Devils Putting All Their Eggs in One Basket
Ah yes, training camp time. It’s a time for giddiness, excitement, but more importantly, it’s a time for speculation. There was plenty of that as the New Jersey Devils opened camp this week, especially after the offseason debacle that was the Ilya Kovalchuk contract situation.
That’s all in the past now (to the delight of every single hockey fan in the world), so the attention now turns to the important stuff. You know, the actual on-ice stuff. Rookie head coach John Maclean has already made a few headlines in the first day of camp by moving Kovalchuk from his natural left wing position to right wing, in order to fit him on a line with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac.
That’s right, Maclean wants 41-goal-scorer Ilya Kovalchuk and 38-goal-scorer Zach Parise to be centred on a line by playmaker extraordinaire and 42-assist-man Travis Zajac. Now that’s what I call putting all of your eggs in one basket.
Or is it? The news of a Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk line was shocking, even to me, but when you take a look at the Devils complete roster, it’s a pretty smart decision. The Devils have the strongest depth at all three forward postitions than they’ve probably ever had before.
The second line would stand to be Patrik Elias and captain Jamie Langenbrunner centred by the re-acquired Jason Arnott. Earlier this year, promising young prospect Matt Halischuk was deemed expendable due to the depth that I mentioned. It was the same story for Niclas Bergfors, who was the centrepiece of the package Atlanta received for Kovalchuk. If the Kovalchuk long-term contract didn’t give it away already, Lou Lamoriello is fully engaged in a “win-now” mentality which prompted the Halischuk + 2nd round pick trade to bring Arnott back to Jersey. Arnott is now reunited with one of his former linemates in Elias, and the team is banking on the chemistry between the pair returning to what it was during the glory days of the early 00s.
The first day of camp also saw exciting, young Jacob Josefson on a line with Dainius Zubrus at left wing and David Clarkson at right wing. Another experiment from John Maclean that could pay huge dividends if it works out as planned. The 6 foot, 180 lb Josefson could be the target of intimidation, as he is playing his first season in North America. Zubrus would provide the size that the line desperately needs, and Clarkson has the type of intensity and grit that gives Brian Burke wet dreams.
That leaves Brian Rolston, who happened to suffer a leg injury on the first day, still looking for a couple linemates to cling to. Essentially, Vladimir Zharkov, tough guy Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Rod Pelley, Alex Vasyunov, Mattias Tedenby, and any other forward invited to camp are fighting over the two remaining jobs. Pelley was centring a line with Vasyunov and Tedenby early in camp as well, but time will tell if that unit sticks together. There’s also a possibility that the Devils somehow bury Rolston’s contract in the minors, which would free up about $5M in cap space and another forward slot.
All of those names fighting over only a couple of spots means one thing; Some pretty darn good players are going to be sent down to Albany. I didn’t even mention guys like Adam Henrique and Nick Palmieri, who both have outside shots at making the team. Depth like that hasn’t been seen in this organization in years, and that’s what gets me excited. It’s enough to make the loss of a third-round draft pick this year and a first-rounder in one of the next four seasons due to Kovalchuk-gate look like a slap on the wrist.
Things are certainly going to be interesting as camp progresses for the Devils, and I will have my eye on it every step of the way. New Jersey kicks off their pre-season schedule on Tuesday with a game against the Flyers