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January 10, 2013 | 7:04pm ET
Season Preview: New Jersey
By Patrick Kearns, TheFourthPeriod.com

The New Jersey Devils shocked the world when Game One of the Stanley Cup Final was being played in Newark. Almost no one saw the Devils hosting the first contest of the Stanley Cup Final, but a combination of good coaching and guys that bought into the team game got them there.

It's no shock the Devils had elite offensive talent. Ilya Kovalchuk is arguably one of the top players in the league, and a real game-breaker for them. But the departure of Zach Parise will hurt the team and force other guys to step up.

The onus will once again be on the staff behind the bench, which did a magnificent job last year, out-coaching every Eastern club on their way to the Final.

Forwards

Ilya Kovalchuk is incredible, and can carry any team some nights. Unfortunately, with Parise playing in Minnesota, the success of the team's offense hinges on whether or not guys like Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac can be top line producers. They will also need to hope age has not yet caught up with Patrik Elias, who has quietly gone about his business and performed extremely well over the years in North Jersey. He will need to have another All-Star type season to keep the Devils above water in a division that could end up being the most difficult in the NHL.

Defense

The defensive aspect of this time is tricky, because they certainly don't scream consistency. Bryce Salvador, who has been an average player his entire career, turned it up to another level in the playoffs, especially offensively. He was able to get a contract extension from the Devils, who are hoping he does not come back down to earth anytime soon. Adam Larsson will be an interesting case, because there is a chance he stays up in Albany. He certainly has the most potential of any guy on the blueline, and there is a good chance he will be a top defenseman in this league someday, but his inconsistency make force coach Pete DeBoer to keep him in the AHL, especially in a season where the obvious strategy is to go full-speed ahead with the most proven players on your roster.

Goalies

Martin Brodeur is not getting any younger. Of course, he didn't play like a guy pushing 40 in the playoffs last year, but at some point age has to catch up with the netminder who just signed a two-year extension, ostensibly taking him to the end of his career. There is help arriving down the pipeline, but expect the tandem of Brodeur and Johan Hedberg in the immediate future. The top prospects in their system, including goaltender Scott Wedgewood, are not ready for primetime yet.

Projected Outcome

In an impressive Atlantic Division, it is unlikely the Devils will be competing for the division title when the last puck is dropped in the regular season. That does not, however, mean they are not a playoff team. If everything goes right for the Devils, there is no reason why they can't compete for one of the last three playoff spots. All Pete DeBoer has to do is get his guys into the playoffs, and as the team learned last year, getting hot at the right time and staying healthy is the key to success.

3 Players to Watch
 
Ilya Kovalchuk
Kovalchuk is the most explosive player on the team, that is not a point of contention. He needs to stay healthy and put up the numbers expected of him when he signed that massive contract. He is the key cog in the offensive system and if he struggles the team may too.
Adam Henrique
Henrique finished third in the Calder Trophy voting last year as one of the top rookies in the game. He needs to take a step forward in his development to contribute on both sides of the puck.
David Clarkson
Clarkson finished with career-highs in every major offensive statistical category while sticking to his trademark "pest" ways on the ice. The Devils hope the numbers put up last year by the 28-year-old become the norm, and are not an outlier.

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