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New Jersey Devils 2014-2015 Season Preview Part 1: Forwards

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We preview the most maligned position group for the Devils to start the season. We have little top end talent at the forward spot but have a wealth of depth. We look at last year and preview this year in the first of the Season Preview Series.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

At In Lou We Trust, we like to preview each position for the season so that the ILWT community can get phased back into the season. Today we start with a forwards group who came under scrutiny last year after the team finished with 197 goals, 1 away from the league low (if you don't include the Sabres ... which you shouldn't). Today we look at the stats from the last year and see what's changed so that we can prepare for the upcoming season

What's Changed?

For a nice change, we didn't lose any important players from last season at this position. All of the changes seem to be positive ones which has actually led to a bit of a logjam at the position. We have some additions via free agency as well as the maturation of some young players to look forward to.

The additions in free agency at the position were Mike Cammalleri and Marty Havlat. Cammalleri is a goal scorer from Calgary who was brought in to help the Devils deficiency in that area as well as provide a steady presence in the shootout (11/41 lifetime), an area in which the Devils were historically bad last season. Marty Havlat is someone who used to be a very productive player, but was probably brought here more because of his friendship and experience with Elias. They have played together in the preseason already and look to be paired up to start the regular season.

Also making possible appearances on the roster this year are some of the younger guys, mainly Reid Boucher. He also helps in the shootout area being the first in 30 attempts to score for us last year and one of only 2 by year's end (he also scored the lone SO goal against the Islanders in the preseason). Boucher played well in both Albany and Newark last year being a leader in the AHL and contributer in the NHL. As every Devil must, Reid proved to be a reliable possession player at the NHL level coming in at 3rd on the team in 5v5 Corsi % and 2nd in Corsi For per 60 behind only Tuomo Ruutu.

Speak of the Devil (see what I did there?), Tuomo Ruutu has now had an offseason to play with this team and he was a stellar possession player who even played with the first line at times last year. Having a full season of him will be interesting to see. Also in that catagory is Ryan Clowe. Clowe was behind only Elias and Jagr in P60 (points per 60 minutes) and if we could somehow squeeze 60+ games out of hime that would go a long way.

Aside: We have some camp tryouts in Scott Gomez, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Jordin Tootoo that will try to make enough noise to get on the roster, but I don't see that coming to fruition.

2013-2014 Season

These statistics were retrieved from War on Ice and display the 2013-2014 statistics from all Devils' forwards currently under contract. This used to be listed as a WebApp, but we received complaints about it loading improperly so if you would like to see that you can do so off-site

F_Name L_Name pos team Games G A P
Jaromir Jagr R N.J 82 24 43 67
Travis Zajac C N.J 80 18 30 48
Michael Ryder R N.J 82 18 16 34
Patrik Elias L N.J 65 18 35 53
Damien Brunner C N.J 60 11 14 25
Tuomo Ruutu C CAR/N.J 76 8 15 23
Ryane Clowe R N.J 43 7 19 26
Steve Bernier R N.J 78 3 9 12
Adam Henrique C N.J 77 25 18 43
Reid Boucher C N.J 23 2 5 7
Mike Sislo R N.J 14 0 0 0
Rostislav Olesz C N.J 10 0 2 2
Ryan Carter C N.J 62 7 3 10
Tim Sestito C N.J 16 0 3 3
Cam Janssen R N.J 24 3 0 3
Mattias Tedenby L N.J 15 1 0 1
Jacob Josefson C N.J 27 1 2 3
Dainius Zubrus R N.J 82 13 13 26
Stephen Gionta R N.J 66 4 7 11
Martin Havlat R S.J 48 12 10 22
Mike Cammalleri C CGY 63 26 19 45

The guys at the top of this list are probably not that surprising. Jagr was the offensive leader of the team (though Elias scored more points per 60 minutes) coming in first in assists and only one goal behind Henrique for leader in that category. Jagr also lead the team in Corsi%, GVT, Point Shares, and any other metric you care to use. Though it doesn't show as much on the stat sheet, Zajac was also an extremely important player for us if for no other reason than he and Jagr were among the leagues best tandems. We had no 30-goal scorers which is not a good thing (#hardhittinganalysis). Double digit goal scorers in order of goals were: Henrique, Jagr, Elias, Zajac, Ryder, Zubrus, Brunner. Ryder got a bad wrap last year because of his unfathomable cold streak but he did tie for 3rd on the team in goals and actually led it at one point so him rounding into form will be an important part of this year.

