The Blue Line: Two Defensemen Who Ran Into The Injury Bug

If Matt Taormina is healthy for the start of the season, he should have a decent chance at cracking the opening night lineup (Image courtesy NJ.com)

A few days ago, I discussed the Devils’ defensemen who would surely make the opening night lineup.  These were Anton Volchenkov, Andy Greene, Henrik Tallinder, and Mark Fayne.  While the Devils could decide to carry seven or eight defensemen with the team, if they do decide to have healthy scratches defensively each night, only six can play in any game.  Today, we’ll discuss two who have run into injury problems in the last year; while both would have different odds to make the roster if healthy, we can be sure that the organization would like both Bryce Salvador and Matt Taormina ready to go.

Sure-Fire Starter(s), If Healthy:

Bryce Salvador: In the past, I have raved about Salvador’s defensive ability, and what he has brought to the lineup since his trade from St. Louis.  Last preseason, however, Salvador suffered from a concussion, and missed all of 2010-2011 as a result. If he is ready for the season opener, the Devils will once again have a d-man with the talent of a top-four defenseman (however, as I stated in a previous post, the ‘Devs first two defensive lines of Volchenkov-Greene and Tallinder-Fayne are pretty much set, so he could make a terrific third-line defenseman, if necessary).  Since he arrived in New Jersey, Salvador has perhaps been the most consistently sound “defensive defenseman” the team has had (Volchenkov has only been a Devil for two-thirds of a season), with the ability to help kill penalties as well.

Post-concussion syndromes can be extremely dangerous; we have seen them arise in hockey often as of late; and Salvador and the Devils must be extremely careful.  Although it now seems unlikely, if these syndromes are once again an issue, then Salvador should not be in the lineup.  At 35, and after missing an entire season, even if he is completely healthy entering camp, the veteran will probably need to work a bit harder in these upcoming weeks if he wants to completely regain his old form.  We have heard from Salvador that he feels ready to go for the upcoming season; however, we are still waiting on the Devils’ medical staff to clear him for practices.  If he is not ready come opening night, then the competition for two open spots should really heat up.  If Salvador is ready to go, however, the spot is surely his; he has proven his tremendous worth to the Devils in past years, and would provide them a large boost that was missing in the lineup last season.

Needing Health To Compete:

Matt Taormina: In what was a miserable start to the season, Matt Taormina was one of few early bright spots for the Devils in his limited time with the team.  Taormina only played in 17 games; however, he showed ability on the powerplay and ability to light the lamp (three goals in such limited time is fairly impressive).  The 24-year-old (who will turn 25 on the 20th of October) also posted 38 shots in these 17 games, or over two shots a game; a high number for a rookie defenseman.  Taormina’s season was cut short after he suffered a non-displaced fracture of his left ankle in a practice in mid-November.  There is not much to analyze (or that I can analyze, at least) of this injury; the defenseman is also confident he is ready, and skated with the prospects last month.

With this being said, it does appear Taormina should be ready, if needed, for the regular season.  There should still be some road bumps for him in proving he is 100 percent, however, in the upcoming weeks.  However, it seems as though Salvador’s injury is plenty more concerning.  If Taormina is back to himself on the ice, he will still need to prove he belongs amongst the Devils’ top six defensemen (he could end up playing alongside Salvador, in fact).  There could be more proven defensive options in the system, whom we may discuss in the coming days.  Taormina’s advantage is his forechecking ability; if he wants to make the lineup, he will need to showcase this throughout camp, as well as the preseason, where he should receive plenty of chances to skate on the powerplay.

There is a good chance that both Salvador and Taormina will be completely ready to go when the regular season begins.  However, a defenseman like Salvador, at the age of 35 and recovering from a brutal concussion, could receive his fair share of off days, allowing for other defensemen to receive playing time who could start the year as healthy scratches with the Devils.  Nevertheless, having him back would be terrific, and Taormina as well, as we can be sure that even if he doesn’t begin the year in the NHL, we will see him again.

The next post in this four-part (at least) series regarding the Devils’ defensive depth will discuss those defenseman in a tight battle for one or two lineup openings.  While Taormina would have fit into this category, he was better served for this post, as both he and Salvador’s seasons were ended (in Salvador’s case, it was before the season) due to injury.  We still have plenty to discuss, and plenty of defensemen to analyze, so be sure to stay tuned!

-Drew

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