Devils preseason week one rundown

The view from 209 at Barclays (from someone on HFBoards that was also in my section)

With four games behind them and a good chunk of players who opened camp with the Devils already down at Albany or back in juniors, things are getting serious now for the 34 players who remain in camp hoping for one of 23 roster spots for the Devils’ season opener next Thursday.  There still remain question marks at each position on the roster, which was part of the design of Lou Lamoriello’s attempt to inject competition in camp with a handful of veteran PTO’s and stockpiling kids who are ready and almost ready to make a contribution.

In goal, Cory Schneider’s clearly the #1 guy but after four games there’s still some doubt as to who will be backing him up.  While 37-year old Scott Clemmensen and 25-year old Keith Kinkaid are at different places in their careers, each is in a similar position on this roster, both with two-way contracts.  Each has also had a similar chance to audition, getting a game and a half with Kinkaid looking pretty decent (aside from one puckhandling snafu) against the Islanders at Barclays Center while Clemmensen looked shaky in his half game against the Rangers at MSG last Monday and wasn’t really tested all that much by the Flyers yesterday.  After previously stating that Schnieder would play in the final two games of the preseason to get ready for the regular season, coach Pete DeBoer seemed to be backing off that because of the backup goalie competition.  Personally I think they wanted Clemmensen to win the job – especially with him being waiver-eligible and Kinkaid not – but so far the youngster seems to have a leg up, hence the added evaluation.

On defense things are shaping up with our ten defensemen remaining though Damon Severson’s still in camp, I still think he and fellow youngster Seth Hegelson are shaping up more as the first callups from Albany (Hegelson to add physicality, Severson to add skating ability and some offense).  Assuming neither make the team, it’s down to Tomas Kaberle and Peter Harrold for the #7 spot since Jon Merrill’s absolutely going to be on the roster and it’s not realistic to expect any of the other five signed defensemen to be waived.  Camp tryout Mike Komisarek was waived from his PTO after a couple of bad-nondescript games.  Honestly I’d rather see status quo for now here and Harrold remain the #7, since he’s more used to – and better at the ‘go in cold and play competent’ role of a seventh defenseman.  However, it is exciting to see the shift in the Devils’ defense that’ll take place in the next couple years and is already underway with Merrill, Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas looking at key roles this year.

Up front, twenty-one forwards still remain for fourteen spots.  Although it’s more accurate to say that eleven forwards remain for four spots since the top nine seems set barring line changes (and Tuomo Ruutu’s going to make the team as well):

Cammalleri-Zajac-Jagr, Havlat-Elias-Zubrus, Clowe-Henrique-Ryder

Among those forwards, new acquisition Havlat and last season’s dissapointment Ryder look among the best players in camp this year, both of which are vital to our success offensively this year.  While barring a trade those ten forwards seem a certainty to be on the team to start the season, everyone else is on the border.  Going into camp, Steven Gionta, Steve Bernier, Jacob Josefson and Damien Brunner had an edge over the kids and camp invites, given the fact all are signed to one-way deals and Lou admitted last year he didn’t want to bury a contract in the minors.  However, something may have to give and soon.  PTO’s Scott Gomez, Ruslan Fedotenko and Jordin Tootoo are still around (along with Ryan Carter, still in camp without a contract), as are youngsters Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau.  Our eleventh forward is again Cam Janssen but it’s not likely he sniffs the roster coming out of camp.

Of those on the outside looking in, Gomez and Boucher have by all accounts had the best camp.  Boucher seems almost ready to make a contribution in a top nine role but might be a victim of the numbers game early given the ability to send him down without losing him.  Gomez – while he isn’t signed yet – is putting pressure on the team to make room for him after a two-goal game last night following a decent showing at Barclays Friday.  Of those on the inside looking behind them, only Brunner has really looked good from what I can tell.  Of course it’s only the staff’s opinion that’ll count in the end.

