The Devils are a fortunate team in some respects this year. One promising aspect is the team’s solid defensive core.
Led, in my opinion, by the rock-solid play of Big Bryce Salvador, the body-sacrificing play of Anton Volchenkov, the amazing hockey sense of Andy Greene, the slickness of Marek Zidlicky, the speed and puck handling ability of Henrik Tallinder, the aggressiveness of Mark Fayne, the smarts of Peter Harrold and the youthful energy of Adam Larsson.
It is perhaps the strongest the Devils defense has been since pre-2004-lock-out, and while it may never be that strong again, this group has the ability to keep the team in games, simply by playing to the best of its ability. The fact that there are eight names on the list makes things a bit more interesting. There will be a lot of fighting for ice time, and you could see any one of these players pop in and out of the line-up throughout the season.
With opening day just a few days away, coach Pete DeBoer is going to have his work cut out for him trying to narrow the field down to six. Salvador, Volchenkov, Tallinder and Greene are all logical top four defensemen. I was not always Andy Greene’s biggest supporter, but over the past two seasons he proved himself to be a very smart defenseman, who manages to be in the right places at the right times and make the right decisions on when to carry the puck out and when to clear it.
The real question is on the last two. Zidlicky was a force to reckon with in the playoffs last year. I was surprised by the move of trading Kurtis Foster, Nick Palmieri and Stephane Veilleux for him, but I learned many years ago not to question Lou Lamoriello – the man simply knows how to put a hockey team together. And the post-trade-deadline team last season made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. And even though the team crashed and burned in the finals, I don’t think there was any team that could stop the LA Kings last summer. The team was red hot. That being said the Devils could have shown up for a few of those games.
Peter Harrold was another playoffs surprise. The guy is a decent two-way defenseman. He repeatedly put his body on defense, and his hockey sense in the offensive zone was terrific (I really enjoyed seeing him out there with the Bernier-Gionta- Carter line. He was a nice addition to that solid fourth line).
I’ve been a fan of Mark Fayne since he got the call up from Lowell a few seasons ago. The kid could shoot, and was a great man to have in the back end. Did he make the mistakes many young d—men make, of course he did, but so have Salvador, Volchenkov and the other veterans. It happens. But the kid deserves to be in the NHL. He has proven himself to be able to play at this level.
Last but not least there is Adam Larsson. The youngster had a good rookie season last year. He is a solid skater and even though he hit a few bumps in the road, Larsson showed promise that he will become an elite defenseman in the NHL.
So, what does all of this mean? Will Lamoriello make a trade – unleashing a defenseman for some sort of scoring forward? It is a possibility. I would think real hard before making a move though. With the short training camp and the jam-packed schedule, there are bound to be some injuries this year. It may be smart to keep the defense. However, the Devils could use a few more weapons up top, but you never know what some of these youngsters might be packing this year. Perhaps Mattias Tedenby will show his true potential this season and become the scoring machine he is capable of being. Maybe Stephen Gionta will break out shine as he did in the playoffs last season. We’ll see what happens, but for right now, let’s bask in the glory of having a real solid defense.
Let’s go Devils!