5 Devils That Need to Improve in 2013
For the New Jersey Devils to position themselves for another chance at Lord Stanley's Cup, they will need several players to step up their game. Zach Parise is off and running in Minnesota. Petr Sykora and Alexei Ponikarovski are two other top-nine forwards no longer with the team. Replacing the production of those three guys is the top priority for Pete DeBoer's club.
But there are other areas of concern as well, including a young defensman who must make strides and a certain Russian superstar who can improve his backchecking.
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The Devils have been forced to be patient with Josefson. Lou Lamoriello took him with the 20th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry draft, and since then he's suffered a torn thumb ligament, broken collarbone and broken wrist.
What's most frustrating is these injuries seem to occur right when the 21-year-old is about to find his stride.
Josefson is a beautiful skater and has shown flashes of the Swedish craftiness NHL fans have become accustomed to. He has started this year centering the fourth line and will have to earn bigger minutes if he wants them. It will not only be key for Josefson to stay healthy but to produce as well. His contract expires after this season.
Dainius Zubrus is the man who has the task of filling Zach Parise's skates on the first line. And if he plans on coming close, the Lithuanian national needs to put up his best season as a New Jersey Devil. Last year marked his best tally in red and black with 44 points.
Maybe playing alongside Ilya Kovalchuk will benefit him, but the bottom line is the Devils need this guy to put the biscuit in the basket in 2013. It would be wise since this is the final year of his contract as well.
The Devils got a gift from the hockey gods when they won the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft lottery. They went the conventional route and took the draft's best defenseman in Adam Larsson.
Larsson showed plenty of promise in his rookie campaign with his size, vision and skating ability. However, his season hit the rookie wall when this happened, hurting his back and very possibly his psyche (good clean hit, and check out the sportsmanship at the end of the clip). He eventually fell out of the defensive rotation and was inactive for much of the playoffs.
I'm not looking so much at Larsson's production this year as much as his confidence and ability to play well enough to stay in the lineup every game. It's important for him to reach the next rung on the ladder and show he is the real deal.
For my last two, I'm going to challenge a couple proven Devils to bring their game to new heights. First is Travis Zajac.
Before an Achilles injury wrecked almost all of his regular season last year, Travis Zajac was New Jersey's ironman. A reliable center and the team's best faceoff man, Zajac embodies two-way hockey and the Devil way.
The organization feels so highly of him that they game him a $46 million extension on January 16.
A $5.75 million cap hit is a lot for a player whose career-high is 67 points. Zajac has only reached the 60-point plateau one other time, and his third best season featured just 44 points. For this guy to be the No. 1 center for the next nine years, he needs to find another offensive gear.
Zajac has started well with two goals in the teams first two games.
It's might seem strange to criticize the team's leading scorer and a guy who has averaged a point per game since his arrival, but Ilya Kovalchuk needs to improve his defensive responsibility.
Despite the fact that Bryce Salvador wears the "C," this is Kovalchuk's team. He is the new face of the franchise and he is the guy under contract until 2025. Prone to neutral-zone turnovers and defensive lapses at times, the 29-year-old winger could serve himself well to tightening up the shifts inside his own blue line.
The goals and assists will come from his raw talent. Kovalchuk has registered a positive season in the plus/minus category just once in his 10-year career, back in '09-'10. The best way to honor that mammoth contract is by stopping the opposing team from scoring as often as he finds the net himself.