The New Jersey Devils have high hopes of making the playoffs this season. They certainly bulked up on offense, adding Taylor Hall in the offseason. Cory Schneider is a more-than-capable goalie and an All-Star.
But there are many questions on defense and the Devils came into the year looking for someone to step up. This was even more of a need after the trade of Adam Larsson. While no one would argue the trade should have been made from the Devils perspective, it was hard to part with the top-pairing defenseman. Larsson was getting over 22 minutes a game and was paired with team captain Andy Greene almost every night.
With a crop of young players and some veteran acquisitions, the Devils were in search of the man to take Larsson’s place on the top spot. They may have found him in the person of Damon Severson.
Over the past two seasons, Severson has battled injuries and experienced growing pains. He made a splash in his first season with the club by posting 5 goals in 51 games and logging power-play time as well. He showed a need for growth in his own end of the ice, but overall the 20-year-old seemed to be a solid two-way defenseman and project for growth in the future.
However, he suffered a broken ankle and missed the bulk of the remaining season, which seemed to be a huge setback for the youngster. When he returned, Severson seemed slower and more unsure of himself, frequently exposing the near side to faster skaters and allowing more than a few wingers to dance their way by him.
What would become of this promising young rookie? It took almost all of last season to find out, and Severson spent most of the year honing his skills in his own end of the ice. Soon, he wasn’t getting beaten along the boards anymore. He wasn’t caught out of position as often. He was even throwing some good checks in the corners and was more of a physical threat. His offensive numbers dwindled; Severson managed just one goal in 71 games last season to go with 20 assists. But it was definitely the start of something.
In his third season with the club, Severson is off to a flying start and may be delivering on the promise we saw two years ago. As of the Devils’ Tuesday night game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Severson is one of only four defenseman league-wide who leads his team in points. He already has half of his point total from a year ago and has shown an ability to make the right decision on both sides of the ice. The NHL is a league that depends on offensive-minded blue-liners, and Damon Severson is showing that he has that ability. His play in the defensive end has improved. However, if there is one criticism of his game, it’s that Severson sometimes gets caught out of position. This is occurring less and less as the games go by and it appears as though Severson and Andy Greene are starting to get on the same page. It’s an adjustment for both players to be together every game, but they’re starting to click and it’s led to an uptick in points production as they manage their end of the ice better. Furthermore, Severson’s positional play could be a result of the heavy attacking mindset of coach John Hynes, who frequently has his defenseman pinching far into the offensive end and sometimes causes them to be exposed on a rush the other way. No matter the cause, Severson is light years ahead of where he was just a season ago and gives the Devils hope that the defense of this team might not be as bad as they thought.
So what will Severson be able to do for the rest of the year? Is the point production a result of the added fire-power on offense, or is he part of the reason for the improved production? We’ve definitely seen more of Severson this year, as he’s averaged more than 20 minutes a game of ice time. He’s been used on both of the special teams units and in overtime scenarios. He does benefit from having great scorers on his team, but so does everyone else. Such an explosive change in his game on both ends of the ice certainly is due more to the hard work he’s had to put in over the last two seasons. The Devils will gladly reap the rewards of this young man’s hard work paying off.