Three experiments the New Jersey Devils should test during preseason play
With seven games scheduled, the coaching staff has plenty of time for trial and error.
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The New Jersey Devils open their seven game preseason schedule in less than two weeks.
That means Lindy Ruff and co. will have plenty of time to experiment with different line combinations, pairings, special teams units, and strategies to get a better idea of what works – and what doesn’t – for when the games actually count.
Let’s take a closer look at a few things I’d like to see the Devils try throughout preseason play.
Alexander Holtz with Jack Hughes
Holtz was drafted to be a goal scorer. Whether or not he can fill the net regularly will go a long way in determining how valuable – or expendable – he will be throughout his NHL career.
What better way to see where he’s at in that regard than attaching him to the hip of Jack Hughes?
Yes, the Devils have other excellent distributors they could play him with like Nico Hischier or Jesper Bratt. You can get a gauge of where Holtz’ is at with one or both of them, too.
Having said that, playing with Hughes seems optimal. Hughes is the guy with the highest shot assist percentage in the Devils’ top-9. Hughes is the guy who creates more for his linemates than anybody else on the roster. And Hughes is the guy who will be spoon-fed minutes in opportune offensive situations.
It makes sense to pair Holtz with somebody who will get a lot of offensive zone starts, who you can also shelter against middle-tier forwards (at least at home), rather than playing him with a Selke favorite who is going to chew up a lot of hard minutes vs opposing top lines.
Although Holtz has improved off puck, he’s not exactly a two-way force – and he won’t ever be. Playing him on a line he’ll need to be extremely aware defensively is probably not the way to get the most out of him.
Even if Ruff has zero intention of starting Holtz on a line with Hughes when the games count, it’d be nice to see if Holtz is capable of playing there so you have it in your back pocket if and when needed down the road.
If Holtz can play there – be it for a period, a game, or on a regular basis – it gives Ruff options.
Dawson Mercer seems like a nice stylistic fit on the 3rd line. Tyler Toffoli’s presence there would give the Devils a reliable sniper – Meier with Hischier, Holtz with Hughes, Toffoli with Palat/Haula – on all three lines if they wished to go that route.
Point being, the Devils would have a lot of options if they know Holtz can play with Hughes when the situation calls for it.
Not to mention, it’d no doubt give Holtz confidence the team still believes in him if they make it seem like carving out that kind of role is remotely possible.
Luke Hughes on the top power play
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