Thursday, September 8, 2011

New Jersey Devils 2011-12 Preview

Will the Devils return to form after a catastrophic 2010-11?

New Jersey ended with some tremendous hockey, but the writing was on the wall early on.

After opening the season with a horrible start, injuries to Martin Brodeur and Zach Parise did not help. The team struggled to find its game—especially of its best remaining player—Ilya Kovalchuk, and only a late season surge prompting playoff optimism lifted the spirits of the Devils’ faithful.

This season, Martin Brodeur will be back in form, Zach Parise will return from injury, and Ilya Kovalchuk should have slightly less pressure to perform with a better supporting cast.

Indeed, it’s difficult for New Jersey to go anywhere but up after last year. The Devils boast one of the league’s best goaltenders, and depth at forward. Their one weakness may be on defense, where they do not have a clear number one defensemen, but a solid group that will look to defend by committee.

Most interestingly, there are no obvious offensive defensemen. This may be addressed via trade as the season wears on.

Expect the Devils to compete once again, and make the playoffs in the East, perhaps even challenging for a division title.



Forwards
The Devils have a nice blend of skill up front, and it should show this year if they can manage to stay healthy.

Zach Parise
The talented American forward suffered a serious injury and missed most of last season. He may be under the radar in some leagues, but he’s a good offensive player and should rebound accordingly this year. Expect 75-80 points.

Ilya Kovalchuk
Kovalchuk started slow last year, but did pick up the pace later on. By then, the season was lost. This year, he’ll be expected to quarterback the power play and to provide more offense at even strength to improve upon his horrible +/- rating last year. Expect a rebound and 80 points.

Travis Zajac
Zajac is usually capable of 65 points or more, but struggled to get 44 last campaign. Expect a modest rebound this year with a stronger supporting cast. 60 points is a reasonable total for this big forward.

Patrick Elias
The long-time Devil keeps producing year after year. Closing in on 1,000 games, he has been incredibly consistent. He is 35 now, so his numbers may begin to dip. Expect 50 points, anything else is a bonus.

Mattias Tedenby
Tedenby showed flashes of brilliance last year, his first in the NHL. Expectations may be high in the future—and rightfully so. For now, expect a modest improvement with an increased role and increased consistency. 40 points are within reach.

Dainius Zubrus
Zubrus teases with his size and skill, but never seems to break through. Do not expect anything dramatic this year either. Nearing 1,000 games, 30-35 points will be the most to expect from this enigmatic winger.

Nick Palmieri
The 6’3” 220 pound forward brings a nice blend of size and skill to the Devils’ line up. He has breakout potential and played well last year during limited action. Expect 30 points if he lands a spot on one of the top 3 lines, which is likely.

Jacob Josefson
The young two-way forward showed promise last year before injury cut his season short. He’ll be a year or two away from a breakout, but has potential to net 30-40 points.

Defence
Andy Greene

Greene may be the Devils’ best bet for offense from the back end. He’s somewhat inconsistent as he was –23 with 23 points, but had 37 points just a year ago. Expect his number to increase this year, at least towards 35 or so.

Adam Larsson
The fourth overall pick this past season, Larsson gives the Devils that stud blueliner they’ve lacked since the departure of Niedermayer and Rafalski. Larsson will need to bulk up, but may be the Cam Fowler of this year (rookie pressed into action by need).

Goaltending
Martin Brodeur

Arguably the greatest goaltender in the game, Marty missed some time last season and did have a drop off in his statistics. Is he on the decline or was last year a blip?

We believe he still has a few good years left in him, and he didn’t get much help last year. Expect a return to 65 games and 35-40 wins.

Prediction - 35 Wins

Johan Hedberg
The journeyman and perennial back up is reliable and far too often seems called to duty to replace an injured starting goaltender.

Able to handle a moderate workload, , he’s a very solid back up who actually posted better statistics than Brodeur.

Prediction - 12 wins

TOP SLEEPER
Nick Palmieri

The big young winger may get a long look on the second line with Patrick Elias and either Ilya Kovalchuk or Zach Parise.

Palmieri would be asked to use his size and create space. That could be a dream assignment for him, and anyone who owns him on their fantasy team.

A plum assignment like that would raise his stock. He could hit 50 points if things go according to plan.

TOP ROOKIE
D– Adam Larsson

The Devils boast some depth on defense, but not a lot with offensive instincts. That may create an opportunity for the young blue liner to make the line up with some regularity.

One way or another, Larsson looks to be an excellent defenseman sooner or later.

If he does not make the team out of training camp, he will arrive soon and make an impact

Potential Breakout Player
Mattias Tedenby

Tedenby recorded a few multi-point games and demonstrated skill and flare representative of an elite forward at times.

If he can put it together on a consistent basis, Tedenby will be a threat whenever he’s on the ice. For those fantasy hockey buffs in a keeper league, he’s a worthwhile option as there are top-6 spots up for grabs in the near future.

Tedenby will press for a top-6 spot this year and may blossom beyond 40 points sooner rather than later.





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