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Rebuilding with Youth

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As anyone would rightly know, rebuilding a team with older players is basically an oxymoron. To rebuild and regrow a team from the inside out, youth is essential. For this upcoming season, the Devils have made roster changes, but how young are they?

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Two years ago, the New Jersey Devils had the oldest team in the NHL, and it was not really close. At the start of the 2014-15 season, the Devils had an average age of 31.0 years old.  The next oldest team at the start of that season, Vancouver, had an average age of 28.8 years old.  That was a major issue, and was perhaps one of the many signals that this team needed desperately to rebuild and get younger.

Two years later, here we are in the middle of the rebuild.  Some might even say the team has already reached the bottom and will only get better from here on out.  I certainly hope so.  One thing that certainly has happened is that the team has gotten younger.  No more are the Devils anchored by the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Martin Brodeur, and even Patrik Elias, if re-signed, is the aberration when it comes to age, not the norm.  This is an exceptionally important and positive change.  If a rebuild is going to create long term success, the team needs to develop young players into stars that can lead this team for years to come.

Last season, New Jersey was already considerably younger than the season prior thanks to the rebuilding moves by Ray Shero.  Whereas the Devils were the oldest team entering the 14-15 season, they were right in the middle of the pack entering last season, ranked 15th in the league for age.  The team's average age of 27.5 was 3.5 years younger on average than the season prior, and that was mostly thanks to a very young defensive corps that only saw Andy Greene older than 28.  But the rest of the team also saw youth movements, with Kyle Palmieri anchoring the top 6 and Keith Kinkaid taking the primary backup role behind a still-in-his-prime Cory Schneider.

This year, with the rebuild continuing, the youth movement should continue to shine.  Even if Elias does come back for another year at 40 years old, the Devils may still likely get younger, especially if Pavel Zacha becomes a NHL regular and guys like Joseph Blandisi remain with the big club instead of spending time in Albany.   Let's look at what the roster may look like for the start of the season, and check out the potential average ages of the offense, defense and goaltending to see just how young the rebuild has taken the Devils so far.

Offense

The chart I have made below looks at the forwards who I believe will most likely spend a lot of time with the big club this season.  They may end up being on the roster on opening night, but they all might not be there, depending on what Shero and John Hynes decide to do with Zacha and others.  Information comes from the Devils main website and Hockey-Reference.

Player

Date of Birth

Age

Years Pro

Beau Bennett

11/27/91

24

4

Joseph Blandisi

7/18/94

22

2

Reid Boucher

9/8/93

22

2

Mike Cammalleri

6/8/82

34

13

Patrik Elias

4/13/76

40

20

Vernon Fiddler

5/9/80

36

13

Luke Gazdic

7/25/89

26

3

Taylor Hall

11/14/91

24

6

Adam Henrique

2/6/90

26

6

Jacob Josefson

3/2/91

25

6

Sergey Kalinin

3/17/91

25

2

Kyle Palmieri

2/1/91

25

6

Devante Smith-Pelly

6/14/92

24

5

Pavel Zacha

4/6/97

19

1

Travis Zajac

5/13/85

31

10

First off, unless I messed up somewhere, which is very possible, the years pro category includes the upcoming 2016-17 season.  So for example, this would be Elias' 20th season as a pro, Sergey Kalinin's second year as a pro, and Pavel Zacha's first.  For a couple I sort of put in a number I felt appropriate, like Reid Boucher.  This I believe would be his third season playing games at the NHL level, but I wrote that this year upcoming is his 2nd as a pro, because in 2014-15 he only played a handful of games for the big club.

I also probably left out players who will probably play games for New Jersey this year, and I may have added names of players that won't.  What happens to Zacha will be unknown, and perhaps Blandisi and/or Boucher spend more time in Albany than in Newark.  The Devils' main website also has Miles Wood on the main roster instead of with the prospects, but I did not add him because I have to suspect that he will play mostly in Albany unless he really shines.  And if he does shine and play more in Newark, then that only improves the youth movement anyway, which is a positive.  And finally, I did include Elias even though it is unknown if he will play one more year.

