The New Jersey Devils were dealt a big blow this week when it was announced Travis Zajac would require surgery to repair a torn Achilles heel, keeping the team's number one center off the ice for about three months. As a result, the Devils are forced to try and fill the void left by Zajac.
If Devils fans are having flashbacks from last year, it may be valid to an extent, as a knee injury to Zach Parise was announced last November. Could new head coach Peter DeBoer be wondering if this is a sign of what may be in store for him this season?
Should Jacques Lemaire prepare for a return to New Jersey later this season to replace DeBoer? Well, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet. There are a few different candidates that will have the opportunity to step up and rise to the occasion for the Devils. Let's take a look at who will be given the opportunity to try and fill the void Zajac is leaving behind.
Guys like Zach Parise and Martin Brodeur will be counted on heavily anyhow, and that's why they were not included in this list. What do you guys think?
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Ilya Kovalchuk will be given any and all opportunities to try and help fill the void left behind by the injury to Travis Zajac. While Kovalchuk isn't a center, he still will be counted on to help whatever center he will share the ice with. As a result, the Devils will be counting on Kovalchuk to get off to a much better start than he did last season.
Last year can be considered a hiccup for Kovalchuk, but there are no excuses this year that remain for him. Even with the absence of Zajac, Kovalchuk will still be counted on to produce. Head coach Peter DeBoer will have his hands full trying to figure out the line combinations, but he must maximize the production of Kovalchuk in any way possible.
Even though Kovalchuk won't directly replace Travis Zajac's spot in the lineup, strong offensive production from one of their star players in Ilya Kovalchuk would go a long way for the team to ensure there is little chance of a repeat of last season.
Adam Henrique got a taste of NHL hockey when he got a chance to play the final game of the season this past April 10th against the Boston Bruins. He certainly did not look out of place and he was a plus-1 on the game, helping to create some havoc in front of the net that helped lead to Alexander Urbom's first NHL goal.
With a healthy Travis Zajac, it's likely Henrique would not have had a place in the regular lineup, at least not at the center position. It's quite possible the injury could be the opening Henrique needs to get a spot in the regular lineup, we will see if he leaves Peter DeBoer the opportunity to send him back to Albany for more seasoning.
Henrique showed last year that he was a top AHL player, scoring 25 goals and adding 25 assists in 73 games during his first professional season. How that will translate to the NHL remains to be seen, but Henrique will be given every chance to take advantage of the opportunity presented and thrive.
Dainius Zubrus is a player who has been unappreciated to an extent by many Devils fans since his arrival to the Devils in the summer of 2007. Because he was signed as a roster replacement to the departed Scott Gomez, many people expected Zubrus to match the production Gomez had put up in his years in New Jersey.
However, Dainius Zubrus is not Scott Gomez, he's Dainius Zubrus. People saw that Zubrus posted 60 points in 2006-2007 in 79 games, but most of that time was alongside Alexander Ovechkin, in a team committed to offense first. I'd be lying if I didn't expect a little more production from Zubrus during his time in New Jersey (51 goals and 84 assists in 294 games), but I've also seen that he has provided a dimension that no one else on the roster has been able to duplicate.
Zubrus' work along the boards and corners is unmatched by anyone the team and the size he provides opens up space for his teammates. I'd like to see how Zubrus can do alongside Ilya Kovalchuk for a full season and see if he can come somewhere close to the numbers he generated playing alongside Ovechkin. Would I expect the same production? Absolutely not, but besting his 40 point season high with the Devils would certainly be a nice starting point.
This will be a key season for the 33-year old Zubrus, and I think a move to the middle alongside Ilya Kovalchuk could benefit the Devils greatly in trying to help replace the injured Travis Zajac, because Zubrus would help create space for the superstar Kovalchuk. I'm sure that is something that Head Coach Peter DeBoer will at least explore during training camp.
Jacob Josefson got his first taste of the NHL during the 2010-11 season, playing in just 28 games, mostly due to a hand injury. However, Josefson showed what he is capable of during that stint, posting three goals and seven assists during that time, which isn't that bad for a 19-year-old kid in his first season of professional hockey in North America.
Josefson had his best stretch of hockey playing alongside fellow countryman Mattias Tedenby and vet David Clarkson. Whether or not that trio will get the chance to play together again remains to be seen. I'd have to say it's probably a little less likely with the injury to Travis Zajac, because its more likely Josefson will have to step up to a role in the first two lines.
His two-way play leaves Josefson as a prime candidate to step up and fill the void. With 28 games now under his belt, Josefson has an idea of areas he needed to improve and building strength was definitely one of them. It's said that he added ten pounds of muscle this off-season and if that's true, it should help him greatly in his development.
Jacob Josefson is a prime example of the type of young player the Devils will be hoping to step up and help keep things steady while Travis Zajac is recovering from his Achilles injury.
Patrik Elias has been a key cog with the New Jersey Devils for a long time now. He's handled every potential obstacle that the team and life has thrown his way. Back in 2000, he and his A-Line teammates helped carry the Devils to their second Stanley Cup title, scoring timely goal after timely goal.
Simply put, Patrik Elias has been the best forward in the history of the team, and it's by a wide margin. Not only is he the franchise's all-time leading scorer, but he's also been great in his own end as well. He did not let being stripped of the captaincy by Brent Sutter slow him down, nor did he allow a bout with hepatitis stop him.
So, when one of the top forwards in Travis Zajac is out with an injury, who else would you expect the Devils to rely on? Based on recent team history, when in doubt, count on Patrik to get it done. He's rarely disappointed, so I would expect him to rise to the occasion.