Devils head coach Lindy Ruff began his first season behind the bench with New Jersey in 2020-21. And from the very beginning, he preached a certain style of play - 'Devils' Hockey.'
Devils Hockey consists of certain themes, such as playing with speed, playing aggressive and being committed at both ends of the rink. But Ruff has also preached the need for certain intangibles in order to execute Devils' Hockey.
And no line more demonstrated those intangibles during the past season than the trio of Nathan Bastian, Michael McLeod and Miles Wood.
Video: TOP PLAYS | Michael McLeod
The line was arguably the team's most consistent throughout the year. They skated hard and with pace on every shift. They took the body and played physically. They chipped in a lot offensively. And overall, anytime they hit the ice, they were going to change the game's projection.
"Very enthusiastic. That is the type of energy and enthusiasm that I've talked about since Day 1," Ruff said, "the grit and determination that they play with, the fact that they can change momentum inside of a game."
They also saw significant ice time in a defensive role, occasionally playing against the opposition's top lines and on late-game defensive zone draws.
"Most nights we were playing against top lines," Bastian said. "At the end of games, if we're up, defending a 6-on-5, our line is probably out there. Earning that respect from your coach is everything."
And the players had Ruff's respect. He knew exactly what he was getting from each guy every night.
"The speed that Miles can play with, the physicality of a Bastian - and he was missed when he wasn't in there - the speed and surprisingly the goal scoring that Michael brought us down the middle," Ruff said, "the intensity that (McLeod) brought inside the faceoff dot when we needed that right-handed faceoff guy. He was our only right-hander down the stretch. That line did a lot of good things for us and provided a lot of great energy."
Video: VERIZON TOP PLAYS | Wood's Top 5 Goals
Although the three names were written in the "fourth line" spot on the locker room board, the Devils don't number their lines necessarily. On many nights Bastian, McLeod and Wood were playing as much as a third, or even second, line time.
"They played a big role for us," Ruff said. "Call them third (line), call them fourth, there are some nights you could call them second because they have played minutes that look like they've been a top line."
Whether you call them the third line, the fourth line, the Energy Line or the BMW Line (Bastian, McLeod, Wood), they're just happy to be called at all.
"If you told me coming into the year that I was going to play every game and be a regular I would say that was a success for me," Bastian said. "I'm happy with that. Throughout the year, I played more and got more comfortable, gained a lot of confidence."
"That was my goal for the year, to stay here all year," said McLeod, who was finally able to establish himself as a full-time NHLer in his third pro year.
And the rapport they built on the ice translated into the locker room as well.
"I thought Mikey and Bass took a huge step this year," Wood, an alternate captain on the team, said. "They're a big part of this team and the future. Just to play with them, it was a lot of fun. We had a lot of laughs. They're great guys. I'm certainly happy they're here."
From an individual standpoint, here is a glance at the line…
*Established himself as an NHL player
*Became fixture on the penalty kill
*Led the team in hits with 136 (second among all NHL rookies, two behind Montreal's Alexander Romanov, who played 12 more games)
*Quote: "As the year went on, we got more and more comfortable. Later in the year we learned to play 16, 17 minutes a night. At the start of the year I was getting nine, 10, 11 minutes. Which is fine. I think we became more responsible and I think we handled it pretty well."
Video: EXIT INTERVIEW | Nathan Bastian
*Chipped in career highs in goals (9), assists (11), and points (20)
*Won 51.5 of his faceoffs on the year, and nearly 54 percent from March 1 to the end of the season
*Became fixture on the penalty kill
*Quote: "I like the role I was in this year. I just want to keep building off of that. I'm not looking for any number, third-line center or whatever you want to call it, just play the same role and play it to a tee. Teams need a guy that wants to win faceoffs, hunt pucks on the forecheck and penalty kill. I'm really going to try and build on those things."
Video: EXIT INTERVIEW | Michael McLeod
*Became a team leader with an 'A' as alternate captain
*Scored team-best (tied, Pavel Zacha) 17 goals on the season
*Ranked second on the team with 127 shots (Jack Hughes, 142)
*Became a power-play contributor with three man-advantage tallies
*Quote: "I think we bring a lot to the game. Now it's on us to build on that."
Video: EXIT INTERVIEW | Miles Wood