Devils Center Depth is a potential bright spot for the future of the organization

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The Devils return to their season tonight, and there is little hope of a playoff birth at this point in the season (MoneyPuck lists their odds at 1.4%). It’s not impossible that this break was just the reset this team needed, and now they could come back and have a miraculous run and sneak into the playoffs… But I’m not very optimistic. So, as the New Year dawns, let’s focus on the course and not the score at the end of the game, because at this point the results don’t matter. In my experience, this is easier said than done, but if you can manage to put aside things like the standings and the win-lose records and it will probably be the 9th time in 10 seasons that the Devils will miss the playoffs, that’s theoretically possible to watch these matches and come away with some optimism for the future. Or, alternatively, an even greater sense of frustration and hopelessness for the future of the organization. Either way, let’s go find something so that the remaining 52 games of the season aren’t a miserable task to watch, okay!

Today the focus will be on young Devils centers. Fingers crossed, the Devils finally have their first 3 centers healthy and ready to play. Especially with the top two picks in the overall standings it is sometimes hard to remember that they are still young. Hischier, the oldest statesman in this group, is only 23 (in a week or so), Hughes won’t be old enough to drink until the end of the season, and rookie Mercer not until the end of the season. start of next season.

The captain

Devils fans, or at least a contingent of them, criticized Hischier for not producing as an overall top pick. I can’t completely dismiss these criticisms (with 16 points in 25 games, he’s on track to equal his 52-point tally from his rookie season, barely the totals you’d expect from a top pick in the draft), but I would say they are a) not giving the full picture and b) that the criticisms should be directed at Shero (who called to choose Hischier), and not at the player himself, who had no say to say when or where he was drafted. Even though he didn’t have the best scores you would want from a 1st overall pick, he has turned into a very solid player, able to lead on the offense and create chances for himself and his teammates. This season he has also started to show signs of improvement at the other end of the ice. The data below from TopDownHockey ranks him at around 50 percentile, which is a marked improvement over his previous two seasons. Evolving Hockey also reports that his GAR xDef and defensive GAR are positive for the first time in their career. He has received praise for his defensive ability since his rookie season, but as my predecessor argued, there was a certain disconnect between his reputation and his actual defensive results. Defense is still not a strength of his game, but he is becoming more and more player fans and expected analysts after his rookie season. Now the question is whether he can continue and become the 200-foot all-situation player the Devils are likely to need him to turn things around.

A potential superstar?

After last season’s breakout season, big things were expected from Jack Hughes, but sadly we only had 4 periods of a healthy Hughes before a dislocated shoulder put him on hold. gap for more than a month. During those four periods, it looked like he was going to meet those high expectations. Unsurprisingly, Hughes did not look like the same player when he returned. He’s been very inconsistent, with great performances and dominating changes, but other nights where he looked more like the player we saw in his rookie season. Again, I will quote here CJ, who reported on twitter that (I’m paraphrasing here) development is not a linear process and therefore, some regression this season is not unexpected. But I’ll add to that that while Hughes doesn’t pilot the game like he did last season, his shooting contributions are still what we saw of him last year. I would also like to point out that he suffered a serious injury and given that he is a professional athlete I can almost guarantee that he was not 100% when he returned. His inconsistency could potentially be attributed to the feel of his shoulder on those nights. Or, it might have nothing to do with it, but it definitely should be a consideration. After a week without any games, we can see if Hughes is able to hit the reset button and control the games like he did last season. Because if the Devils are going to fight for a playoff berth at some point in the near future, they need him to become the star he looked like he was set to become last season. . Either way, one thing Hughes can count on is entertainment, and that in itself is reason enough to adjust to his shifts.

The recruit

Dawson Mercer started the season with a tear. With 14 points in his first 19 games, he looked like a potential Calder candidate and he certainly took a giant leap with Jack Hughes out of roster. But it has seriously slowed down in recent weeks. Is he hitting the recruit wall? Is it just a bad patch with the rest of the team? Was he just really hot to start the season or is it something else? This will be the question in the future for Mercer, but we can answer this question at least partially right now. Mercer, despite only 2 goals (and points) in his last 11 games, is shooting 14%, which is above average for an NHL forward. He might have one more shot and some really good hands, but he probably had some shot luck to start the season. So, we shouldn’t expect him to continue scoring at the same rate he did in the first 20 or so games. That’s part of the explanation, but Todd Cordell, at Infernal access ($), notes that part of Mercer’s difficulties may be due to Jesper Bratt’s removal from his line. Without Bratt, Mercer sees significant declines in CF%, GF% and xGF%. What does it mean? Well, probably Mercer isn’t able to draw a line on his own right now, which is good. He’s a rookie, and he’s shown enough skill and intelligence that I expect him to do well down the line. At the moment, however, it’s in his best interests to play with someone who can support him a bit. Either way, I think the future is very bright for Mercer and has the potential to give the Devils the kind of central depth the organization hasn’t seen in a long time.

What do you think of the top 3 Devils? Are they good enough to make a championship team? Will Hughes become the superstar we all hope to be? Can Mercer fight for a central top 6 spot on the line? Will Hischier continue to improve defensively? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!

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