At least I’ve been able to see an unusual amount of preseason – though I skipped the second game in Philly, which was on TV but sounded like a total no-show by the Devils who skated on Thursday.  I did get to see a good chunk of the preseason opener last Monday at MSG on the broadcast and made the trek to Brooklyn Friday to see the Barclays Center.  I have to admit the view was better than expected from section 209 though there are definitely areas elsewhere where the view’s less than spectacular.  And given the layout of the arena, when anyone stands up in any row in front of you it not only blocks a good chunk of the ice but can block the scoreboard as well.  Also the concourse in the upper level is really narrow at certain spots, and was problematic enough in a three-quarters fill stadium.  At least it’s not the dump Nassau is though and Barclays was surprisingly easy to get to from Penn Station (just a twenty-minute ride on the 2/3 downtown and you’re right in front of it).  Supposedly our own stadium’s going through some changes under new ownership as well that will be ready for October 18.  Just as well I won’t be there for any of the preseason games I guess, cause when I was there for Aerosmith earlier this month the Rock definitely looked like a work in progress.  As with the team itself, it’ll be nice to eventually see the finished product.

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Islanders Aim High In Final Year At Coliseum

New Islanders captain John Tavares poses for a photo with coach Jack Capuano and GM Garth Snow. nhl.com

New Islanders captain John Tavares poses for a photo with coach Jack Capuano and GM Garth Snow.
nhl.com

For over 40 years, the Islanders have called Nassau Coliseum home. Since entering the league in 1972, they have only known one arena. On Long Island in Nassau County that’s included a rich history featuring one of the NHL’s greatest dynasties. Built on the strength of Bill Torrey’s drafts that included Hall Of Famers Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Billy Smith along with Clark Gillies, Ken Morrow, John Tonelli, Stefan Persson, Duane and Brent Sutter, they won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980-83. A trade for Bob Nystrom put them over the top. His overtime winner gave the Islanders their first Cup.

Amazingly, this will be the final season at the Coliseum. Beginning in October 2015, they’ll relocate to Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It’ll be strange. For 42 years, the Islanders and Long Island have been family. In the future, those passionate fans that have supported them will have to take Mass Transit if they want to see their team. For now, they’ll savor one last year cheering their favorite players who don the trademark dark navy blue and bright orange jerseys.

The current team is looking to move in the right direction. Led by captain John Tavares, they are a young group hoping to surprise their competitors in a tough Metropolitan Division. After losing Tavares to a torn MCL, they finished last with 79 points. A fully recovered Tavares should help. The core is built around the 24-year old franchise center who’ll team up with ’13-14 leading scorer Kyle Okposo to form a dynamic duo. Frans Nielsen provides them with a strong top three.

General Manager Garth Snow inked Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin. The former Leafs played together and are being relied upon for secondary scoring. The Isles are also looking for improvement from Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson. Each enters their second year. Vets Josh Bailey and Michael Grabner must be more consistent. Both are capable of contributing but hit dry spells last year which really hurt the club. Anders Lee and Matt Martin are strong support players along with Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas. Snow also brought in Jack Skille and Cory Conacher to compete for spots.

Snow’s biggest addition was Jaroslav Halak, who’ll be a huge upgrade in net. The 29-year old Slovak is capable of carrying a team. However, he’s never appeared in more than 57 games posting career bests in wins (27) and shutouts (7) with St. Louis in ’10-11. He’ll need to win 30-or-more if the Isles are to challenge for the postseason. Chad Johnson was signed as a backup which is an improvement over Kevin Poulin. The Isles are banking on the new goalie tandem will keep them in more games.

