Thursday, September 29, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: New Jersey Devils

Last year was a tale of two halves for the Devils. One half was an absolute disaster, the other was a nearly amazing comeback. Overall though, it combined to have the Devils missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996. Can new head coach Peter DeBoer take this team back to the postseason?

Strengths: The Devils are getting back a major piece in their jigsaw that they didn't have last season: Zach Parise. He can create major scoring opportunities for a team that had major scoring deficiencies a season ago. Combined with Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, and eventually some others including a healthy Travis Zajac, the scoring should improve for the Devils. It should help that they'll finally have a healthy defense corps, led by Henrik Tallinder, that they'll now allow fewer goals than they did a season ago, even more so with a healthy Martin Brodeur in net. It is a team in transition, and chemistry could be a key within DeBoer's system that he takes with him from Florida, and he should be able to do better in the swaps of NJ, mainly because he has more talent than he had in Florida, even in the season where the Panthers were a tiebreaker away from making the postseason.

Weaknesses: There is very little scoring depth behind Kovalchuk, Parise, and Zajac, and there needs to be development behind those guys in order to propel the Devils above the 3 top teams in the Atlantic. There isn't a bevy of options behind those guys, and now one unknown guy will have to step up in order to give this team a chance. Also, they need a patchwork defense corps to gel together, even though it is better than it was before, especially with newcomer Adam Larsson. And, can Marty Brodeur regain his past form, or will last season's Brodeur appear again, and cause struggles for this team?

Any Help Coming? Aside from Adam Larsson, there are some very good prospects in the system. D Jon Merrill has great upside, and projects to be a top pairing D-Man in the future. C Jacob Josefson is highly skilled, and has all of the tools to become a crafty top 2 centermen in his future, however he does need to add some muscle bulk. LW Mattias Tedenby is flashy and has plenty of skill and talent. He is small, but that means he can be crafty with the puck and he can shift in and out of checks to create plays.

Outlook: There seems to be too many questions for the Devils this season. It remains to be seen as to how an offensive system that DeBoer wants to implement will work in a place like New Jersey, where defense has been king. The overall depth on this team is in question, and whether they can consistently score is another big question. They would have to overcome a lot to make the postseason, and there is doubt as to whether they can do that.

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