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.