Hockey season is upon us with training camp opening for rookies today, and with that in mind it's time to start looking at who can and/or will make an impact for New Jersey this year. The Devils don't have the deepest prospect pool out there, but they do have some young players who they will be relying on to step up in the immediate or not-too-distant future for the club. So who can and who will take their game to the next level this season?
Something to Prove
Adam Larsson: The fourth-overall pick from the 2011 Draft now has two NHL seasons under his belt and he will have some pressure on him in his third to take a big step forward with his play. Larsson's results have been varied in his first two seasons, with him impressively handling big minutes as a teenager in his first and taking a bit of a perceived step back in his second. I think a most fans are relying on Adam Larsson to be a big part of the future of this defense. Proving that he can play consistent defense in his own end and use some of those puck-moving skills that were touted when he was drafted would go a long way to proving that he is.
Jacob Josefson: It's been a bit of a roller-coaster for Jacob Josefson over the past three seasons. Between injuries, up-and-down play, and some bad luck at times, it has been hard to get a handle on what to expect from Josefson in the long run. He seems like he has the skills and awareness to be a solid third line contributor, he just needs to stay in the lineup long enough to prove it. He may lack a good scoring touch, but he has shown good vision as a center at times, and has held his own defensively despite a litany of different linemates and tough minutes. If he can finally hold down a lineup spot this season and chip in a little more on offense, the Devils forward situation will be better for it.
Andrei Loktionov: When Loktionov came over in a trade for a fifth-rounder last season, he blew the doors off of everyone's expectations with points in five of his first six games and another streak of six points in seven games later on. These came in the midst of a season where the Devils often couldn't buy a goal, so people were understandably excited. The young Russian's career numbers, however, are just a notch above where Jacob Josefson stands, though, so he certainly has more progress to make. His possession numbers were pretty strong last year, even when playing with the otherwise-possession-negative Ilya Kovalchuk. If he can build on some of the highlights of last season, that would go a long way towards making this year's Devils a success.
Alexander Urbom: Urbom's time has been limited in the NHL, but the team has taken looks at him in three separate years now and some pressure is mounting on him to break through in what will be his age 23 season. By most reports, Urbom has been a strong defender up in Albany, but in a crowded system at defense, he will have to step up his game to shine through.
Rookies and Other Up-and-Comers
Eric Gelinas: Though he is in a similar boat as Urbom as an incumbent Albany defender, Gelinas is a bit younger and hasn't had the NHL opportunities that Urbom has had. Many feel that with his offensive abilities and the Devils' dearth of players with those skills at the top level, he may have jumped to the front of the line. Lou has expressed an interest in getting a young defender on to the roster this year and if Gelinas can make waves in camp, maybe we can see what the big defender has to show in the NHL this season.
Stefan Matteau: Matteau had an adventurous first season as a part of the Devils' organization. He started out with the big club last season, and while his contributions were limited, he never really looked overmatched. Later in the year he had a blowup with his junior club and ended up being released by his QMJHL team. Despite the troubles in junior, I think there are high hopes for Matteau to contribute at the NHL level. He is probably the player most likely to make the jump at forward in the event of an injury, and being another year older and having some NHL experience, perhaps he steps his game up a notch and impresses beyond just being "not a liability."
Jon Merrill: Of all the Devils' players who have yet to taste an NHL minute, I think most would consider Jon Merrill the most likely to break in and make an impact at the top level this year. The former Michigan defender has made the jump to full-time pro and most are impressed with what he brings to the ice both offensively and defensively. The competition to break into the NHL at D in the event of a spot opening up will be a hotly contested one, and Merril may just have the set of skills that could lead to him hopping over more established Albany prospects like Gelinas and Urbom. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out on the blue line this season.
Reid Boucher: As most around these parts know, Boucher broke the Sarnia Sting's goal-scoring record this past season in the OHL. He has a great ability to find the back of the net (something the Devils could certainly use), but there are many questions on whether he has enough of a well-rounded game to have success at the next level. There is always the outside shot that Boucher tears up the AHL and forces his way into the lineup in New Jersey, but for the time being, he will probably be working on adjusting to the pro game in Albany.
Adam Henrique: Obviously, Henrique has already made some big contributions for the Devils, but after a bit of a sophomore slump and a shiny new contract, Henrique needs to make an impact this year.
Damon Severson: Severson has been extremely impressive on the blue line in the WHL, but the CHL-AHL agreement makes his jump a little more difficult than others. If he blows people away in camp, it's still possible he ends up in New Jersey.
Reece Scarlett: Reece Scarlett has similarly performed well in the WHL his last few seasons, but as a 20-year-old, he will be able to make the jump to Albany this season. There's a chance he wows in camp, but he is likely to get some seasoning in the AHL before he has a real shot at the lineup.
Tim Sestito: Loads of talent, could be a real difference-maker in New Jersey.
Mattias Tedenby: There have been many, many words devoted to Mattias Tedenby here at ILWT over the last few seasons. He's going to have to make an impact to earn any more from me.
So those are my thoughts on the young Devils' outlooks this season, and while we have touched on many of these players in the past couple weeks, what are your expectations for everyone in this upcoming season. Any surprises you see coming out of camp? Anyone you expect to disappoint? Other players you think need a big year? Let yourself be heard below in the comments. Thanks for reading and WELCOME BACK, HOCKEY.