Lowell Devils 2008-09 season preview

By Jared Ramsden

After making a push for the post-season the previous year, a lack of goal scoring, combined with sub-par defensive play led to predictably poor results for the Lowell Devils in 2007-08. Those factors resulted in the team finishing at the bottom of the AHL‘s Eastern Conference standings with a disappointing 25- 43–7–5 record, and yet another post-season miss.

While there will be a few familiar faces returning for the upcoming season, there was a fair bit of roster turnover, with the addition of some new minor league veterans, along with a handful of first-year pros looking to make an instant impact. It’s hard to predict what kind of results to expect from the team this year, but the potential is there for the club to at least improve on last season’s paltry 62 points in the standings.


Forwards

Though the final cuts the parent New Jersey Devils have yet to be made, last season’s leading point getter Petr Vrana is still with the big club, and while nothing is set in stone, he appears to making a strong push to make the opening roster. If he indeed doesn’t return, look for the bulk of the offense up front to come from Niklas Bergfors and seasoned minor league veterans Jon DiSalvatore, Chad Wiseman and Pascal Rheaume, who is back for his fourth tour of duty with the organization. Bergfors was expected to challenge for a  full-time gig in New Jersey, but with no spots appearing to be open in the current group of top-six forwards, he will at least start the season in Lowell. Bergfors struggled with injuries last season, which led to sub-par numbers. Look for him to rebound this time around.

Though no longer eligible as a prospect at Hockey’s Future, Barry Tallackson will also be counted on to provide offense for Lowell. It is also possible that Fedor Fedorov will suit up for Lowell, but he has been given permission to seek a trade to another organization, and must clear waivers before being sent down.

There are a quartet of forwards making their first foray into their pro careers and looking to make some noise and contribute right away. The most promising of the four appears to be Matt Halischuk, who is coming of a memorable 2007-08 season, a season that saw him rise from relative obscurity as an average prospect, to a guy who could challenge for a spot in New Jersey as soon as next season. Look for him to make an impact in Lowell with his hard-working, two-way game. Speedy winger Vladimir Zharkov didn’t get a chance to strut his stuff very often while playing in Russia the past two seasons, but will be given much more ice time in North America, which should immensely help his development. The other two forwards, left winger Brad Snetsinger and center Michael Swift, both of whom signed as undrafted free agents with New Jersey last season, will look to carry over the success they each had in their respective overage OHL seasons, to the pro ranks.

Other players returning from last season include Patrick Davis, who is looking to break through offensively in his third full pro season, AHL veterans Stephen Gionta, Ryan Murphy and Benoit Mondou, along with enforcer Pierre-Luc Leblond, who has been among the biggest surprises at the Devils training camp thus far. Brad Mills and Tyler Burton, two forwards signed to ATO’s near the end of last season, will likely ride the AHLECHL shuttle.

Defense

There are a few returning players on the blueline, but for the most part, this area of the team will look drastically different than it did last season. Two of the Devils top defense prospects, Matt Corrente and Tyler Eckford, are the headliners of the new faces in Lowell. Corrente, who was thought to have a good chance at making New Jersey’s opening night line-up, struggled somewhat during the pre-season, so he will be begin his pro career in the AHL. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though as he will get lots of minutes and a chance to play in all situations, something he probably wouldn’t have been afforded had he opened up the season with the big club. Eckford, who led all NCAA defensemen in scoring last year, should bring an interesting dimension to the mix for Lowell, with an intriguing package of size and offensive skill. While still a little rough around the edges defensively, the Devils will be patient with him and not rush his development.

Returning on the blueline for Lowell is Mark Fraser, Olivier Magnan and Rosario Ruggeri. Fraser is going into his third full AHL season, and will be looked upon to provide leadership to players such as Corrente and Eckford. The tough as nails Fraser has almost reached his development peak and will not need much more time on the farm. Magnan is also going into his third pro season and should be set up for his best season yet and he slowly becomes a more well-rounded player.

New veterans to the fold include Jay Leach and Matthew Spiller, both of whom along with Fraser, should provide leadership and steady play from the back end.

Another newcomer, 24-year-old Finnish blueliner Anssi Salmela is having a fantastic training camp in New Jersey with the Devils, and at this point will likely break camp with the team. He may see some time down on the farm later on in the season, but at this point, he will first get a chance to strut his stuff at the NHL level.

 
Goaltending

Out are Frank Doyle and Jordan Parise and in are Scott Clemmensen, who returns to the team after a one-year pit stop in the Toronto organization and prospect Jeff Frazee. Frazee had a forgettable junior season at the University of Minnesota last year and will look to get his career on track now that he has turned pro. Clemmensen and Frazee will likely split the goaltending chores to start the year, but should Frazee play well enough, the parent Devils would likely like to see Frazee get the bulk of the playing time to help fast track his development. Dave Caruso, who played well for Lowell at points last season, is in the mix as well. The odd man out will go to Trenton in the ECHL.