It really seems all but inevitable at this point. By the time this article is published, we will be 13 hours away from another work stoppage in the NHL. Rather than write about the lockout itself, or which side is right and which is wrong, I'm going to try and focus on some positives. I feel there are actually some Devils who can benefit from a potential lockout. Now, absolutely none of them will benefit monetarily, of course. Developmentally, however, there could be an upside for some young players in the organization. At the same time, there will also be some younger players (and a couple veterans) who will potentially not benefit from this inevitable scenario.
Since there is nothing we can do to change the course, let's focus on one place where there will be hockey very soon - Albany. The AHL will go about business as usual with training camps set to open on September 28th. There will be one minor difference, however. Many young players who would potentially be playing at the NHL level will now be skating for their team's respective AHL affiliates, providing an increase in talent level and some potentially very interesting hockey. One downside to this scenario is that players slightly farther down the depth chart will not have the same opportunities they ordinarily would have. Stay with me after the jump as I talk about some younger Devils who will potentially be playing in Albany next season, and who will reap the most benefit from this situation.
According to TG, the Devils placed 7 players on waivers today with the intention of them joining the Albany Devils. This was a relatively small amount, as some organizations seemingly optioned nearly entire rosters to their AHL affiliates. Placed on waivers were goaltender Jeff Frazee, defenseman Jay Leach and forwards Bobby Butler, Tim Sestito, Matt Anderson, Chad Wiseman and Steve Zalewski.
Almost certainly all of these players mentioned, except for Butler, were destined to spend the season in Albany anyway. In my opinion, Butler will do just fine to spend some time in Albany. By all accounts, he is a talented young player who needs to find his game again in some ways after a disappointing last season. Butler can play on the top line down in Albany. He will log major minutes, including power play time, and still play potentially alongside Adam Henrique and / or Jacob Josefson, two NHL quality centers. This could be a great opportunity for Butler to get his game back on track. Perhaps he can also shore up his defensive skills a little bit, but I'm not going to hold my breath on that one.
There are four other Devils of note who do not require waivers to go to Albany. According to Lou Lamoriello, a decision has not yet been made whether they will be assigned or not. The decision will be made on Saturday. regarding Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby, and Adam Larsson. I am expecting the Devils to announce tomorrow that all four will be joining the Albany club as well. I would be particularly shocked if the three Swedes were not optioned to Albany. Reason being, the next natural place for any of the three to play is at home in Sweden in the SEL. The SEL is only offering full year contracts. In the event the lockout is short, I think the Devils would be well suited to avoid the possible scenario of losing any of them for the whole season. I think Henrique will be sent to Albany as well because he is a young player still on his original ELC. It makes more sense for the organization to exact some control over how he spends his lockout time.
Update: According to TG, The Devils now have officially assigned a total of 24 players to Albany. The 7 mentioned previously who cleared waivers and 17 more -- Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson, Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson, Keith Kinkaid, Scott Wedgewood, Maxime Clermont, Brandon Burlon, Mike Hoeffel, Eric Gelinas, Alex Urbom, David Wohlberg, Mike Sislo, Harri Pesonen, Dan Kelly, Harry Young, and J.S. Berube.
Out of the four NHLers included in this list, I think Jacob Josefson potentially has the most to gain from a season in Albany. Josefson is a talented young two way center who has excellent skating ability and vision. He is such a smooth skater, it is easy to overlook how fast he is. He is good with the puck, a natural playmaker, and defensively responsible. Josefson has played parts of the last two seasons at the NHL level and performed adequately, at times showing flashes of his great potential. His possession numbers have been strong. In fact, he had the second highest Corsi on the team last season, although he was well protected both in terms of zone starts and competition.
Probably the major question with Josefson is can he stay healthy throughout an entire season. He has missed roughly half the games over the past two seasons due to 3 major injuries. Obviously, this is concerning. Jacob needs to show that his durability is not as big an issue as it currently seems to be. It seemed that every time the young man was just starting to find his stride, he would be derailed by an unfortunate injury. This has prevented him from logging the experience in special teams situations and ice time that he otherwise would have gained. Now, in Albany, I would expect Josefson to pull top line minutes every night, as well as play consistently on the power play and the penalty kill. This will be invaluable experience to the youngster that he would not have available right now at the NHL level.
