Coming into the 2005-06 season, the only rookie expected to make a significant impact in New Jersey was the top rated prospect in the system, former 2003 first round draft choice Zach Parise. Enforcer Cam Janssen was the only other Devils rookie to see significant time in New Jersey, while a handful of others saw brief action with the big club early on in the season.
Zach Parise, C
HT: 5’11 WT: 185 lbs
Draft: 2003 (1st round, 17th overall)
Parise, who had just completed his first pro season in the AHL with Albany where he finished second in team scoring and fifth in rookie scoring with 58 points, did make an impact with the Devils, albeit not along the lines of fellow rookies Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Parise’s play improved as the season progressed, especially in the second half of the year, as he and the team gained more confidence and rocketed up the Eastern Conference standings.
It didn’t take long for Parise to hit the scoreboard as he recorded the game-winning goal and an assist in a season-opening win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. After that game, Parise’s play was inconsistent, as was his ice time throughout most of the first three months of the season as the Devils limped into the new year. Under former coach Larry Robinson, Parise struggled to find a role on the team and was often playing limited minutes on the Devils fourth line. When GM Lou Lamoriello took over the head coaching duties, he increased Parise’s ice time and over the course of the rest of the season, Parise slowly but surely got out of his early season funk and started to show improved play at both ends of the rink.
At the Olympic Break, Parise had eight goals and 20 points to go along with a not so great -10 rating, mostly playing on a line with the versatile Sergei Brylin, and grinder Grant Marshall. Parise had began the season as a center, his natural position, but his minor struggles defensively prompted a move to the wing, where he appeared to be much more comfortable. After the Olympic break, Parise played some of his best hockey, as he scored six goals and six assists for 12 points in 23 games, and improved from a -10 to a -1.
While Parise progressed and improved in the defensive aspects of his game, part of the reason for a jump in his plus/minus rating was a change in his linemates. In an effort to spread out the scoring on the team, Lamoriello opted to break up the trio of Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta in March, and the big benefactor of that move was Parise, who was promoted to the top line, playing left wing with Gomez and Gionta. Parise finished the regular season playing in 81 of New Jersey’s 82 games, and he recorded 14 goals, five of which were game winners, and 18 assists for 32 points.
Parise did not have as big an offensive impact in his rookie season as many had prognosticated, however, his season still has to be considered a resounding success. Parise’s game is only going to get better as he develops more physically and gets more NHL game experience under his belt. Though Parise has been playing left wing for the majority of the season, the Devils would still likely prefer that he plays his more natural center ice position in the future. However, the Devils now have the knowledge that Parise can play the wing if necessary, so should the Devils feel the need to keep him on the wing, they know that he will be comfortable in that role.
Cam Janssen, RW
HT: 6’0 WT: 205 lbs
Draft: 2002 (4th round, 117th overall)
The biggest surprise among rookies this season in New Jersey had to be the energy and spirited play that Janssen brought to the team. Though for the most part only playing very limited minutes on the fourth line, Janssen’s physical presence and spunk would often provide a lift to the team when they needed a spark. Whether it was a fight, or a shift full of crashing and banging, Janssen did not hesitate to make himself noticed.
Janssen’s impact on the score sheet was next to nothing, aside from the 91 penalty minutes he racked up as he suited up for 48 games and did not record a point. Janssen preferred to make his impact physically, along with fellow fourth liners Jason Wiemer and Erik Rasmussen. Janssen is not ever likely to put up much in terms of scoring, but the type of energy he can provide the Devils with is an invaluable asset that Janssen will hope to provide next season and beyond.
A trio of other rookie forwards saw brief and limited action with the Devils during the 2005-06 season. Third year pro Tuomas Pihlman and first year pros Barry Tallackson and Jason Ryznar saw action in 11, 10 and 8 games respectively at forward. Tallackson, who has the best offensive upside of the three, and Pihlman, both scored their first NHL goals and also added an assist, while Ryznar was held off the scoresheet. Expect all three to challenge for roster spots in Devils training camp next season.
After a 13-season affiliation, the Devils have severed ties with their top AHL affiliate, the Albany River Rats, and announced the purchase of the Lowell Lock Monsters franchise that will now be home to the pro prospects of the New Jersey organization. The Lock Monsters housed the top prospects of both the Carolina Hurricanes and Colorado Avalanche this past season.
There will be two new faces in the system next season, both undrafted NCAA players who played out their college eligibility and signed with the Devils. Miami University of Ohio defenseman Andy Greene and Boston College right winger Stephen Gionta, the younger brother of current Devil leading scoring Brian Gionta both will be part of the Devils new AHL affiliate in Lowell next season. Greene is undersized at 5’11, 180 lbs, but is well rounded. Greene showed the ability to produce offensively, averaging almost 30 points a season, as well as defensively as evidenced by his winning of the CCHA’s defensive defenseman of the year award this past season. The 5’7 180 lb Gionta scored a career-best 11 goals and 32 points in his final season at BC and made quite a splash in a handful of games with the AHL’s River Rats scoring five goals and an assist in three games, including a hat trick in his pro debut.
Another player that will join the Devils new AHL affiliate next season is former 2004 first round draft choice Travis Zajac. The 6’2, 205 lb centerman decided to turn pro after only two years at the University of North Dakota. Zajac scored 17 goals and added 27 assists for 44 points in 45 games in helping lead the Fighting Sioux to a berth in the NCAA’s Frozen Four Tournament.
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