With the sudden retirement of Ilya Kovalchuk and the signings of Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder and Jaromir Jagr, the New Jersey Devils are going to have a fresh look going into the 2013-14 season.
Jagr has stated his interest in playing with fellow Czech Patrik Elias, and Clowe has size similar to Dainius Zubrus and Steve Bernier, meaning the lines for next season will be a lot different than they were in the past.
Despite losing Kovalchuk, the Devils will still have plenty of depth, especially down the middle at center. New Jersey has five quality players who could provide playing time at center and will allow the Devils to use guys like Adam Henrique at other positions.
Here are my projected lines for the 2013-14 season.
Despite being up there in age, there is no doubt that a line of Jaromir Jagr, Andrei Loktionov and Patrik Elias could do damage in 2013-14.
Jagr and Elias have played together before internationally for the Czech Republic, and both players have the ability to make other teammates better when they are on the ice. With Elias' ability to open up the ice and Jagr's ability to find the net, the duo could be the main provider for points in New Jersey next year.
The two NHL veterans will also help the young Andrei Loktionov, a player who has the potential to be a great goal scorer on the Devils' top line, progress his game. Loktionov played his best when Ilya Kovalchuk was on his line last season, and I believe Jagr and Elias will make him better next year.
If Jagr was on the Devils last season, he would have led the team in goals and would have finished second in points behind Elias. If Loktionov can provide another 15-20 goals with these two guys on the wing, they could do some damage next year.
Old age isn't going to be a concern for Elias and Jagr, and I believe Loktionov's energy will bring the best out of the veteran wingers. If they can find a way to get into a groove early in the season, expect these guys to be the go-to line in 2013-14.
If anyone is going to potentially replace the goal-scoring abilities of Ilya Kovalchuk, it'll be Michael Ryder.
The Hockey News describes Ryder as a player with "excellent anticipation" and "the ability to get into open areas to score goals." However, they also say he "doesn't make good of his linemates" and is "an average skater."
It seems Ryder needs a quality playmaker on his line to be successful, and I believe pairing him with Travis Zajac over Andrei Loktionov will be beneficial for the team.
Zajac has recorded 42 assists twice in his career with New Jersey but has struggled the past two seasons with inconsistency and injuries. He was rewarded with a huge eight-year extension last season for his success but will have a lot to prove in 2013-14 with a new-look team.
The combination of Zajac and Ryder with an explosive player like Adam Henrique could fare well for a team that desperately needs goals from all four lines. There is plenty of playmaking ability on this second line, and if Zajac can return to his old form, I think the Devils have a lot of potential here.
The Devils lost a lot of their grit when David Clarkson signed with Toronto earlier this month, but signing Ryane Clowe has opened the door for a very physical third line.
Back in 2011-12, the Devils used a combination of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Dainius Zubrus and Steve Bernier to provide physicality and screens up front. The line had some success, but head coach Peter DeBoer shifted his lines on a regular basis.
Devils' lines in warm-ups: Parise-Elias-Kovalchuk; Sykora-Henrique-Clarkson; Ponikarovsky-Zubrus-Bernier; Boulton-Josefson-Janssen.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) February 11, 2012
If the Devils want to be competitive next year, they need to be more physical. New Jersey only averaged 10.6 PIM/G last season, ranked 29th with 515 blocked shots and ranked 28th with 892 total hits.
No team that ranks at the bottom of the league in most physical categories has a chance to make the playoffs, let alone win a Stanley Cup. However, putting Clowe (6'2, 225 lbs), Zubrus (6'5, 224 lbs) and Bernier (6'2, 220 lbs) gives the Devils the size they need to make an impact.
Putting Clowe, a two-time 20-goal scorer with tremendous grit, with two former first-round picks gives the Devils a real chance to put together a nice third line. It will also help Clowe avoid injuries with Zubrus and Bernier protecting him on the ice.
Zubrus and Clowe both had significant injuries last year, but if this third line can come back completely healthy next season, they will surprise a few people.
With Bernier moving to the third line with these updated lines, the famous CBGB line will undergo a facelift going into the 2013-14 season.
Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter, who both played extremely well together at the World Championships this year, will be paired with the young Jacob Josefson, who is looking to stay healthy and consistently perform at the NHL level.
Josefson was pretty awful last season despite finishing the 2011-12 season strong, which forced New Jersey to send him back to the AHL to get some extra work. He and Mattias Tedenby have not reached their full potential since being drafted, and this may be Josefson's last chance to keep his job in New Jersey.
The CBGB line was known to provide energy when the Devils looked flat, but it is quite possible that Josefson can take that energy to the next level if he stays healthy. While Bernier had great chemistry with Gionta and Carter, I think the C-GB part of this line will help motivate Josefson to finally reach the next level.
Putting Josefson with lineup locks like Carter and Gionta could also open the door for players like Tedenby and Rostislav Olesz to take his place if he struggles again in 2013-14. The Devils have room to play around with the fourth line if necessary, and I think Carter and Gionta will play well with whomever DeBoer puts on their line.
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