his rookie year, he’d be tied for the 23rd best shooting percentage in NHL history at 14%. Sharangovich was giving Devils fans flashbacks of prime Kovalchuck the way he was scoring last year. This year though? Not so much. The shooting percentage has dropped to 9%, he’s been scratched numerous times, and his play without the puck has been atrocious. He hasn’t been getting to goal-scoring areas, and he’s been without his buddy Hughes for a lot of the season.

Dawson Mercer: A+

While his play has dropped off, he’s a twenty-year-old rookie on a terrible team. When the Devils were doing well, he was largely the reason why. The 20-year-old drove the Devils’ best line this year, being him, Bratt, and Johnsson. The IQ is there, the willingness to go to the ugly areas of the ice is there also. Devils fans may not want to hear it, but he reminds me a lot of Zach Parise. Parise made a living off of his high IQ play and getting to the front of the net.

Janne Kuokkanen: D-

Nobody has been worse this year than Kuokkanen. Last year, it seemed as if the Devils found a great 3rd line guy for the future, now he looks like a guy who belongs in the AHL. Outside of lucking into some goals, he has just two assists and is on pace for 17 points. Last year he was on pace for 41. I’m not sure if it was the Jack Hughes effect or everything from the COVID season doesn’t count, but he and Sharangovich have looked waivable. Two players who’re not good enough to be meaningful players unless they give 100% in their play, which they haven’t.

Michael McLeod: C

Speaking of guys whose covid season seems like a flash in the pan, McLeod is up there with the other two. Having found some scoring touch last season, McLeod has just two goals this year, one being an empty netter. For those hoping he was going to blossom into a 3rd center, it isn’t going to happen. But those who were hoping to get a guy who can win the faceoff at the start of overtime look no further.

Tomas Tatar: C-

Everything about Tatar’s game that was advertised has not been shown to this point. The 20-goal scorer is on pace for 16 and wouldn’t be at that point without a few empty netters. Like a lot of the Devils, Tatar hasn’t done much, but I can commend him on trying. For a sputtering team that looks to have given up in the month of December, he’s one of the few who is still hustling. Fortunately for him and the rest of this Devils squad, there are still 52 more games to be played.

Jimmy Vesey: B+

I was in 8th grade when the Hobey Baker winner chose the Rangers over the Devils. Someone who was supposed to be a star in the league didn’t pan out. Now, as I’m a senior in college, Vesey’s now playing a bottom-six role for the Devils, and he couldn’t be doing any better in it. He’s physical, he kills penalties, he puts the puck in the net, he’s been everything the Devils could have asked for.

Nate Bastian: A

The Devils have no physicality or size. Bastian brings both. Another guy who plays his role perfectly, Bastian has been a great fourth-liner for the Devils. He leads them in hits per game, he can score a goal once in a while, and if they ever need someone to drop the gloves, he can do that too.

“Photo: NHL.com”

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