With an 9-3-3 record, New Jersey now sits atop the Wild Card race in the Eastern Conference. It’s early, you may say, just a fluke. And it is early, but be honest, who among us expected the Devils to be as good as they are? And it is not a fluke.
The team has played 15 games, two less than the Metropolitan Division-leading Rangers, and is only 5 points behind the Blueshirts in the division standings. With a five-game win streak and a 6-0-1 home record, the Devils are certainly doing something right.
So what is it?
We all hoped that Taylor Hall would be a difference maker here. And he has been. Posting points at .86 per game, New Jersey has not seen this much talent in one player since Ilya Kovalchuk left for more frozen pastures. But it is not just Hall that has performed up to his talent this year.
The highly touted 22-year old third-year defenseman Damon Severson has developed into a major offensive threat. Severson was drafted in 2012 (2nd round, 60th overall) as a blueliner with quite a bit of offensive upside. By his final junior season in Kelowna, Severson was a highly regarded offensive blueliner, who finished seventh overall among defensemen in the WHL in total points.
Professionally, Severson began his career in New Jersey during the 2014-15 season. The young Saskatchewan native struggled to adjust to professional play on a Devils team that was 24th in the final regular season standings. Last season, Severson’s offensive production per game went down somewhat, and there began to be some question as to whether or not he would achieve his potential. But, in his second season, Severson was still only 21 years old–and his game had not matured.
From the moment he stepped on the ice this season though, Severson has been a different player. He has made many fewer mistakes in his own zone. His outlet passes are generally excellent. And his jumping in on the play has been much more strategic. So, Severson’s ice time has gone up (currently averaging a TOI of 20:37, he trails only Andy Greene in ice time per game).
With his better play and more ice time, of course, Severson’s confidence and, hence, production has gone up. Now tied for a the team lead in points (12 points in 15 games), Severson’s goal last night in Dallas was a terrific example of how his game has improved. The trailer on an offensive rush following a Beau Bennett takeaway, Severson joins the play and was in exactly the right spot on the ice (in the slot) to take a saucer pass from PA Parenteau. He then roofed it above Antti Niemi.
So, if you are talking about the Devils’ difference makers this season, look at Hall, look at Parenteau, and certainly look at Schneider, but don’t look past Severson, a 22-year old all star in the making.