Every hockey player’s dream comes when they receive the call to play in the National Hockey League. It’s a dream developed on backyard ponds and ice rinks worldwide.
For several New Jersey Devils rookies, there dream became a reality this season. A rash of injuries this season forced the Devils to use several rookie skaters. Fourteen rookies played for the Devils this season, with nine making their first appearance in the league. Most of those 14 haven’t been just one game replacements. Many of them became integral parts of the team this season.
One of those players is Mark Fayne, who was drafted in the fifth round (No. 155 overall) in 2005 out of Providence College. Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello keeps deep roots to his former employer, and had two former Friars on the roster. Fayne watched as fellow rookie and former Friar Matt Taormina broke camp and started with New Jersey. But an ankle injury ended his season, and Fayne got his chance on November 22 against the Washington Capitals.
Fayne’s first taste of the NHL was, as he described, a bit “nuts”.
“My first game was kinda nuts playing against Ovechkin,” he said. “I wasn’t matched up against him, but a few times I was out when he was at the end of his shift and I thought ‘Oh my God, that’s Alex Ovechkin.'”
Since then, Fayne became a regular on the Devils blueline. He’s played in the last 23 games and 32 of the past 33 contests. He’s receiving regular minutes, routinely topping 18 minutes of total ice time per game. He’s earned time on both the power play and penalty kill. While he’s not an offensive defenseman, he’s chipped in four goals, tied for eighth among rookie blue-liners.
Despite the success, Fayne knows his stay can be temporary. Waiting in the wings are injured defenseman Anton Volchenkov and Colin White. Bryce Salvador, who missed this season with post-concussion syndrome, will most likely return next year. To succeed, he’s simply listening to the coaches.
“Just trying to do everything the coaches ask, right down to the way I’m warming up and cooling down after,” Fayne said.
For as little hype as Fayne received, Mattias Tedenby entered this season as one of the most talked about rookies. Tedenby, fresh off a season with the HV 71 Jonkoping in Sweden, came into camp with high expectations. Fans watched Youtube clips highlighting his spectacular goals and salivated over his potential. While he underwhelmed in the preseason, he dazzled after his callup. He recorded points in five of his first six games, and even scored on a penalty shot.
Tedenby described the callup as “the dream,” but it hasn’t all been good. When Jacques Lemaire took over the team, Tedenby struggled to adjust to the new system. He spent several games as a healthy scratch, failing to earn a regular spot in the lineup. He believed that time helped him learn the system.
“He has a different system than the old coach here (MacLean),” the rookie said. “I had to get used to that system and it was good for me to learn under it for a little bit.”
Tedenby also has prime position in the locker room, seated next to veterans Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus. He’s credited the veterans for helping him improve.
“They help out a lot,” he said. “They give me tips to make me a better player. It’s not much, but it’s a little thing that can help so much and those guys have been in the NHL for a long time so they know what they’re talking about.”
Tedenby leads all Devils rookies with 20 points, and his play with fellow rookie Jacob Josefson and veteran David Clarkson formed a productive third line.
Those aren’t the only two rookies who have contributed this season. Nick Palmieri spent most of his 39 games on the top line with Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk. He’s already chipped in 15 points and recorded two game-winning goals. Josefson has eight points in 24 games and drew rave reviews from Lemaire. Others, such as Olivier Magnan and Tim Sestito, admirably filled in for injured starters.
The Devils rookies are making immediate impacts and learning on the fly. Some already made an impact, and others are waiting for their chance.
With only four games left, the rookies may be playing for their jobs next season.