Devon Toews played his first season in the NHL. Looking back it was an impressive start to his NHL career for the fourth-round pick in 2014.
If not for a shoulder injury sustained in 2017-18, Devon Toews likely would have made the NHL with the New York Islanders last season. In 30 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, he scored 22 before injury claimed his season.
That’s a 0.73 point-per-game pace. Over the course of a full AHL season that’s 56 points. Devon Toews was a dominant player two season’s ago in the AHL and I thought he’d definitely get his start in the NHL in the 2018-19 season because of it.
But Lou Lamoriello surprised most of us by cutting the then 24-year-old defenseman in favor of veterans and sending him to the AHL. But Toews picked up where he left off before his injury; he dominated. In 24 games with the Sound Tigers Toews scored 19 points.
When injuries started to pile up on the Islanders blue line, Lou Lamoriello had no choice but to call Devon Toews up to the NHL. He never looked back.
Making His Mark
Devon Toews quickly established himself on the Islanders blue line. Even as injured players started coming back there was no reason to move Devon Toews from the NHL. In 48 regular-season games, Toews contributed 18 points. He put up another five in eight playoff games.
His ability to skate the puck forward gave the Islanders an outlet to transition from offense to defense. And his ability to find teammates in the offensive zone helped make him one of the Isles better offensive defensemen.
He was first for Islanders defensemen for relative Fenwick-for percent (6.22), first for relative Corsi-for percent (6.34), first for relative expected goals for percent (8.53), first in relative scoring chances for (4.89), and first in relative high-danger chances for (6.36).
*All stats from NaturalStatTrick and all are for 5on5
For those wondering, relative stats are:
"the difference between the team’s stat with that player on the ice and the team’s stat with that player off the ice. Does not include games where the player is scratched or not on the active roster."
On the power play, Devon Toews ability to get the puck up the ice and cycle it around to his teammates was quickly identified and used. By the end of the season, Toews had firmly planted himself as the team’s number one defenseman on the power play.
On the team’s first power-play unit Toews would take Nick Leddy’s spot as the single defenseman within the five-man group. Over his last 20 games of the season, Toews was on the ice nearly 50 percent of the time for Islanders power plays.
Not the Best Defensively
His one knock is that he’s not the greatest defensive defenseman yet. There were a number of times this season where Toews got caught either out of position or looked lost in his defensive zone.
But it’s his first year in the NHL a few defensive bumps in the road are to be expected. Offense can’t necessarily be taught, but defense can.
Toews has that innate offensive skill that you just can’t teach but he could use a few lessons defensively. Thankfully, there’s no-one better to do that than head coach Barry Trotz.
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Clearly Top Four
In just over half a season, Devon Toews proved that he is a top-four defenseman in the NHL. His rise in the NHL has not only made Nick Leddy expendable on the first power-play unit but on the team in general.
That’s no small achievement. He’s still got some work to do. But man am I excited to see what Devon Toews can bring in 2019-20?