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Dominant Performances | THREE THINGS

Thirty-six games into the season, several players are leaving their marks with big performances

by Amanda Stein amandacstein / NewJerseyDevils.com

The 36-game mark, where the Devils currently sit, is a large enough sample size to get a taste of what's in the cupboard. And while this season has been filled with multiple ups and downs, there are certain performances that have begun to stand out and are making continued impacts. 

Whether it's a first-overall pick coming into his own or the current longest-serving Devil playing his best hockey yet, we've got you covered in this edition of Three Things, presented by Geico.

1. Jack's Big Minutes

He might not be physically intimidating yet (although, you probably don't want to be caught on the ice trying to defend against him), but Jack Hughes' intimidation factor has arrived. His craftiness, his quick decision-making, his accuracy all work in a rhythm to make him a dominant threat every time his skates hit the ice. 

Tweet from @NJDevils: Jacked Hughes. pic.twitter.com/XXZNlwwdoh

And as the season moves along and as his growth continues, there's less and less of a chance that an opponent's top defensive units won't find themselves on the ice without Hughes there. On Jan. 8, at Columbus, Hughes played a career-high 25:43 time on ice and although held without a point (for the first time in a five-game stretch), in a game based on a matter of inches, he hit the post several times and registered five official shots on net. In his last six games, he's had 26 shots on net and converted at a 15.4-percent rate. 

"I'm shooting the puck, putting things towards the net," Hughes said. "At the same time, I'm only 20 years old so by the time I'm 25, I want to be a completely different player and much better."

Don't take it from me, take it from the captain. Of Jack, Nico Hischier said: "He's a star."

2. Damon Dominates with New Duo

The current longest-tenured Devil, Damon Severson is perhaps having one of, if not the best season of his career, and it's been noted lately by his coaches. Alain Nasreddine has overseen the defensemen since his arrival in New Jersey and has seen Damon through all stages of growth. 

"Damon is not just an offensive D-man," Nasreddine said last week. "He's a guy that can play on both sides of the puck and be effective. That's what we need him to do. It's one thing to put up points, but for us, Damon's (play defensively) he's more valuable."

And he's been logging some of the biggest minutes of his career, important minutes too, averaging 23:06 time on ice. He recently hit a career-high of just under 30 minutes in a game, logging 29:52 against Washington on Jan. 2. Coupled with Jonas Siegenthaler, they have become the team's shutdown pairing.

The two complement each other so well. 

"This is the best I've seen Damon play since I've gotten here," Nasreddine, who joined the Devils coaching staff in 2015, shared. "And I think (Siegenthaler) has a lot to do with that (…) He's been consistent in his defensive game, takes pride in it. It's another area where he takes a lot of pride and it's been a huge addition for us to see."

When a pairing like Siegenthaler and Severson have their defensive play in a rhythm, it paves the way for those offensive numbers too, though Nasreddine emphasized "it's one thing to put up points for us, but Damon, where he's more valuable, it is the defensive end. The pair working as a shutdown duo, he plays against the top lines."  

Their shutdown ability allows them to spend minimal time in the defensive zone, channeling Severson into a transition game where he does contribute his points. 

3. Just Like Bratt

Jesper Bratt is on pace for a career-high in just about every statistical category there is. But what has made Bratt even more valuable than he is on his own this season is how he have been able to lift up his linemates around him. Bratt has been a catalyst time and time again for Lindy Ruff when he needs another player to be sparked. 

"I'm trying to be a leader on a younger team," said Bratt, who is still young himself at 23. "You kind of grow into that role a little bit and I feel like I take a lot of pride (in that). It's been working out. I feel confident out on the ice with the system and the guys that I play with."

"The guys that I play with" can be any number of Devils forwards, because Bratt has moved around at times, and hasn't missed a beat. Whether it was the excellent performance of the line alongside Andreas Johnsson and Dawson Mercer, to being sprung onto Hughes' wing at times, Bratt's maturity is showing in his fifth NHL season, making him an every-game contributor. 

"He's created a lot of his own opportunities just with speed and getting behind people," said head coach Lindy Ruff. "But it's a hard game to just do that every night. I think the inside part of the game is where he can make some huge gains. Like getting second opportunity goals, driving the net type goals, stuff like that. But he's a detail guy. He's a hard worker, and he's been a good player for us."

Although the team as a whole has seen its fair share of ups and downs this season, Bratt has been one constant. His longest stretch without a point this season was the very first five games he played this year and very rarely is he held without a point in two consecutive games. His longest point droughts this season, other than the opening five games? Dec. 14 - 19, a span of three games without a point. That's it. 

"I really believe that he has kept his game at a fairly consistent level, that his 1-on-1 compete, his details, playing our system details and defensive play have been good," said Ruff. "Any time you're playing that way away from the puck, the minutes really go up. So, for me, there are a lot of things that I think he's really improved on."

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