Last year the New Jersey Devils went from being one of the more consistent upper echelon teams to absolutely plummeting. Many have debated what the cause was – anything from Ilya Kovalchuk being a cancer in the dressing room to Martin Brodeur getting old to Zach Parise missing almost all year and just about everything in between. The fact of the matter is that something went wrong early and the team was forced to react.
After dropping a second straight game to the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 8th, the Devils were hiding from an atrocious 10-29-2 record. The very next day, they were looking at a home-and-home series with the red hot Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa took an early lead, but New Jersey came back to win thanks to a five-goal third period. They’d win the next game too, and the momentum carried into a 23-3-2 tear that almost gave the team a playoff berth.
Now we’re halfway through the preseason and a look at the Devils is likely in order. The team is only 1-2 thus far, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t positives to look at. I think this team will be a lot better than they were last year and should challenge for a playoff spot. Let’s take a quick look at some of the noteworthy players on the roster, including potential players who could make the team.
Patrik Elias – If you are in a league that counts faceoff wins, you should know that Elias will be one of the top two centers for New Jersey, at least until Zajac returns. Despite Yahoo’s generous multi-position eligibility additions, Elias is still a LW only, making him a very solid addition for leagues counting faceoff wins. Patrik scored a team-leading 62 points last season and was most recently centering a line between Parise and Sykora.
Petr Sykora – It’s been quite a while since Sykora did anything fantasy relevant, but New Jersey was the place he had the most success, including a Stanley Cup victory in 2000 while playing on Elias’ line. Sykora has been impressive in camp thus far including a hat trick in the first scrimmage of camp, but that doesn’t mean much just yet. Sykora could potentially inject some extra goal scoring in the Devils lineup and really spark Patrik Elias if they can re-ignite the chemistry from 2000.
Ilya Kovalchuk – Last year’s output of 60 points was Kovalchuk’s lowest total since his rookie season. I’m still not a fan of owning Kovalchuk, but I don’t doubt at all that he’ll have a stronger year. If the team can play 82 games at about a happy medium between last year’s two extremes, Kovalchuk shouldn’t have trouble reaching 70 points and could even top 80 again (he’s averaged 78 points per season so far).
Jacob Josefson – Josefson is the early favorite to line up as theother top-six center behind Elias. Last year was Josefson’s first in North America, but he scored a respectable 10 points in 28 NHL games and showed some very high end skill along the way. Now is a perfect time for Josefson to show what he’s got and he’s being tested on a line with Kovalchuk. He has been singled out as one of the stronger players in camp by Peter DeBoer as well.
Adam Larsson – The #4 pick from this past draft is doing just what we all expected – impressing. In this interview, coach DeBoer says just how impressed he is. Here are a couple excerpts: “His ability to hold on to the puck under pressure is pretty special for a player of any age, let alone 18.” “Adam gets to work with Larry Robinson every day. A young defenseman couldn’t possibly ask for a better mentor.” In his first two games, Larsson has three assists. It sounds very likely that he will at least get a nine-game tryout, but I’m one of the ones expecting Larsson to play in New Jersey all season long. There’s not much competition.
Zach Parise – Parise appears to still be shaking off the rust, but that’s what the preseason is for. He might be a little slow out of the gate, but he’s still one of the most talented left wings in the league. If you own him, don’t be discouraged if you see a slump to start. If you don’t own him and you do see a slump, do everything you can to acquire him. In reference to the recovery from his knee injury, Zach says “It’s like it never happened. When I skate now, I don’t even feel it.”
Mattias Tedenby – It’s looking as though the person who will benefit most from Zajac’s injury is Josefson, not Tedenby. Still, Tedenby did manage to score one goal in his two preseason games and showed a lot of promise last season. He should see ice time in the top nine in New Jersey and has the talent to skate in the top six, but there’s not a whole lot of chatter about his performance in camp just yet. We’re only halfway through camp though so anything could happen.
Martin Brodeur – I hear people doubting whether or not Brodeur can ever play 70 games again, and while I think he can do it, I don’t think he will. I think Brodeur will instead play in the 60-65 game range and he’ll have spectacular numbers in the process. It’s likely his last season in the league, but if you’re in a one-year league, don’t forget about the Devils unbelievable stretch last season. Even with a fairly poor defense, this team can still win hockey games. Despite being 39 years old, Brodeur is still one of the more talented goalies in the league.
Adam Henrique – Henrique is another guy who coach DeBoer has singled out as having a strong camp (in addition to Josefson, Larsson, and Sykora). Henrique has a ton of talent but will have a tough time finding a spot on the roster. Expect him to get a few more cups of coffee this year in his second season of professional hockey, but likely use more seasoning in Albany.
Travis Zajac – Zajac had the unfortunate luck of tearing his Achilles tendon in August. He had surgery Aug. 18th and was given a quote of about a three month recovery period. That schedule would put him in the Devils lineup around November 19th, missing 17 games. There are also those speculating a 4-6 month recovery is more realistic though which could have Zajac not returning until 2012. Zajac says he will not rush back until he’s fully healed so whenever he does return, expect a strong, inspired Zajac ready to perform right away.
Hopefully you enjoyed the read. Feel free to post your feedback below and let me know what you guys think of the Devils this coming season.