For a team coming off a Stanley Cup Championship, there are quite a few openings, most notably on the blueline, where three spots are there for the taking.
The Devils signed quite a few prospects during the off-season, and many of them will be making their debuts at some point during the pre-season. There will be some new faces come opening night, but it will take training camp and the pre-season to decide who makes the final cut.
The Devils were busy in this department, signing a handful of prospects to contracts over the summer. Many of the prospects to put signatures on their first professional contracts are of the high profile variety.
Crossing the border to North America are a couple of Finns, budding power-forward Tuomas Pihlman and winger Ilkka Pikarainen. Also making the trek to North America is the enigmatic, but offensively-gifted Russian winger Alexander Suglobov. The Devils will not have many openings up front this fall and as a result, the most likely scenario will see all three rookies spending the majority of their time in Albany with the AHL River Rats. Of the three, Pihlman stands the best chance of making an impact this season.
A trio of blueliners either graduated or left the college ranks for the much greener pastures of the NHL, and all three stand a good chance at making an impact with the Devils this fall. Scott Stevens clone David Hale left North Dakota, and a pair of Minnesota Golden Gophers, Paul Martin and Matt DeMarchi also left the college ranks to begin their professional careers.
While the Devils top four on the blueline are set, the other spots are up for grabs. Gone from last year are Oleg Tverdovsky, Ken Daneyko and Richard Smehlik. Tommy Albelin will be in camp without a contract, and if not on the opening day roster, he will be offered another spot in the organization.
Battling for the last three blueline openings along with Hale, Martin and DeMarchi will be minor-league vet Raymond Giroux, free agent signing Sean Brown, and Albelin. Brown, due to his experience alone, stands an above average chance of making the final cut, but the other two spots are still up in the air. Whomever performs the best during the preseason will likely make the opening night roster, but odds are most of the aforementioned players will probably all see action in New Jersey at some point during the season.
Up front, as mentioned earlier, not many spots are there for the taking. Stanley Cup hero Mike Rupp is the rookie most likely to play a role of any major significance with the Devils in 2003. Depending on how he fares in camp, he could play anywhere from the second to the fourth line. With the recent pick up of Igor Larionov, Rupp be eased into whatever role he is given.
Someone to keep an eye on
A potential dark horse to crack the Devils line-up is oft injured, but supremely talented center, Adrian Foster. After battling injuries and only seeing action in only nine games last fall for the River Rats, the Devils will no doubt be intrigued as to what a 100% healthy Foster can do. They will not rush him, but if he has an outstanding camp, he could surprise and make the team.