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Where Does Devils Forward Timo Meier Belong in the Lineup?

Timo Meier is pointless in six games since returning from injury. What’s his best deployment in the Devils lineup?

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Where Does Devils Forward Timo Meier Belong in the Lineup?
(AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

New Jersey Devils forward, Timo Meier has returned from injury and been back in the lineup for…

*checks notes*

Six games.

During Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over the Boston Bruins, fans of the Devils didn’t hide their feelings about the lack of production by New Jersey’s highest-paid forward as one fan shouted quite loudly, “Hey Timo, there’s a hockey game going on!”

As noted in yesterday’s takeaways the timing didn’t make much sense. However, it is understandable that fans are uneasy with the lack of raw production from Meier.

Meier played well on Wednesday. Again, that didn’t translate on the scoresheet, but that feels like it’s not far off.

Meier started Wednesday’s game on a line with Jack Hughes and Tyler Toffoli. However, head coach Lindy Ruff switched things up, swapping Jesper Bratt and Meier. When asked if he’s struggling to find Meier’s place in the lineup, he said no. Instead, he was just in search of a different look.

“I was looking at what I thought would cause Boston problems,” Ruff offered. “You know, Timo as a whole had a pretty good night where he was in on quite a few opportunities. When I put Jack and Jesper together, the other team does a little bit of chasing around. It’s tough to track them and I can get good matchups because we’re at home. Sometimes it’s a struggle on the road, but at home, sometimes you’re looking for just a little something different. So like maybe midway through the second period I kind of flipped it over. I thought both lines went well.”

Hughes and Bratt have always clicked. Just take a look at the goal the duo connected on Wednesday that called the game in overtime. Add Toffoli to the duo in regulation, and that trio has been one of New Jersey’s best combinations this season.

Something else that might be true is Meier just might not mesh well with Hughes. According to Natural Stat Trick, the trio of Meier, Hughes, and Toffoli has accrued 56.76 CF% and a significant positive 60-38 chance differential at 5-on-5 this season. Yet, it’s not translating to expected goals with a below-average 44.84 xGF%.

There is one combination that does seem to fit Meier, however. If you ask the Swiss forward, he’ll tell you it doesn’t matter if he plays left or right-wing. However, he typically performs better in his natural right-wing position. Playing alongside captain Nico Hischier and Ondrej Palat seems to be working well.

It’s a small sample size, but Meier has a history of meshing well with Hischier. This season, the trio of Palat, Hischier, and Meier has put together an even chance differential and a significantly dangerous 70.33 xGF%. Further, Meier and Hischier were quite dominant on all sides of the puck last season, ranking well with a 60.20 CF%, 67.37 xGF%, and a dominant 68-32 chance differential.

It forces Ruff to break up what’s been one of the best lines in the NHL in Palat, Hischier, and Bratt. However, this is all about balance. Instead of having one dominant line, the Devils can roll a top-six of two equally dominant lines.

Many have cited that regardless of what the fancy stats say, he’s still not generating anything on the scoresheet. It’s a good point, but Wednesday’s game seemed like a good step in the right direction. Meier put six shots on net, was physically engaged all night despite the line he played on, and helped create plenty of chances in the offensive zone. Ruff has reminded on many occasions since Meier’s return to the lineup that he’s not quite 100% himself just yet. Perhaps whatever was ailing him is beginning to subside.

Meier was going well before he became injured in November. He had three goals in three games leading up to injury. Ironically, Bratt has assists on three of Meier’s five goals this season. However, the analytics don’t hold up and for some reason when that duo is on the ice, they’re getting out-chanced.

Meier did often skate next to Palat in that mid-November stretch while Hischier was still shelved with injury and that seemed to work well. Now, Hischier’s back. Meier skates well with him and seemingly Palat. That feels like the right place to deploy him moving forward while reuniting Hughes with Bratt and Toffoli, which is exactly what Ruff did in Wednesday’s contest that translated to a win.

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