Miles Wood got ahead of himself last season — by miles — and it didn’t do him a bit of good.
Now that he’s slowed down, the Devils streamlined scorer is fast becoming a star who could help nudge New Jersey into the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
A step in the right direction could be available — especially with a hot Wood stick — tonight in Las Vegas when the Devils face the 14-carat Golden Knights.
“Last year,” Miles admitted, “I was going 100 miles an hour, all the time. This year, I’ve definitely chilled out a little more.”
And all the better for it because Miles’ big chill has warmed the hearts of the Garden State ice faithful. Wood’s numbers are light years ahead of 2016-17.
A year ago, the son of former NHLer Randy Wood totaled 17 points — eight goals and nine assists — in 60 games.
In Miles’ arithmetic book, less can be more and nobody explains this better than Professor Wood himself.
“When I calm down, as I have been doing this season” Miles explained, “I see the ice better, I see plays develop. It’s more fun playing that way than the 100 miles an hour game I previously played.”
Now that the 22-year-old has become The Thinking Man’s Devil, Wood is showing tangible evidence of maturity blended in with his effervescent hustle.
“He’s learned how to use his speed,” Devils head coach John Hynes said. “At times, you could say his speed looks reckless but it’s more controlled. He’s capable of understanding how to play defensively a lot better than last year,
“Also, Miles has a better awareness of the puck; his game has certainly matured and continued to mature over the past year.”
To balance the scales, a counter-attack was imperative from Hynes’ stickhandlers and Miles, exploiting his speed, orchestrated it to perfection.
The play began with Wood carrying the puck at a mile a minute from his own blue line into the attacking zone. Defenseman P.K. Subban was awaiting him with a bodycheck along the right boards.
Deftly, Miles dodged Subban’s hip check and chased the puck behind the Preds’ net, leaving P.K. lost in his ice shavings. But there was another obstacle; Austin Watson, also of the Preds.
After winning the puck battle with Watson, Miles then whipped the disc around the perimeter to a waiting Sami Vatanen at the right point. The Devils defender reciprocated with a slapper that eluded goalie Juuse Saros to tie the game, 1-1.
Eventually, New Jersey catapulted into the lead and completed the extra-thrilling evening with a 3-2 shootout win.
Talking about his current season success, Wood speaks both candidly and modestly, occasionally ad-libbing jokes with his locker neighbor Kyle Palmieri.
Wood: “As a first-year player, I was up and down — I rode the high waves, rode the low waves. This year, I put in a conscious effort to be more consistent.
“It’s what I strive for and I want to be a big piece for this team. I know it’s gonna take more steps to get there, but that’s my goal.”
That Wood has succeeded is evident since he’s already doubled his goal output from eight last season to 16. Likewise, he has accumulated 11 more points over 2016-17.
“If I had Miles’ size,” Randy kidded, “I’d still be playing in the NHL.”
Coach Hynes, who has been like a second father to his young ace, believes that deleting Wood from the opening night lineup last October had a positive, long-term effect on his dynamic winger.
Hynes: “Credit to him — he understood what we were talking about in regards to his play and he’s bought into it. Now, he’s been very consistent. Miles is a young guy who learned his lesson; he didn’t like being scratched.”
Wood reached one of his mile-high points this season, recording his first-ever NHL hat trick against the Blackhawks at United Center on November 12.
In a come-from-behind scenario, Wood’s trifecta proved to be the difference in the 7-5 victory.
“Scoring three goals, it does something to you,” he explained. “It gives you confidence you didn’t have before. From there, I just built on that.”
What matters now is whether Wood can provide some of the final pieces, constructing a Devils playoff team.
“A year ago,” Woody concluded, “I felt like a flash in the pan. Now I’m more consistent.”
So, are the Devils — Miles and miles ahead of their pace last season!