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Devils 2012-13 Schedule Preview: Anaheim Ducks

August 14, 2012 1 comment

Teemu Selanne would score in the shootout, but Martin Brodeur got the last laugh, backstopping the Devils to a 3-2 win. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Starting today, The Devils Den will give you a detailed look at the New Jersey Devils upcoming opponents this season. We’ll run it down in alphabetical order, giving an in-depth look at each team.

Despite being on opposite coasts, the Anaheim Ducks and New Jersey Devils are pretty familiar with one another. Just nine years ago, the teams squared off in the Stanley Cup Finals. An upstart J.S. Giguere matched Martin Brodeur save for save, yet couldn’t will his team to a win. And while New Jersey skated off with their third Stanley Cup championship, Giguere would take home the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Since then, Devils fans watched Scott Niedermayer win a Stanley Cup with the Ducks and rooted for his brother, Rob, who spent one season in the red and black. But without much postseason success – Anaheim hasn’t made it past the second round since the 2006-07 season – the two teams haven’t played many meaningful games.

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Devils 2011-2012 Schedule Preview: Anaheim Ducks

July 26, 2011 1 comment

Patrik Elias scored the game-winning goal in the team's lone game against the Anaheim Ducks last season. Photo Credit: Harry Howe/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will preview the 2011-2012 schedule, breaking down matchups and providing in-depth analysis of their opponents. Kicking things off is the preview of this season’s matchup with the Anaheim Ducks.

The Devils and Ducks share a deep history despite playing on opposite coasts. Just eight years ago, New Jersey and Anaheim faced off in an epic seven-game Stanley Cup Finals. Everyone remembers the battles between J.S. Giguere and Martin Brodeur, and the heroics of Mike Rupp.

Since then, they haven’t developed much of a rivalry. They only meet once a year, which doesn’t allow for much hatred to develop. Even Scott Niedermayer wearing their sweater couldn’t tip the scales.

Devils vs. Ducks – The History Behind The Matchup

In 23 games against Anaheim, the Devils are 14-8-0 with 1 tie. New Jersey averages 2.96 goals for against the Ducks (68 total), and allow just 2.26 goals per game (52 total).

Last season, the team’s met once, during a Devils west coast trip. New Jersey beat the Ducks, 2-1, using some late game dramatics. Jason Blake opened the scoring in the second period, tallying on the powerplay. Saku Koivu held the puck along the side boards, then moved the puck to Blake below the goal line. The left-winger drove to the net, and Brodeur made the first save. Blake knocked the rebound home for the goal and the lead.

The lead wouldn’t last long, as Jamie Langenbrunner scored just over two minutes later to tie the game. The right-winger corralled a loose puck behind the net, and skated to the goal line. His shot deflected off of Jonas Hiller and into the net for the tying goal. The teams ended the period tied, 1-1. Then Patrik Elias took over.

The Devils left-winger broke the tie just 1:54 into the third period. Alexander Vasyunov picked off a cross-ice pass in the neutral zone, and New Jersey moved into the offensive zone on a 3-on-1. Vasyunov sent a pass to Elias, who blasted a one-timer from the slot past Hiller for the game-winning goal. For game highlights, check out the video below.

Devils vs. Ducks – This Season’s Matchup

Anaheim underwent some significant roster changes this offseason. The team shipped Andy Sutton to Edmonton, acquiring defenseman Kurtis Foster. They continued dealing with their northern neighbors, acquiring Andrew Cogliano for a second round pick. Other signings include Jeff Deslauries, Mathieu Carle and Andrew Gordon. They lost Todd Marchant to retirement and Andres Lilja on the free-agent market.

Ultimately, Anaheim’s success hinges on the health of Hiller. They’ve got great producers in Bobby Ryan and Blake. If Teemu Selanne decides to return, it’ll be another piece to the puzzle. But  Hiller remains the most important piece. He only played in 49 games last year due to vertigo, creating a carousel of goalies. Anaheim tried out backups (Curtis McIlhenny), Ray Emery and Dan Ellis. Only McIlhenny played more than 15 games, and he recorded a 6-9-1 record. Without Hiller, they sit near the bottom of playoff contenders.

Ultimately, one game will not completely sink the Devils. Anaheim will visit The Rock on February 17, and it’ll be the only meeting of the season. There won’t be too much at stake, just the regular two points.

Stat Pack

In 20 games (19 starts) against the Ducks, Brodeur is 13-6-0 with three ties. He’s carrying a gaudy 1.82 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage…Despite playing hero last season, Elias doesn’t have great numbers against Anaheim. In 16 games, he’s tallied six points, but carries a minus-4 rating…Jersey-native Ryan has two points in three games against the Devils.

