Devils training camp preview

By Jared Ramsden

The New Jersey Devils open training camp for their 25th NHL season on Sept. 14 in West Orange, New Jersey.

After a spectacular finish to the regular season which saw the Devils win 11 straight games to capture the Atlantic Division crown, the playoffs ended much earlier than the Devils would have liked after losing in five games to the eventual Stanley Cup Carolina Hurricanes in the second round.

There are a few openings up for grabs, but just how many positions are available is still up in the air as Devils GM Lou Lamoriello must figure out how to get New Jersey under the salary cap before the start of the regular season. The trimming of more expensive veterans off the roster would open the door for lower salaried rookies to make the team.

Arrivals and departures

The Devils signed a handful of prospects to their first pro contracts towards the end of the season and into the summer. The most notable prospect to sign was center Travis Zajac who is currently the Devils second highest ranked prospect on Hockey’s Future. He decided to forgo his final two years of college eligibility at the University of North Dakota to turn pro and suited up in two games for the Devils former AHL affiliate in Albany at the end of last year.

The Devils went to the NCAA to sign a handful of collegiate free agents to add to the system. Former University of Miami Ohio defenseman Andy Greene stands out as the most prominent addition to a Devils team lacking in quality defense prospects. Also signed out of the NCAA was former University of North Dakota goaltender Jordan Parise, the older brother of current Devil forward Zach Parise, University of Ohio centerman Rod Pelley and Boston College right winger Stephen Gionta, brother of the Devils leading goal scorer from last season Brian Gionta. Gionta had a splashy debut in Albany, suiting up in the River Rats final three games, and netting five goals (including a hat trick) and an assist for six points.

Also now under contract are a trio of 2005 draft choices, all from the CHL. The Devils signed offensively gifted left winger Patrick Davis, and defensemen Mark Fraser and Sean Zimmerman. All three could return to their respective junior clubs as overage players, so how they perform during training camp will likely decide whether or not they play in the AHL with the Devils new affiliate in Lowell or return to the CHL.

No longer with the organization are left winger Ahren Nitteland defenseman Matt DeMarchi, who were both not tendered contracts by the Devils. Goaltender Josh Disher failed to come to terms on a contract before the 2006 NHL draft, making him an UFA.

Available roster spots

There are a few spots open on the Devils roster, but just how many spots are available is still somewhat up in the air. As of this writing, the Devils are still well over the league imposed $44 million dollar salary cap, and have yet to sign defensemen Paul Martin, David Hale and last season’s leading goal scorer Brian Gionta. With Jason Wiemer (knee) and Richard Matvichuk (back), likely to placed on injured reserve to start the year, that will alleviate some of the cap crunch the Devils face, but New Jersey will still be forced deal a roster player or two to get under the cap before the season starts. That could increase the amount of available jobs both on the blueline and up front.

Regardless of whom the Devils may have to deal, there will still be competition for one or two jobs at forward. Barry Tallackson and Jason Ryznar both received some on the job training in New Jersey over the course of last season and figure to battle hard for roster spots at training camp. Tallackson may have an edge at this point because he brings a little more to the table offensively than Ryznar. He was one of Albany’s most consistent forwards throughout last season and when he’s going full tilt, is a load to handle. Cam Janssen despite his limited skill, earned a roster spot as a fourth line agitator last season but will have to hold off Tallackson and/or Ryznar to keep his job. They will also be up against training camp invitees but experienced NHL’ers Jim Dowd and Dan LaCouture.

The Devils will also keep an eye on arguably their top two prospects in their system and how they show during camp and the preseason. Both Niklas Bergfors and Travis Zajac have top six potential and may be best served to at least start the season in the AHL with Lowell. However, should one or both of them have a strong showing during camp and the preseason, the Devils would be hard pressed to demote them.

As the youngest player in the AHL, Bergfors had a splendid pro debut, leading all active Albany players in scoring with 17 goals and 40 points. New Jersey’s 2005 first round draft pick has rocketed through the system and looks likely to make an impact in New Jersey sooner rather than later. Due to the Devils lack of centermen, Zajac may be given an opportunity right away in New Jersey despite only having only played two collegiate seasons and only a handful of pro games in the AHL. Zajac’s size and two-way ability are outstanding, and ensure an NHL future. It is up to Zajac to prove to the Devils whether that future starts this season.

With Richard Matvichuk likely out until at least December, there is a job opening in the top six group of defensemen. The likely candidate for this job is Andy Greene, though he will be in a battle with training camp invite Scott Lachance, an experienced NHL defenseman who spent last season in Europe. After collecting a lot of hardware in his final collegiate season, Greene’s solid two-way skills and maturity could allow him to skip the AHL and start his pro career in the NHL with the Devils.

As of early September, the Devils have yet to sign a back-up for Martin Brodeur. The leading candidate for this job is last season’s caddy to Brodeur, Scott Clemmensen. It would take an amazing training camp by Jordan Parise to be considered a legitimate option backing up Brodeur this year. Not only does he have to leap past Frank Doyle on the depth chart, he is only going into his first pro season.

Preseason schedule

Sun. Sept. 17th BOSTON 1:00 p.m. (@ Lowell, Mass.)
Tues. Sept. 19th NEW YORK RANGERS 7:30 p.m.
Wed. Sept. 20th @ New York Rangers 7:00 p.m.
Thu. Sept. 21st @ Philadelphia 7:00 p.m.
Sun. Sept. 24th @ Washington 5:00 p.m. (@Hershey, Pa.)
Thu. Sept. 28th PHILADELPHIA 7:30 p.m.
Sat. Sept. 30th @ New York Islanders 7:00 p.m. (@ Bridgeport, Conn.)

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