New Jersey Devils: Ranking 5 Issues That Will Define Their Season
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In this 48-game season the New Jersey Devils have no time to glorify their impressive playoff performance from last spring. Once they raise the banner to the Prudential Center rafters they might as well forget it ever happened.
A slow start like last season could be doom. There is no honeymoon period. There will be no all-star break to exhale and regroup.
It is going to get late very, very early. Ilya Kovalchuk and the boys have to get off to a fast start. From losing the face of the franchise to having a 40-year-old between the pipes, these Devils have plenty to deal with in a sprint to the playoffs. Let's rank the five issues that will define their 2013 season.
5. Contributions from the Farm
Just 18 and still rostered in the QMJHL, 2012 first round draft pick Stefan Matteau was invited to Devils camp and has impressed head coach Pete DeBoer.
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Last year Adam Henrique showed up relatively unannounced, only to play in 74 games and tally 51 points in an outstanding rookie campaign that included two playoff overtime goals.
In the beginning of the season, if you had told Lou Lamoriello or Pete DeBoer they had a Calder Trophy finalist in their midst they may have looked at Adam Larsson, their shiny new first round draft pick.
Now the Devils have to hope they have a 2013 version of Henrique, a guy who steps up out of nowhere.
The 18-year-old Stefan Matteau has impressed coach Pete DeBoer thus far with his size and skating ability. Alexander Urbom has had a few cups of coffee in the big league and maybe this is the year he brings his size to Newark for good. Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson are others that may surprise.
4. Can the Fourth Line Bring It Like They Did Last Spring?
Stephen Gionta and the fourth line made the difference for New Jersey in the 2012 playoffs
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The Devils would not have made it to the Stanley Cup finals without the elevated play of their fourth-line combination of Stephen Gionta-Ryan Carter-Steve Bernier. The way this group cycled the puck below the goal line, punishing defensemen and outmuscling forwards proved to be the difference against the Flyers and Rangers.
The way this 48-game season is set up, New Jersey will have to approach every game with playoff intensity to get inside the coveted top eight. Can the fourth line recapture the magic that was so pivotal last spring?
3. Can David Clarkson and Adam Henrique Repeat Last Year's Production?
David Clarkson put up a career year with 30 goals in 2012.
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We already touched on Adam Henrique's masterful rookie performance. What slid under many a radar was David Clarkson's 30-goal campaign, the first of his career and nearly double his previous season-high.
The pressure is on for these two to replicate or improve on last year.
Henrique is out with an injured thumb, but should return in a few weeks. New Jersey cannot afford a sophomore slump from him.
Clarkson was previously a guy known more for his grittiness than all around skill. Was last year just a fluke? Coach Pete DeBoer sure hopes not.
Martin Brodeur is still a wizard between the pipes, but turns 41 in May.
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The 48-game season features 10 back-to-back sets and several stretches of three games in four nights.
Hockey is a physical, often punishing game that demands recovery time for the body.
The Devils have one of the oldest rosters in the league. The starting goalie Martin Broduer is 40 and his backup Johan Hedberg is 39. The veteran leadership cannot be questioned. However, will this aging club lay a few eggs during a condensed schedule? Could that cost them a playoff spot?
1. Who Makes Up for Zach Parise's Scoring?
Zach Parise was the heart and soul of team for 7 years before accepting a 13 year megadeal with the Minnesota Wild
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Those three combined for 59 goals last season, and so far Lou Lamoriello has only countered with the signing of Bobby Butler, a guy with talent but has not proven himself yet.
One has to wonder how the Devils are going to make up for these three losses. A healthy Travis Zajac should fill in some of the gap. It appears that New Jersey will be asking a lot out of the young, unproven forwards on their roster.