NHL Lockout & the New Jersey Devils: 9 Players Who Gain from Time in the AHL
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The NHL lockout continues to drag on for over a month. On Tuesday, the NHL and the Players Association met to discuss the league’s latest proposal. The NHL seems to show urgency, giving the proposal with the intention of salvaging an 82-game season that would start on November 2. As TSN points out, the NHLPA is expected to respond to the proposal today. While this urgency to get things done is a positive step forward, the lockout is most likely not ending just yet. If the NHL lockout does continue, it may be a blessing in disguise for development of some New Jersey Devils prospects.
The longer the NHL lockout drags on, the longer Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson, Jacob Josefson and other young regulars on the NHL roster will suit up in the American Hockey League for the Albany Devils. Not only can extended time in Albany aid these young expats, but it will be even more beneficial for fringe NHLers and prospects looking to be called up after the lockout finally ends, such as Mattias Tedenby, Bobby Butler, Eric Gelinas, Alexander Urbom and others.
While fans, players and owners alike hope the NHL lockout meets a swift death, if the work stoppage continues it allows the chance for many young Devils to flourish.
Fringe NHL prospect Tedenby stands to gain the most if the work stoppage extends any longer.
Drafted 24th overall in the 2008 NHL Draft, Tedenby has been an enigma. Renown for his speed and puck control, the Swedish winger has been one of the top Devils prospects for the past five years, however, he has yet to stick in the NHL as a regular and would have started the season in the AHL had the NHL season started as planned.
Tedenby‘s rookie season (2010–11) was encouraging as he scored 22 points in 58 games. He showed occasional flashes of brilliance and offensive acumen, however, his defensive play and hockey sense were suspect. Despite this, his potential was evident. At his best, Tedenby can be feisty and tenacious, occasionally showing that Zach Parise never-say-die attitude that the Devils will dearly miss.
Tedenby suffered a major setback during his sophomore year, losing practically all offense while continuing to provide lackluster defense; he scored a measly six points in 43 games. He did, however, finish the season with 20 points in 35 games at the AHL level.
So, how can the lockout help Tedenby?
With stronger competition in the AHL this year, Tedenby has the opportunity to develop chemistry with NHL regulars without the pressure of being in the NHL. Perhaps he can rekindle chemistry on a line centered by World Junior teammate Josefson and be promoted to the Josefson-centered 3rd line once the NHL starts up again.
It would be even more beneficial for Tedenby to show magic with Calder Trophy nominee Henrique. Henrique is a guaranteed top-six center in the NHL, and if Tedenby can place on a line with Henrique when the NHL season starts, he might end up also being placed with offensive dynamo Ilya Kovalchuk.
With the departure of Parise, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Petr Sykora, the New Jersey Devils have holes to fill at wing and the NHL lockout makes playing in Albany the perfect audition for Tedenby. Fighting to remain relevant, Tedenby needs a big year and he is going to get an amazing chance to have one.
Ex-Senator Bobby Butler Can Find His Game In The AHL
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In his first year in the Devils’ organization, former Ottawa Senator Bobby Butler finds himself in a very similar situation to that of Tedenby.
A finalist for the Hobey Baker Award in 2010 as college hockey’s best player, Butler has a promising rookie year (2010-11), scoring 21 points in just 36 games. Similar to Tedenby, Butler regressed during his sophomore year, and the Senators severed ties with the 25-year-old winger after his 16 points in 56 games.
While Butler is older than Tedenby, he is still young enough to regain his confidence and scoring touch, as well as buy into the Devils' system. To do so, he needs to prove himself worthy of the AHL. Butler recognizes the importance, telling Rich Chere of the Star Ledger, “It’s a chance to show what I have. I’m lucky to have this opportunity.”
Like Tedenby, Butler will find himself playing alongside Henrique and Josefson. Summarily, if Butler strikes up chemistry with either player, he may find himself playing alongside them for New Jersey.
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As the first regular NHLer on the list, Josefson has the luxury of not having to worry about where he belongs. The smart, two-way player would have certainly started in the NHL had the lockout not affected the league.
Josefson has excellent hockey sense, promising offensive potential, and—like any good Devil—the willingness to put defense first. While he fits the Devils ethos perfectly, injuries and bad timing have hampered Josefson’s development with the NHL team (his injury in the early part of the 2011–12 season paved the way for Henrique to emerge as a breakout star). While his point totals are not awe-inspiring (19 in 69 games), this smart Swede has shown promise and intelligence as a third-line center.
In the AHL, however, Josefson will have the chance to shine as the No. 2 center behind Henrique. Playing in the top-six will do wonders to Josefson, who told Devils beat writer Tom Gulitti, “I want to spend some time on the ice this year...I didn’t want to sit out and wait, so it’s good for me to play.”
