New Jersey Devils notes: On top-6 Palat, Smith's penalty killing, and Zadorov rumors
Palat seems likely to return to the top-6 when Hischier is healthy. Plus, notes on Smith's crucial PK role and the Devils' rumored interest in Zadorov.
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A few New Jersey Devils notes following a rather noteworthy Monday practice:
On Palat’s likely return to the top-6
Although Ondrej Palat did not skate on Monday, it was pretty easy to read between the lines and see Max Willman was his placeholder alongside Nico Hischier(!!) and Jesper Bratt.
Palat is not off to the best of starts in terms of production but I’m perfectly fine with him reclaiming a top-6 spot on that line when Hischier returns to full health, be it vs. Detroit or in the days to come.
For one, Palat is starting to perform better. He always plays a heavy, responsible game and does the little things to help his teammates out – and now the offense is coming.
Palat has found the scoresheet in three straight games, four of five overall, and he finally scored his first goal last time out. That should give him some confidence.
The early returns on the Palat - Hischier - Bratt line are nothing short of spectacular. They’ve played 32 minutes together at 5v5, which is close to three games. The Devils out-attempted opponents 51-20 and won the scoring chance battle by 22 in that span.
Their expected goal share is out of this world good, helping the Devils control better than 75%.
Given Timo Meier remains sidelined with an injury, and Dawson Mercer has mostly disappointed to date, I have no problem with Ruff going back to the well with that line when No. 13 is a full go.
Don’t expect Smith to lose his spot
Brendan Smith was penciled in on the 4th line at practice but I don’t think that is a sign he is about to be pulled from the lineup.
The Devils were missing four forwards due to injury or maintenance. They wanted a full lineup to practice with, which meant Smith being listed on L4 out of necessity.
Now, it is pretty clear Colin Miller has passed Smith on the defensive depth chart. But Smith is still going to play regularly – at least for now.
When the Devils are fully healthy, they may opt to dress 12 forwards. There will be a Nathan Bastian vs. Brendan Smith debate at that time.
For now, though, I think they’ll scratch the Utica forwards (Chris Tierney and Max Willman) and go with 11/7.
As painful as it has been to watch Smith at 5v5, the guy continues to post unbelievably good numbers on the penalty kill.
He has logged nearly 37 minutes in undermanned situations. Put another way, 18.5 power plays. Smith has yet to be on for a single goal against. Not one.
He is lapping the field in terms of his ability to limit shots, chances, and expected goals while killing penalties.
I understand Smith is a liability at 5v5 but the Devils can better protect him when dressing 7D, either by skipping shifts or giving him a few on the wing.
It’s easy to suggest simply pulling him from the lineup entirely but the Devils sit 21st in goals against/60 on the penalty kill.
They are struggling and that’s while having Smith in the lineup giving up next to nothing in his ice time. If you take him out of the mix, the Devils might well have a bottom-5 PK.
I think Smith will continue to play – without question – until Meier is back. At that point, they may decide to rotate him with Nathan Bastian based on health and/or matchup.
Whatever the case may be, I think Smith will still dress pretty regularly moving forward. Miller’s emergence isn’t the beginning of the end for him.