New Jersey Devils should target Nick Bjugstad
The veteran forward could provide a nice boost to a struggling bottom-6.
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By Alex Chauvancy (@AlexC_THW)
I recently wrote about how the New Jersey Devils' bottom-6 has been struggling in January. They aren't minor struggles, either, as their most common bottom-6 forwards this month are well underwater in Corsi and expected goals percentages.
It's possible these players are going through slumps and that they'll come back rejuvenated after the all-star break; they did play much better in a 3-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 24.
Even then, Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald should be eyeing some cost-effective options to help shore up the team's depth up front.
One of those targets should be Arizona Coyotes forward Nick Bjugstad, who has 11 goals and 21 points in 48 games this season — a pace of 19 goals and 36 points.
Not only has he produced on a bottom-feeder; he has a cap hit below seven figures that would prove valuable to the Devils if they're looking to add a prominent top-six winger such as Timo Meier.
Bjugstad would provide bottom-6 upgrade
Before getting into Bjugstad and why he makes sense for the Devils, let's take a look at some of their bottom-six struggles.
While Dawson Mercer and Jesper Boqvist have been inconsistent in January, I'd bet on them rebounding coming out of the week-long all-star break.
Boqvist has an expected goals above replacement (xGAR) of 3 this season and has provided solid defensive play while being one of the team's best forecheckers.
Though Mercer has been inconsistent, he has played well when alongside Boqvist and Jack Hughes. If he gets more of those minutes moving forward, there shouldn't be much of an issue.
The same is true of Yegor Sharangovich, who has been miscast in the bottom-6 where there aren't the kind of play drivers needed to unlock his shooting potential.
The biggest concerns with the Devils' bottom-6 long-term are Miles Wood and, to a lesser extent, Michael McLeod. The latter has struggled at even strength; his offense and defense are worth a negative xGAR at that game state. Although, he's at least been an effective penalty killer and winning 58.7 percent of his faceoffs, something that head coach Lindy Ruff clearly values.
As for Wood, I'm not sure if there are some lingering issues from his hip surgery a little over a year ago. He has not been the same player in 2022-23, serving as by far the Devils' least valuable player. He has an xGAR of minus-5.8 and a goals above replacement (GAR) of minus-4.1. He has one goal in his last 32 games and the team has been getting crushed in his five-on-five minutes.
Perhaps Nathan Bastian's return will help Wood get going at some point, but it will take Bastian some time to get back up to speed after missing close to two months with an injury. Even then, the Devils' best option may be to find bottom-6 depth. That's where Bjugstad makes sense.
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