The No.28 era is off to a rough start for New Jersey Devils Timo Meier.
If you thought you were (unjustifiably) underwhelmed with his arrival before the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline, you’re probably feeling worse about his start to the season.
Coming into this year, many had their reservations about how Alexander Holtz would work out in his second NHL stint. Others questioned if Luke Hughes will be up to snuff following his short, yet promising taste of the NHL in 2022-23. However, no one was making mention of Meier and the possibility that he’d get off on the wrong foot.
Yet, here we are. Through the first three games of the season, Meier has been New Jersey’s worst forward.
Meier has recorded no points thus far.
The Devils forward isn’t alone in that span, though. Nico Hischier also hasn’t recorded any points, Nazem Kadri has yet to find the scoresheet, and the reigning Calder Trophy winner, Matty Beniers, has yet to register a point, either.
The Devils aren’t sounding any alarms just yet. You shouldn’t be, either. Hold off on panic season.
Meier’s analytics rank the lowest among Devils skaters. Through three contests, he’s accrued a 34.29 CF% and 32.27 xGF%, both ranking last on the team at 5-on-5. Basically, he’s not helping create more chances than he’s allowing. As for those chances he is creating, they’re not high-quality and haven’t resulted in any actual goals.
Monday night’s tilt against the Panthers was his worst of the season thus far. He took two undisciplined penalties and accrued a team-worst 28.57 CF% and 32.00 xGF%. The result? Ruff benched Meier in the third period, limiting him to just one shift.
Here’s the thing, it’s not atypical for Meier to stumble at the start of a season. We checked in with Curtis Pashelka, San Jose Sharks beat writer of The Mercury News for some historical context.
“I think last season he didn’t score in his first five games,” Pashelka explained. “During the 2020-21 season, he never really got on a roll and was in and out of Bob Boughner’s doghouse. So he’s had some tough starts before. Boughner was always on him for not getting to the inside, not using his body, and for a sometimes wavering commitment to defense.”
Pashelka hit the nail on the head. Meier isn’t utilizing his size to create space for himself to shoot or make life on opposing goaltenders difficult. He can score in many ways, but New Jersey needs Meier chaos in the slot, something he’s going to need to do a lot more.
Taking a look back at the 2020-21 season Pashelka referenced, Meier scored five points (one goal, four assists) in his first 10 games. He was creating chances in that span, however, still not high-quality ones with a 46.12 xGF%.
Perhaps Meier’s issue right now is that he’s not utilizing his greatest strength. Meier is a volume shooter. In the 2022-23 season, the power forward averaged 4.19 shots per game. So far this season, Meier’s accrued four shots in three games averaging 1.33 per game which is a dramatic drop.
Conducting some further research, rough starts seem to be a trend. In 2021-22, Meier totaled a 49.66 CF%, and in 2022-23 a 45.53 CF% through each of his first five games. The outlier is his raw statistics in the 2021-22 season where he scored 15 points in his first 11 games. As for the rest, he struggled to find the back of the net or make a positive impact much like he is right now.
Now, it’s true that Meier was part of a Sharks team each year that wasn’t very competitive. However, at some point in the season, Meier showed the ability to drive-play himself. Further, he spent the majority of his playing time alongside Tomas Hertl or Logan Couture, giving the Sharks a legitimate line to face NHL opposition. For more historical context, we checked in with Sheng Peng, Sharks beat writer for San Jose Hockey Now.
“Hertl was his most common 5-on-5 lineman,” Peng says. “He also played a lot with Couture. Especially when he broke out and became the Meier we know now. In the 2021-22 season, he started the season with Couture and Jonathan Dahlen and they were the Sharks’ best line. Meier is capable of carrying the load.”
Speaking of carrying the load, Meier has the tendency to try and do too much. It’s apparent now, and it’s been apparent at times even in San Jose.
“I did see he got benched yesterday,” Peng said. “I wouldn’t be too concerned about it. Typically, he’s not a defense-first forward, but he was fine in San Jose. He took some unnecessary penalties, he’s not on board to win you a Selke Award, but his defensive effort is good. He and a lot of Sharks forwards were guilty of trying to do too much. Once he learned he didn’t have to do everyone’s job and just take care of his own, he settled down and wasn’t problematic.”
In Tuesday afternoon’s skate, Meier was back on the ice skating alongside Hischier and Dawson Mercer. It’s only been three games and despite Lindy Ruff’s frustration on Monday, he’s not giving up on Meier just yet. Following Tuesday’s practice and bag skate, Meier stuck around to get in some extra work.
Those in the know on Meier aren’t worried. The sample so far this season is small and the history suggests even though he has a habit of stumbling, the ship tends to right itself. From those who watched Meier a lot longer than us in New Jersey, hands off the panic buttons for now.
“I wouldn’t worry about Meier,” Peng concluded. “He’s a volume shooter. Volume shooters go into slumps. They throw a lot of pucks at the net and nothing goes in sometimes. Last year, he went goalless for nine amount of games before scoring. That’s a pretty high number. But, then he got hot and had his best scoring season ever. With Meier, as long as he’s getting shots and chances, they’re going to go in eventually.”