The 2020 NHL draft saw the New Jersey Devils have three first-round picks. First Alex Holtz was taken at seventh overall. Three years later, Holtz is finally seeing consistent NHL playing time, although in a bottom-six role.
The last of the three was Russian defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin. Mukhamadullin never played for the Devils and didn’t come to North America until after he was sent to the San Jose Sharks as part of the Timo Meier trade.
In between both was Dawson Mercer. Mercer became an immediate everyday NHL player after one more year in juniors and has not only had the best NHL career of the three but one of the best careers so far out of that year’s draft.
Mercer played all 82 games in his first two years and had seasons of 42 and 56 points. He flirted with the 30-goal mark last season, finding the back of the net 27 times.
The New Jersey Devils need more from Dawson Mercer going forward.
Dawson Mercer of the New Jersey Devils has had a less-than-great start to his season. Key injuries to the lineup provide the perfect setting and opportunity for him to change that.
Mercer seemed destined to become a reliable 50-60 point scorer but throughout the beginning of this season, he had a somewhat alarming 0 points in six games.
Fans were quick to point out that this is also a contract year for the pending restricted free agent after his three-year entry-level deal expires.
You know what they say, when one door closes another opens, and one has opened for Mercer. Unfortunately for New Jersey, it came at a great cost.
The Devils saw both their top two centers go down in a single week. Captain Nico Hischier, usually centering the top line, remains day-to-day as a result of Connor Clifton’s crosscheck in a game against the Buffalo Sabres.
Superstar Jack Hughes is out week to week after an awkward crash into the boards against the St. Louis Blues on Friday. Neither has been placed on the injured list.
Their injuries resulted in the unexpected promotion of Mercer being the top-line center. The decision was likely motivated by two factors.
First, Mercer is no stranger to being in, and playing with, the top six forward group. Second, like normal top-line center Hischier, Mercer is known for playing a defensively smart two-way game.
The sample size is small, a single game versus the Chicago Blackhawks, but resulted in Mercer getting his first goal of the season. His power-play tally tied the score at 1-1 after Chicago scored the game’s first.
The Devils scoring depth isn’t in terrible shape considering they still have the likes of Jesper Bratt and Tyler Toffoli, along with Dougie Hamilton on the blue line. Their next two games are against teams that are no walk in the park, however.
On Tuesday they take on the offensive powerhouse Colorado Avalanche. On Friday they return home to face the Washington Capitals. The Capitals have not only had New Jersey’s number in recent years but handed New Jersey its most convincing loss of the season in late October by the score of 6-4.
As mentioned before, Mercer had 56 points from last season. Three of Mercer’s goals were assisted by Hughes, while 10 of Mercer’s goals were assisted by Hischier. Hughes had 10 goals that were assisted by Mercer and Hischier had eight goals assisted by Mercer.
Mercer’s promotion comes in the absence of two offensive forces he has chemistry with. That could be a potential problem for someone trying so hard to put their name on the scoresheet with frequency.
Considering the Devils have played 11 games so far, we can dispel Mercer’s slow start as an early season anomaly. It’s something uncharacteristic for him in previous seasons.
In the eleven-game mark in his rookie season, Mercer had seven points (three goals and four assists) and in his sophomore campaign had six points (four goals and two assists).
This Devils team has also improved with new offensive weapons in each of the past two seasons. This is the best team Mercer has played on and is surrounded by better talent than he ever was, adding another level of mystery to his slow start.
The time is now for Mercer to make the most of this opportunity and make up for his slow start. The Devils need all the offensive help they can get with Hughes and Hischier out so any additional output Mercer gives is both needed and appreciated.
Let Mercer take a mulligan on the start of the season and help him find the back of the net.