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Elias Out Three to Six Weeks, Chance for Rookies to Stick with Big Club

QualmsContributor ISeptember 16, 2009

RALEIGH, NC - APRIL 26: Patrik Elias #26 of the the New Jersey Devils skates as he waits for a face-off in the first period of Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 26, 2009 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

All-time Leading Scorer Has Groin Surgery

President/CEO/General Manager Lou Lamoriello announced this morning that center Patrik Elias has undergone surgery to break up an accumulation of scar tissue, and will likely miss three to six weeks.

Elias, who had resumed skating on his own, had successful offseason hip surgery, but discomfort in his groin left him unable to practice with the team during training camp.

The setback could leave the Devils without the leading scorer in team history for the first month of the season, during which they play twelve games.

Despite playing wing last season, all indications from new coach Jacques Lemaire pointed towards Elias centering the Devils second line, with Brian Rolston flanking and a player to be determined filling the other wing position. With Elias out, though, a new strategy will no doubt be employed, and another roster spot will temporarily be available.

It is likely that Dainus Zubrus, who centered Elias and the departed Brian Gionta last season on the second line, will reclaim that spot, as he looks for a fresh start with a new coaching staff.

Look for the Devils to give more ice time and responsibility to blossoming winger David Clarkson as well. The tough 25-year-old had 17 goals in his second full season with the team last year, despite playing on the third, and sometimes fourth, line.

The rest of the line up seems open, however, as youngsters like Niclas Bergfors, Rod Pelley, Patrice Cormier, Vladimir Zharkov, and Ilkka Pikkarainen compete for roster spots and look to inject youth into the team.

Bergfors, a former first round draft pick and highly touted prospect for a number of years now, is likely to make the team as a winger; some speculated that he would play alongside Elias and Rolston. It will be interesting to see how Jacques Lemaire incorporates him, and how much responsibility he will be given.

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Rod Pelley is all-but-assured a roster spot, as he will likely take over John Madden's checking center role, and could see time on the penalty kill.

After playing with the big club for 58 games in the 2007-2008 campaign, Pelley couldn't crack the line up last season, as the team went with a more veteran-laden roster. Part of the decision to let Madden walk as a free agent was so that Pelley could get his shot to play full-time in New Jersey.

Cormier was the Devils second-round pick in the 2008 entry draft, and has been playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) the past three seasons. With Elias out, expect the 19 year-old center to get a good, long look during the preseason.

Meanwhile, Zharkov seems like more of a longshot to make the team, as the Russian struggled in his first season on North American ice last season. The third round pick in the 2006 draft managed 11 goals and 23 assists in 69 games for Lowell.

Pikkarainen, as well as Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, will look to add grit and toughness to the Devils fourth line.

Dubbed PL3 by fans and bloggers, Leblond came out of nowhere to make a great impression in camp last season, and found himself in the lineup at times to inject energy. He is mostly known for letting his fists doing the talking, and is expected to take over the enforcer role left vacant by Michael Rupp's departure.

Lamoriello's theme during this offseason was that younger players needed to get a shot to play with the big club. To that end, he made difficult decisions to let veterans and fan-favorites leave after years of service.

Lamoriello insisted that the core of the team was in tact, and he had counted on  incorporating young players to mesh with it. Elias going down is a big blow to that core, and as a result, the young players the organization had in mind this offseason will play a larger role, at least for the time being.

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