On the blueline, they’ll get back veteran Lubomir Visnovsky, who is returning after missing most of last season with a concussion. If healthy, he can aid their power play and log important minutes relieving pressure from Travis Hamonic. If there is an Achilles heel, it’s a young defense which heavily relies on Hamonic. The 24-year old is the glue that holds it together. He’ll need help from sophomore Calvin de Haan, who has the potential to be a shutdown D. A superb skater with good instincts, it appears the franchise’s patience might pay off. If his rookie year is any indication, the sky’s the limit. Vets Brian Strait and Thomas Hickey are solid but unsteady. As long as Visnovsky, Hamonic and de Haan can carry the load, that’ll allow coach Jack Capuano to limit their minutes. Matt Donovan and Kevin Czuczman could push for time.

The club also has high hopes for prospects Griffin Reinhart and Ville Pokka. Both are only 20 with lots of potential. Unless either blows them away in camp, there’s no reason to rush. As long as they remain patient, they should continue to improve.

It’s hard to predict how they’ll do. This is a team with some good talent. At the NHL level, they have a surplus at forward. The additions of Grabovski and Kulemin could make Bailey or Grabner expendable. Considering that Grabner is explosive shorthanded, I’d retain him and explore trading Bailey. The only problem is he’s signed for another three years at a cap hit of $3.3 million while Grabner’s contract expires after 2015-16. Depending on where they are in the standings, Snow could look to acquire a defenseman. We’ll have to wait and see.

Of the three Battle Of New York clubs that comprise the metro area, they’re the team with the brightest future. However, it all hinges on Halak. Is he cut out for New York? Time shall tell.

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Stepan Injury No Reason To Panic Yet

dd7c7-derekstepanhatty

Injuries are part of sports. For the Rangers, they’ll have to deal with some adversity early. The team announced that Derek Stepan suffered a fractured left fibula. The injury was sustained during practice earlier today. The top center will be examined further to determine how long he’ll be out.

Certainly, you don’t want to start a season without your number one center. That’s exactly what the Rangers have to do as they begin defense of an Eastern Conference title. Having bought out Brad Richards and lost Brian Boyle to free agency, center depth is a question entering 2014-15. Now, it becomes a bigger issue for at least the first month. Derick Brassard is supposed to center the second line. Instead, he’ll likely anchor the top unit unless coach Alain Vigneault decides to sub Dominic Moore for Stepan similar to last Spring.

With competition for the third line between J.T. Miller, Matthew Lombardi, Oscar Lindberg, Kevin Hayes and Chris Mueller, Vigneault must determine who can help the team survive without Stepan. Depending on how long he’s out, it becomes imperative for whoever makes the club to be able to contribute. In their preseason home loss to the Devils Monday, Miller stood out setting up a pair of goals including a nice feed for a Ryan Malone power play goal. The 21-year old former 2011 first round pick must continue to distinguish himself. If he does, perhaps he can be counted on more from a coach who questioned his professionalism last season.

Assuming Miller makes it and there’s no reason to believe otherwise, that leaves four players for one center slot. Of the quartet, Lombardi is a proven NHLer who can center a bottom line. The 32-year old vet who signed this summer played last year in the Swiss League totaling 20 goals and 50 points in 40 games. While he won’t be expected to produce much offensively, Lombardi is capable of contributing as long as he stays healthy. With Moore likely to move up, pencil Lombardi in on the fourth line. Unless Lindberg or Hayes impress, they’ll probably start in Hartford. While I’d love to see either force their way on, it’s probably best for development. That leaves Mueller as a potential extra.

With Stepan going down, it’s easy to criticize general manager Glen Sather. Already we’ve seen the finger pointed at him for not signing Mike Ribeiro. You can’t look at it that way. Injuries happen. Based off one game, Tanner Glass at least gave us a glimmer of hope. He even helped set up Jesper Fast’s tying goal and killed penalties. While I’m no fan of him, you have to give Glass a chance. From a toughness standpoint, he can at least provide energy. There’s no guarantee he’ll play all 82. I wouldn’t expect it. You don’t have to dress him every night. Maybe a Fast or Ryan Bourque sneaks in.

