Last season, the Devils came within one game of defending the Stanley Cup. This season, they will look to regain what was once theirs. The following article will summarize the goaltending, defence, and forward positions. That will be followed up with a team outlook for this season along with a prospect report.
Goaltenders: Once again, workhorse netminder Martin Brodeur, coming off his 6th consecutive 30 win season, will be the main man between the pipes for New Jersey. All though he had a sub-par playoff by his standards, he still remains one of the NHL’s most elite netminders. With the upcoming Olympic Games, Martin may elevate his game even further to prove that he deserves to be Team Canada’s starting netminder. Even though it has not been officially announced yet, former Boston College standout Scott Clemmensen looks to be Brodeur’s backup for this season. Not given much of a chance at the beginning of training camp, he out performed fellow netminders JF Damphousse, who was considered the favorite, and Frederic Henry to earn the spot. However, don’t rule out a rotation between Damphousse and Clemmensen, because odds are, Brodeur will play 65-70 games, and the rookies will need to get some playing time, be it in New Jersey or down on the farm with the River Rats.
Defensemen: Despite the fact that this group is starting to show it’s age, it remains one of the strongest defence cores in the NHL. Even at the age of 37, team captain Scott Stevens still continues to be one of the games most feared open ice hitters. He may have lost a step, but he still remains an above average defender. Third year man Brian Rafalski will look to improve on a 52 point sophomore effort that made him the sixth highest scoring blueliner in the league. He remains a key catylist on the Devils potent power play. If not for a contract holdout that cost him 19 games, slick skating Scott Niedermayer may have posted career highs in points. There is no reason not to expect the highly skilled Niedermayer to achieve that this season. Warrior Ken Daneyko returns at the age of 37. He has clearly lost a step, but his penalty killing prowess and leadership skills are what will keep the grizzled vet around. 1st team rookie All-Star Colin White blossomed into a mean and nasty defender last season and lead rookies in plus/minus with a +32. Replacing Sean O’Donnell is ex-Devil Tommy Albelin. At the age of 37, Albelin often goes unnoticed, but he gets the job done. With age starting to creep in on this crew, Sascha Goc looks to be the man that will be called upon to give Stevens, Daneyko and Albelin rest when they show signs of fatigue. The young, hard shooting Goc, who beat out fellow rookies Mike Commodore and Josef Boumedinne for the 7th spot, appeared in 11 games with the Devils last season and has the potential to be a solid two-way player.
Forwards: Even without 43 goal man Alexander Mogilny, who left via free agency for Toronto, this group still remains very potent and capable of putting fear in opposing goaltenders across the league. The number one line of Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott and Petr Sykora simply put, is one of the best lines in the NHL today. Elias, who set a new franchise record for points last season with 96, has just scratched the surface of his potential. He is one of the leagues elite left wingers, and is showing no signs of slowing down. His Czech partner in crime Sykora is coming of a career season as well which saw him reach the 80 point plateau. If not for some nagging injuries early in the season, Sykora more than likely would have cracked the 90 point barrier as well. All though he was limited to one pre-season game due to a hip pointer, Sykora should continue to get even better if he can stay healthy. The center of the line, Jason Arnott would have easily set career highs in points if not for an early season holdout. He has flourished since leaving Edmonton and should crash and bang his way to another high scoring season. Even though his point production dropped, Scott Gomez did not have as bad a second season as many think. He will though, have alot to prove this season without Alex Mogilny riding shot-gun. Mogilny’s departure will prove how good of a playmaker and player Gomez is, and he should be up to the challenge. One of his new linemates this season may be young right winger Pierre Dagenais. Hindered early in the pre-season with a shoulder injury, he posted 4 goals and 2 assists in the last three exhibition games, including a hat-trick to cement his status on the team. His skating still could use some work, but there is no doubting his scoring ability. He will be given the first chance to try and help replace some of Mogilny’s 43 goals. Gritty sparkplug Sergei Brylin, who flourished with more minutes last season, will play left wing on this line, unless he winds up with Bobby Holik. Speaking of whom, Holik, who may leave at the end of the season, is coming of a season in which his offense slipped, but his defence became even better. Vet Randy McKay may miss the first few weeks of the season due to injury, but when he returns, he is likely to play on Holik’s right side. Another newcomer to the fold is Swedish Elite League veteran Andreas Salomonnson. Not too much is known about the 27 year old 2001 draft pick, but with his ability to play all three forward positions and his solid two way play, he should find a role. Selke Trophy winner and underrated scorer John Madden will center a line with his penalty killing partner Jay Pandolfo and Turner Stevenson. Veterans Sergei Nemchinov, Jim McKenzie and youngster Jiri Bicek round out the forward corps.
Outlook: With the vast improvements the Philadelphia Flyers and the rest of the Atlantic Division made in the off-season, many think that the Devils may slip, and that is quite possible. But don’t write this team off as a legit Stanley Cup contender just yet. Many of New Jersey’s elite players are still in their prime and the hunger to get back to the Cup lingers. This team has proven over the last few years that they are a force to be reckoned with and this year should be no different. Anything less than another Stanley Cup will be considered disappointing for this franchise.
Prospect Report: The Devils organizational depth is still as strong as ever and there were many surprises at training camp that have the Devils thinking they may have more future NHL’ers than they thought. Even though he may have been beaten out by Scott Clemmensen, JF Damphousse proved that he still has a future in the NHL. Hot-shot prospect Ari Ahonen will get his first crack at North American hockey in Albany this year. Defensemen Mike Commodore and Josef Boumedienne are close to being NHL ready and will be ready to make the jump to the big club if needed. David Hale, Paul Martin and Matt DeMarchi will continue to play in the college ranks and should only get better. Among the surprises at training camp were forwards Mike Rupp, Stan Gron and Max Birbraer. Those three were not really considered to have huge NHL upside, but they proved this preseason that they indeed may have an NHL future. Joining those three in Albany will be Mike Jefferson and a host of other future NHL’ers who will begin their first pro seasons. Those include the likes of Brett Clouthier, Scott Cameron, small and skilled Brian Gionta and gritty Swedish forward Christian Berglund. 2001 First Round pick Adrian Foster is still in the process of rehabbing his abdominal injury and will return to the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades once fully healthy. Two others to keep an eye on this season are Russian’s Anton But and Aleksander Suglobov.