New Jersey Devils: Potential Offensive Line Combinations to Start the NHL Season
Finally, after being locked out for 113 days, Don Fehr and Gary Bettman were able to reach a new CBA agreement just in time to salvage an NHL season. This agreement could not have been reached if it weren’t for the heroism of United States Federal Mediator Scot L. Beckenbaugh.
The beginning of the 2013 season could not have come at a better time for the Devils. The team will be well rested and ready to sprint for the Atlantic Division Championship.
A regular NHL offseason is about six months for a team that does not make the playoffs. Being that the Devils reached the Stanley Cup last season, they would have had a four-month break, had the season started on time. Since the league was locked out, the Devils’ offseason will last for about seven months, which is the perfect amount of time to be rested without being away from the game for too long.
Peter DeBoer and the new Devils coaching staff will be hard at work preparing the team for the start of the 2013 season, and this is what the their line combinations may look like.
Travis Zajac will most likely center Ilya Kovalchuk and Dainius Zubrus on the Devils’ first line to open the season.
Zajac and Kovalchuk have already played together in the past and will mesh well again this season.
The Devils will go into the season with a healthy first-line center in Zajac, which gives them a lot of depth up the middle. Although, Adam Henrique played well in Zajac’s absence, he is still young, so taking pressure off of him will be crucial.
Kovalchuk should perform as expected, but the important player on this line is Zubrus. He needs to step up big time now that Zach Parise is no longer a Devil. If Zubrus can put up some major points for the Devils’ first line, the team can end up right where they left off last season.
Unfortunately for the Devils, Calder Trophy Finalist Adam Henrique will likely miss the first week or two of the season while recovering from a wrist injury.
That being said, the Devils’ second line will most likely consist of Patrik Elias, Bobby Butler and David Clarkson, Elias being the center. When Henrique returns, he will probably take Butler’s spot and Butler will be bumped down.
The Devils are expecting big things out of Butler, who has scored some highlight reel goals in his career. Butler can possibly break out as a big-time scorer if he plays with the right people. Playing with Elias will be a good place for him to start.
Elias plays well with anyone you put him with on the ice with, and not only will he take Butler under his wing, he will also make Clarkson a better player. Elias does an amazing job of getting the puck to the net, which is why he will fit well on a line with Clarkson, who thrives off of battles in front of the net.
Clarkson is a grinder, and when a grinder is given the opportunity, he will do the dirty work. Clarkson’s 30-goal season last year will not be a fluke if he plays with players that can get the puck to the net.
This season can be the last opportunity for Jacob Josefson to show the Devils what he’s got.
In the absence of Henrique to begin the season, Josefson will need to provide the Devils with some depth at the center the position. If he stays healthy, then he can be an impact player.
He will probably center Steve Bernier and Stephen Gionta to begin the season.
These three can serve as secondary scoring for the Devils after the first two lines.
DeBoer knows what these three can do after their performance in the playoffs last season and will not be afraid to play them against other teams' top lines.
It’s tough to break up the Devils’ fourth line of Gionta, Bernier and Ryan Carter that did so well during the playoffs last season, but regular season hockey is very different than playoff hockey.
Fighting is much more common in the regular season, so it is crucial that either Krys Barch or Cam Janssen play on a regular basis.
As of now, with Henrique out, both Barch and Janssen will be in the lineup, but once Henrique returns expect only one of the two to dress per game.
With these two paired up with Carter, the Devils’ fourth line will be feared by many teams.
The Devils have a couple of minor league players that may get a shot in the NHL.
Mattias Tedenby, Steve Zalewski, Tim Sestito and Matt Anderson all have been playing well offensively in the AHL, but obviously there is not enough room on the NHL roster to carry all of them.
One or two of these players will make the NHL roster but will be healthy scratches to start the season.
There is also the possibility that the Devils re-sign Petr Sykora to a deal, if that’s the case, he will probably see time on the second line with Elias and Clarkson. Butler will most likely be bumped down to the third line, Gionta to the fourth, and either Barch or Janssen will be scratched.
Follow Alex Bacon on Twitter @abacon55.
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