So as I stated above, I'm running on empty for articles right now; it's an unfortunate byproduct of our New Jersey Devils being inactive for approximately 4 months. In 10 days, however, that will all change; New Jersey's first preseason game is a mere week and a half away, and we will have players to assess, games to comment on, some fantasy hockey, and hopefully a few other fun things here.
As I'm still 10 days away from having material to work with, I'm going to pose to you, our readers, 10 questions that I have about the team for the upcoming season. I hope I'm not imposing on topics my fellow writers may have wanted to address (and I would love to hear their thoughts on some of these questions as well), but let's take a look at ten questions I have about the 2015-16 New Jersey Devils.
1.) Will any of the young forwards with NHL experience break out?
The Devils have been starved for offense ever since two of their prolific scorers each took their respective ball and went home. The team attempted to patch the holes in the ship for the most part with free agent signings that we can now describe as sub-par at best. This will be the first season where New Jersey truly gives its young forwards a chance at the NHL level, and hopefully it won't just be in the bottom 6.
Stefan Matteau, Reid Boucher and Kyle Palmieri are all young forwards with some experience in the majors, although it is the first season in Jersey for Palmieri. Matteau had a 17 game cup of coffee for his first NHL season, and wound up with a meager goal and two assists; many fans were hoping for more considering who he was playing with at the time. His game seems to best project as a bottom 6 player, and being that he's faster than many of the players the Devils got rid of, he could be an interesting piece for coach John Hynes.
Boucher and Palmieri will both have a chance to prove themselves in top 6 roles this season; the only reason I say Boucher will is because his style of play doesn't belong a team's bottom 6. He's boom or bust at this point, but should get a chance to prove himself. Palmieri could become a significant contributor; it will be interesting to see what happens with him, as he will probably be getting more ice time in NJ than he did in Anaheim.
2.) Will any of the young forwards without any NHL experience make a meaningful contribution this year?
The Devils have a number of younger players coming into camp via the draft, free agency, or from the Albany Devils. Simply going off of the roster page, and picking a few names that have been mentioned before, the Devils have Joseph Blandisi, Sergey Kalinin, John Quenneville, Paul Thompson, and Pavel Zacha all coming to camp. While they may not be able to keep them all on the main roster, there's also the chance that a veteran such as Tuomo Ruutu or Stephen Gionta gets beaten out in camp by a youngster, and we could see multiple new names on the roster.
Personally, I'd love to see Zacha get at a few regular season games in before the Devils decide his fate; Blandisi tore up juniors last year and Thompson had an excellent season in the AHL and I would like to see those two get a nice opportunity as well. Kalinin and Quenneville are wild cards for me, and I think seeing them in some preseason action would be helpful in determining if they're going to be able to help the team.
3.) How will John Hynes and his system fare in his first season at the NHL level?
Hynes steps into the NHL as the youngest head coach currently employed by any team in the league.; as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins' farm team, he helped Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to qualify for the playoffs during all five seasons that he was there, and also led them to two conference finals.
He and GM Ray Shero have stated that the team will be playing a faster style of hockey than in previous years while still remaining supportive of each other. While that sounds great in theory considering how the last few seasons have gone, we still need to see the execution. Even if it doesn't work right away, Hynes will have some time to adjust, as I don't think there will be any pressure on him to succeed right away.
4.) Is this the season that Adam Larsson puts it all together?
Adam finally started to play like a defenseman drafted 4th overall in his draft class once Peter DeBoer was relieved of his duties last season. We've analyzed Larsson to death, but once the shackles were removed, we started to see a more confident Larsson that contributed offensively as well. He also had great flashes at the start of his career under Larry Robinson; it seems that if Larsson has good coaching, he becomes the player that we all saw at the end of last season; you know, the one we want to stick around!
If Larsson keeps playing smart, keeps playing good defense, and continues to provide contributions from the back end, then his new contract is going to seem like a steal for years to come. If it doesn't work out right away, he will probably get some time to adjust to the new system, but if he doesn't, the team might need to explore other options for Lars.
5.) Will Travis Zajac bounce back from his 2014-15 season?
All I can say about Zajac's 2014-15 season is yikes; while the team was bad in general, getting a paltry 11 goals and 14 assists out of one of your top 6 centers should be cause for alarm. As I've stated in a previous article, we can only partially blame him for the assists because if the guy he's passing to can't bury the puck, then how can we fault Zajac for not getting credited with the assist? His low goal total seems to be tied to his low shot total; the only times Zajac had a lower shot total than his 112 from last season is during the 2011-2012 season (only 25, but he missed 67 games due to injury) and the 2012-13 season (82 shots over 48 games) which was shortened by the lockout. If he shoots more and gets a better winger than Jordin Tootoo, I think Travis should be just fine.
6.) Can Cory Schneider keep the Devils competitive?
I almost yanked this question out because it seems like a no-brainer, but Cory Schneider was probably (if not definitely) the only reason the team did not have greater odds in the McDavid Sweepstakes. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to play at a high level, since he will have a younger (and probably still not very good) team in front of him. Personally, I think Cory is the real deal, and while the team in front of him may stink up the Prudential Center, hopefully he can continue to play at a high level, and convince the team to find a way to accelerate the rebuild/retool a bit.
7.) What happens to Ryane Clowe?
Tom Gulitti of Fire and Ice reported last week that an update on Clowe could be coming this week, though we have yet to receive one. While the possibility of Clowe ever playing again seems almost 100% unlikely, he could be placed on either LTIR or just simply retire.
While the contract was certainly awful, I have to reiterate my stance that I'm sad to see Clowe go this way. While injuries impacted both his and Bryce Salvador's career, Sal retired after a full playing career. Clowe still has some mileage on him, but will probably be retiring early/going on LTIR to preserve his quality of life. I wish him nothing but the best.
8.) What becomes of Eric Gelinas this season?
I would have to describe Gelinas as somewhat of a polarizing player at this point; some fans seem to think that he may need more defensive refining, but brings The Truth to our team. Other fans think that his shot will be his only asset, and that we should trade him now while he holds value with his shot.
There were some fans (many in the latter category from above) who thought Gelinas would be traded for some offensive help this summer, but it did not come to pass. I like that the team held on to him, as he may flourish in Hynes' new system, and may have more confidence in his game if he's not being yo-yo'd in and out of the lineup. I see this season as a make or break season for Gelly and I really hope he makes it.
9.) Will this season be the last for Patrik Elias?
The last remaining jewel from the Devils' 2000 and 2003 crowns is 39 and will turn 40 as this upcoming season draws to a close. While he has been a career Devil, there's always a chance Patrik could be dealt at the trade deadline if he wants one more chance at a championship. Even if he decides to play out the string with the Devils, he isn't getting any younger, and his contract expires at the end of the season as well. I think depending on how Patrik plays this year will determine his status for next year; if it's similar to last season, I think Patty should hang up the skates; if his play and totals pick up, I say keep the vet around for another year.
10.) Does #30 go into the rafter this season?
While he may be working for the St. Louis Blues, Martin Brodeur will always be known for his time in the red and black. There were rumors swirling around of his jersey being retired this season, and personally I would love to see it happen, but there may be logistics in the way. Also, on a purely selfish note here, if they do retire it this season, I really hope it's a Friday or Saturday game; even if it isn't, I'd probably find a way to drive down from Connecticut for that one!
So now I'd like to hear from you guys on any and/or all of these topics. Do the Devils get a solid youth contribution? Do either or both of Gelinas and Larson become a complete package? Does Zajac bounce back? Is this the end of the line for Patty? Do I get a ticket to see Marty become immortal? Leave any and all comments below and as always, thank you for reading!