New Jersey Devils feel the strain of Miles Wood’s absence of injury
The New Jersey Devils have faced a plethora of injuries to start this season. Their top two goalies, Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier, missed the game with injuries. Jack Hughes dislocated his shoulder against the Seattle Kraken and will be out for the foreseeable future. But one Devils injury that goes under the radar is that of Miles Wood, whose absence is starting to strain the team.
Wood has appeared in a few preseason games and looked pretty good. But he hasn’t played since the Devils’ preseason game against the Washington Capitals just over two weeks ago. Wood described the injuries as “a few bumps and bruises,” but hasn’t seen the ice since then, even in practice.
It remains to be seen how much longer Wood is out. But the Devils could certainly use it in their roster sooner rather than later. With Hughes unavailable for the next two weeks at a minimum, the Devils need all the scoring depth they can get. And there aren’t many forwards in the last six who have Wood’s attacking ability while also bringing in a bit of physics the team seems to crave these days.
Wood recovered in 2020-21
Wood has had ups and downs with the Devils. He enjoyed an average rookie season in 2016-17, but broke the following year, with 19 goals in 76 games, and was instrumental in helping the The Devils advance to the playoffs in 2017-18. However, his game would take a step back the next two seasons.
Wood’s production fell between 2018-20, as he scored 21 goals in 131 games. His five-on-five numbers have also plummeted, particularly in the 2019-20 campaign, where he finished with a Corsi for a percentage (CF%) of 43.1% and an expected goal percentage (xG%) 43.3% this season while struggling quite a bit defensively.
But as we all know, the 2019-20 season has been put on hold due to the COVID pandemic. And since the Devils weren’t part of the NHL playoff bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto, it gave Wood nearly 10 months to readjust his game and come back fresh for the 2020-21 campaign. Everything he did in that free time seemed to work as he arguably had the best season of his career.
Even though the Devils weren’t very good a season ago, many of their young players have made notable strides forward. That’s true for Wood, even though he’s one of the oldest players on the squad at 26. He finished last season with 17 goals and 25 points in 55 games – a pace of 25 goals and 37 points in 82 games. His five-on-five score fell from 1.53 points every 60 minutes the previous season to 1.82 in 2020-21.
More importantly, his five-on-five ice performance saw a noticeable rise. He finished with a CF% of 48.8% and an xG% of 50.8% and found chemistry on the fourth row alongside Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian. And after struggling defensively the previous season, he’s become one of the Devils’ best two-way forwards.
Related: Gordie Howe’s Hat Trick
It was a homecoming season for Wood that saw him score 19 goals in 2017-18. He has started moving towards the front of the net more often instead of shooting from low percentage areas the previous two seasons, and it has paid off. Add in the physical play that it brings, and that’s what the Devils have a hard time trying to duplicate.
Replacing the wood was not easy
It’s pretty clear that head coach Lindy Ruff wants a bit of physics in his roster this season. This is the reason why the The Devils called for Mason Geersten on waivers during the preseason and faced him in two of their three regular season games. This is also why Frederik Gauthier, who is 6 feet 5 inches and 238 pounds, is part of the roster and sees some playing time.
Geersten and Gauthier posted strong five-to-five results in the Devils’ 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday night. That said, both players have their offensive limits. Gauthier has averaged nearly 15 points per 82 games over his NHL career. Geersten, meanwhile, had never played in an NHL game until this week. He was also not a good AHL scorer, scoring 29 points in his previous 138 games, although many of those games were played as a defenseman rather than a forward.
Geersten and Gauthier could add the physical presence Ruff seeks in his fourth line. They shouldn’t have a problem continuing to add this either. But the Devils will need goals from their last six at some point, especially with Hughes out. Gauthier and Geersten can score a goal occasionally here and there, but they won’t be able to match what Wood offers offensively.
Wood may not be as big or as physical as Geersten or Gauthier, but he doesn’t hesitate to throw his body away and anger his opponents. He’s still playing quite physically while still having the potential to score 20 goals in a last-six role and play in net on the power play. And that’s something the Devils are sorely lacking in their roster at the start of the season.
It is not clear how many additional games Wood is missing. But he’s an underrated part of the Devils roster who doesn’t get enough credit for the scoring and physical elements he provides in the bottom six. And with scoring depth increasingly crucial with Hughes’ missing games, the sooner the Devils get him back into the roster, the better they’ll try to build a strong start to the 2021-22 campaign.
Colton White on waivers
Before I leave here, I wanted to briefly touch on the Devils putting the Whites on waivers. It’s not worth wondering who they should have waived on him. What I mean is more that he deserves to be a part of the team’s roster in the NHL. With injuries to Ty Smith and Damon Severson to start the season, White appeared in two of the Devils’ three games and impressed.
Related: Devils Have Ways To Get By Without Hughes
It doesn’t get much smaller than a sample of two games, but White had an xG% of 67.3% on those two games. This ranks first among the team’s defenders and third among all players behind Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha. To me, putting a waiver player who has outperformed other defenders who consider themselves low-end players doesn’t look good and doesn’t send a good message. Hopefully White goes through some unclaimed waivers and it all went to naught. Because if injuries strike again, the Devils will likely need him to get back into the lineup. And losing him to waivers when he’s shown he can add something positive will hurt their defensive depth.
* * *
Advanced statistics of Evolution-Hockey
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, outlook, signings, and trades. He previously wrote for the Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015 to 2017.