In the previous two seasons, the Devils had rookie forwards Zach Parise and Travis Zajac make instant impacts in their first full NHL seasons, and this season was no different, as right winger David Clarkson found a home on the Devils fourth and sometimes third line. He quickly emerged into an effective checker and agitator extraordinaire, while occasionally chipping in with offense.
Clarkson, an undrafted free agent signing by the Devils back in 2005, was expected to be a front runner to make the team after making a solid impression in a brief trial run with the Devils in 2006-07, and he did not disappoint in training camp, quickly becoming a favorite of new Devils bench boss Brent Sutter with his energetic and abrasive style of play.
Clarkson was only scratched once, playing in 81 of 82 games for the Devils, and when in the line-up, he contributed in a variety of ways. He scored nine goals and 13 assists, was a +1, and easily led the team in penalty minutes with 183. Even when Clarkson wasn’t putting up points, he was quite effective in being able to get under the opposition’s skin, by playing a relentless physical style. It’s safe to say that what you saw from Clarkson this year, you will likely see again next season, but with the possibility of maybe putting up a few more points.
With the way Andy Greene finished the 2006-07 season, there was little doubt that he was going to open next season in New Jersey. However, there were also expectations that he would be able to help fill the shoes of offensive defenseman Brian Rafalski, who left as a free agent over the summer and though he did play well in spurts, he did not have as good a season as was hoped.
He started the season as a regular, but when the Devils picked up Sheldon Brookbank on waivers early in the season, it created more competition on the blueline, and Greene began to see himself shuffled in and out of the line-up. And when the Devils traded for Bryce Salvador at the trade deadline, it gave the Devils nine healthy defensemen, making it even harder for Greene to get in the line-up on a regular basis. He did get plenty of opportunities and usually played upwards of 20 minutes a night, but his struggles in the defensive zone often made it an easy decision for Sutter to sit him.
In 59 games, Greene scored two goals (both of which came on the power play) and eight assists, recorded an even plus/minus rating and 22 penalty minutes. He suited up for the first two playoff games against the Rangers, but was replaced in the line-up for the last three games by Vitaly Vishnevski. His mobility and puck skills were quite evident when he played, but he failed to get into an offensive grove. While he still has a future in New Jersey, his inability to play consistently defensively last year will make this fall’s training camp one where Greene has to work his way back into being a regular in the Devils top six group of defensemen.
Rod Pelley made the Devils out of camp as the team’s fourth-line center, and though his ice time was often limited, he put in a solid effort each night. He was smart and responsible in his own end of the rink, and wasn’t afraid of playing a little physical.
Around mid-season though, Pelley was held out of the line-up, as the coaching staff felt his intensity had wavered. Mike Rupp replaced him in the line-up and down the stretch and into the post-season, Pelley was the 13th forward only being called upon to play if an injury hit the regular group of forwards.
In 58 games, he scored two goals and four assists and posted a -3 rating. Pelley established himself a decent checking line forward at the NHL level, but his upside is fairly limited and he isn’t likely to get much better. However, with Pelley’s defensive acumen, and the return of unrestricted free agent forwards Sergei Brylin and Jay Pandolfo no sure thing, he has the opportunity to play a key role on the team next year.
Two other rookie forwards made cameo appearances in New Jersey with the big club this past season. Former top pick Nicklas Bergfors made the Devils opening night roster, but suffered a shoulder injury in that game that sidelined him for over a month. Upon his return to full health, he was dispatched back to Lowell. He will again compete for a full time spot in the Devils line-up next season. Barry Tallackson was called up on an emergency basis on a couple of occasions last season, but failed to make much of an impact in three games. He is a restricted free agent, and his time with the organization may have come to an end.