It would be easy to panic now that Stepan will miss time. I’m not ready to yet. This is an experienced team coming off a run to the Stanley Cup Final. There are plenty of holdovers who should provide leadership. Minus Stepan, over half the roster were part of that run which included a 3-1 second round comeback for the first time in franchise history. That includes Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, John Moore, Kevin Klein, Brassard, Dominic Moore, Carl Hagelin, Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and Martin St. Louis. Miller, Fast and Cam Talbot were also part of it. That’s 16 players discounting Stepan who eventually will return. Don’t forget Dan Boyle is a proven vet who’ll help replace some of Richards’ leadership. That can’t be overlooked.

When it comes down to it, there’s plenty of reasons to believe this team should be okay. Undoubtedly, they’ll miss Stepan’s play making and skill set. He is a superb passer who plays on the top power play unit. Brassard is a strong power play player who notched seven PPG’s and set up others last year. He had great chemistry with Zuccarello. With Benoit Pouliot gone, Nash could replace him allowing Kreider and St. Louis to play together on the first line. It’ll be up to Kreider, St. Louis, Nash and Zuccarello to produce. Don’t forget Hagelin, who had a good postseason tallying seven goals and 12 points. If vet Lee Stempniak can offset Pouliot, there should be enough scoring depth.

It really becomes about how well Brassard plays in Stepan’s absence. He’ll need to be more consistent. A slow first half was followed by a strong second half in which his line became one Vigneault could count on. In the first year of a new deal that pays him $25 million over the next five years, it’s time for Brassard to reach the next level. There’s no reason he can’t produce between 50-60 points. The Blueshirts need him to.

It could always be worse. Look no further than Carolina and Jordan Staal, who suffered a broken leg during their preseason game against Buffalo Tuesday night. He could be out a lot longer than Stepan. The point being that at least Stepan’s injury isn’t going to keep him out long-term. I’d rather the Rangers’ Iron Man get hurt now than during the season. He’ll be back. It’s important for the club not to rush him back. No matter what happens, they must be patient. Barring a horrible start, they’ll be fine.

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Still Without A Captain, Rangers Camp Opens

Henrik Lundqvist and teammates salute the crowd following their 2-1 Game 4 win over the Kings.  AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Henrik Lundqvist and teammates salute the crowd following their 2-1 Game 4 win over the Kings.
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Following a short summer, the Rangers opened up training camp today. They’re finally back after a great run to the Stanley Cup Final. Can they repeat last year’s success? That could depend upon how some of the new faces adjust.

In a salary cap era, there will be casualties. Gone are Brad Richards, Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, Benoit Pouliot, Derek Dorsett, Daniel Carcillo and Raphael Diaz. They’ve been replaced by Dan Boyle, Lee Stempniak, Tanner Glass, Ryan Malone, Matthew Lombardi and Chris Mueller. General Manager Glen Sather also added Michael Kostka, Steven Kampfer and Matt Hunwick to compete for seventh defenseman. Unless Conor Allen or Dylan McIlrath shine in camp, they’re likely ticketed for Hartford.

One of the team’s biggest concerns is who will step up and replace Richards. Even though it was a no-brainer to buy him out freeing up necessary space to re-sign Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Dominic Moore, Richards’ leadership and production will be missed. His 20 goals and 51 points ranked in the top three in club scoring. His departure opens up competition at center. The leading candidates are J.T. Miller and Oscar Lindberg who’ll compete with Lombardi and Kevin Hayes. It’s a big year for Miller, who must prove he belongs. The competition should be fun to follow.

Center remains a question mark. Derek Stepan is already the team’s number one pivot. He’ll look to build on a career best 57 point regular season that also included a new career postseason high 15 points (5-10-15). The 24-year old is someone to keep an eye on. He’ll need to become even more of a leader. There is even more pressure on Brassard, who’ll be asked to anchor the second line. In ’13-14, he centered the cohesive third line featuring Zuccarello and now departed Pouliot (signed with Edmonton). Their scoring proved pivotal during the postseason. Sather handed Brassard a five-year $25 million contract. A former Columbus first round pick who set personal bests in goals (18), power play goals (7) and game-winners (4), Brassard must perform more consistently. He’ll likely center Zuccarello and either Rick Nash or Carl Hagelin.