Can Larsson Play In The NHL This Season?

Larsson, ranked number one among international skaters, became a New Jersey Devil in the first round of last night's NHL Entry Draft. Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils drafted the number one rated international skater, defenseman Adam Larsson, with the fourth overall pick in yesterday’s NHL Entry Draft.

The organization filled one of their biggest needs with a very talented prospect. He joins an impressive list of young blueline prospects that will form the defensive corps for years to come. But many of those players remain two to three years away from making the NHL. With the lack of offensive talent on the Devils’ blueline, one question remains – can Larsson make an immediate impact on the NHL level?

Many believe Larsson is the most NHL ready defenseman. The 18-year old began playing for Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League two years ago, becoming the third 16-year old to break into the league. He finished the season with one goal, eight assists and a plus-12 rating. Don’t let those low offensive numbers fool you – Larsson posses some serious offensive potential. Skelleftea used him primarily in a defensive role last season, limiting his production.

Playing against men for two seasons prepared him for the physicality of the NHL. He still needs to add strength, like most other young players. Devils’ president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said he’ll have every opportunity to make the team this season.

“We’ll have an opportunity to see him in the summer camp and training camp,” Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “All of that will determine it. He’s played two years in the elite league, so it’s not out of the question that he can do that.”

The Devils need immediate offensive help along the blueline. Last year, all defenseman who dressed for at least one game combined to record 88 points. Andy Greene led all defenseman with 23 points as the top offensive threat. That’s a pretty putrid number. New Jersey hasn’t had solid offense from a defenseman since Scott Niedermayer left. It’s a hole they’ve failed to fill year after year. Larsson could potentially be the answer to their never-ending problem.

“Larsson is going to be a top offensive defenseman,” New York Rangers Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark told Gulitti. “If a team feels that their priority is an offensive power-play D, if he goes one, it’s not a problem with me.”

The problems come with his experience. Like Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson, he needs to gain some experience on North American rinks. Both spent time in the AHL last season, learning how to adjust to the rink and playing style. Both came up and found success later in the season.

There’s no denying Larsson’s potential impact. Right now, he seems like one of the best options for offense along the blueline. His performance in both the prospect and training camp will ultimately decide his fate. He should play in the organization next season, and may see some NHL time.

Evaluating The Devils Organizational Depth: Defenseman

Urbom was all smiles after tallying his first NHL goal - a game-winner - against the Boston Bruins on the last day of the season. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils will always be a defense-first team. Jacques Lemaire’s first tenure as coach, way back in 1995, began that precedent. Those teams developed the trapping style that brought three Stanley Cups to the Garden State. It seemed the organization possessed unlimited defensive depth, churning out defensive stalwarts like Colin White to compliment the core of Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer.

Fast forward to 2011. The team still plays solid defense, but gone are the big names. In their place stand overachievers and average defenseman. The mass exodus of the dynasty defense through retirement and free agency left a gaping hole in the Devils’ organization. The inability to find a true offensive defenseman continues to frustrate fans. But there’s hope – a rising crop of defensive prospects, led by Jon Merrill and Alexander Urbom, should return the blueline to its once lofty status.

With a surplus of quality defenseman in this year’s draft, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Devils once again focus on their blueline with the fourth pick. But do they need a defenseman? The bubble of NHL-ready prospects looks ready to burst, providing ample opportunities for New Jersey to plug in holes. In today’s preview, we take a look at the organization’s defensive prospects, from the AHL to those yet to turn pro.

And here we go:

Albany Devils (AHL)

Alexander Urbom – 72 GP, 23 points (2 G, 21 A), minus-9 rating

Urbom continued the recent Swedish movement in the Devils organization. The 20-year old defenseman spent most of the season with the Albany Devils, earning two brief call-ups to the Devils. He led all Albany defenseman in points, and earned significant minutes on the powerplay.

The year of seasoning helped Urbom tremendously. When he broke camp with the Devils, he looked rough and didn’t adjust well to the NHL. But his year in the AHL gave him the ability to play with veterans like Olivier Magnan and Rob Davison. He ended his season on a positive note, tallying his first career NHL goal in the Devils’ 3-2 win. He may find himself back in the AHL next season, but Urbom made a strong case to play on the Devils’ blueline next season.

Rob Davison – 63 GP, 18 points (4 G, 14 A), minus-1 rating

Davison became one of the biggest offensive threats on an underachieving blueline in Albany this season. The stay-at-home defenseman, who compiled 203 NHL games before the season, never found a way to make it to New Jersey. When the organization needed replacements, they routinely called on other players. Davison signed this summer as a depth player, and served that role to the letter.

