Through the first three games of 2023-24, it was a rocky start to the regular season for the New Jersey Devils. A 1-1-1 start easily could have gone far worse. Sure, it’s an improvement from last season’s 1-0-2 record through three games. However, this year’s expectations far outweighed last year’s. Part of the increased expectations in New Jersey is due to the presence of Timo Meier. Like the team, the Devils winger struggled out of the gate as well, however, Meier responded on Friday night.
In New Jersey’s 5-4 overtime victory over the New York Islanders on Friday, Meier registered two points and three shots skating alongside Jack Hughes and Tyler Toffoli. Individually, the power forward helped create 21 chances as opposed to allowing 13 for a total of 61.76 CF% at 5-on-5. That’s almost double the offensive production through his first three games in which he accrued a team-worst 34.29 CF%.
“I loved Timo’s game (on Friday),” head coach Lindy Ruff explained. “I thought Timo skated (well) and made a great play on the first (goal). The overtime goal, while hanging onto the puck and not allowing the Islanders to change, taking (the puck) out just far enough to allow us to get Jack and Bratt back on the ice, was another great play by him. I thought he used his size and skated well. I thought that he was the Timo Meier we need.”
Although Meier responded to the criticism of his first three games well, Hughes, whose 10 points in four games leads the NHL, isn’t coddling the winger after one solid performance.
“If he’s benched a lot that means he’s not playing very well,” Hughes told New Jersey Hockey Now on Friday night. “We brought him in here to be a big part of our team.”
Meier signed a monster eight-year, $70.4 million extension to remain with the Devils this summer. He’s now New Jersey’s highest-paid forward with an $8.8 million AAV. That includes the Devils franchise forward. Hughes hasn’t been afraid to speak his mind in the past as a vocal leader in the Devils locker room. Over the summer, he was outspoken about Jesper Bratt and Meier inking their deals as part of the buy-in to what New Jersey is building.
Now that they’re both in New Jersey long-term, Hughes is looking for another level of commitment. Bratt has picked up right from where he left off last season with eight points (three goals and five assists) through four games. Meier, on the other hand, hasn’t come close to showing he’ll replicate his 40-goal season. There’s no cause for concern quite yet this early in the season, however. Friday night’s matchup was a step in the right direction.
“(Friday night is) the Timo Meier we hope to see more nights than not,” Hughes continued. “He played really, really strong. (He used his) powerful skating. I think he’s just got to, not be more consistent because he’s been a great player in the league for a lot of years, but maybe just feel comfortable here. You know, he still hasn’t been on our team too long. So I think we all understand and respect his game and I think me, him, and Toffoli did a good job tonight.”
Hughes wasn’t calling out Meier by any means. Instead, he’s holding the Swiss forward accountable for his play. Hughes knows there’s more to Meier than what he gave to start the season. That message was replicated by Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald on Friday who claims Meier was just “trying to do too much.”
“We’re in a different phase,” Fitzgerald told The Athletic. “Accountability and culture is huge for us to get to where we want to go.”