Season Preview: New Jersey
By Patrick Kearns, TheFourthPeriod.com
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.