The unrestricted free agent probably won’t be in the organization next season. He helped with the development of Urbom and gave the team quality minutes. But a guy with over 200-games of NHL experience deserves a shot to make a NHL team, something he may not get with New Jersey.

Olivier Magnan – 50 GP, 13 points (2 G, 11 A), minus-3 rating

Magnan’s shown steady improvement in each season with the organization. The former QMJHL Kevin Lowe Trophy winner (best defensive defenseman) finally got his chance to play in New Jersey last season. In 18 games, he was solid yet unspectacular, failing to record a point. But he couldn’t stick in New Jersey, eventually giving way to Mark Fayne.

Despite solid play for both teams, Magnan may not return to the team next season. With a new crop of defenseman ready to take the reigns, Magnan may be forced out by his inability to deliver on his talent.

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A Look Back: A History of The Devils’ Top 10 Draft Picks

Photo Credit: Wild.NHL.com

The New Jersey Devils enter this year’s draft with a top 10 pick, an unusual spot for the franchise. They haven’t had a top-10 pick since 1996. The last top-10 pick to make a significant contribution was Scott Niedermayer, who came to the Devils third overall in the 1991 draft.

To kick off our draft coverage, The Devils’ Den will run down every top-10 pick the organization made. Some were wildly successful, others were pretty big busts. That’s the nature of the draft.

And here we go:

1982 Draft: Rocky Trottier – 1st round, 8th overall

The name Trottier should sound familiar – his brother, Bryan, won six Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. Rocky wouldn’t emulate his brother’s success. Trottier spent most of the 1983-84 season with Medicine Hat in the WHL, recording 84 points (30 goals, 54 assists). He appeared in five with the Devils that season, recording just two points.

The Devils gave Trottier his shot during the 1984-85 season. He played in 33 games, but couldn’t find that scoring touch. He recorded just six points (four goals, two assists) and a minus-3 rating. He did attempt the first penalty shot in history on December 17, 1984, scoring against Edmonton Oilers’ goalie Andy Moog.

That season would be his last in the NHL. Trottier bounced around the AHL and played internationally before retiring after the 1989-90 season.

Other notables from the 1982 draft: Ken Daneyko (1st round, 18th overall), Pat Verbeek (3rd round, 43rd overall)

1983 Draft: John MacLean – 1st round, 6th overall

The organization made up for the bust of Trottier with the success of MacLean. He recorded 98 points with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL during the 1982-83 campaign, showing his offensive potential. He lasted just 30 games with the Generals during the 1983-84 season before earning a call-up. His debut didn’t wow people – in 23 games, he scored one goal – but he would ultimately find success.

MacLean became one of the most accomplished scorers in team history. He recorded three-straight 40 goal seasons (1988-1991) and finished the franchise leader in goals (347). On April 3, 1988, MacLean scored an overtime goal against the Chicago Blackhawks, clinching the first postseason berth in franchise history. While he didn’t work out as the team’s coach, MacLean was one of the team’s best picks.

Other notables from the 1983 draft: Chris Terreri (5th round, 85th overall), Viacheslav Fetisov (8th round, 145th overall)

1984 Draft: Kirk Muller – 1st round, 2nd overall

The Devils drafted another great forward in 1984. Muller, drafted behind Mario Lemieux, became one of the best to wear the Devils’ sweater. “Captain Kirk” debuted during the 1984-85 season after recording 94 points in just 49 games for the Guelph Platers of the OHL in 1983-84. Muller made an immediate impact, leading the team with 80 games played. He also recorded 54 points, a solid number for a rookie.

He continued to improve year after year. He set a record for points by a center with 94 during the 1987-88 season, a mark that still stands today. He finished below 70 points twice in his Devils’ career. Unfortunately, the team never seriously contended for the Stanley Cup. They traded Captain Kirk to the Montreal Canadiens, where he won a Stanley Cup in 1993.

Other notables from the 1984 draft: Craig Billington (2nd round, 23rd overall), Kirk McLean (6th round, 107th overall), Mike Peluso (10th round, 190th overall)

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The Retired Numbers Debate

Scott Stevens became the first Devil to have his jersey retired during the 2003 season. Photo Credit: NJDevils.com

When Brian Rafalski announced his retirement today, it signaled yet another Devil from their glory days to retire. As the team gets further and further removed from their dynasty days, when they won three Stanley Cup championships in eight years, more and more players will leave the game.

