With the lockout all but over and the season slated to start on January 19th, the New Jersey Devils will have to quickly put a roster together and get ready for the New York Islanders by next weekend.
One of the storylines going into the season will be injuries, as the Devils currently have four starters either rehabbing or dealing with injuries. While Anton Volchenkov returned to the KHL after fracturing his ankle, the Devils still have Adam Henrique (thumb), Jacob Josefson (lower body) and Stephen Gionta (lower body) missing time in the AHL.
While Josefson and Gionta are listed as day-to-day, both still missed Saturday's game against Worchester. Henrique is currently rehabbing after having surgery on his thumb but isn't expected back until February.
Jacob Josefson and Stephen Gionta are day-to-day with lower-body injuries and will not play tonight— Albany Devils PR (@AlbanyDevilsPR) January 12, 2013
That being said, the New Jersey Devils may have to rely on young talent to come up and play at the NHL level once the season finally begins. Here are five prospects to keep an eye on:
Many scouts and team officials were very high on Eric Gelinas during the summer, and the young defenseman has picked up his game over the last week in Albany.
Eric Gelinas registered his third goal of the season and second in three games. He has five points in the last six outings— Albany Devils PR (@AlbanyDevilsPR) January 12, 2013
While New Jersey has plenty of depth on defense going into 2013, there is still a chance Gelinas could see some time at the NHL level. Volchenkov is coming off a pretty significant ankle injury and failed to record a point in the KHL, and the Devils used 12 different defensemen during the 2011-12 season.
Gelinas could provide some great two-way play for New Jersey and may get a chance to prove himself on the power play. The 21-year-old defenseman is currently tied for second in Albany with two power-play goals this season, and he may get a chance to prove himself to new assistant coach Matt Shaw.
According to Hockeysfuture.com, Harri Pesonen is the highest-rated forward prospect playing in the AHL for the Devils.
Pesonen is considered one of the more well-rounded forwards playing for Albany, but he has been known to be lazy while playing in Finland. Hockey's Future analyzes Pesonen as a "player capable of lighting the lamp on a regular basis" but "his work ethic is in question as he often appears lazy."
So far this season Pesonen has six goals and 14 points in 31 games but he also has a zero +/- rating thus far. He is showing his puck-handling skills and goal-scoring ability but also his lackluster abilities on defense.
Devils GM Lou Lamoriello won't stand for laziness and prefers hard-working, gritty players like Stephen Gionta. However, with Parise and Sykora gone and Henrique out, Lou might have to take a chance with his young goal-scoring forward.
Tim Sestito is an interesting case at center for the Devils, but he is one of the top candidates to take an empty roster spot once the season begins.
Sestito appeared in 19 games last season for New Jersey, including one game during the 2012 NHL playoffs against Philadelphia. Overall, he failed to record a point and posted a +/- of minus-five.
Sestito has improved this season while in Albany, recording five goals and nine assists in 32 games. In fact, Sestito is on pace to come close to his AHL season high of 35 points set in 2009-10.
While there are other forwards in the organization that are worthy enough to earn a call-up, Sestito currently has the most experience and will likely see some playing time with Henrique out until February.
Like Sestito, Steve Zalewski is another center with NHL experience who could see time with Henrique out.
Zalewski appeared in seven games last season for the Devils and, like Sestito, did not record a point. However, Zalewski has spent the past six seasons in the AHL and has averaged 14 goals per season in that span.
He has also caught fire as of late and currently finds himself tied for fourth on the team in scoring.
Steve Zalewski with his 6th goal and third in as many games
— Albany Devils PR (@AlbanyDevilsPR) January 12, 2013
New Jersey isn't going to have much time to prepare for this season, so it is likely that the team calls up someone like Zalewski to fill the void until its starters are back to full strength.
Mattias Tedenby is the one guy everyone wants to see at the NHL level, but he has yet to figure out what it takes to be consistent in New Jersey.
Tedenby has played in 101 professional games in his two seasons with the Devils, most amongst his fellow AHL teammates that weren't sent down because of the lockout. However, he has only scored nine goals in that span and forced the Devils to trade for Alexei Ponikarovsky and sign Ryan Carter last year.
This year, Tedenby has really benefited from playing with NHL talent as he currently ranks second in Albany with 10 goals. He is also seeing the ice well with eight assists but still has a poor +/- rating of minus-five.
The 22-year-old forward has some of the best speed in the organization and would really thrive in Peter DeBoer's forechecking offense if he could be more consistent. However, because of the rise of Bobby Butler in the AHL this season, it is unlikely Tedenby starts right away.
If Gionta and Josefson both come back right away and don't miss time, don't expect Tedenby to make the original NHL roster. However, if other injuries come up or some players don't perform, it wouldn't be surprising if Tedenby gets another shot in New Jersey.