“How much have they improved? How much have they grown? How ready are they?” Lou Lamoriello said those were the questions he would be asking during training camp. What the players bring to camp will determine their fate over the next few days and weeks as the young guys looking for an open spot on the New Jersey Devils roster try to prove that they are ready and worthy to be an NHL player.
One of the biggest and most important spots on the Devils roster lies with the defense. It is not a role that is considered lightly. Defenseman have to be 100 percent at all times because they are the ones who frequently log the most ice time.
With Colin White making the decision to sign with the San Jose Sharks this offseason, the Devils’ blueline now has a big opening for a young contender. Bryce Salvador, who suffered from a cochlear concussion, returns after being out last season. Lamoriello also said that defenseman Matt Taormina is 100 percent after his ankle surgery back in January.
The Devils’ 2011 first-round draft pick, Adam Larsson, is looking to take White’s vacated spot. Salvador commented after practice that Larsson played at an elite level during practice. The opportunity for Larsson to join the lineup is just about as great as the next young defenseman vying for the same spot.
Whether Larsson will be the coach’s pick or if it will be someone else remains to be seen. But Larsson’s elite level play from the Swedish leagues does give him a unique edge in quality and NHL readiness.
The Devils split the 60-man roster into three sections. Here are the list of players attending camp:
Group 1: Left wingers: Vladimir Zharkov, Zach Parise; Centers: Steve Zalewski, Darcy Zajac, David Steckel, Patrik Elias, J.T. Barnett; Right wingers: Dainius Zubrus, Nathan Perkovich, Mike Sislo, Steve Bernier; Defensemen: Anton Volchenkov, Matt Taormina, Anton Stralman, Mark Fraser, Joe Sova, Mark Fayne, Anton Stralman (tryout); Goaltenders: Martin Brodeur, Jeff Frazee.
Group 2: Left Wingers: Jean-Sebastien Berube, Ilya Kovalchuk, Kory Nagy, Chad Wiseman; Centers: Jacob Josefson, Brad Mills, Rod Pelley; Right wingers: Matt Anderson, David Clarkson, Cam Janssen, Joseph Whitney; Defensemen: Brandon Burlon, Matthew Corrente, Bryce Salvador, Dan Kelly, Adam Larsson, Reece Scarlett, Harry Young; Goaltenders: Maxime Clermont, Keith Kinkaid, Scott Wedgewood.
Group 3: Left wingers: Stephane Veilleux, Myles Stoesz, Mike Hoeffel; Centers: Petr Sykora (tryout), Tim Sestito, Adam Henrique, Stephen Gionta; Right wingers: Mattias Tedenby, Nick Palmieri, Thomas Nesbitt, Reid Boucher; Defensemen: Alexander Urbom, Henrik Tallinder, Andy Greene, Jay Leach, Peter Harrold, Eric Gelinas; Goaltenders: Maxime Clermont, Keith Kinkaid.
Both Johan Hedberg and Eric Boulton did not attend camp on Saturday. They flew to Farmington, Michigan to attend the funeral of their former Atlanta Thrashers assistant coach Brad McCrimmon. McCrimmon died on September 7 in the plane crash carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. He had been head coach of the Lokomotiv team for only nine preseason games.
There has been a familiar face lurking around Prudential Center, as Jacques Lemaire has been in attendance at training camp. He has been helping the Devils new coach Peter DeBoer with his new duties. Since DeBoer was named head coach, Lemaire has been advising him on each of the players, as well as on the Devils’ systems.
The Devils will not be steering too far away from the way that they play their game. They will continue to be a defensive team. There will be a few tweaks, but it will be very similar hockey to what the players are accustomed to playing under Lemaire.
The team is also looking to find a fit with Zach Parise during camp. Travis Zajac had surgery last month on his Achilles tendon. He is expected to be out for another four to six weeks. In the meantime, the Devils are looking to see who could be an appropriate fit for Parise’s line.
Parise-Elias-Zubrus ended up clicking together out on the ice and doing well. It was by accident that the three paired up, but it seemed to work. Whether it becomes a line in preseason, that remains to be seen. DeBoer said he had no problem with the line whatsoever. But whether it sticks, that is the question.
Petr Sykora, who spent seven years with the Devils, is in camp on a tryout basis. He spent last season playing in the KHL. He’s looking to make a comeback in the NHL. He played for the Minnesota Wild in 2009-2010. He was sidelined with a concussion early in the season for two months. In January 2010, Sykora was placed on waivers and cleared unconditional waivers on January 28, 2010, making him a free agent. He then spent 13 games with his hometown team HC Plzen in the Czech Republic that fall before signing with Dynamo Minsk in the KHL.
While there are talks of who may be named captain in the upcoming days, talk seems to center around Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. The captain will be named sometime soon as training camp grows to its completion.
The Devils meet in three groups again on Sunday. They will have their first scrimmage on Monday.