The departures already included some big name players. Over the last six years, we’ve seen most of the Devils vaunted defense retire. Ken Daneyko, arguably the heart and soul of the defense, retired after winning the Stanley Cup in 2003. Scott Stevens soon followed, retiring in 2004 after battling post-concussion syndrome. Scott Niedermayer went next, retiring last season. The list continues, with forwards like Jay Pandolfo and Sergei Brylin hanging up their skates.

All of these former players helped produce the most successful eight seasons in team history. They all deserve recognition, both individually and as a collective whole. There’s no bigger individual recognition than retiring a player’s number, and there are a few Devils who deserve the honor. But it shouldn’t go to everyone, and the franchise needs to tread carefully when considering players worthy of that honor.

Currently, only two Devils have seen their number retired. Scott Stevens became the first player in team history to have his number retired. The team honored him in a pre-game ceremony on  February 3, 2006, acknowledging his immense importance to the team. Stevens racked up the honors, including a Conn Smythe Award during the 2000 Stanley Cup championship. His mere presence along the blueline made skaters think twice about where they were on the ice. His hit on Eric Lindros during the 2000 Eastern Conference was a turning point in the series. His resume continues, with the crowning achievement being his tenure as captain, which is still the longest in team history. Clearly, he deserved the honor.

Daneyko became just the second player whose number hangs from the rafters. “Mr. Devil” played for 20 seasons, all with the Devils. His gritty play and gap-toothed grin came to embody the Devils “trap” game. He sacrificed his body game in and game out, blocking shots and doling out hits. He’s never been an “offensive defenseman,” recording a career-high 21 points during the 1989-90 season. He almost never missed a game, holding the Devils “ironman” streak until this season. His contributions, both on and off the ice, earned him the honor.

Niedermayer and Rafalski both make great arguments to earn the honor. But before the team makes them one of the honored few, they need to realize not everyone deserves a spot. That’s where the difficult decisions begin. What criteria will the organization use to judge a player’s worthiness? Both Niedermayer and Rafalski were great Devils, and belong among the best to wear the jersey. Both also spurned the organization to play elsewhere, with Rafalski leaving near the tail end of his prime years. It doesn’t diminish their accomplishments with the Devils, but it may dilute them in the eyes of some observers.

We already know that, when he decided to retire, Martin Brodeur will watch his jersey number retired. But for others, like Niedermayer and Rafalski, the honor should take time to be decided. Players refused to wear Stevens’ number four and Daneyko’s number 3, but others wore numbers 27 and 28.

I don’t believe other players, like Rafalski and Niedermayer, should be shunned from having their jersey numbers retired. The franchise should practice caution, however, to keep it an honor and not a right.

Ex-Devil Brian Rafalski To Retire

May 24, 2011 1 comment

Rafalski, skating against the Ottawa Senators in the 2007 Eastern Conference semifinals, will retire with three Stanley Cup championships. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Former New Jersey Devils defenseman Brian Rafalski will announce his retirement in the coming weeks, according to several media reports.

Rafalski, who signed a five-year, $30-million contract with the Detroit Red Wings after the 2007 season, will forgo the final year of his contract. He’ll leave $6 million on the table after retiring and open a big hole along the Red Wings blueline.

After going undrafted out of the University of Wisconsin, Rafalski spent four seasons in Europe – one in Sweden and three in Finland – before signing with the Devils before the 1999-2000 season. He finished with 32 points in the regular season, ranking third among the team’s defenseman, and averaged over 21 minutes of ice time in the playoffs. He helped lead the Devils to their second Stanley Cup championship.

He continued to take on a more prominent role on New Jersey’s defense throughout his seven-year stay. He led all defenseman in points five of the next six seasons, becoming the most consistent offensive threat along the blueline. He routinely topped 25 minutes of ice time in the playoffs, playing in all situations.

He won yet another cup during the 2002-2003 season, totaling 11 points and once again averaging over 25 minutes of ice time.

Rafalski became a main cog on the Devils blueline, an achievement considering the defense’s tremendous depth. In an era where Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens and Sheldon Souray all donned a Devils jersey, Rafalski found a way to stand out and make a name for himself. That’s no small feat, especially for someone who couldn’t catch on in the NHL for four years after college. His offensive skill and no frills play made him a fan favorite and one of the most successful Devils’ defenseman.

Despite leaving the team four seasons ago, the Devils have yet to fill the void left by Rafalski. Several replacements, from David Hale to Paul Martin, all failed to deliver the same offensive production. It’s possible that some prospects, like Alexander Urbom and the ever-present Jon Merrill, may fill that void. Rafalski remains one of the best to ever patrol the Devils’ blueline.