New Jersey Devils Set to Surprise?
By Kristin Tullo (@K_Tullo)
It’s not unusual for the New Jersey Devils to be written off as a non-contender before the drop of the first puck, but this year more than most the Devils have been predicted to be a bottom feeder.
When Zach Parise opted to return to his home state of Minnesota upon becoming a free agent, the Devils loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 6 where the Kings captured their first Stanley Cup, suddenly seemed minuscule How would the Devils ever be able to get back to that point without their captain and consistently high-producing left-wing?
Along with Parise, the Devils recently parted ways with Petr Sykora, a two-time Stanley Cup champion who signed with the Devils last summer and contributed 44 points,while playing in every regular season game. Combined, the two former Devils scored 52 goals, goals that the Devils will have to find ways to produce if they want to return as a contender, but may be easier to find than some may think. The Devils may have lost their captain but they have plenty of players to pick up the slack in the wake of Parise’s departure.
Travis Zajac was held to just 15 games last season after undergoing surgery to repair an achilles tendon, before returning for the playoffs where he competed in all 24 games en route to the Stanley Cup Final, scoring seven goals, including the overtime-winner in game six against the Florida Panthers in the first round. Jacob Josefson, who has been riddled with injuries over the past few seasons, missed half of the season due to a broken clavicle before being sidelined once again, after breaking his wrist in April. When he is healthy, Josefson has proven to be effective, pitching in eight goals and 12 assists in the AHL this season, and will provide the Devils with a solid third line presence at the center position
The Devils will also get offensive help from two returning players in David Clarkson and Steve Bernier. Clarkson is coming off of a career-high season where he found the back of the net 30 times, finishing with 46 points under first time Devils head coach, Pete DeBoer. A coach that Clarkson had played for previously when both were part of the Kitchener Rangers team of the Ontario Hockey League. Bernier, though the scapegoat for the Devils loss in Game 6, was rewarded for his hard work when he received a contract offer from the Devils over the summer. In the shortened season where the Devils will need everyone to pitch in, Bernier may find himself in a bigger role than the one he was asked to play last season as a bottom six forward. While playing on the fourth line alongside Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta, Bernier scored seven goals and added seven assists in 24 playoff games.
With $14 million left in cap space and the option to add Stefan Matteau or Mattias Tedenby, the Devils offense may not be as depleted as it seems without the help of Zach Parise. A team composed of good scouting and free agency picks up, the Devils may surprise the doubters as they have done so many times before.