Three NJ Devils that need to step it up this season.


It’s no secret that the Devils missed the playoffs last year due to many players not living up to their expectations. There was plenty of blame to go around, but now we need to focus on this upcoming season. It’s a new year and anything can happen. The Devils will need all of their players to be on top of their games if they want to go all the way and reach the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup.

Here are three players that I feel need to step up and have big seasons for Jersey’s team:

1. Travis Zajac

It’s no secret that Zajac is my favorite player on the team. I’ve been a huge fan of him since he was drafted by the Devils 20th overall in 2004. Zajac, 29, is entering his ninth season in the NHL and it’s time for him to take his game to the next level. He put up 42 points as a rookie and looked like he was going to become a top player in the league. His best season came in 2009-10 when he had 25 goals and 42 assists. He clicked with former Devils’ star Zach Parise and it felt like those two were going to lead the team to the promised land. However, a Parise injury the next season and a Zajac injury the year after derailed those plans, even though the Devils did manage to make a run to the Stanley Cup Finals after Zajac made a late return in 2012. Zajac just never returned to the player he showed he could be.

Last season, he spent the majority of his time with NHL legend Jaromir Jagr. Those two had a great year factoring in that they did not have a dynamic left winger to compliment their games. Zajac is a solid two-way center and Jagr can do it all. The Devils added a proven goal-scorer in Mike Cammalleri to solidify that line and the Devils will need this trio to do big things. Zajac has the best linemates he’s had in a few years and it’s time for him to show why he’s worth that massive contract Lou Lamoriello doled out to him. I’m expecting 20-25 goals and 45-50 assists. Prove me right Travis.

2. Bryce Salvador

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Salvador has become one of the most criticized players the Devils have on their roster – and for good reason. The team’s captain has not played well since the Finals run of 2012 and that’s an understatement. He looks absolutely lost most of the time and has no speed whatsoever. He was a rock for the Devils in the past and they need him to muster up anything he has left. The Devils refuse to get rid of him so, if healthy (and that’s a big if), he will be in the lineup. Since there’s no realistic way to remove him from the team, we just have to hope that Bryce can surprise us all.

The Devils have a very young defense this season and they will need all the help they can get. With the losses of Mark Fayne and Anton Volchenkov, the only veteran leaders left on the defense are Salvador, Andy Greene and Marek Zidlicky. Many people, myself included, feel like Greene is the next captain of the Devils, but for this season at least, Salvador needs to show why he has that title. Salvador cannot play like a parking cone and let forwards get to the front of the net at ease. He needs to step up and dominate the penalty kill as well as shut down the opponent’s top players. If he can’t, the Devils are in for a rough season.

3. Adam Larsson

The former fourth overall pick in 2011 may finally have an actual shot to show why the Devils drafted him that high. Since he was drafted, Larsson never seemed to ever get a real chance to make a name for himself. As a rookie, he was consistently benched in favor of veterans. Then in the 2012 playoffs, Larsson didn’t get to play until the second round. Head coach Peter DeBoer has never trusted Larsson. This wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world except for the fact that he favors players that have no ceiling at all instead of letting the kid learn and grow from his mistakes. DeBoer did the same thing with Eric Gelinas last season. It drives me nuts. Benching a young player who has a world of potential for one or two small mistakes makes absolutely no sense.

Gelinas and Larsson, in the short time they were paired together, really took off. When they played together last season, each of them played their best hockey of the season. Unfortunately, Larsson got hurt in San Jose and his season was basically finished. Gelinas fell apart after that game and he was sent to Albany or used as a forward down the stretch. This year, those two should play 82 games together and I guarantee that they will both have outstanding seasons. They are both on “prove it” contracts and if they’re used the right way, they will indeed prove it. We know Gelinas has his cannon of a shot, but Larsson also has sneaky good offensive skills. His vision on the ice is at an elite level and his wrist shot is very accurate. He’s also extremely composed in his own zone… sometimes too composed. Larsson needs to take this oppotunity and run with it. The Devils’ success for not only this season, but the future, depends on it.

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