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The New Jersey Devils came into the season with some seriously high expectations. Through their first seven games, there have been some immense positives mixed in with some pretty bad negatives. The result has been a respectable 4-2-1 record, but fans seem to feel as if their best hockey is yet to come.

This is the first edition of a biweekly series called “Devils Stock Market” – which will highlight who’s been on their game and who the team needs to see more out of. 

When looking into the numbers, initial results for the team are wildly all over the place. In a reverse of last season, they have the league’s best powerplay, but a below-average penalty kill. Their even-strength offense has flourished while their defense has been, well, bad.

These odd early results are a direct outcome of over and under-performance from certain players. This series intends to look at the biggest exclamation points – both good and bad – and emphasize certain trends in their play.

So, let’s begin…who’s trending up?

Stock Up: Tyler Toffoli ($TOF)

Tyler Toffoli was acquired this offseason from the Calgary Flames for Yegor Sharangovich and a third-round pick. The move had many Flames fans criticizing their organization, as the initial sentiment was that Toffoli could have fetched a first-round pick and then some. 

To make matters worse, Sharangovich is off to a very subpar start in Calgary. He has just two points in eight games and has primarily spent time on the fourth line. 

Tyler Toffoli, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Toffoli, a 34-goal scorer from last season, has picked up exactly where he left off. He’s now up to nine points in seven games, with six of them being goals. He had a hat trick against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 24, where Devils fans got the first prolonged glimpse at his goal-scoring ability. 

Three of his nine points have come on the man advantage, as his elite shot from the right-wing has proven to be a crucial piece of the current league-best powerplay. It’s pretty rare that offseason acquisitions hit the ground running with their new squad, but Toffoli is now on his fifth NHL team. He’s essentially been there, done that: won a Stanley Cup, won two IIHF World Championships (one of them as captain of Team Canada), and has played in just under 90 playoff games. With all that experience, the move to New Jersey has appeared to be super easy for the 31-year-old.

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And playing with superstar Jack Hughes certainly doesn’t hurt either, as the two have shown great chemistry. With Timo Meier on the other wing, the line has been one of the best in the league. They’re dangerous.

He has an impressive Corsi of 62.83%, as the team has generated 49 more chances than they’ve given up with him on the ice. (via Natural Stat Trick) His prowess on the defensive side of the puck has certainly shown too, as he’s extremely responsible and disciplined. 

All in all, Toffoli has been the high-powered offensive veteran that, in many ways, feels like the final piece of the offensive puzzle. Barring injuries, it’s hard to see an offense that can produce more than the Devils currently.

Stock Down: Dawson Mercer ($MERC)

Coming into the season, Devils fans seemed extremely excited about what was to come for the just-turned-22-year-old Dawson Mercer, who scored 27 goals and 56 points last season.

The early going, however, has been shocking. Mercer has yet to register a single point in any of the Devils’ seven games. And it hasn’t been some poor luck or anything of that nature, he’s just been bad.

Based on Corsi, he’s (by far) the worst Devil this season, standing at 43.23%. The team has given up 21 more chances than they’ve generated when he’s on the ice, which is alarming for a player who’s as talented and smart as Mercer. Even when he was getting time in the top-six with Meier and Nico Hischier, he was largely invisible and failed to generate any sort of offense whatsoever.

Dawson Mercer, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With Meier and Toffoli now mainstays in the lineup, Head coach Lindy Ruff has been vocal about Mercer needing to take on a slightly lesser role. However, to see him not even record a point yet has been confounding. 

Last season, Mercer averaged around two shots on goal per game (S/G). So far, he’s only had five shots in seven games (0.71 S/G). Normally, when talented players like Mercer struggle early on, it’s because of a lack of finishing ability. Mercer hasn’t even created the chances to be able to finish. 

At this point, he may be pressing a bit. He was partially free on an empty net on Oct. 27 versus the Buffalo Sabres, and missed. Last season’s Mercer likely buries it in his sleep. Now, it is only seven games, so it somewhat needs to be taken with a grain of salt. While the trends are generally alarming, Mercer tilted the ice for the first time this season with a Corsi of 60% against Buffalo. Hopefully that’s a sign of better things to come. 

I have a feeling that once he gets his first point, Mercer is going to settle in and be the force that he was all of 2022-23.

Stock Up: Jack Hughes ($MVP)

Jack Hughes has been the best player in the world so far to start the season. That’s not opinion, that’s fact. His 18 points in just seven games lead the entire NHL by a solid margin. 

