The New Jersey Devils stockpiled impressive depth up the middle. The team’s brimming with talent, and many players are ready to take the next step to the NHL.
Travis Zajac leads the brigade, firmly entrenched as the team’s top center. Patrik Elias, a converted left-winger, seems destined to finish his career as the team’s number two center. Jacob Josefson‘s solid rookie debut will undoubtedly lead to a roster spot next season. Rod Pelley will look to fend off Adam Henrique, Tim Sestito, and others for a spot on the roster.
That talent flows right down into Albany. Seven of Albany’s top ten scorers were centerman, an astounding number that shows the true talent in the position. Most won’t develop into first line scorers. But the depth is pretty amazing, and should provide the team with solid players for the future.
Albany Devils (AHL)
Matt Anderson – 76 GP, 55 points (23 G, 32 A), minus-3 rating
Anderson was an All-Star this season, netting a goal in the midseason showcase. He led all centers in every significant category despite never playing with a consistent line. In his three AHL seasons, Anderson improved his performance, posting a career high in points last season. Henrique will get the call first, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Anderson get a look in the prospect camp this summer.
Adam Henrique – 73 GP, 50 points (25 G, 25 A), minus-3 rating
Henrique had one hell of a rookie season. While his 50 points aren’t overly impressive, he managed to produce offensively without a consistent line combination. His 25 goals are a rookie record. He shifted to left-wing for the second half of the season, which probably helped his numbers. His 50 points put him sixth among rookie scorers. He won’t need any more time in the AHL and should compete for a spot next season.
Steve Zalewksi – 81 GP, 44 points (15 G, 29 A), minus-8 rating
Zalewski came to the Devils organization in a February trade, where he found his game. He posted 11 goals and 17 assists in 31 games after the trade. He’s had a taste of the NHL, playing three games with the San Jose Sharks last season. He’s had AHL success, but never found a foothold. He seems destined to be AHL fodder who may get a few games here and there.
Stephen Gionta – 54 GP, 30 points (10 G, 20 A), plus-7 rating
Gionta gained fame for playing against his older brother, Brian, this season. Other than that, he didn’t do much with his NHL callup. He found some success in the AHL, collecting 30 points. He’ll never be a scorer and probably wouldn’t move past the fourth line on the NHL level. He provides good depth but isn’t the first choice for a roster spot next season.
Brad Mills – 53 GP, 24 points (15 G, 9 A), minus-2 rating
Mills made his NHL debut this season, scoring a game-winning goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in November. He’s a decent centerman, but nothing to write home about. His 24 points ranked pretty low, which is odd considering he anchored the team’s top line. Like Gionta, he’s a depth player at this point.
Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. Many of those breakdowns revolved around individual player performances. We broke down all players who skated in at least 40 games, because they contributed to over half the games (and outcomes) this season. In the next few days, we’ll look at “The Best of the Rest,” breaking down other players who skated in less than 40 games. Today, we’ll look at the remaining offensive players.
Throughout the course of a season, teams will count on players to fill in games. The New Jersey Devils were no different. Nine different offensive players skated in less than half of the Devils’ games this season. Some were fourth-liner fill ins, and others were rookies who couldn’t find a consistent spot. One was even a team’s cornerstone who missed significant time due to injury.
We’ll take a look at all of them, in order of games played. And here we go:
Vladimir Zharkov – 38 GP, 4 points (2 G, 2 A)
After playing 40 games last season with New Jersey, Zharkov once again got his opportunity in the NHL this season. He spent most of his time playing on the third and fourth lines. He almost exclusively played during even strength situations, pulling down a minus-0.59 rating. He only helped produce eight goals this season, and the team’s offensive numbers improved with him off the ice. He provided little value, recording a minus-0.2 GVT.
I believe the numbers unnecessarily belittle Vharkov’s effort. We finally saw some offense, as Zharkov managed to score his first two NHL goals. He’ll never be a big scorer, but I believe he’ll hang around as a solid third or fourth line player.
Tim Sestito – 36 GP, 2 Points (2 A)
Sestito helped fill the fourth-line center role early this season. The seven-year pro filled in well, but couldn’t really contribute offensively. He helped produce just three goals, assisting on two of them. The team expectedly played much better offensively with him off the ice. He didn’t really help much defensively either, with the shots against per 60 improving with him on the bench.
Predictably, Sestito didn’t finish with a positive GVT. His minus-1.3 rating ranked him in the bottom three of all players. He could probably be replaced by a rookie next year, and the organization may go that way. His cap hit wasn’t large this season (just $500,000), so he could also be brought back on a low cost, one-year deal.
Jacob Josefson – 28 GP, 10 Points (3 G, 7 A)
Josefson entered the pre-season as one of the most talked about rookies in camp. Everyone knew the organization would closely watch the development of their young Swede. After watching him this season, they can only be excited about his future in a Devils sweater.
Josefson recorded a plus-1.42 rating, fourth-highest among all skaters. He helped create offense (2.08 goals for per 60 on-ice) and prevent it (1.31 goals against per 60 on-ice). Those numbers both worsened when he was on the bench. Surprisingly, the GVT ratings put him at a minus-0.3. It’s not terrible, but it shows an area he must improve.
