Just like last season, the New Jersey Devils biggest impact rookie was a former first-round draft choice and North Dakota Fighting Sioux alum. Last season is was Zach Parise making a big splash in New Jersey and this season it was center Travis Zajac.
The Devils went into training camp without a legitimate second line center, and though there was hope Zajac would be able to step right in after only two years of college hockey and no minor league experience, the common thought by most was that Zajac would be best served to apprentice in the AHL with the Lowell Devils before making the jump to the big club.
However, Zajac enjoyed a strong training camp and preseason, made the cut for the Devils opening night roster and did not look back from there. It didn’t take him long to make an impact as he scored his first NHL goal in the Devils second game of the season in Dallas against the Stars. The 6’2, 200 lb. Zajac suited up in 80 games, missing only two contests back in the first month of the season due to a thigh injury.
In those 80 games, Zajac tallied a respectable 17 goals and 25 assists which was good enough to place him seventh among NHL rookies. He finished with a +1 rating and averaged just over 16 minutes of ice time a game. He formed a dynamite second line in New Jersey with the sophomore Parise and veteran Jamie Langenbrunner. Zajac was solid and steady at both ends of the rink and even saw time on the second power play unit, where he put up six goals.
Among the highlights for Zajac in his first NHL season was a three-assist performance in a November game against Ottawa and his first career two-goal game in February against Philadelphia. He also put together an impressive eight-game point scoring streak as the season wound down in late March.
A short mid-December recall to the swamp gave the Devils a glimpse of what Andy Greene could offer and with the trading of David Hale to the Calgary Flames at the NHL’s trade deadline, a spot became open on the Devils blueline. The Devils felt that Greene was ready for full-time NHL duty as he was recalled from Lowell and logged regular minutes on the blueline.
The former Miami of Ohio Redhawk in only his first pro season adjusted remarkably well to the pro game in the AHL with Lowell, earning a spot on the AHL All-Star team. In 52 games in Lowell, Greene scored 5 goals and 16 assists.
In 23 games with the Devils, Greene scored a goal and five assists and saw regular duty on the Devils second power-play unit. He has provided the Devils with sound two-way play and showed the poise of a veteran, looking calm and cool under all circumstances.
Twenty-five-year-old first-year defender Johnny Oduya made a significant impact with the Devils after signing as a free agent in the offseason. The swift-skating Swede suited up in 76 games, and scored two goals and nine assists.
There were a handful of other rookies who suited up for the Devils this season. Right winger David Clarkson brought his energetic and rambunctious style to New Jersey after the big club ran into a rash of injuries and did not look out of place scoring three goals and an assist in seven games. He is a serious candidate for full-time NHL duty next fall.
First year pro Rod Pelley had a couple of brief NHL cameos and looked fairly comfortable suiting up for nine games, providing good defensive play and showing that he may have an NHL future as a checking line forward.
Another first year pro, defenseman Mark Fraser saw only spot duty in his multiple recalls from Lowell, but appeared to become more and more comfortable each game. He suited up in seven games and showed that he is not afraid to get his nose dirty by getting in a scrap with NHL heavyweight Chris Simon in a physical game against the Islanders.
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