A returning player isn’t the only reason why the New Jersey Devils looked different on Monday morning.
Defenseman Colin Miller returned to the ice for the first time since he was injured on October 19th. He skated as the extra defenseman during even-strength drills with Max Willman, who we believed was returned to the Utica Comets.
However, Willman remains with the Devils despite the paper transactions from Sunday in which Willman appeared on the Devils AHL roster and not the NHL roster. Perhaps, once Miller is taken off injured reserve, one of Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes will then be put on the IR. More likely Hischier, more on that later.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the change in the forward group. Here is what Monday’s workflow looked like:
Timo Meier – Michael McLeod – Jesper Bratt
Tyler Toffoli – Dawson Mercer – Alexander Holtz
Ondrej Palat – Erik Haula – Curtis Lazar
Tomas Nosek – Chris Tierney – Nathan Bastian
Luke Hughes – Dougie Hamilton
Jonas Siegenthaler – John Marino
Kevin Bahl – Brendan Smith
Max Willman (forward) – Colin Miller
After seemingly having a discouraging conversation following Saturday morning’s skate, Holtz receives an elevated role in New Jersey’s top-six. Previously, Holtz has been skating alongside Tierney and Bastian in a defensive, checking role. Now, he’ll have a chance to show his offensive abilities alongside Mercer and Toffoli.
There was certainly major changes on the blue line, too. Luke emerges from New Jersey’s blueline basement, elevated from the third to first pair alongside Hamilton. According to Natural Stat Trick, accrued a 39.48 xGF% & -5 goal differential with Brendan Smith in 126:25 of time on ice this season. However, when paired with Hamilton in 68:55 of TOI, Luke accrued a 69.99 xGF%, +3 goal differential. That’s quite the difference.
Perhaps the most vital piece of information about the team came after practice. Head coach Lindy Ruff divulged that Devils franchise forward, Jack Hughes, will potentially meet the team in Pittsburgh when they play the Penguins. He didn’t say whether or not he would play, but Hughes returning to the team after being classified “week-to-week” with a shoulder injury is a big development. Unfortunately, captain Nico Hischier remains sidelined and won’t be making the two-game road trip at all.