This year at Devils training camp, there will be many battles for open positions on the big club. Among them are the back-up goaltender position, the 7th defenseman spot and the most important of all, two forward positions, including the one that Alexander Mogilny and his 43 goals left vacant after leaving for the Maple Leafs. Here is breakdown of the position battles, who the candidates for the open positions are and what they have to offer.
Battle #1: Back-Up Goaltender
For the first time in a while, the man chosen to back up Martin Brodeur will not have any NHL experience under his belt. Martin seemed to show signs of wear and tear in the finals last year so finding a quality back-up that the team can have confidence in is very important.
Early favorite: JF Damphousse as it stands right now is the favorite to win the back up job behind Brodeur. JF, the Devils ’97 1st rounder, put up very respectable numbers for a weak Albany River Rats AHL squad last season (2.86 GAA and .914 Sv%). The agile, butterfly style goalie has earned the first chance to win the back-up spot due to his strong play last season.
Others to watch: The club is very high on 20 year old Finnish prospect Ari Ahonen, who is bar none, the team’s goaltender of the future. However it would be better for him to get a full season of pro experience in Albany, rather than only play in 15 or so games at the NHL level. If Ari does out perform JF though, the Devils may have no choice but to give him a shot. Frederic Henry is a long shot at best right now, but he has the most pro experience (3 years at Albany) of any of the back-up goaltending candidates, so he will be given a long look in training camp as well. Boston College standout Scott Clemmensen is also a long shot at this point, but could emerge as a darkhorse.
Battle #2: 7th Defense Spot
With age starting to creep in on many of the Devils regulars on the blueline, youth will start to be injected this season as the Devils will look to fill the 7th d-man spot from within, even though Tommy Albelin was signed. The only problem is that he is 37 as are Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko. The Devils have plenty of candidates, and they may be used often this season to provide rest for the aging Devils defense core.
Early Favorite: Right now, there are no clearcut favorites, but there are three candidates who have set themselves apart from the others. Those three are Mike Commodore, Sascha Goc and Josef Boumedienne. These three defensemen will more all than likely see NHL action at somepoint this season.
Commodore and his 6-4, 225 figure bring an element of size, strength and toughness to the blueline. One advantage Mike has is his impressive 20 game NHL stint from last season in which he looked very poised for a rookie. Commodore and Colin White could be a very imposing duo for NHL forwards. His one weakness is his puck handling, but that will surely improve as he gains more experience. Goc brings more of an offensive element to the table. He has a cannon of shot (he won the Devils hardest shot competition) and has the size (6-2, 225) to make an impact in the NHL. He is a solid skater and has future power play QB written all over him. He did get into action with the Devils for 11 games but was returned to the minors for more seasoning. He appears to be ready now. Boumedienne is the only one of the three who has not had a taste of the NHL. That does not however decrease his chances of making the team. He made his North American debut last season and was named to one of the AHL All-Rookie Teams. Boumedienne is the most well rounded defensemen of the bunch as he brings elements of physical play, strong skating, great puck handling skills and an excellent shot. He has definite upside as a puck rushing rearguard, but must learn to harness his aggression.
Others to watch: This appears to be a three man race but players such as Andre Lakos and Scott Stevens clone David Hale could make an impact with a strong training camp.
Battle #3: 2 Forward Spots
Replacing Alexander Mogilny’s 43 goals will not be easy. The Devils have some young, promising forwards that are ready to make an impact in the NHL, but they will not replace Mogilny, nor should they be expected too.
Early Favorites: This is another tightly contested battle, but right now, three names come to mind. Pierre Dagenais, Brian Gionta and Christian Berglund.
Early favorites: Dagenais is the most experienced of the 3, but he is 23 and is running out of chances to impress the Devils brass. He didn’t look out of place in a 9 game stint with the big club. He a pure sniper with a wicked shot, but is still a weak skater, hence the Dave Andreychuk comparison. This in all likelihood is his last chance. Gionta may be small (5-8, 170), but he makes up for it with loads of offensive skill. He has above average speed and an excellent shot. He does not let his lack of size deter him. He could become the next Theo Fleury, but he may not be ready for NHL just yet. Berglund is a typical Devils prospect in that he is solid at both ends of the rink. He brings a little of everything to the table. He has good offensive potential, above-average skating and knows how to play the physical game as well (142 PIM last season). He however may need some time to adjust to the North American game.
Others to watch: Jiri Bicek is small, skilled forward who plays a solid two way game. He had been is Albany for the last 3 seasons, so this may be his final chance to stick with the Devils. Another guy to watch is 2001 draftee Andreas Salomonsson, an overage European who played in Sweden last year. He signed a one-way contract with the team so the Devils obviously have intentions of giving him a long look during training camp. He is a sound defensive forward who can also chip in with offense now and then.
Unlike last season, there are many jobs up for grabs and it will be interesting to see what transpires during training camp. If I were to predict who sticks, I would say that Damphousse wins the back-up spot, Commodore on the point and Dagenais and Salomonsson up front.