And play he will. Unlike in the NHL, in Albany, Josefson will have the opportunity to play in all situations and get premium ice time. Josefson will have a prime opportunity to cement his role as one of the premiere young players in the Devils organization.
That is, of course, if he can stay healthy.
Henrique has already proved to be an essential player in the Devils future. The Calder-Trophy nominee had 51 points in 74 games. Even with these stellar numbers, Henrique always brings another level in the playoffs, scoring 13 points in the 24 playoff games, including two series-winning overtime goals in the Devils march to the Stanley Cup Finals. Even before the NHL, Henrique came up big for the Windsor Spitfires as they won back-to-back Memorial Cups in 2009 and 2010, winning playoff MVP during their second run.
A year in the AHL is certainly not what this 22-year-old center wanted, however, if he makes the best of the situation, he can gain some valuable chemistry with some of the young players in the organization.
Henrique will also have the opportunity to grow as a leader in the locker room as he can nurture and give advice to the team. Henrique seems ripe with future captain material and a year in the AHL could be his audition for future leadership. He was already named assistant captain (TG), showing the organization’s confidence in his leadership. In an interview with Dan Rosen of NHL.com, Henrique embraced the role, saying:
"I can take what I learned from [New Jersey's veteran players] and try to pass it on to the guys here. You always try to remember those guys that helped you out when you didn't know much—well, there are guys in here that don't know much, and now I can be a leader and pass the little that I've learned along to them."
Henrique will have the opportunity in Albany and the information he passes on can be crucial in the development of prospects looking to make the jump. In the same interview, he went on to say, "I want to be counted on. ...I want to be a leader.”
Adam Larsson is the future of the Devils defense and one of the organization’s most valued commodities, however, at 19, he still has much to learn. Even though he played in most games last season (65), he only dressed in five of the team’s 24 playoff games. Despite playing most of the season for Albany, 29-year old Peter Harrold started in Larsson’s place, pushing the future out of the starting six.
During the NHL lockout, Larsson needs to show that he’s that much better than the other promising young Devils defensemen. If he is going to be the future No. 1, then he will need to be much better than the others and re-affirm his spot in the defensive corps when the season starts.
Similar to Henrique, Larsson could potentially find a future defensive partner in Albany, as well as impart a season’s worth of knowledge on the wealth of Albany’s young players.
Brandon Burlon, Matt Corrente, Eric Gelinas and Alexander Urbom
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With the aforementioned Larsson and 25-year-old Mark Fayne emerging as the new faces of the Devils defense among the otherwise aging corps, there is a logjam of defensive prospects in the Devils system. These young players won’t likely see much NHL time this season, however, once one or more of the Devils older defenders move on, they will find their chance.
With highly regarded prospect Jon Merrill (University of Michigan) coming up fast behind, the lockout gives these young players an important opportunity to show why they belong in the NHL.
If not for his recent injury, 21-year-old Gelinas would have had the advantage. Scoring an outstanding 37 points in 75 games for the baby Devils last year, Gelinas shows the most offensive acumen out of the Albany D-core. Not only can he score, but his physical presence is also developing quite nicely. Not far behind is the Swedish Urbom. Also, at 21-years-old, Urbom has seen thirteen NHL matches—along with two seasons in Albany—and has even scored two goals for the big club. Both players are bruising defenseman with decent offensive ability.
Burlon only netted nine points in 57 games last year for Albany, so it will be interesting to see if he develops more of an offensive game or if he commits to a solid-positional role.
At 24, and with the lowest potential upside, Matt Corrente is the odd man out. Playing for the AHL Devils (both Albany and the defunct Lowell Devils) since 2008, he has only seen action in 34 NHL games. Corrente is a tough defenseman, however, he has been passed constantly on the depth chart; 5th-round draft pick Fayne unexpectedly shot to the NHL and ex-Devils Mark Fraser and Matt Taormina both beat Corrente to steady roster spots in years before. It seems as if every time Corrente is poised to join the NHL club, another surprise player scoops up the last roster spot. In order to avoid becoming redundant, Corrente needs to have a monster year. Playing better than any other defenseman on the Albany Devils (other than Larsson) will be the only way Corrente will see any more NHL time with the Devils. Once Gelinas, Urbom or Burlon pass Corrente on the depth chart, it will be hard for him to claw his way back.
With Larsson and Fayne in the pros, these guys in the minors, and Jon Merrill coming soon, how can you not be excited at the future of the defense? The Devils have the luxury of having a wealth of promising defensive prospects and competition will only bring out the best in them. Some will flounder, others will become trade bait, but one or two will certainly flourish, becoming NHL regulars.