Lowell Devils 2007-08 season preview

By Brian Messenger

In their first year as the AHL affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, the Lowell Devils finished with the eighth best record in the Eastern Conference in 2006-07. Though 88 points weren’t enough to qualify for the postseason out of the Atlantic Division, Lowell finished with a record of 38-30-6-6, winning more games than any non-playoff team in the league.

Looking to build off of their inaugural campaign, Lowell’s success in 2007-08 may be linked to the health of their parent club, as a number of top prospects will likely see time at both levels. Injuries to several New Jersey Devils during training camp prompted key cogs in the franchise’s next wave of talent to see NHL promotions a bit earlier than anticipated. With holes to fill on the farm team if the youngsters stick in New Jersey, Lowell will skate with six AHL rookies on its roster this year.

Forwards

Starting the season in Lowell will be a crop of forwards highlighted by right wing Barry Tallackson, center Petr Vrana, and left wing Patrick Davis.

The 53rd overall pick in 2002, Tallackson plateaued statistically in his second year as a pro and will be counted on to use his size and skill more consistently as a contributor in Lowell’s offense attack. At 6’4 and 210 lbs., the native of St. Paul, Minn. and Golden Gopher graduate has hovered around the 35-point mark in his first two seasons with the Devils farm club.

Without more production in AHL season number three, Tallackson’s stock will drop. Any significant jump in scoring will surely see the 24-year-old playing at least a few games with New Jersey for a third straight year.      

Vrana, an alternate captain with Lowell last season, was drafted in the second round (43rd overall) in 2003 by the Devils. Also entering his third pro season with the franchise, 2007-08 should be a pivotal year for the Czech centerman. Chosen by the Devils after scoring 37 goals and 83 points in 72 games in 2002-2003 with Halifax of the QMJHL, Vrana has yet to reproduce similar numbers since that first of three seasons in junior.

The 5’10 Vrana had 13 goals and 19 assists last year with Lowell after coming off a 35-point rookie season in the AHL. But probably more important than his offensive numbers this year will be his development as a potentially pesky two-way player, something Devils brass would surely love to see.  

Davis, a fourth-round pick in 2005, will continue his development after an injury-hampered rookie season with Lowell. With five goals and 13 assists in 41 games last year, a healthy campaign will be the best possible thing for the Michigan native.

Undrafted forwards Rod Pelley and David Clarkson are two notable contributors to Lowell from last year who will start the season with New Jersey, as will the franchise’s top-rated prospect, right wing Nicklas Bergfors. Each logged 60 games or more at the AHL level in 2006-07, while the trio contributed a collective 99 points. Barring standout rookie years in the NHL from all three, it’s likely that additional seasoning in Lowell is in store this year for one or more of the forwards in 2007-08.

Pelley, signed as free agent by the Devils in the summer of 2006, put up a 29 points with Lowell in 65 games during his pro debut last year, tops among rookies scorers on the team. The center also played nine games with New Jersey and averaged just under 11 minutes of ice time per contest.

Clarkson, after two years of playing right wing in the AHL, scored three goals and added an assist in seven games with New Jersey last season. His 20 goals for Lowell last year were second best on the team.

Bergfors, New Jersey’s first-round pick (23rd overall) in 2005, is projected as a top-six forward. The Swedish right wing tallied 13 goals and 19 assists with Lowell last year.

Defensemen

With Andy Greene opening the season with New Jersey, nearly all of the Devils top defensive prospects will start the year in places other than Lowell. Veterans Ian Moran and Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre will anchor an AHL blueline that also includes Mark Fraser and AHL rookie Sean Zimmerman.  

Fraser played seven games in New Jersey last year and could see another promotion over the winter. Drafted 84th overall in 2005 by the Devils, he will be a major contributor in Lowell this season. A physical stay-at-home defenseman, the 6’4 21-year-old will benefit from another full season in the AHL after just two seasons in the OHL with Kitchener.

Sean Zimmerman, selected in the sixth round in 2005, played one game with Lowell in 2006-07 after wrapping up his fourth year with Spokane of the WHL. The Colorado native also joined Team USA in the World Junior Championships last winter. The 20-year-old must improve on his skating and puck handling in what should be his first full AHL season. After scoring a career high 21 points in 2005-06 with the Chiefs, Zimmerman’s production dropped to 14 points last year, though he played 12 less games.

After splitting time between the ECHL and AHL last year, Olivier Magnan, selected in the fifth round in 2006 by the Devils, will also be called on to contribute. With three seasons in the QMJHL under his belt, Magnan had a goal and nine assists in 45 games with the Trenton Titans of the ECHL. In Lowell he logged 24 games last year.
 

Goaltenders

With Martin Brodeur and Kevin Weekes carrying the load in the NHL and top goalie prospect Jeff Frazee honing his game at the college level, it will be Frank Doyle and Jordan Parise splitting the duties in net for Lowell.

Parise saw more time in the crease as last season wore on, his first out of North Dakota, and finished with a 17-12-2 record. His 2.68 goals against average was eclipsed by Doyle’s 2.56 mark, though both had identical save percentages of .915. Doyle also played in 17 more games than Parise and allowed 40 more goals on the year.

This could be Parise’s year to steal the starting spot. If bloodlines count at all in the Devils franchise – and they should with New Jersey’s new head coach Brent Sutter taking over the reins – then Parise should develop nicely if given enough time to improve his game. The older brother of New Jersey Devil left wing Zach Parise, Jordan Parise is one of four players on the Lowell roster related to well-known Devils. Forwards Mike and Mark Pandolfo and Stephen Gionta are the others in that category.

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