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, odds for him to win the MVP have taken a nosedive from +2000 to +300, as he now just barely trails frontrunner Connor McDavid (+225). Odds plummeting like that, especially this early, are essentially unheard of. But Hughes has been that good. He already has more four-point nights this season (two) than he had in his entire career prior (one). 

Related: New Jersey Devils 2023-24 In-Season Awards: First 5 Games

He’s been mostly untouchable whenever he has the puck, making some world-class hockey players look like they belong in pee-wee. He can skate at full speed, stop on a dime, and basically perform whatever elite portion of his repertoire he desires. He can deliver a tape-to-tape no-look pass with ease, giving his teammate a wide-open net. He can have the puck explode off of his stick with a cannon of a shot. At this point, prayer might be a better option over strategy for an opposing netminder whenever Hughes has the puck. 

His top skating speed of 22.89 miles per hour is one of the fastest in the league, putting him in the 97th percentile (via NHL Edge).

His worst game of the season, by far, was against the Sabres where he had a Corsi of 42.31%. He still scored a goal, and with powerplay time included, generated seven more chances than the Sabres did when he was on the ice.

Here’s the amount of points Hughes has per game: two, three, one, four, four, three, one.

Wayne Gretzky said last season that, “(Jack Hughes) is the only one who could catch Connor McDavid”. After this start, it’s pretty obvious why. The only players in NHL history who have had a better first five games of a season? Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. 

What Hughes has done so far this season has been historic. The start of his career was as rough as it gets, but now we’re seeing at the NHL level what the scouts saw in his teenage years.

Take this excerpt from McKeen’s Hockey in 2019: “He can go for a full shift in the offensive zone and no one can come close to taking it from him.”

Or this one from EP Rinkside: “Hughes goes from 0-to-60 in a flash and can make plays with the puck that most people can’t even fathom with the benefit of a bird.”

If you’ve watched Hughes at all this season, those statements ring extremely true. After scoring 99 points last season, the offseason talking point surrounding Hughes was whether or not he’d hit the century mark this year. As long as he’s healthy, I don’t think that’s a question anymore.

Stock Down: Akira Schmid ($SCH)

Akira Schmid stole the hearts of Devils fans after he single-handedly brought them back to life in their first round Stanley Cup Playoffs series, defeating the New York Rangers in seven games.

The 23-year-old netminder had a 1.38 goals-against average (GAA) coupled with a remarkable .951 save percentage (SV%) in that series, where he went 4-1. 

Schmid’s quick and strange path to the NHL has made many wonder whether he’s a truly elite goaltender, or simply lucky/a product of good defense. It was only four years ago that he had a sub-.900 SV% playing against teenagers in the United States Hockey League (USHL). 

Akira Schmid, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

After being called up for emergency purposes with Mackenzie Blackwood out last season, Schmid played himself into the conversation to be a regular backup. He went 9-5-2 with a 2.13 GAA and a .922 SV% in 18 games in the regular season.

However, in the American Hockey League (AHL), his numbers were actually far worse. In 23 games for the Utica Comets, he had a 2.62 GAA with a .905 SV%. It really made no sense. Despite his previous mediocre numbers in worse leagues, Schmid always seemed to come up big for the Devils when it mattered.

The confusion about his path to the NHL, paired with his small sample size, had offseason talks ranging anywhere from an extension coming soon to a possible AHL demotion.

With all the uncertainty, it would have been best for Schmid to hit the ground running. Unfortunately, that has not been the case so far. He’s now 1-0-1 with a 4.07 GAA and an awful .863 SV% in three games. The only game he won was one in which he gave up four goals on 32 shots. In his most recent contest, he gave up three goals on eight shots (.625 SV%) and got chased after the first period.

Only one period of play for Akira Schmid who probably needs a little bit more time in the AHL.

— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) October 26, 2023

He’s been beaten consistently all over the place but most frequently the five-hole. Yes, the Devils’ defense hasn’t been great, but Schmid has saved negative-1.3 goals above expected, which marks 54th out of 69 goalies. It will be very interesting to see how the Devils approach their still-uncertain goaltending situation as the season progresses.

Who Are You Investing In?

For Toffoli and Hughes, it’s hard to see their stock rise any higher than it is right now. Both are absolutely on fire. 

However, for Mercer and Schmid, they can’t be much worse. Schmid could potentially end up in the AHL if his struggles continue, but Mercer will be in the lineup as long as he’s healthy. I would expect Mercer to bounce back soon and get back on the right track.

The Devils currently stand at 4-2-1 and look to keep proving that they’re a powerhouse in the league. See you in two weeks for the next edition of Devils’ Stock Market.

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