So, looking at the roster of forwards I have, the average age is essentially 27 years old, 26.87 to be more specific.  That is a good number.  Comparing that to last season, it is certainly younger, as last season there were the likes of Tuomo Ruutu, Jordin Tootoo, and Dainius Zubrus who also added to the age of the offense. Considering that last season, the average age of an NHL team was 27.5 years old, the offense this season falls on the younger side of that number.  I like to see that.  Last season, the offense was the old part of the team, pulling up the overall age of the roster, while the defense was the area of youth and potential.  This upcoming season, I feel like the offense has more of that "potential" factor thanks to the added youth (and added talent from the likes of Hall, Zacha and the knowledge of how good Palmieri was last year).

Defense

Last season, as I just mentioned, the defense was the area of youth and possibility.  Only the captain Andy Greene was over 30, and he and David Schlemko were the only ones over 25.  This season the youth is still there, but perhaps the possibility is not as strong as it felt last year.  Adam Larsson is now gone, who was the main area of potential, and we now have had another year to see what Jon Merrill and others may become.  However, the youth is still very strong on this side of the ice, and the defense will not make this team older.

Player

Date of Birth

Age

Years Pro

Andy Greene

10/30/82

33

10

Seth Helgeson

10/8/90

25

2

Ben Lovejoy

2/20/84

32

8

Jon Merrill

2/3/92

24

3

John Moore

11/19/90

25

6

Steven Stantini

3/7/95

21

1

Damon Severson

8/7/94

22

2

I included both Seth Helgeson and Steve Santini on this roster, but of course it is still as of yet unsure who will end up with that 6th defensive position, and if anyone will remain with the squad as a 7th defenseman to rotate in, such as Peter Harrold in years past.  If others end up with those final positions, it could increase the overall age of the defense, especially considering Santini's age.

Given this list, however, the average age of this squad is exactly 26 years of age.  That is younger than the offense, and is definitively younger than the NHL average.  In fact, the youngest teams last year, Edmonton and Buffalo, had an overall average age of 26.5.  The Devils' defense listed above is a half year younger than that number, and that even includes Greene and Lovejoy who are over 30.  Santini and Severson are incredibly young and still have plenty of years to grow and develop, Merrill is still only 24, and while he was not looked upon favorably last year, there is still a chance for him to improve given his age.  Moore was a solid d-man last year, will most likely anchor the 2nd pairing, and is still only 25 as well.  Youth is aplenty here, and that should mean plenty of good things as the squad develops.  It may not be a flashy defensive corps with superstar names who have the potential to score 20 goals in a season, but it is a group of guys who should be solid in their ability to defend and suppress opposition attempts.

Goaltending

Of course, goaltending is not an area that is part of the rebuild, but just for the heck of it, let's look at it really quickly.

Player

Date of Birth

Age

Years Pro

Cory Schneider

3/18/86

30

7

Keith Kinkaid

7/4/89

27

2

Schneider turned 30 this year, but he is still in the prime of his career, the biggest all-star on the team besides Taylor Hall, and he gives the Devils a chance to win every single night.  Kinkaid is 27 and a solid backup.  The average age is obviously 28.5, which is the oldest average age of all 3 areas on the team, but really who cares?  It is also the area not rebuilding, and the strongest facet of the New Jersey Devils thanks to Schneider.

Conclusion

In the end, it is good to see that the Devils have gotten considerably younger since the start of 2014-15 when they iced the oldest roster in the NHL, and it was not even close.  The defense is still exceptionally young as it was last year, but the offensive overhaul has also brought in youth which has only helped the youth movement.  For a team rebuilding, seeing young talent get playing time is important, as these players need to develop and get better if the team is to become competitive.  And that is what should happen this season.  On offense, the top 6 will be anchored by guys in the mid-20s, like Hall, Henrique, and Palmieri.  Only Zajac and Cammalleri and surefire top 6 guys who are over 30.  Then, who knows what will happen with the bottom 6, but other than Fiddler and perhaps Elias, no one will be over 30.

On defense, whoever pairs alongside Greene will be exceptionally young unless that person is Lovejoy (unlikely), and the bottom pairing will be very young as well.

Overall, it is good to see that the Devils are getting younger still, and if they are getting both younger and better, then that is only good news for the future.  An old team in a rebuild has nowhere to go but down, but a young team looking to improve has considerable possibilities.  While many may not predict playoffs for the Devils this year, it is a year for those younger guys to continue to improve, which means that a playoff berth is that much closer.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts about the age of this Devils roster? Are you happy with the ages of the players?  What do you think the youth movement says about the state of this rebuild and the state of this Devils roster? Did I forget to add anyone to the roster that may receive lots of playing time (that is very possible by the way)?  Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.