Josefson earned high praise from Jacques Lemaire, who doesn’t easily praise rookies. Look for him to stay in the lineup next season and keep developing into a solid center.
There’s been some updates on several players over the past few days, so here’s a quick rundown of the conditions of those players. Thanks to both Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record and Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger for the updates.
1. Zach Parise Sheds Leg Brace
Yesterday, Gulitti reported that Parise received clearance to remove an immobilizing leg brace from his doctor yesterday. Although the left-winger is about two months away from returning, it’s a positive sign in his recovery.
2. Anssi Salmela To Play Wednesday
Salmela, who missed several months with a torn ACL, will make his return to the lineup Wednesday night against the Phoenix Coyotes. Salmela completed a conditioning stint with the Albany Devils earlier this week.
3. NHL/AHL Roster Moves
The Devils sent down Matt Corrente and Alexander Vasyunov during the weekend, and recalled both Harry Young and Dan Kelly. Kelly has already returned to Albany, and Young is expected to return when the team activates Salmela. The Devils also recalled Tim Sestito earlier today.
4. Injury Updates
Gulitti also posted several updates on injured Devils. Matt Taormina is beginning to skate after suffering a high ankle sprain, and his return won’t be anytime soon. Jacob Josefson also began skating, but like Taormina, he won’t be ready for a while. Mark Fraser appears to be the closest injured Devil ready to rejoin the team. The defenseman has skated on his own for about 10 days and, pending a visit to the doctor, should be able to return to practice soon.
A 1-4-1 usually leads to changes throughout a team. Coach John MacLean made maybe the most severe changes Monday, reshuffling the lineup and moving players. With the new lines comes the same question – can the Devils finally finish their opportunities and produce?
Through their first six games, the Devils offense has been futile. They’ve only scored ten goals, which has them in a three way tie near the bottom of the league. The team’s goal differential is -11, good for last in the league. That futility made changes necessary. While MacLean doesn’t expect an explosion of offense, he does want to see more energy from the lines.
“I think we get a little a little zip on each line, a little energy on each line and that’s what I’m looking for, get some goals out of that with a little tweak here,” he said.
Team captain Jamie Langenbrunner believes the line change will help get the Devils back to basics.
“We have to simplify it and just get back to work,” the captain said. “I think we’re trying to make something happen when it isn’t there and that goes for a lot of us. We’re trying to find a way to score every shift and that’s not the way you play hockey. You play the game and then the opportunities will come. I don’t think it’s from a lack of effort. It’s a lack of playing in the right areas and doing the little things and that’s what we’ve been missing”
So can the new line changes really “simplify it” and find the back of the net? Here are the revised lines, with our analysis of what each brings to the table.
Line 1: Zach Parise – Travis Zajac – Dainius Zubrus
Well, the “ZIP Line” experiment lasted all of six games. With Zach Parise underperforming so far this season, MacLean reunited a line that experienced success last season. While Dainius Zubrus doesn’t command the offensive skill of Ilya Kovalchuk, he brings a big body that can crash the net. That should give someone like Parise more space to work with in the open zone. It’ll also open up opportunities for Travis Zajac. With Kovalchuk, the line seemed too hesitant and tried to make two or three unnecessary passes while in the zone. The addition of Zubrus on the right wing should eliminate those extra passes and refocus both Parise and Zajac.
Line 2: Rod Pelley – Jason Arnott – Jamie Langenbrunner*
So far this season, Rod Pelley has been the most consistent Devil. He’s brought energy and intensity, and by moving him up, MacLean is showing the trust he has in Pelley. Langenbrunner admitted that Pelley will bring energy back to their second line.
“He’s played well,” Langenbrunner said. “I suppose they think that he can bring his energy and the way he has been playing to us because Arnie and I have not played well the last few games and we know that and today’s practice watching the way (Pelley is) just out there working hard is something we all need to do. I think they tried to do that by the way they put somebody on every line. They’re trying get that attitude back.”
Pelley won’t bring much offense to the table, but he will hopefully serve the same role as Zubrus – a body who gets to the net and creates chaos. Even if Pelley plays great, Jason Arnott and Langenbrunner need to step up their play. This line could be very underrated, but the two veterans need to play a bigger role. Both players +/- numbers are negative, and they need to play focused and productive hockey.
For more analysis on the new lines, read after the jump!
The Matchup – The Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0) face off against the New Jersey Devils (1-2-1) in the first and only meeting of the season.
The Last Avalanche Game – The Avs defeated the Detroit Red Wings, 5-4, in a shootout Wednesday night. Down 3-2 after the second period, the Avs tied the game on a goal by Daniel Winnik at 4:43 of the third period. Patrick Eaves put the Red Wings back ahead, scoring a shorthanded goal at 7:52 of the period. But Colorado would answer back, with David Jones tying the game at four apiece at 11:24 of the third. The teams went to the shootout, and both Peter Budaj and Jimmy Howard kept the puck out of the net. But in the sixth round, Brandon Yip beat Howard, scoring the game-winner in the shootout.
