Devils prospects were given their first competitive chance to show what they are made of this past Friday, and the opportunity to make this year’s Devils team features more than the chance to be on a team that was the runner up for the Stanley Cup from the year before.
Scott Stevens was announced to be one of two new assistant coaches earlier this week. The announcement was released prior to the exhibitionism and tests of skills displayed Friday by some potentially new faces amongst the Devils squad. Stevens, who was already a part of the Devils coaching system as a special assignments coach, is one of the two slots filled by the departing Adam Oates and Larry Robinson.
When considering the strategic significance of making Stevens an assistant head coach, it could be considered one of the better offseason moves made by Lou Lamoriello.
While the majority of last season’s team has returned to make another storming effort at a fourth, New Jersey Stanley Cup, voids left by Zach Parise, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and coaches Adam Oates/Larry Robinson called for reformed chemistry within the team. Many fans might have felt it necessary to take a chance signing the next-best free agent(s) available on the market to bandage or patch the team up player-wise. Whether it was limited cap-space available and/or not seeing enough value in what was available, Lamoriello must have felt it better to raise his young with the best mentors out there.
It should go without asking as a Devils fan why Stevens would be a great addition. It’s hard to argue that he doesn’t know the Devils system well enough to have been a part of all three Stanley Cup Championship victories for the team. He was a leader amongst leaders on the team during his years in New Jersey, and the return of Martin Brodeur might help formulate some new success.
Stevens’ number 4 jersey, which is hung in the rafters of the Prudential Center, will never be worn by any of the newcomers to the team. But if the winning-charisma that lingers with him has any effect, he can help draft picks like Stefan Matteau, Ben Johnson, or Mike Hoeffel who shined with two goals scored in the Red versus White rookie-scrimmage last Friday (Red defeated White, 3-2.)
Stevens’ presence may affect youngsters who have already played at least one full season with the Devils pro-squad. Stevens, a defenseman throughout his entire NHL career, could be an inspiring force for Adam Larsson fresh off of his first year from being a first round pick in 2011. Mark Fayne, who was announced Friday to be returning with a two-year deal, might benefit from a tip or two offered by the Devils legend. Fayne will be entering his third and fourth years as a Devil and as a professional hockey player with his contract signing.
Joining Stevens as an assistant coach, and accompanying head coach Peter DeBoer in his second year, will be Matt Shaw. Shaw’s prior tenure includes three prior seasons as an assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks; a formidably physical, defensive, and quite successful team in recent years.
As it may be, the Devils could be shifting to a more defensive-oriented squad. They should still feature an offensive barrage with Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson, but bringing Stevens in as an assistant coach is, in theory, showing commitment on part of defense that has made the Devils such a successful team in many prior years. Stevens, however, wasn’t too shy to show some offense in his career. In 1993-1994, he scored 78 points and was the only defenseman in New Jersey’s history to lead the team in scoring.
With the potential to see some prospects come up on offense, as well as some defenseman who may take influence to Stevens’ ability to score as a defenseman, the rest of the NHL might have difficulty deciding which Devil to defend.