In 230 career games with the Blue Jackets, Rangers and Coyotes, defenseman John Moore scored a total of nine goals, topping out with four for New York in 2013-14, when he also set a career high with 11 assists. A first-round draft pick by Columbus in 2009 after putting up sparkling offensive numbers in juniors, Moore had turned into a steady player on an NHL blue line, just not the productive force that had been expected.
Since joining the Devils on a three-year contract in 2015, Moore has been everything New Jersey thought it was getting and then some. Moore posted four goals and 15 assists in his first Devils campaign, averaging 19:50 of ice time a game. Last season, Moore broke through in a big way, with 12 goals and 10 assists, a pace he has kept with three goals and five assists in the first two months of 2017-18.
"He's always been a defenseman with those attributes: He can move the puck, he can really skate, he's physical, he's a strong player," said Devils center Brian Boyle, reunited with Moore in New Jersey this season after they played together with the Rangers. "With maturity and with experience in the league, you see different areas where you use that skating and those decisions to your benefit. ... He's a great communicator on the ice, and that comes with confidence and comes with maturity as well, and experience. I think every part of his game has just gotten better and better."
Moore was 20 years old when he made his NHL debut, becoming a regular in Columbus the following year. Having just turned 27 on Nov. 19, Moore is now up to 387 career games in the NHL, and as he noted, "being a defenseman, developing just takes a little more time. I've been working hard and it's nice to have things going the right direction."
There's more to it, though, than simple experience, personal growth and willingness to learn. In New Jersey, Moore has found a system in which he is a good fit, while at the same time, the league as a whole has moved in a direction that better suits a player of his skill set.
"When I came in, five, six years ago, there was a lot more banging," Moore said. "Third and fourth lines were brawnier. Now, it's all about skating and really getting the puck out of your own end as quickly as you can. … There's no secret that our offense is high octane, and if we can get the puck out of our end and into their hands, the sooner, the better. Our focus is making sure we're going back and getting the puck up to them as quickly as we can."
As much as the NHL has moved toward skating, and as much as the Devils have embraced that in a way perfect for Moore, there is one other league change that has helped to pump up the defenseman's scoring numbers: the advent of 3-on-3 overtime, which began at the same time Moore got to New Jersey.
Six of Moore's 19 goals in a Devils uniform have come in overtime, including two of his three this season - in Ottawa on Oct. 19 and in Minnesota Nov. 20.
"There's just a lot more open room, so I definitely try to use my feet more," Moore said. "You look at it, it's really three 1 on 1s all over the ice. So, you're in situations where if you beat a guy, it's a 200-foot footrace, and that doesn't really present itself in any situation other than the 3 on 3. There's just not as much space (5 on 5). It's a different game. There's less room, you're not carrying the puck as much, and I think possession and really the area that you control as a team is much more pronounced at 3 on 3. These are things that pay dividends two or three shifts after when guys change and you're able to attack against tired guys. These are all factors that have allowed me to be the beneficiary of great plays by my teammates."
To be the beneficiary of plays by teammates, even if that's perhaps a case of typical hockey deflection of praise, requires being on the ice, and it says a lot about the progress Moore has made in his time in New Jersey that he has earned the chance to play in the biggest moments of games.
"He can skate," coach John Hynes said. "Strong competitiveness, very good skater. I think that the way we want to play fits his style of game, and he's a guy who takes real good care of himself, so I think you can spot him around in different situations. He's kind of an elemental player for us, too. He's very good at 4 on 3, pretty good on the 5 on 3, good 4 on 4, good 3 on 3, as well as 5 on 5, so he's kind of been a jack of all trades for us, particularly in special situations.