Regarding Josefson's injury history, it goes without saying Jacob would love to put these unfortunate happenings behind him and shed the injury-prone tag. I am cautiously optimistic he can do it, and here's why: all of the three major injuries he suffered were somewhat freak isolated incidents. First, was the detached ligament in his thumb, suffered in October 2010 @ San Jose. Second, was his broken clavicle, suffered in October 2011, also against San Jose. This injury was the worst of the three, and occurred when he lost an edge and slammed full speed into the end boards shoulder first. The third was a fractured wrist, which occurred against the Islanders when Jay Pandolfo's stick struck him full speed right under the glove on a slap shot follow through. So, with such an injury history, why am I optimistic, outside of the fact that he can't play against San Jose while there is a lockout? First, none of these injuries are chronic or joint related. It's not like the kid has had 2 or 3 surgeries on a knee or shoulder. His injuries seem to more be of the bad luck variety. Breaking bones stinks, but he is young and they heal up just fine.
I think it is safe to say that we are all hoping Jacob's luck turns for the better. He is one of my favorite Devils, which any of you who may have looked at my avatar probably realized. I'm sure some people are not nearly as optimistic as me about his ability to stay healthy, and that's understandable. Regardless, I think we are all hoping for the best. I think top line minutes, potentially playing alongside Bobby Butler, Mattias Tedenby, and maybe even Adam Henrique will be just what the doctor ordered for the young potential star.
The player next in line to benefit from Albany is Adam Larsson. Larsson had a very solid rookie campaign overall. We all know how he struggled to regain his form after the bruising hit from PK Subban that kept him off the ice for several weeks. Larsson only saw spot duty after that, but played pretty well in the few instances he got the call in the playoffs. Overall, his possession numbers are decent - he faced average competition and was about even in zone starts. These ok numbers should be viewed as quite good when considered he was merely 18 years old when the season started. Larsson can play at the NHL level, no doubt, and would see significant minutes this season with the big club. Still, he can benefit even more from Albany in my opinion.
Larsson will undoubtedly be a part of the top D pairing with the A-Devs. Also, he will be utilized significantly on both the power play and the penalty kill in Albany. I doubt he would see much special teams time at all with the NJ Devils. He has the talent, but there is such a logjam at the blueline. Zidlicky will take up most of the time on the first PP unit, with Fayne likely next on the chart. When it comes to the penalty kill, Fayne and Andy Greene will eat a lot of minutes there. Salvador and Tallinder are probably next in line. I would expect Larsson to play on the top unit for both PK and PP in Albany.
Larsson doesn't necessarily have anything to prove, but he needs to show he is taking the next steps in his development. He can accomplish this goal just fine in Albany while playing big minutes. Also, it could be a great opportunity for Larsson to regain any confidence lost late in the season. He can establish himself a little more physically. Larsson has excellent size and strength for a 19 year old, and he will certainly not be overmatched like he was at times against stronger, more physical NHL players. Now it's possible that Larsson could pair with Alexander Urbom in Albany, but I would like to see him alongside Eric Gelinas. Both Larsson and Gelinas are smooth skaters and excellent puck movers. This could be a sort of glimpse into the future of the NJ Devils blue line just a year or two down the road.
Another player already at the AHL level who could benefit from having Larsson in town would therefore be either Eric Gelinas or Alexander Urbom. One of these two will almost certainly get the chance to play alongside Larsson on a nightly basis. The other will be forced to the second pairing, probably to partner with Brandon Burlon. Gelinas would be my choice for several reasons. One is that Gelinas is not quite as far along in his development as Urbom, but he has showed a tremendous upside. His ceiling could possibly be higher than Urbom, but it's tough to say at this point. Let's find out. Also, Urbom is probably the better defensive player right now, so pairing him with Burlon gives you more balanced pairings. Things could just as easily go the other way, however, with Urbom playing alongside Larsson, relegating Gelinas to the second pair. Either way, one of the two will benefit from Larsson playing in Albany, the other will not. I would expect this decision will be based on their respective training camp performances.
Next on my list of lockout beneficiaries is Mattias Tedenby. Teddy struggled pretty mightily to find his game last season, and often got himself in Pete DeBoer's doghouse through his poor defensive play and sometimes very questionable positioning and decision making. Also, the diminutive Tedenby seemed at times to lack the necessary strength to maintain possession when challenged by bigger players. Hopefully, he packed on 5-10 pounds of muscle and comes into Albany a bit stronger this year. He has a flair for creating some exciting plays, but without the fundamentals or finish to back up the flair, his flashes of exciting play often amounted to nothing, or in some cases worse, if an advantage was gained by the opposition.