One of the big story lines is who will become the next captain. After Slats dealt Ryan Callahan to Tampa Bay for Marty St. Louis, the team came together making their first Cup appearance since 1994. They rallied around the death of St. Louis’ Mom coming back from a 3-1 deficit to stun Pittsburgh and then eliminated Montreal to become Eastern Conference champs. For most of the summer, it’s been felt that Ryan McDonagh will be named the 27th captain in franchise history. A story Daily News beat writer Pat Leonard went with last week. For now, Alain Vigneault won’t reveal the new captain until preseason concludes. I guess he prefers suspense.

There aren’t as many questions with the defense. Sather opted to let Stralman walk to the Lightning, who apparently have become Rangers South also inking Brian Boyle and re-signing Callahan. Stralman was a solid defensive defenseman who worked well with Marc Staal. He was a strong puck possession player who rarely made mistakes. Rather than bring him back, Slats decided to address the power play by adding Dan Boyle for two years at a cap friendly hit of $4.5 million. The veteran is a proven power play quarterback who is still productive with six of his eight goals coming on the man-advantage last year in San Jose. At 38, he can still log important minutes and should slide in with Staal. The only question is does his offense make up for a potential loss in defense. That’s what the Rangers are banking on. With John Moore re-upping last week for $850,500, he’ll team with Kevin Klein, who was steady after coming over from Nashville for Michael Del Zotto. Moore has potential but is still raw. His skating ability and shot are top notch. If he becomes more consistent, 25-30 points is possible.

As far as the top pair, there aren’t many better than McDonagh and Dan Girardi. Mac Truck flourished in the playoffs pacing the team in scoring with 17 points while dominating defensively. His elder partner Girardi rebounded from a bad first half eventually re-signing for six years at an average of $5.5 million per year. While he struggled badly against the Kings, Girardi remains the heart and soul sacrificing his body for the team any way possible. You just hope that risky style doesn’t come back to bite him halfway through that contract.

The only other question is Staal, who enters the final year of his contract that sees him earn a modest $3.975 million. A popular team leader who has overcome serious injuries, Staal hinted that he wants to stay. Similar to Henrik Lundqvist, he’d like to get a new deal done as soon as possible. With rumors that it could take six years at at least $6 million, it remains to be seen if it’ll get done. While I value Staal, who’s the second best defenseman behind McDonagh, I wonder if we haven’t already seen the best of him. However, with prices for defensive D-men on the rise, his salary demands aren’t out of whack. If he ever does reach next summer, teams might be willing to pay top dollar.

It’s an interesting dilemma for Sather, who also must lock up Stepan, extend Hagelin and worry about Zuccarello and valuable backup Cam Talbot. I’m not advocating getting rid of Staal. However, if he doesn’t improve from last year and his demands are too high given the risk he could be, maybe they’re better off trading him. Right now, I’d rather not think about that. You can’t break up the defense right now. Along with Lundqvist, it’s the strongest part of the team. I’m not comfortable with Klein in the top four. He and Moore are a good fit on that third pair. Let’s just wait and see.

Goaltending has never been stronger with Lundqvist carrying his team as far as he could humanly take them. Heroic is the best way to describe King Henrik’s 2014 postseason. After clearly being affected by having no contract, he showed great mental strength turning it around once Sather re-signed him. There’s not a more admirable athlete in the metro area once Derek Jeter retires. Lundqvist will do anything to win and often does when his team doesn’t supply offense. Here’s hoping Rick Nash remembers what he’s paid for. Even better, Lundqvist can get nights off thanks to Cam Talbot, who came out of nowhere to win 12 games with three shutouts while posting a 1.64 goals-against-average and .941 save percentage. If 33 wins, a 2.36 GAA, .920 save percentage and five shutouts is an “off year,” just wait to see what Lundqvist comes back with.