As far as time on ice is concerned, Zajac is the workhorse of this team because of his dependability. Jagr played the second most per game among forwards and held it up for an 82 game season which at his age is bordering on black magic. Time on ice also reveals that the coaching staff had a clear top 5 forwards. In order of TOI, they were Zajac, Jagr, Henrique, Elias, and Zubrus. Yes Dainus Zubrus still logs 17.7 minutes per game, a minute and a half more than the #6 forward. Cammalleri will be an obvious addition to this top 6 as he is used to putting in over 19 minutes.

Below is the more advanced stats broken down into corsi PS and GVT. Please see my Catch-All Statistics series for elaboration on what PS and GVT are and for further analysis as to the teams production in them. Again, the sortable table can be found here.

F_Name L_Name pos team Games Corsi Rel% Corsi% PS GVT
Jaromir Jagr R N.J 82 6.97 59.17 8.7 14.3
Patrik Elias L N.J 65 0.92 54.77 6.1 10
Adam Henrique C N.J 77 -1.88 53 5.8 10.2
Mike Cammalleri C CGY 63 6.54 50.7 5.5 9.8
Travis Zajac C N.J 80 6 58.53 5.2 8.5
Michael Ryder R N.J 82 -1.61 53.26 3.7 4.3
Martin Havlat R S.J 48 -3.24 50.54 3.2 5.8
Dainius Zubrus R N.J 82 -0.36 54.14 2.4 4.7
Damien Brunner C N.J 60 -1.84 53.61 2.4 2.2
Ryane Clowe R N.J 43 -2.69 52.15 2.3 1.5
Tuomo Ruutu C CAR/N.J 76 0.04 52.14 1.2 -0.3
Reid Boucher C N.J 23 3.96 57.37 0.7 1.8
Ryan Carter C N.J 62 -4.73 51.13 0.6 1.2
Cam Janssen R N.J 24 -5.05 49.38 0.6 1
Stephen Gionta R N.J 66 -4.67 49.84 0.2 2.3
Tim Sestito C N.J 16 -5.5 52.5 0.2 0.4
Jacob Josefson C N.J 27 -5.41 50 0.1 0.6
Rostislav Olesz C N.J 10 2.44 53.96 0 0
Mike Sislo R N.J 14 3.78 59.77 -0.2 -0.6
Mattias Tedenby L N.J 15 -8.69 46.7 -0.3 -1.4
Steve Bernier R N.J 78 -2.03 52.75 -0.3 -2.6

I mentioned earlier how Boucher's Corsi performance jumps off the sheet and how more playing time for him in the near future would be a welcomed addition. However, the most important thing I'd like to point out is how our new guys performed. Cammy's Rel Corsi would have placed him as #2 on the team and his PS and GVT make him squarely in the top 6 forwards. Havlat was a bargain at $1.5 mil and he is just outside our top 6 in PS and GVT so he may be an underrated addition.

Henrique is a stud in the catch-all statistics and the argument could be made he is the 2nd best forward on this team behind Jagr. However, he is a bit of a black sheep because his possession numbers are below average and that will get you in the doghouse fast if your in NJ.

Bernier was re-signed but these stats say that he probably shouldn't have been. He finished in the top 12 forwards in 0 categories. Unfortunately for contract-seeking Ryan Carter he is in the same boat. Looking at some of the lower achieving Devils, it becomes clear that the bottom of this roster is going to turn into a dogfight for the last few spots. I'll now take a look at what I expect for the upcoming season

What to Expect

I've listed in at least 3 different article on this site how I think the Devils are due to regress to the mean in a number of ways. The first of these was one where I claim that the Devils need goal scorers slightly less than we think they do. So by way of expectations, the only thing I can say is that this Corsi-strong team will score a few more goals but also prevent way more. Despite the powerful additions, I don't see the Devils scoring much more than 200 goals. Based on the Corsi additions from Havlat and Cammaleri and assuming league average shooting percentage, we are only expected to get about 10 more goals. Mike projected out goal scoring for the Devils individually and ended up with an eerily similar number at 206 so I'm guessing that's a safe bet.