As mentioned, Teddy is not a strong possession player or defensive player. These are two areas he needs to work on. He should play on one of the top two lines in Albany this season, possibly on the left side of Josefson. This should be helpful for Teddy, since the two have some experience together. Also, Josefson is a solid defensive player, hopefully some of this will rub off on his fellow Swede.
This upcoming season was potentially looming as a huge season for Tedenby, sort of a "make or break" situation, if you will. He was expected to compete in training camp for a job with the big club. If he failed in this endeavor, it would not have been good news for Mattias. This is a ton of pressure for a young man who's future career (at least with New Jersey) would probably have come down to how well he performed in the earliest part of the season. Now, some of this pressure is taken off his shoulders. He will have the opportunity to start the year in Albany and get into a groove playing alongside some NHL caliber players. I think this should be a huge relief in some ways to the young man. If and when the NHL season begins, he can hit the ground running.
Lastly, we come to Adam Henrique. I think Henny has the least to gain out of any of those mentioned above by a season in Albany. He has already proved he can play top six minutes in this league, and do so at a more than serviceable level. He scored 51 points in his rookie season and held his own playing mostly between two highly talented linemates. Henrique was not really protected in any way, and came out ahead in possession.
Henrique already kills penalties very well and received significant penalty kill minutes last season. He was probably slated for big power play minutes this upcoming season as well. If you ask me, Adam has very little left to prove that should not be done at the NHL level. Still, he will not necessarily be hurt by the season in Albany. He is still young and only has two professional seasons under his belt, one in Albany and the other in the NHL. Also, he will play alongside other NHL caliber players for the most part.
One way that Adam can benefit significantly from Albany is if the Devils decide to try out the Henrique at left wing experiment this season. Albany would be a great place to do so. The Albany Devils can field a top line of Henrique - Josefson - Butler, which could be very exciting to watch. Also, Adam can get up to game speed at the new position since he will be logging big minutes in all situations.
If the Devils decide to go with this plan, it will benefit Henrique, but possibly at the expense of Tedenby who would lose the opportunity to play alongside an NHL quality pivot. If both Henrique and Josefson play on the same line, Teddy will probably have to spend most of his time playing alongside David Wohlberg or perhaps Steve Zalewski.
I really don't foresee the Albany Devils being too crowded up front as a result of the 4 potential additions to the lineup. We all know the team is pretty thin on forward prospects anyway. I could be wrong here, but my understanding is the few decent ones they have such as Wohlberg and Hoeffel should be suited just fine by playing on the second line. The other guys are mostly depth. If they happen to lose playing time, so be it. If Tim Sestito gets less ice time, is it really going to hurt the organization? Steve Zalewski appeared borderline serviceable (maybe just south of that level) at the very bottom of an NHL roster last season, but I think what we see is what we get at this point in his career. I wouldn't be overly concerned if he lost some ice time.
I just wanted to mention one more Devil who is not necessarily considered a youngster anymore, but is relatively new to the big club. Poor Stephen Gionta. I would say he makes out the worst out of any of the Devils as a result of the lockout. He just signed the first one way contract of his career, and now he won't have the opportunity to earn an NHL size paycheck. Also, being on a one-way contract, he is not eligible to be sent down and play in Albany. He won't even be earning his Albany sized paycheck. The second year of Stephen's deal is a two-way, so there is no guarantee he will be earning NHL money in the future either. Every day the lockout drags on represents an unfortunate circumstance for Gionta as his window of guaranteed money closes. Hopefully he is able to find work overseas in the meantime.
In summary, it doesn't seem to me like many of the Devils young players will be too negatively affected by the potential situation in Albany. In fact, I think it will benefit most of them to varying degrees depending on how things play out. Some of the depth players in Albany could find their ice time reduced, but they will still earn their paychecks. It is of small significance to me personally or, more importantly, to the Devils organization as a whole if Jay Leach or Chad Wiseman or Tim "Energy!!!!!!1" Sestito don't see the ice as much.
How does everyone else feel about the situation? Am I overlooking any young players of note who could be affected either positively or negatively by this lockout? Thanks very much for reading and please sound off with your questions and commentary.