Even without Richards, Boyle, Pouliot, Stralman, Dorsett and Carcillo, this remains a good team that is capable of challenging for first in the Metropolitan Division. Much depends on how some of the replacements do. Don’t forget they get a full season of Marty St. Louis which should only help. You have to like a potential top line of Kreider or Nash with Stepan and St. Louis. I don’t think you can have St. Louis and Zuccarello together the same way I believe splitting up Nash and Kreider provides more balance to the top two units.

I’m most curious to see who emerges in camp. Don’t forget Ryan Haggerty, who had an impressive Traverse City pacing our prospects with three goals. He’s a right-handed shot which is something the club lacks. While it’s still a long shot for him to make it due to stiff competition coming from Miller, Malone, Lindberg, Hayes, Ryan Bourque, Danny Kristo, I’m curious to see how he looks. I’m also pulling for Bourque, who has been written off due to his smallish 5-9, 185-pound frame. He had his best pro season with Hartford. I still feel he could surprise and become a fourth line/penalty kill specialist.

With camp tests running today and Friday followed by Monday’s first preseason game at home against the Devils on MSG, hockey is finally back. It’s about time.

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Devils camp opens without contreversy, but plenty of intrigue

Martin Brodeur leaving the ice possibly for the last time

Martin Brodeur leaving the ice possibly for the last time

In too many recent seasons, the Devils have entered camp with an overriding question or contreversy that needed to be addressed.  In 2010, it was the cap/roster issues due to the monster Ilya Kovalchuk contract that led to the team having short rosters early in the season and an unhappy captain refusing to waive a no-trade until the season was completely in the tank (Jamie Langenbrunner).  The next season it was Zach Parise’s impending UFA status and ownership financial problems that hung over the team like the sword of Damocles even as the Devils made a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Finals.  In 2012, the team had to replace one-and-done captain Parise and his 30+ goal, 70+ point production on the heels of a lockout, and also had to drag an unhappy Kovalchuk back from Russia.  Last year, there was the matter of replacing Kovalchuk who decided to stay in Russia permanently this time, as well as deal with a goaltending contreversy between draft day acquisition Cory Schnieder and franchise legend Martin Brodeur.

This season?  To be sure there are question marks and storylines…for one Brodeur’s not here for the first time in two decades (though still on the market as a UFA, now officially in career limbo), while Schnieder’s fully entrenched as the goaltender-in-chief with a new six-year extension.  Another former team legend that isn’t here is Scott Stevens, who left the coaching staff a few days before the season, following two seasons as an assistant on Pete DeBoer’s staff and several others as a special assistant.  Personal and professional reasons were the official reason given for Stevens’ departure, though NJ.com’s Rich Chere wrote – via ‘several sources’ – that Stevens didn’t feel like he had enough input in decision-making.  Whatever the reason, the organization announced that Tommy Albelin would make the jump from the Albany staff to replace Stevens, which might actually work out well considering Albelin’s worked extensively with all of the young defensemen that are going to be counted on to be in the lineup this season.

Still even Brodeur and Stevens’ departures (notwithstanding the presence of Anthony Brodeur in camp) pale in comparison to the issues of recent seasons past.  There are still plenty of question marks, to be sure – as there is with just about any team coming into camp – but at least this time around it doesn’t feel like there’s a reaper just around the corner.  With Schnieder and blueline stalwart Andy Greene signed to long-term deals in the offseason, the Devils can at least continue to budget for additions to the team as opposed to merely trying to prevent more departures…and with new ownership in its second season, there will at least be more money to spend than there was a few years back.  Also after two seasons of contreversy and an overcrowded defense, finally the shift towards having a younger defense and a more set lineup got put in motion with the buyout of Anton Volchenkov and the FA departure of solid but not spectacular Mark Fayne.  Veterans Andy Greene, Marek Zidlicky and Bryce Salvador will complement youngsters Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas with Peter Harrold a solid #7 fillin.