The Last Devils Game – The Devils defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 1-0, in overtime on Wednesday in Buffalo. Both Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur kept the game scoreless through regulation, with both making big saves. In the overtime period, Jamie Langenbrunner skated the puck to center ice, and fed a pass to rookie defenseman Matt Taormina. The rookie brought the puck deep into the zone, and momentarily lost it. He regained the puck and fed a pass to Ilya Kovalchuk, who went down to one knee and blasted a shot over Milller’s blocker for the game-winning goal
The Last Avs – Devils Game – Last season, the team’s only faced each other once, on January 16. The Avalanche struck early, with Chris Stewart giving Colorado a 1-0 lead 3:17 into the first period. T.J. Galiardi scored a late period goal to extend the lead to two. The score remained 2-0 until the third period, when Rob Niedermayer cut the lead in half. But the Avalanche would add a late insurance goal to win the game, 3-1.
The Devils wouldn’t leave the game completely healthy. Early in the second period, Patrik Elias took a vicious hit from Ryan Wilson. Skating down the right side, Wilson met Elias with a shoulder to the chest. The Devils’ left-winger laid on the ice for several minutes, but waved to the crowd as he was taken off the ice.
For a full preview of the historic matchup between the teams, click here.
Finally Full – The Devils will finally have a full roster to play tonight. After the team moved injured Brian Rolston to the LTIR, the Devils recalled Jacob Josefson, Tim Sestito and Matt Corrente from Albany of the AHL. All three are expected to play tonight, with Josefson making his NHL debut.
Tonight’s Matchup – Wednesday’s game was the best of the young season for the Devils. They played a complete game, were aggressive on the forecheck, and made the smart plays. They only scored one goal, but that’s what sometimes happens when a great goalie is in the net.
So, what does the team need to do tonight? Repeat that performance from Wednesday. The Devils need to pressure the Avs and their young forwards and defenseman and force them into mistakes. They need to be strong on the puck and make the right decision. Most importantly, the Devils need to skate hard for 60 minutes. As I said above, the team finally has a full four lines to play. That means every player should be busting it out there because they have the extra legs.
The Devils also need to pressure Craig Anderson. He’s a good goalie, but he’s no Ryan Miller, and he’s given up at least three goals in all of his starts this season. If the Devils can cause pressure early and often, they may be able to jump out to an early lead.
Game time is 7 p.m., and you can catch all the action on MSG Plus.
Here’s tonight’s projected lines from the morning skate:
Forwards: Zach Parise – Travis Zajac – Ilya Kovalchuk; Patrik Elias – Jason Arnott – Jamie Langenbrunner; Dainius Zubrus – Jacob Josefson – David Clarkson; Rod Pelley – Tim Sestito – Adam Mair
Defenseman: Henrik Tallinder – Andy Greene; Colin White – Matt Taormina; Alexander Urbom – Matt Corrente
Goalies: Martin Brodeur, Johan Hedberg
To hold you over until tonight’s 7 p.m. puck drop, it’s today’s edition of The Devils’ Sports Page:
Devils defenseman Mark Fraser out 4-to-6 weeks with fractured right hand; Rolston surgery a success (Tom Gulitti/Fire and Ice blog)
MacLean looking at options for Friday’s lineup after tonight’s call ups (Tom Gulitti/Fire and Ice blog)
Devils call up Josefson, Sestito, Corrente (Tom Gulitti/Fire and Ice blog)
Matt Corrente, disappointed with demotion, glad to be back with Devils (Rich Chere/NJ.com)
Win-win situation for Devils (Mark Everson/NY Post)
Kell Named Captain For Second Straight Season (Mike Ashmore/Inside The Trenton Devils)
Media Day Update (Mike Ashmore/Inside The Trenton Devils)
New Jersey had the cap space to call up the three players because of the sports hernia injury to left-winger Brian Rolston. The Devils’ left-winger underwent successful surgery to repair the injury yesterday, and should miss four to six weeks. The Devils placed Rolston on the LTIR, giving them the ability to play at $5,062,500 over the salary cap.
MacLean was excited to finally have a full lineup.
“Definitely,” the Devils’ coach said. “Three young guys getting called up, we’ll get some energy and keep improving on our play.”
Today’s callups put the Devils at 22 skaters, which includes injured defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who has missed this week’s games with a broken nose and stiff neck. It is the first time all season the Devils have rostered over 20 skaters.
Both Sestito and Corrente have NHL experience. Sestito has played ten NHL games, including nine with the Devils last season, when he recorded one assist. Corrente played 12 regular season games and two playoff matches last season. Josefson is looking to make his NHL debut.
MacLean hoped he would dress 20 players for tomorrow night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche.
It wasn’t all good news today for the Devils. The team announced that defenseman Mark Fraser will miss four to six weeks with a fractured right hand.
Devils general manager and president Lou Lamoriello said Fraser’s injury didn’t occur in last night’s fight with Buffalo’s Cody McCormick Wednesday night.
“It was an injury that he had earlier, but I don’t think the fight helped it,” Lamoriello said.
Fraser had surgery this morning to place a pin in his hand. There hasn’t been a decision as to whether or not he will be placed on injured reserve.