The hockey world outside of New Jersey met Devils left wing Miles Wood late last week, when a photo of Wood and his childhood idol, Capitals right wing Alexander Ovechkin, took the interwebs by storm. Wood looked debonair in a black coat and tie. Ovechkin looked, well, Ovechkin to the nth degree, sporting a plushy red bathrobe, held closed to keep the photo PG, and his trademark gap-toothed grin.
The story goes like this.
Wood's father, 12-year NHL veteran Randy Wood, did a Facebook Live session on Dec. 28, the day before the Devils' annual Dads' Trip to see the team face the Caps in Washington. In it, the elder Wood related the following story.
"When Miles was about eight or nine-years-old, he sent a hockey card to Alex Ovechkin," Randy said. "He said if you don't sign this and send it back to me when I make it to the NHL I'm going to give you a big bodycheck. Miles never got the signed card back so I'm waiting for that big check on Alex."
Wood, who first played against his childhood idol at the World Championships last summer, never did nail Ovechkin with that body check during the Devils' 3-2 win over the Caps on Dec. 29, but he did walk away with that now-famous picture and a signed Ovechkin photo, which Ovechkin inscribed, "To Miles, Take it easy tonight, Alex Ovechkin."
"He was my favorite player," Wood says. "I liked his speed, his toughness, the way he went to the net and scored goals. He was unbelievable to me. I went about my business when we played against him, but when my line wasn't out there, seeing him up close like that was the coolest thing in the world. I just saw him. I didn't see anybody else."
As a kid, Wood was enamored with a few other players, too, and tried to model his game after theirs. Chris Kreider. Milan Lucic. Jordan Staal. Wood, it seems, has a type.
"It's true," he says. "They're all big, power forwards who have had very successful careers, so hopefully I can take after them."
Wood is already on the right track. The 21-year-old, who is listed at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds on his four-year-old Massachusetts drivers' license, is now 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. He has a nose for the net, an ultra-competitive nature and a willingness to fight if he has to, but it is his speed that sets him apart.
"Ever since our first development camp together, maybe four years ago, he has always been the fastest guy on the ice and one of the strongest guys," says Devils defenseman Steve Santini, who also played with Wood at Boston College and with the Albany Devils. "Watching him fly by guys just doesn't surprise me anymore. Combine his speed with his strength and his competitiveness and he's a freak. He's going to be a dominant player in this league someday."
Anecdotally, Devils players and reporters who cover the team talk about the number of icing calls against the Devils that Wood can negate with his speed. While no stat service keeps numbers on this specifically, it's something that is clearly visible. When a Devil shoots the puck from beyond the red line into the offensive zone, Wood is so quick that he is often able to beat the opposing defenseman to the puck before it crosses the goal line, forcing the icing call to be waved off.
"When I'm on the ice, our D know they can actually just fire the puck down," Wood says. "They know I'm going to beat that D out, so it's just become kind of a play while I'm out there."
However, harnessing that big speed into the smaller areas of the game is Wood's current focus. On Thursday afternoon at the Prudential Center, after a practice that had already run 75 minutes, Wood spent an extra 30 minutes on the ice with Devils assistant coach Ryan Clowe, working on picking up the puck in the congested area in front of the net and shooting it high, as well as protecting the puck along the boards.
"His speed is a huge factor, even at this level, but in this league, a lot of guys are in better positions and sometimes you can't just physically skate as fast as you can all the time," says Devils coach John Hynes. "The next step for Miles is to be able to balance his speed with his puck execution. We think if he can do that, there are going to be even more plays he'll be able to make because his speed and size and compete are already such factors that he has the puck a lot."
Just like that guy in the bathrobe.