Thankfully Gelinas signed earlier this week to eschew the possibility of a camp holdout, which seemed kind of likely once infamous agent Gilles Lupien started making very personal comments about GM Lou Lamoriello (not surprpising though given their history, considering it was Lupien who was famously fired by Brodeur when the goalie decided to come to his own deal with Lou to end a contract stalemate in the late ’90’s).  Even with the defense apparently set however, there’s still a little intrigue with camp tryouts Tomas Kaberle and Mike Komisarek, as well as KHL veteran Renat Mamashev.  It’s pretty unlikely that any of them beat out the kids for a spot – Larsson and Gelinas are waiver-eligible and would never get down to the AHL anyway, while Merrill was too good last year to even consider having him start the season in Albany – but one could possibly beat out Harrold for the #7 defense spot I suppose, or be on standby in case someone gets hurt in camp.

Likewise our forward lineup seems set or close to it with fourteen guys signed on one-way contracts plus fan favorite Ryan Carter, who’s attending camp without a contract but probably will be signed at some point.  Yet there are some intriguing camp bodies that could further cloud the forward picture with scoring winger Reid Boucher and former first-rounder Stefan Matteau the biggest names among our prospect base and the most likely to make an impact in 2014-15.  Both will likely start in Albany this year barring injuries and/or trades though.  Also in camp are some vet tryouts up front, including feisty Jordin Tootoo and scoring vagabond Ruslan Fedotenko, who seems to want to complete a tour of the locals after being with the Rangers and Flyers the last couple years.

Of course the biggest name among our camp invites is the most familiar/notorious to Devil fans – Scott Gomez, who was a key figure on our team during our most dominant stretch (2000-2003) where we won two Cups and three Wales Conference bowls during a four-year period.  Gomez had his best season in 2005-06 with 33 goals and 84 points.  However, Gomez soon became blacklisted among Devil fans after he made the jump to the rival Rangers during the summer of 2007, and his career fell on hard times from 2010 on after being traded to Montreal – also playing in San Jose and Florida the last couple of seasons after being bought out by the Canadiens.  Perhaps it’s telling Gomez got the number 28 (FA signee Mike Cammalleri’s wearing Gomez’s old #23), while all of the other vet invites got high numbers.  Usually lower numbers = more of a chance to make the team.  Gomez making the team would probably be bad news for the ill-fated Jacob Josefson whose career’s been plagued by injuries and benchings – though the former first-rounder signed a two-year deal in the offseason – still, if Gomez somehow turns back the clock a bit a la Petr Sykora a couple years back, he could easily outperform Josefson and win a job.  There’s also the possibility Gomez is just insurance in case the fragile Swede winds up on IR again during camp.

While I really want to see Josefson get a chance and finally make the most of it this year, part of me is hoping Gomez lasts at least till our preseason home games to see both his public pandering to the fans and the fans’ reaction since the booing never really abated even after Gomez’s career cratered.  Oh well, what would Devils camp be without at least one or two returning former players – the other returnee this year being goaltender Scott Clemmensen, who’s competing with young Keith Kinkaid for the role of backing up Schnieder this year.  Clemmensen has been remembered much more fondly by the fans since leaving thanks to his Cinderella 25-win season in 2009 that saved our bacon when Brodeur was on IR for four months.  Still, after a bad couple of seasons in Florida it’s far more likely he begins the season in Albany if Kinkaid outperforms him in camp.  That competition will certainly be an intriguing thing to watch.

