On paper, the 2021-22 New Jersey Devils are not a good hockey team.
The Devils sit miles outside the playoff picture with 20 games left in the season, fifth last in the NHL while trotting out a power play that ranks 25th out of 32 teams. One of the team's lone bright spots, a 10th ranked penalty kill, just gave up two shorthanded goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, including the eventual game-winner.
You'd think, just by looking at them, that the Devils are a team in disarray.
But opposing coaches see them as a sleeping giant.
"This New Jersey team here, they're top-10 in the NHL in scoring chances generated," explained Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe ahead of his team's meeting with the Devils.
"And then you look at it even further, and they're number one in generating scoring chances off the rush, starting from their breakout. So, you've got elements of their game that if you're not prepared, and dialed in, and focused on your own game, they can expose you"
For a rival bench boss to display such reverence for an otherwise moribund club speaks volumes to the potential brewing under the surface in New Jersey. Everyone knows the likes of Jack Hughes, Dougie Hamilton, and Jesper Bratt. But what has helped the Devils evolve as an offensive team this season, one set to make a major leap in 2022-23, is their secret weapon.
And that weapon is Yegor Sharangovich.
Sharangovich is a lot like the team he plays for; deceiving to the naked eye.
The 23-year-old is a fifth-round pick from 2018, plucked out of Belarus in the weaning hours of day two of the draft to little fanfare from those watching at home. Even the Minsk native's two seasons with the Devils' AHL affiliate weren't all that impressive, with Sharangovich topping out at 25 points in 57 games with the Binghamton Devils in 2019-20.
Then he cracked the big club. And everything changed.
A strong rookie season that saw the lanky forward rack up 30 points in 54 games in 2021 landed Sharangovich in the top-10 in Calder voting. His sophomore campaign has only furthered his upward trajectory, with Sharangovich scoring at a 20-goal pace while further improving on his rookie point total in roughly the same sample size of games despite averaging roughly 40 seconds less per night in ice time.
Statistically, the Devils are a better team with Sharangovich on the ice.
New Jersey out-chances, out-scores, and drives possession at a positive clip in the nearly 800 minutes of even-strength usage Sharangovich has seen this season, leading to his impressive 53.31 percent expected-goal share that looks positively sparkling when placed alongside the Devils' -36 goal differential.
Sharangovich does the bulk of his damage on an even playing field, too. A whopping 32 of his 35 points have come at even-strength this season, including 14 of his 16 total goals, with Sharangovich only rendering his team short-handed on three occasions in 58 games, too.
At 23 years old, the sky is the limit.
Sharangovich has already established himself as Jack Hughes' primary sidekick, with the pair spending the bulk of their minutes alongside each other this season while each embarks upon a career-best year. Factor in the criminally underrated Jesper Bratt, and the Devils have a legitimate top-line that can keep pace, at least offensively, with any team in the league.
With Hughes' eight-year deal set to kick in next season, New Jersey's franchise face is set in stone for the better part of the coming decade. Sharangovich's $2 million annual cap hit, though -- which runs through 2023 -- gives the Devils an effective running mate for their star center at a well below market price.
Few in hockey circles could even spell Sharangovich's name off the top of their head right now if asked to. But as the Devils continue their ascent -- an ascent led in part by Sharagnovich himself -- that will surely change.