A strong regular season resulting in yet another Atlantic Division title ended in utter embarrassment for the Devils. New Jersey appeared hapless, weak and incapable while being terribly outplayed in their first-round series loss at the hands of Philadelphia. The opening round exit marked the third successive year the Devils were bounced without advancing, and head coach Jacques Lemaire lasted just one season.
New Jersey enters the new campaign with a former star behind the bench, as the team promoted John MacLean from AHL coach to NHL boss, likely to bring a more attacking mindset to the traditionally frugal team. Ilya Kovalchuk remained with the Devils after a trade deadline acquisition, ending a lengthy contract dispute with the NHL, thus providing the Devils with the legitimate star to complement Zach Parise, the new face of the franchise. Martin Brodeur should provide another excellent season and the Devils bolstered their blue line corps in the wake of losing Paul Martin to division rival Pittsburgh, signing Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov. Returning to New Jersey is hero of the 2000 Cup-winning side, Jason Arnott, to help provide veteran leadership and size down the middle.
The Devils are a team with something to prove. They are built for a long playoff run, but have not been able to execute in recent years, despite strong regular seasons. Expect an attack that should be a little more aggressive than in the past, and attractive is the prospect of having Kovalchuk and Parise running the power play. Plus, the Devils will boast crafty veterans like Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner along with grinders such as David Clarkson. New Jersey will provide two elite scorers to fantasy rosters as well as strong middle-round players including Elias and budding center Travis Zajac. Most New Jersey players will not be a risk in the plus/minus department due to the team’s overall defensive scheme.
THE BIG GUNS
Martin Brodeur (G): Entering the final two years of his contract, there's little reason to believe that Brodeur will not be one of the league's top netminders. One of the safest picks on the board, Brodeur's essentially a given for 40 wins and 75 games, along with a goals-against average and save percentage that should be among the league leaders.
Zach Parise (LW): Parise posted another strong season to follow up his breakout 2008-09 campaign despite seeing a 12-point drop in total points. A dynamic winger entering the prime of his career, few possess Parise's energy level and drive. Thirty-five goals and a point-per game pace is essentially a given along with an impressive plus-minus rating (plus-54 the last two seasons), as well as an average of four shots per game. He's a safe pick and will be utilized well by new coach John MacLean in the team's attack.
Ilya Kovalchuk (LW): Following a lengthy contract battle this summer featuring the NHL rejecting two of the deals agreed to by Kovalchuk and the Devils, the Russian sniper will be playing out his career with New Jersey, agreeing to a 15-year, $100 million contract that was approved by the NHL in early September. Kovalchuk pressed at times last season, attempting to do too much and didn’t have the support needed in the playoffs. Look for Kovalchuk to man the point on the power play as he aims for his seventh consecutive 40-goal season. One of the league’s elite talents will bring his trade to New Jersey and expect the team to rely heavily on him to bolster the offense. If your league counts shots on goal, bump Kovalchuk up a few slots as he’s certainly not shy about launching the puck. Some may feel New Jersey’s system could stifle some of Kovalchuk’s skill, but they didn’t bring him in to back check, so look for another strong season from Kovalchuk. Fifty goals might be a stretch, yet his plus/minus rating will no longer be the albatross that it was during his tenure with Atlanta.
ON THE RISE
Travis Zajac (C): Zajac's development as a budding center continued last season as he posted career-best totals in goals (25) and points (67), to go with a plus-22 rating. His chemistry with Zach Parise is essential to his success and all signs point to him posting another career season. Look for similar goals totals, a strong plus/minus rating, and a handful of power-play points. He hasn’t missed a game the last three seasons and just two in his four-year career.
Patrik Elias (LW/C): Despite missing 24 games due to injury last season, Elias posted a solid, if unspectacular, 19 goals and 48 points in 58 games. He's a safe play (aside from the injury aspect) and will be a factor in the Devils' offense. He will likely be reunited with Jason Arnott, the center with whom some of his most productive years were alongside. Elias has the potential to be a point-per-game player, but don't expect it. He's a solid player that will be 35 next April and could be a good mid-round addition to your squad.
Jamie Langenbrunner (RW): The Devils’ captain had a forgettable end to the 2010 season; expounding his late-scoring woes (two points in the final 12 games, both coming on empty-netters), the Devils were embarrassed by Philadelphia in the playoffs. Langenbrunner posted his second consecutive 60-plus-point season last campaign, but saw 10 less goals. Despite rumors of disagreements with former coach Jacques Lemaire that surfaced late in the season, expect him to have a bounce-back year with 50-60 points.
Andy Greene (D): Greene burst onto the scene last season after several campaigns of unfulfilled promise, notching 37 points in 78 games, plus 15 power-play points. These are the numbers the Devils were expecting from Greene following an outstanding college campaign with Miami He won't score many goals, but he should assume the point on the first power-play unit and approach 30 points. Draft accordingly.
David Clarkson (RW): Before missing about half the season due to a leg injury, Clarkson was on pace for a career season in terms of goals and penalty minutes. In a full season for Clarkson, he could see 20 goals and 40 points, as well as 150-plus penalty minutes. Obviously, he's a good value in leagues that reward PIMs, plus he sees power-play time.
TWO TO AVOID
Jason Arnott (C): Arnott's second stint with the Devils may not be as productive as his initial turn with New Jersey, one that saw the more productive years of his career and a Stanley Cup-winning goal. Arnott has posted 20-plus goals in 10 of the last 11 seasons and should approach those numbers again with New Jersey. Look for 20 goals and possibly 50 points, as well as power play time for the veteran, but don't expect much more. He could be a solid late-round addition to your roster in deeper leagues, especially if he finds some of the chemistry he previously had with Patrik Elias.
Brian Rolston (C): Rolston had another disappointing season in 2010, with just 20 goals and 37 points despite playing 80 games. The days of him being assured of 30 goals are long gone, and he's more of a third-liner that the Devils will use in a variety of situations, rather than relying on him for production. Look for Rolston to see some power-play time thanks to his heavy shot, but he's a depth player at this point in his career.
Jacob Josefsen (C): Josefson's one of the Devils more promising prospects. Projected as a solid two-way center, he was the team's top pick in 2009 and has shown good chemistry with Matias Tedenby. Josefson's offensive skills need to develop more before he pops up on draft radar screens, but he's worth remembering in deep keeper leagues.
Mattias Tedenby (LW): Tedenby has an opportunity to make the team's roster out of training camp and is one of the organization's top offensive prospects. He's shown good chemistry with fellow young Swede Jacob Josefsen. Definitely remember Tedenby's name if you're in a keeper league, as he performed well at the team's prospect camp in July.
Vladimir Zharkov (RW): Zharkov showed some good chemistry with several of the Devils' top-six forwards last season but with just 10 assists in 40 games, he hit a bit of a wall in terms of production. The Devils like his energy and work ethic and he's a promising prospect, but don't expect too much offensively just yet. With that in mind, those in deep keeper leagues should remember his name as one of the team's rising players.