The big question for the Devils is actually just who plays. Gerard wrote an article on who's safe and who's not so safe earlier in the offseason. I'm going a bit unconventional with this and I'm going to list the top 12 according to several stats and see if any might be close to the opening day roster.

Corsi Rel: Jagr, Cammy, Zajac, Boucher, Sislo, Olesz, Elias, Ruutu, Zubrus, Ryder, Brunner, Henrique.

Okay so maybe not this one. That Boucher, Sislo, Olesz section is suspect. If you replaced it with the next 3 though you'd end up with Bernier, Clowe, and Havlat which is very legitimate.

GVT: Jagr, Henrique, Elias, Cammy, Zajac, Havlat, Zubrus, Ryder, Gionta, Brunner, Boucher, Clowe

It's tough to argue that this is an impossible opening day roster. The absence of Ruutu is somewhat troubling so maybe switching him in for Gio or Boucher early would result in a nice opening day.

PS: Jagr, Elias, Henrique, Cammy, Zajac, Ryder, Havlat, Zubrus, Brunner, Clowe, Ruutu, Boucher

Oddly enough that is exactly what happened when looking at Point Shares. These were the top 12 guys in Point Shares last season and, other than the conspicuous absence of the entire CBGB line, this looks like a solid roster to run with. Boucher might switch out with various CBGB members and given Bernier's performance and Carter's lack of contract, I'm going to proceed under the assumption that Boucher and Gio switch off in that last spot.

Line Predictions

This is the obligatory portion of the article where I take my best guess as to the opening night Forward Line configurations. I never know what DeBoer is thinking so I'll preface this by saying these are probably not going to be right and there's a chance that they aren't even close, but I assure you that these guesses are based in fact. A reminder that these are predictions not my hopeful line combos. I will post my personal thoughts on the lineup in the comments to separate my opinion as much as I can.

Lineup #1 (Boucher is the 12th forward)

Jagr - Zajac - Cammy

Ruutu - Elias - Havlat

Clowe - Henrique - Ryder

Brunner - Zubrus - Boucher

Lineup #2 (Gionta is the 12th forward)

Jagr - Zajac - Cammy

Zubrus - Elias - Havlat

Clowe - Henrique - Ryder

Brunner - Gionta - Ruutu

Explanations:

A tweet from TG about the top line.

Jagr, Zajac and Cammy are already together and though still in the "dating" stage, I think that that line is close to a sure thing to start the season.

Clowe played a lot with Henrique and Ryder last year so I expect that to continue.

Elias and Havlat will play together because everyone seems to be pushing that. Zubrus has been playing with Elias and Marty in the preseason, but someone's gotta take faceoffs on that last line so, when Boucher is playing, Zubrus turns into a very good 4th line center. After all those pieces are in place, we need to fill two spots. One is a 4th line winger, the other will rotate between 4th and 2nd depending on who is centering the 4th. Given Ruutu's experience with the top lines, I'll make him the swing man leaving Brunner to round out a very threatening 4th line.

**EDIT: After the game on 9/28, DeBoer seems to be entertaining the idea of holding on to Gomez. If he does it actually makes things much simpler since he would most likely play Gomez if he was signed. The 4th line would likely be similar to what it was in this very game (Ruutu - Gomez - Brunner) and Zubrus would play with the 2nd line exclusively (Lineup #2 with Gomez in for Gionta)

Conclusions

The tales about our depth are true. I think regardless of who you give our last couple spots to, we will run 4 quality lines. I think this will enhance our already glistening possession statistics. Cammy will provide some more goals and the addition of Havlat indirectly pushes quality players into that 4th line which will now be capable of providing some secondary scoring. This forward group may not be among the leagues best, but for what this team is trying to be, they are certainly good enough to get us into the playoffs if they play up to their potential and get a little more luck than last year.

Other Links from ILWT

Brian looks at the forward prospects.

Alex investigates if a trade is in order due to the glut,

Mike looks at options down the middle.

Your Thoughts

What did I miss? What did I get wrong? What do you think the bottom 6 of our lineup will look like and who doesn't make the cut? Will our depth keep us in games or does the lack of top-end talent keep us grounded? Leave comments below and stay tuned for tomorrow's positional preview.