Competition seems to be the new buzzword around camp in fact.  Even though most of the roster would appear to be set at the present time, there’s definite competition for forward spots among young and old players (most on short or no contracts), for places in the defensive pecking order among the younger players – including Damon Severson who might potentially be this season’s Merrill and make an impact out of nowhere – and competition for the #2 goaltending spot.  All of this is a good thing by the way…for all of my issues with how the defense was handled the last couple years, I’ve never been against competition, especially on a team that’s missed the playoffs the last couple years.  What happened on defense those two years didn’t help matters however, and seemed more like a rotation and exercise of roster convenience than an actual competition.  On the other hand, loading up on forwards to start camp this year is not exactly a bad strategy, given the number of older/injury-prone guys we have up front.

While there are certainly question marks around the Devils and how good they can be this year (and I’ll be commenting on them through camp), at least camp will be intriguing to watch without many of the worries during recent seasons.  Here’s a numerical/positional roster of everyone in Devils camp this year:

http://devils.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=730479

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Viewers Get Shut Out By Traverse City

Rangers prospect Anthony Duclair is one of the featured players participating in Traverse City. Too bad you can't see him. The Canadian Press/Francis Vachon

Rangers prospect Anthony Duclair is one of the featured players participating in Traverse City. Too bad you can’t see him.
The Canadian Press/Francis Vachon

Every September, hockey fans get excited for its return. Not only do we get to see our teams and favorite players come back but we also get a chance to follow prospects. Whether it be during training camp, preseason or in specialized prospect tournaments, it’s nice to see who stands out. Unfortunately, for those who don’t live in Traverse City or are media credentialed, you have no way of keeping track.

Not long ago, NHL Network televised games in Traverse City. However, times have changed and not for the better. For whatever reason, they’d rather air playoff repeats than give starved fans what they want. It’s no secret I’m not fond of NHL Network or NBC Sports Network (NBCSN). I’ve always felt both league partners could do better to promote the game. While it’s not all negative during the season with NHL Network airing AHL and prospect games while NBCSN shows college hockey, there’s still collective disappointment that fans don’t get to see any coverage of Traverse City or a host of other tournaments featuring former top picks. Unless you live in Canada, you’re shut out.

By show of hands, who thinks the NHL can do a better job? This isn’t to ignore loyal reporters who at least give us something. When you are left empty handed after failing to find a decent site that has a boxscore, it’s sad on so many levels. In today’s world of social media, it doesn’t make any sense. Sure. You can follow Corey Pronman on Twitter and at least read some of his tweets. Unless you’re an ESPN Insider, you’re not getting much information. It makes blogging about it useless.

Today is the final day of Traverse City, who are in their 16th year. Throw your hands up in the air. Hooray for not giving us anything. Shame on everyone involved. Thanks for nothing!

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Devils Re-sign Eric Gelinas

After a long wait, the Devils finally re-signed Eric Gelinas. The 23-year old offensive defenseman posted seven goals and 22 assists for 29 points in 60 games last season. Despite some defensive deficiencies which limited ice-time, Gelinas was productive. His 29 points ranked third among New Jersey blueliners. Five of his seven markers came on the power play.

Gelinas gets a one-year deal worth a reported $900,000. Along with Andy Greene, Marek Zidlicky, Bryce Salvador and Jon Merrill, Gelinas will be in competition with Adam Larsson and veteran Peter Harrold for the final spot. Given his offensive capabilities, he remains a strong candidate to man the Devils power play. With Zidlicky quarterbacking the first unit, Gelinas could slot in on either unit. Boasting a cannon, his offense is valuable. Much will depend on how much he improves in his end.

“Just happy to have everybody here, everybody ready,” Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “It’s the first step towards getting our team together. We’ve got all our players here and now training camp begins.”

The Devils have also invited vets Tomas Kaberle and Mike Komisarek to camp. They’ll also take another look at top prospect Damon Severson, who posted 15 goals and 61 points for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. Only 20, the 2012 second round pick is on the fast track. But with New Jersey boasting a lot of depth, there’s no need to rush him.

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