After a disappointing end to the 2013 season, the New Jersey Devils will now have plenty of time to regroup, prepare for the NHL Draft at the Prudential Center, and evaluate their players and personnel. The bright and exciting part of the New Jersey Devils’ off season is the amount of possibilities ahead. While it may be nerve-wracking that the Devils have several important free agents including unrestricted free agents (UFA’s) Patrik Elias and David Clarkson, as well as restricted free agents (RFA’s) Adam Henrique and Andrei Loktionov, there are high hopes for both resigning these players and welcoming new prospects to the NHL lineup.
On the defensive end, the Devils are already developing Swedish blue-liner Adam Larsson. Now that he has over a full season of experience under his belt, it is safe to assume Larsson will play the entire season next year. There are few Devils defenseman with his youth, responsibility in the defensive end, and offensive skills. However, even more exciting than Larsson is the possibility of Eric Gelinas, Alexander Urbom and Jon Merrill making the NHL team next season. Eric Gelinas is the most intriguing prospect in the NHL system as he was an offensive player that converted to defense upon joining New Jersey. The Devils have lacked offensive potentcy from the blue-line since the departure of Paul Martin, and many fans are desperately hoping Gelinas can bring that back. He possesses a good shot which is rare among the New Jersey defenseman with size. Alexander Urbom brings another aspect back for the Devils – size. At 6’3, 225 lbs, Urbom is bigger than most of the current defenseman. The Devils currently rely on veteran players to provide the immoveable force in front of their net, mainly Bryce Salvador. This role was once menacingly held by players like Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko, and has since been doing downhill. Hopefully, Urbom has honed his skills enough to warrant a spot on the team next season and can bring some strength and size to the defense of aging goalie Martin Brodeur. Lastly, Jon Merrill, who was drafted in 2010 and played for the University of Michigan, has been touted as an immature but talented two-way defenseman. For the same reason as Gelinas, it is an exciting thought to have such a young defenseman coming up that can help at both ends of the ice, particularly one that was drafted as a defenseman.
On the offensive end, the Devils have some young stars-in-the-making that fans have already been introduced to. Jacob Josefson, who struggled with injury issues when he first tried to break into the NHL, finally had a relatively healthy season but was demoted to the AHL for his play. Nevertheless, he is a talented play-making center that has a promising future provided he bulks up to avoid injury. My personal favorite newcomer is 2012 draft pick Stefan Matteau, who played in the NHL for the beginning of the 2013 season. Matteau is a young power-forward with unusually good skating ability for such a player. He doesn’t have a large frame, but he “plays bigger” than he really is. Another prospect that has received a lot of attention lately, despite not having yet reached the NHL, is Reid Boucher who scored 62 goals in 68 games with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Boucher was selected in the fourth round (99th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, so it is safe to say he has been a pleasant surprise for the offensively challenged Devils. He will likely develop his game more with the Devils’ minor league affiliate in Albany next season, as he has an incredible shot but not the skating skills to compete at the NHL level just yet. As a fan, I hope he is able to improve on his skating ability enough over the summer that he can compete for a spot with the Devils next season and get a few games of NHL experience under his belt.
All of the aforementioned new players and prospects seem poised to make an impact with the Devils next season or the following season. With many veterans’ contracts up, GM Lou Lamoriello’s moves during the off season to acquire other players via free agency, trades, and the 2013 NHL Entry Draft will signal how the organization feels about these new players and their development. Personally, I am hoping to see all of these prospects get some serious experience under their belt during the 2013-2014 season, including an offensive player drafted in the upcoming draft.