The off season is always an interesting for the NHL, particularly for the teams that didn't qualify for the playoffs during the past season. Our New Jersey Devils sadly fit that bill, but it put them into a different group; it put them side by side with 13 other teams that all want to spend the the summer making their team better in hopes that their next season won't end in early April. These teams can get better through a variety of factors; there's always the ability to trade, trying to deal from a position of strength in the organization to address a weakness. Free agency, which will have begun by the time this article is up, is a good way for teams that don't have a lot of money invested in their current roster to try to improve. There's also the homegrown option; players that have been developing on AHL and junior teams can be invited to training camp, in hopes of jumping upon the big stage for the coming season.
It's no secret that the Devils needs to score more goals this season in order to not repeat their dismal average of 2.4 goals per game that saw them sit 27th in the league. While the Devils have a glut of forwards currently, the possibility exists of there being a few line-up spots available, becoming available. So let's assume the worst for the sake of this article; Ryane Clowe won't be ready for the season opener, training camp/preseason play leads to a few injuries and a player or two on the current roster is/are traded. What do they do? Who should the Devils rely on to fill the holes? I present to you
The A-Team The Replacements The Expendables five forwards who excelled last season in Albany that I couldn't find a cool name (that wasn't already taken) for.
The Trek Down I-87
Albany's 2013-2014 campaign saw them make the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-2010 season when they were still the Lowell Devils. While losing their opening round series 3-1 certainly wasn't what the team was hoping for, it was a positive step for a minor league club that hadn't gotten out of the regular season for four years. Another positive would have to be the goal scoring; Albany lit the lamp 220 times last season (23 more than Jersey's Devils), with our five forwards combining for 92 (42%) of them. I would like to introduce those five men now, with the help of this handy stat chart courtesy of The Official Albany Devils website:
Now I know what some of you are thinking; three of these men played for the New Jersey Devils last season; I will give you that two of them saw limited action for the team, but as I said in my audition piece, I still don't consider Joe Whitney receiving eight minutes of action to be a chance to contribute to the team. If the team clears roster space with a trade at any point, or the injury bug bites hard next year, Joe Whitney, Kelly Zajac, Mike Sislo, Scott Timmins and Reid Boucher should be the forwards within the organization that get a chance to attempt to contribute. Let's take a quick look at what each can bring individually.
Whitney got a quick cup of coffee of last season with New Jersey that would result in nothing except for this memorable photo from the Devil's Instagram account. Despite his diminutive stature (he's only 5'6" for those who don't know) he has led Albany in scoring the past three years. In his three seasons in Albany, he has already surpassed all other players to be the franchise leader in points.
His numbers have been trending upward every season, as has his shootout percentage. His NHLE for last season would only put him at around 26 points, but with the team we had last season, that would still be good enough to tie for ninth in overall scoring. His frequent line-mate Scott Timmins had this to say about Joe:
He's one of the most skilled players I've ever played with," said Timmins, sounding more like Whitney's agent than his linemate. "Playing with him is a blast. We always seem to know where each other are on the ice. I've never clicked with a player like that before.
So perhaps if Jersey's Team needs to call up a couple of players at the same time, Whitney and Timmins should be the package deal the Devils look into.
I'd love to write a small blurb on Albany's second leading scorer, but the fact is Karen already wrote a full article on him a little over a month ago. She did a wonderful job profiling Travis' younger brother, so if you haven't yet, head over and read it now; it'll do Kelly better justice than I ever could.
Sislo appeared sparingly in New Jersey last season, playing in fourteen games spread out across two call-ups. Averaging under 10 minutes a game, and mostly playing on the fourth line, Sislo did not register any points for the big club. Down in Albany was another story, as Sislo set a career high in goals (his 23 led the team for the season as well) and tied his career high in assists. His NHLE has his estimated at about 25 points, however his time in New Jersey proves that NHLE may not always be as reliable as it appears to be.
From watching Mike play during the season, he always shows a good amount of hustle; some time with players with a bit more skill might be what he needs to record his first NHL point. His new contract seems to imply at the very least that he'll be given one more shot at the big time should the need arise.
Albany coach Rick Kowalksky would speak prophetically of Timmins before the 2013-2014 AHL season began, stating:
We have to see where he fits in [here]. We saw him a couple of years ago in Rochester when Florida was there. Not a lot on him; potentially looking at him to be a two-way guy for us. It gives us a little more depth in the middle. He's a guy who has had a taste of the NHL, so maybe a change of scenery and a new opportunity might be what he needs right now.
Timmins got a second lease on his career so to speak this year; his tenure with the San Antonio Rampage was marred with controversy due to his arrest for breaking into a home while intoxicated. He was written off as the player that we had to take in order to get rid of Krys Barch; he would turn that stigma into a thirty-nine point season while missing some games due to injury.
His 23 point NHLE is the lowest among the five players being reviewed here (just below Kelly Zajac's 24), however this was the most points Timmins ever posted in an AHL season. Perhaps one more change of scenery from Albany to New Jersey could mutually benefit both.
Boucher played the least amount of games in the AHL out of this group due to spending 23 games playing in New Jersey, where he notched a decent 2 goals and 5 assists in limited play time. The most encouraging part of Reid's stats was his 22 goals scored through the 56 games he spent in Albany. Maybe I should call that the second most encouraging part; his ability to actually score in the shootout unlike the rest of the Devils could perhaps be more uplifting.
Boucher exudes a positive attitude about his game, and when speaking of this past season, he seems to knowthat he still has room to improve and grow:
I thought it was a good year. I wanted to do a little bit more points wise. Overall, it was a good year. I learned a lot and had fun.
Reid's NHLE puts him right in between 24 and 25 points, which is close to the numbers he was posting during his time in New Jersey. There's still a lot of pressure on Boucher to score more, due to him breaking Steven Stamkos' goal scoring record while playing for the OHL's Sarnia Sting. If we want to continue the Stamkos comparison, it's worth noting that he had some growing pains during his rookie season as well; there's still plenty of hope for Reid to blossom into the sniper New Jersey needs.
If Their NHLE's Turn Out Accurate...
...then icing some combination of these forwards would be better than some of our regulars that saw plenty of action last season. The only thing is the NHLE for each player might not be accurate unless the player is getting first or second line minutes, and with the way the roster is shaping up after July 1st's free agent signings, those minutes won't be there.
However the fact remains that these five players could contribute on a fill-on basis if given the opportunity. None of them will likely be a savior on skates that will take the team all the way to the Stanley Cup, but depth can't be underestimated in today's NHL. These five can provide us with that depth, and that alone should be a reason to give them a look when needed this coming season.
Just a quick note that I will be away from the 2nd through the 5th so a few details in this article may be out of date by the time it goes live, and I will not be able to respond to any comments until I return home on the 5th. I'd also like to wish everyone a safe, happy and healthy Fourth of July. Let's Go Devils!