The New Jersey Devils had their eight game win streak snapped Monday night in Philadelphia. Most everyone lowered expectations or avoided drafting Devils predominantly based on the team bringing back the notoriously defensive-minded Jacques Lemaire as Head Coach. Other than a guy named Brodeur and more recently Parise, New Jersey has not typically been a fantasy friendly team.
Losing veteran stalwarts Brian Gionta and John Madden without bringing in name players to replace them, certainly didn’t reassure anyone.
Jamie Langenbrunner is the Devils top right winger, but there are two others making names for themselves this season. They have similar point totals this season, but that’s where the similarities end.
Like nearly all Devils prospects, both players below have spent considerable time in the minors honing their skills. Only Paul Martin (zero AHL games) and Travis Zajac (two AHL games) from the current roster come to mind when thinking of who went directly to the NHL without spending significant time with the Devils AHL affiliate. Even the great Martin Brodeur spent a season in the A before becoming an NHL regular.
David Clarkson hails from Toronto, Canada. The 25-year-old was not drafted and signed as a free agent in August of 2005. In his final major junior season, Clarkson scored 33 goals, 54 points and 145 penalty minutes in 51 games for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. He followed that up with a very good first pro season in the AHL, recording 34 points and a devilishly high 233 penalty minutes in only 56 games.
Clarkson spent one more season in the minors and then in his first full NHL season (2007-08), recorded nine goals and 22 points along with 183 penalty minutes. Last year, he improved to 17 goals and 32 points.
So far this year, Clarkson has 15 points in 19 games, including an unexpected six power play points. He has hit the scoreboard consistently this season, registering points in 12 of 19 games. He is on pace for an improbable 30 goals and 64 points with 24 power play points to go along with a projected 133 penalty minutes. He receives the fifth most average power play ice time on the team and as long as that continues, think of him as this years' David Backes.
The Devils took Nicklas Bergfors with their first round pick in 2005, 23rd overall. His first pro experience was for Sodertalje in the Swedish Elite League. Unfortunately that was the lockout year (2004-05) and Bergfors only played in 25 games, garnering only one point. It’s not unusual for a rookie in that league to receive little ice time, making it difficult to make an impact.
The slick 22-year-old Swede then apprenticed in the AHL over the next four seasons before finally breaking out last year with 22 goals and 51 points in 66 games. After a so-so month of October points-wise, where he recorded six points in 12 games, he has eight points in seven games in November. He’s averaging 15:30 minutes of ice time per game, virtually identical to Clarkson, but Bergfors is only averaging 2:22 with the man advantage, compared to Clarkson’s 3:02.
Both Clarkson and Bergfors are restricted free agents following this season.
After a lacklustre opening month where he scored three points in nine games, the Devils Andy Greene is having a nice November. He has stepped up in Paul Martin’s absence and recorded six points in eight games so far this month.
Back to the right wing theme, Maxim Afinogenov has had an offensive rebirth in Atlanta. The speedy 30-year-old Russian has 17 points in 17 games and 11 points in his last eight games played. He is on pace to eclipse his previous career high of 73 points, set in 2005-06 while in Buffalo. I don’t expect him to surpass 70 points, but he might give it a good scare.
Tomas Plekanec recorded his sixth multi-point game of the season last Tuesday night. He’s quietly put up 19 points in 21 games this season and is on pace for a career high 74 points. He’s under the radar thanks to the Gionta and Cammalleri signings and had 69 points the year before last seasons disastrous 39 point (lack of) effort.
Carey Price is back playing with a renewed confidence again. Last Saturday, he stopped nearly everything directed his way in a 53 save loss against Nashville and last night he turned in a solid 30 save performance. Price shone in the shootout, stopping everything, the last two in spectacular fashion.
Although he recorded the win on Tuesday night versus the Maple Leafs, Pascal Leclaire looked shaky. Too many times he was flopping around often look behind him, not sure where the puck was on rebounds. It seemed to me that he might have been more lucky than good.