After a solid start to the season, the New Jersey Devils are trending downward.
Oh those Devils.
What started off as a strong showing to begin the season for the New Jersey Devils has turned sour. If you scroll through Twitter during any given Devils game, you’ll see a plethora of tweets ranging from #LoseForHughes to #DevilsTankFest. The Devils have had a huge problem with staying consistent this season, which hasn’t been helped by the number of injuries to key players, specifically Taylor Hall. Head Coach John Hynes has made some calls to bring up a few players from the American Hockey League affiliate Binghamton Devils, but those call ups don’t often get a long enough chance to show what they can do. It’s time to change that.
The Talent in Binghamton
The Binghamton Devils have some very capable and talented young players. Some of them have had an opportunity with the parent Devils after being recalled, but those chances have been short lived. So far this season, the following players have been called up: Kevin Rooney (F), Egor Yakovlev (D), Eric Gryba (D), John Quenneville (F), Joey Anderson (F), Kurtis Gabriel (F), Brett Seney (F), Michael McLeod (F), Mackenzie Blackwood (G), Blake Pietila (F), Cam Johnson (G) and Nathan Bastian (F). Some of those players have risen to the occasion and earned spots on the roster (most notably Blackwood and Seney). Others were given a handful of games to make an impact then they were sent back down to Binghamton.
McLeod has played just one game with the Devils this year. In 39 games with Binghamton this season, he has scored five goals while adding 18 assists for 23 points. Granted, he didn’t generate much during his one game in the NHL but he should have been given more than that. Pietila is another player who should have more time played in the NHL. He’s played a total of 34 games in Binghamton, totaling 22 points on 12 goals and 10 assists.
The Disappointment in Newark
The Devils have the potential to be a great team. They have the ability to compete at the highest level, against the toughest teams. We have seen glimpses of this at points in this season: the first four games, including the big 6-0 win over the Washington Capitals, and the incredible come from behind OT victory in mid-December over the Vegas Golden Knights.
Unfortunately, those glimpses are few and far between. Most of the time, the defense gets picked apart, the goaltending is so-so and the offense can’t generate scoring chances. Reigning Hart Trophy winner Hall has been out with an injury since December and his absence is extremely noticeable. In fact, injuries have definitely played a part in the disappointment this season for the Devils.
It does need to be said that not all the players have been disappointing this season for the Devils. Blake Coleman has been incredible this season. He’s scoring goals, playing 200-foot hockey and killing penalties. Kyle Palmieri has been stellar as well. He’s the teams scoring leader and since Hall has been out, he’s assumed that spot of intensity and sense of compete that Hall brings. Of course I have to also mention Nico Hischier, because he’s been close to perfect and rarely makes a mistake and his play is always great.
The Remainder of the Season
There are undoubtedly players down in Binghamton that need to be called up to play in the NHL. At this point in the season, there isn’t much for the Devils to lose so why not give the young players a shot? Binghamton has been playing decent, and maybe some of that energy could be transferred to the Devils if those players are brought up. With the struggles the Devils are having, what would be the harm in Hynes giving these guys a chance? It’s not like he’s going anywhere since he signed the contract extension earlier this month.
Not only are there players who should be called up from Binghamton, there are players in the current roster that should be sent down. Number one is Will Butcher. He had a great rookie season, but he’s been struggling and not producing so far this year. Mirco Mueller is another player who should be re-assigned to Binghamton. His performance this season has also been lackluster. Earlier in the season, Pavel Zacha was sent to Binghamton for a handful of games. That seemed to definitely help his game, as when he came back he scored goals and added a strong presence on the ice. Maybe that is the same shakeup that needs to happen to some other players.
Something needs to change. Fans have all but given up on this season. It’s the same defense pairings, same defensive strategies, and same offensive systems. Clearly the approach is not working. I know that we are still in a “rebuild” period but now is the time to start changing some things up. What’s the worst that can happen?
Stats: espn.com; hockeydb.com; eliteprospects.com;
featured photo image credit – Nikos Michals