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The Kids Are Alright

By: Meghann Bowman

The New Jersey Devils began the season with many question marks. Long time Devils John Madden and Brian Gionta were lost to free agency, coach Brent Sutter bolted for home, and Martin Brodeur was coming off a season where he suffered his first significant injury. It seemed like the Devils were shifting into rebuilding mode and making the playoffs would be a lofty goal. After opening the season with a 5-2 loss to rival Philadelphia Flyers, things looked bleak, but the Devils turned things around, despite the odds against them, but then the injury bug hit. It seems like they were losing a player a game and that it was just a matter of time until the losses started piling up.

Even though the Devils are in the top 10 in the NHL in man games lost to injury with 185 (an average of 3.9 a game), the Devils have surprisingly spent most of the season atop the Atlantic Division. Core players Patrick Elias, Paul Martin, Johnny Oduya, Jay Pandolfo, Dainus Zubrus, and David Clarkson are all have missed a significant amount of time this season, but the Devils ability to seamlessly integrate young players from Lowell into the line up has been essential to their success.

In Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over the Florida Panthers, Nick Palmieri and Patrick Davis were the latest inserted to plug holes in the Devils injury-laden lineup. Both rookies brought energy to the slumping Devils. Palmieri provided an offensive spark in his NHL debut, spending most of his 12:43 of ice time skating on the top line with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. He earned his first point by assisting on Zajac’s game winning goal. Palmieri tallied 5 shots on goal, and barely missed his first NHL goal when he shot a puck just wide off a rebound from a Brian Rolston shot. Davis played a strong 2-way game, totaling 13:34 minutes of ice time skating on the Devils checking line, which was matched up against Florida’s top line most of the night. Both youngsters earned a spot in tonight’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, and the chance to show that Wednesday night wasn’t a fluke.

Palmieri and Davis are just the latest stories of Devils prospects having success in the NHL. When you look at the Devils accomplishments so far, you immediately go to Brodeur, Parise, Elias, Langenbrunnger, and so on, but coming in, the Devils season was contingent on young players stepping up and filling holes, and they have done just that.

Offensively, Niclas Bergfors helped filled the void Gionta left and is one of the top rookie scorers in the NHL with 13 goals and 14 assists. Clarkson started his third season with higher expectations, and, prior to being injured, he flourished in his increased role, scoring 7 goals 25 games. Center Rod Pelley was being groomed as the next Madden, and though Rob Neidermayer had settled into that role, Pelley has found a more physical game and a home on the fourth line. Rookie winger Vladamir Zharkov has shown he has skill, producing 7 assists in 23 games played while mostly skating on the fourth line.

The Devils had a veteran defense to start the season, but injuries opened up opportunities for young D-men. The loss of top defenseman Martin was a huge blow for the Devils, but, surprisingly, Andy Greene, in his 4th season as a Devil, seized the opportunity, leading the Devils with 24:10 minutes of ice time a game and the defense with 24 points. Another surprise has been 23-year old rookie Mark Fraser. His plus-9 rating is the best among NHL rookies. Rookie Matt Corrente has been sent back down to Lowell, but played well in his first 10 games as an NHLer, showing promise and taking a big step in his development.

The Devils are not known for their wealth of prospects and Lowell hasn’t made the playoffs since becoming the Devils AHL affiliate. Their young players’ success isn’t a given by any means. Because of the Devils team first philosophy and a strong system that trickles from the top down, and their ability to let prospects grow by playing in the AHL, they are able to avoid a complete rebuild and continue to succeed in the NHL.

1 comment:

  1. Nice work. Sorry I didn't comment on your first article, but I did read it, and liked it as well.

    The bottom line is the Devils year after year find diamonds in the rough, and these players, while they don't necessarily turn out to be superstars, usually end up being solid NHL'ers. Wouldn't surprise me if Palmieri and Davis turn out to be just that, much to my dismay. :-(

    ReplyDelete