Devils Pre-Camp Preview

That faint light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter with each passing day. The Devils haven’t played a game since April 27th but rookies and minor league players report for physicals on Monday and veteran players report on Wednesday. Devils hockey is almost here!!

So now it’s time to take a look at the 2013/2014 New Jersey Devils. It has been an incredible off-season between the player movements, the surprising and sudden retirement of a certain player and new ownership. Everyone has to wonder what New Jersey will put on the ice this season and I can only guess that most will be selling on the New Jersey Devils because that is what they do year in and year out. I mean how many predicted NJ to miss the playoffs in 2012, the year they made it to the Cup Final?

CAN NJ BE SUCCESSFUL WITH BRODEUR AND SCHNEIDER SHARING THE LOAD?

We have to start with the goaltending situation because that was an area that the Devils did address this summer. There’s no denying that 41-year-old Marty Brodeur can’t be the Brodeur he once was by logging so much time on the ice. We also realize that he’s in the twilight of his career and going into this off-season, the Devils needed to realistically think about the future. At the NHL entry draft, NJ seemed to shock everyone by taking Cory Schneider off of Vancouver’s roster. The move makes so much sense, not only long-term but also in the short-term. New Jersey has the most back-to-back games in the league this season so having a 27-year-old goaltender who can handle splitting the work load is nothing but a positive. Of all the problems that the 2013/2014 Devils could be facing, the goaltending position isn’t going to be one of those unless the Devils are faced with an injury. I think Marty gets why Schneider is here and I think Schneider gets why Marty is still here. Let them split the season at 41 games apiece or something very close to that and I think you will have two very happy and successful goaltenders. Vancouver couldn’t make it work with Luongo and Schneider last year (mostly due to the constant media criticism and it is a different scenario in NJ) but I do think Chicago showed us that two very capable goalies can co-exist and make your organization successful.

THE DEVILS NEED GOALS. WHERE ARE THEY GOING TO COME FROM?

Now on to the question that everyone is asking, who’s going to score goals? Last season was a HUGE disappointment on so many levels but any time that David Clarkson is your leading scorer past the quarter-mark of the season, something is definitely wrong with your offense. He was a guy that will score you goals but he shouldn’t ever really lead a team in that category. I’ll get to Kovalchuk in a minute but the Devils had more guys than Kovalchuk that could have provided scoring last season. Zajac, Elias and Henrique all struggled with getting the puck in the net and that is something that has to be rectified this season.

Yes, Kovalchuk’s sudden retirement was a shock to the system but whenever I talk about Kovalchuk, I always find myself asking, did he really fit in here? I do give him some credit that he did try to change some of his game to fit into the Devils team-first attitude but there were still moments where you could see it was all about Kovy. The extra-long shifts that he took or spending the entire power-play on the ice or even the way certain shifts seemed designed to get him the puck at all costs, I never really thought he completely fit into our system. Truth be told, besides the 2012 run to the Cup Final, he didn’t really do much with his time here. Besides, that run was as much about Kovy’s success as it was Parise’s success, Henrique’s success and completely playing as a team. When you talk about what the Devils need to do in 2013/2014 to score goals, I really don’t think it revolves around the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk and who will fill his spot.

Guys like Michael Ryder and Jaromir Jagr are proven scorers and can certainly help this team in many areas. The one bright memory I have from last season was the play of Andrei Loktionov and I am certainly anticipating him to be a solid contributor this season and hopefully Adam Henrique can find the scoring touch that helped him become a Calder trophy finalist in his rookie season. I’d like to see Elias become a little more selfish and shoot the puck more this season instead of his constant need to pass up a shooting opportunity by trying to setup one of his teammates. The Devils also have some promising talent in their farm system and it will be interesting to see if guys like Joe Whitney or Reid Boucher are ready to make the jump/have an impact if they do?

We heard a lot about Reid Boucher last season but is he ready to make the jump?
We heard alot about Reid Boucher last season but is he ready to make the jump to the NHL?

Bottom line, the Devils have the ability to score goals and Peter DeBoer will have to find the right combinations to make New Jersey successful. Rolling four lines is an important key to being successful in this league, something both Chicago and Boston proved last season (as well as NJ in 2012) and something NJ will need to do this year.

WHAT IS THE NJ DEFENSE GOING TO LOOK LIKE?

The defense is going to be the the area I pay closest attention to during training camp. Last season the Devils carried eight defenseman on their roster and all eight of them found playing time throughout the season. This summer, the Devils shipped Henrik Tallinder back to the Buffalo Sabres which is a welcomed change by many. I’m sure fans wish that fate on a couple more of our defensemen but moving Tallinder was a positive start. Unless the Devils make any more moves with their defense prior to opening night, we know that Andy Greene, Adam Larsson, Marek Zidlicky, Bryce Salvador, Anton Volchenkov, Mark Fayne and Peter Harrold will be the defensemen on the roster. I wouldn’t be surprised to see NJ carry eight defensemen again this season with guys like Jon Merrill, Alex Urbom and Eric Gelinas trying to make the team but what if all have outstanding training camps? How do you make room? Is it bye-bye Fayne, bye-bye Harrold? This is a great problem to have because it means our defense could be strong and with the strong goaltending that I am expecting, the positives for 2013/2014 are starting to build up.

MY PREDICTIONS ABOUT THE “METROPOLITAN DIVISION”

The 2013/2014 NHL season brings along a realignment with it as the Devils are playing in the new “Metropolitan Division” (a name I STILL hate.) Making the playoffs will be an even tougher task than it has been in the past because only the top 3 teams in the division are assured of a playoff berth and we’ve added a number of teams to our division. The Penguins are still going to be the toughest competition in the division but the Islanders are hoping to build off of last season and certainly could do so while the Columbus Blue Jackets have made a number of positive changes with their roster. The Capitals seem to always find a way to sneak into the playoffs even when they seem out of the race. I would expect the Flyers to put together a little better season than they did in 2013 but not sure they’ve made enough positive changes as their defense and goaltending is questionable to me. The Rangers I believe will take a step backwards and the Hurricanes (who are always a thorn in the Devils side) could be on the lower part of the standings. So where does NJ fit in? As long as the Devils do well in their division matchups and don’t suffer any major injuries like they did last season, I would realistically think the Devils have a shot at a 4th place finish in the Metropolitan Division. See. I told you this division looks tough! Will that be good enough to find a spot in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Only time will tell but they will certainly be in the mix. I don’t see how finishing lower than 4th will translate into a post-season appearance so the Devils will need to battle every night, all 82 games.

While I am at it, I might as well give you my Metropolitan Division predictions and as you will see, this is a tough division:

1.    Pittsburgh Penguins

2.    New York Islanders

3.    Columbus Blue Jackets

4.    New Jersey Devils

5.    Washington Capitals

6.    New York Rangers

7.    Philadelphia Flyers

8.    Carolina Hurricanes
 

So that is my outlook for the season. Am I right on the money or am I way off? You tell me!!

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