The New Jersey Devils open training camp for their 26th NHL season on Sept. 13th in West Orange, New Jersey.
The Devils took a few major hits in the off-season, namely losing No. 1 center Scott Gomez to the arch-rival New York Rangers and top offensive defenseman Brian Rafalski to the Detroit Red Wings. While it wasn’t possible to replace the production that those two players brought to the table, the Devils brought in the likes of Danius Zubrus, Karel Rachunek and Vitaly Vishnevski to help try to fill those two areas of need.
Since New Jersey chose to fill the majority of their off-season needs via free agency, plus returned a large amount of their supporting cast from last season, there won’t be a ton of roster openings available.
David Clarkson is the prospect who stands the best shot at cracking the Devils line-up on a full-time basis this season. Based on his performance in the AHL the past few seasons, combined with his outstanding showing in his brief NHL stint last year, the abrasive right winger is almost a near lock to make the team out of training camp. His energetic style, combined with his ability to contribute at both ends of the rink makes him the prototype New Jersey Devil. The addition of Arron Asham and re-signing of Mike Rupp will provide Clarkson with some competition, but expect him to make the final cut.
Though he is not technically a prospect due to his age (27) and in theory not a roster lock, the Devils signed Finnish centerman Jari Viuhkola with the intent of having him making an immediate impact on the team. Viuhkola is a cerebral pivot with great playmaking skills and if he is put with the right type of wingers, he may put up some impressive offensive numbers. Viuhkola possesses the two-way skills that the Devils covet. At worst, expect him to contribute in a fourth line capacity, but he should be capable of more if the Devils choose to put him a different role.
With the signing of Viuhkola, the likelihood of center Rod Pelley making the team diminished somewhat. The hard-working checker had a great rookie pro season with Lowell of the AHL this past season and did not look out of place in a couple of re-calls to New Jersey. It would not be shocking to see him make the team out of training camp, but the most likely scenario has him riding the shuttle from Lowell to New Jersey on a regular basis as the top injury recall.
On the blue line, the Devils expect Andy Greene to pick up where he left off last season. Thrust into the line-up after the trade of David Hale, Greene made a seemingly smooth transition from college hockey, to the AHL, to the NHL all in one season, playing like an experienced vet, rather than a fresh-faced rookie. A sound two-way defenseman, Greene will be expected to help pick up some of the offensive slack from the blue line along with Paul Martin with the loss of Rafalski. He showed in the final quarter of the regular season and the playoffs that he has the tools to make an impact in that area. By the end of the regular season, don’t be surprised to see Greene playing a top four role.
Mark Fraser is on the cusp of becoming an NHL regular, but with the depth the Devils have at the big league level on defense, he will be in tough to make the team out of training camp out this season. The stay-at-home behemoth made a good impression during a mid-season recall to replace Colin White last year and should be the first defender to be recalled from Lowell should injuries arise in New Jersey.
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