There probably isnít a more fitting image to serve as a microcosm of New Jerseyís 2010-11 season than the photo of Ilya Kovalchukís hilariously sad shootout attempt in Novemberís contest against Buffalo. Kovalchuk is seen peeling away from the goal, his head down as the puck glides to the corner after inexplicably sliding off his stick moments before he was charging to the goal for the win, fans giddy with anticipation for what their hired gun could provide.
Kovalchukís poor start was simply one of a host of problems that plagued New Jerseyís dismal first half, ranging from an anemic offense to spotty defensive play to non-existent power play production, all while their franchise player, Zach Parise, was being diagnosed with a torn meniscus in his left knee at the end of October, playing just 13 games. The nightmare continued well into January even after head coach John MacLean was fired December 23. Those owners that invested first-round draft picks in Martin Brodeur, Kovalchuk or Parise likely found their squads floundering from so little return on their investment.
While New Jerseyís abysmal first half paved the way for the teamís first playoff-free spring since 1996, the Devils made an improbable surge after the All-Star break, as they closed within six points of a playoff berth in March before coming up short. The teamís rebound provided Brodeur owners with typical Marty numbers -- a few shutouts along with miniscule peripheral stats. Kovalchuk also found his game under interim coach Jacques Lemaire, as his 22 goals in the seasonís final 45 games were more in line with what was expected of him.
With newly hired coach Pete DeBoer at the helm, the 2011-12 version of the Devils doesnít look all that different from past reincarnations. Brodeur figures to have a productively reliable, not stellar, season, as owners likely wonít have to burn a first-round pick on Marty now. New Jersey has two elite wingers in Parise and Kovalchuk as well as several solid producers including Patrik Elias, who should be within the 55-65 point range. The team was dealt a blow in early August as Travis Zajac suffered a torn Achillies during off-ice workouts and will likely return in mid-November.
Some young talent will receive plenty of ice time in the form of Swedish forwards Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby as fellow youngster Nick Palmieri, a budding power forward, also attempts to carve a niche in Newark. The team is an ordinary New Jersey mixture of several offensive stars and a host of committed defensive forwards. Grinding winger David Clarkson is well worth a look in leagues that reward penalty minutes, as 100-plus PIMs are all but guaranteed with the potential for 25-35 points.
THE BIG GUNS
Martin Brodeur (G): Those that spent a high first-round pick on Brodeur experienced a legendary case of buyer's remorse in 2010. Brodeur was at the helm during the Devils' catastrophically horrible first half and posted nothing like the consistently strong numbers to which owners had grown accustomed. Thanks to a strong second half, Brodeur, now 39, finished with 23 wins and six shutouts, but most owners had given up on him already. The signs point to New Jersey returning to form this season and Brodeur will be in goal just about every night. Those that buy the team's rebound will be able to get Brodeur a round or two later than usual, but donít wait too long to snag Marty.
Zach Parise (LW): Should the Devils or Parise start the season slowly, expect rumors of the dynamic wingerís departure to swirl around Newark, as Parise inked just a one-year contract to avoid salary arbitration in July. The Devils have every intention of signing Parise to a long-term deal come January, so this saga should be entertaining. Regardless of contract issues, Pariseís presence will be a boon to the Devils, as he posted 83 goals the two seasons prior to playing in just 13 games last year due to a torn meniscus. Heís always one of the hardest workers on the ice and will be hungry to redeem himself. Power play production and a strong plus-minus rating can be expected from Parise, who has averaged over four shots per game throughout the last two full seasons. He likely will fall from first-round status, but donít sleep too long for Pariseís services.
Ilya Kovalchuk (LW): Kovalchuk's first full season in Newark was slightly disastrous, but the enigmatic winger rebounded in the second half, finishing with 31 goals and 29 points along with a massively forgettable minus-26 rating. He had 22 goals in the season's final 45 games. His rocky year ensures him falling from his first-round perch, but one shouldn't wait too long to pounce on Kovalchuk. One has to believe his second half numbers are more in line with what he'll do this season. Kovalchuk will man the point on the power play and has never been shy about shooting the puck, hopefully rewarding owners who buy low on the former first-round lock. Bump him up a few spots in leagues that reward shots on goal.
Patrik Elias (C/LW): Elias posted 21 goals and 62 points last season with a minus-4 rating in 81 games. He's a consistent player in the twilight of his career and will see a bevy of power-play time. His days of scoring 30 goals are over, but 20-25 goals with a healthy amount of assists can be expected from the crafty veteran, provided he stays healthy. Elias doesn't have much upside remaining, but he can be a solid mid-round selection to complement your higher scoring forwards. Elias will and has seen time at center.
Travis Zajac (C): Zajac had a forgettable season, posting 44 points, his lowest output since the 2007-08 season. One can argue that the absence of Parise the majority of the season affected Zajac's production, however, Zajac was a prime bounceback candidate prior to tearing his Achilles during offseason workouts in August. Surgery to repair the injury was successful and heís slated for a return in early-to-mid November. Ironically, Zajac had played in over 400 consecutive games, but will now have to wait to redeem himself. Cracking 60 points might not be reachable with him missing the first six weeks of the season, but on a per-game basis, Zajac has been roughly between .70 and .75 during his productive years. Heís a consistent player when healthy, save for last year, and itís likely that last seasonís campaign was the down year for the underrated pivot.
ON THE RISE
Nick Palmieri (RW):†Palmieri showed flashes of skill in 43 games with New Jersey last season, posting nine goals and 17 points. He's a young winger with offensive potential and will see power-play minutes sometime down the road. Palmieri is one of a handful of wingers whom the Devils will rely on for production. Heís worth a look in deep keeper leagues only.
Adam Henrique (C): Henrique was one of the Devils' top scorers for their AHL club, Albany, last season with 50 points in 73 games. He played one game in the NHL and is behind several other centers on the team's depth chart. With the injury to Zajac, expect Henrique to receive a long look in training camp. He was recently invited to the NHLís rookie showcase and has shown himself to be a talented offensive player during his junior career. He should receive an opportunity to make the team out of training camp, as the Devils are down a top-six center with Zajac sidelined until November.
TWO TO AVOID
Most players fitting this description likely arenít on your draft radar screen anyway, as they are inconsistent veterans, unproven rookies or those with strictly defensive roles, such as Dainius Zubrus, Rod Pelley or Henrik Tallinder. Hereís two more:
Jacob Josefson (C): Despite being a highly touted prospect on whom the Devils are high, Josefsonís a two-way center that likely wonít contribute much offensively. Heíll be used in a variety of situations, but his offensive game needs to develop further before heís used in more of an attacking capacity. Unfortunately, sound all-around play and potential doesnít translate well into the fantasy hockey world. Josefson had 10 points in 28 games last season.
Andy Greene (D): Greene plays second fiddle to Ilya Kovalchuk on the teamís power play and will see plenty of time against top-six forwards. Owners may remember Greeneís 37-point campaign in 2009-10, but those numbers fell by 14 points last season and his minus-23 was one of the leagueís worst. In standard leagues, Greene should be ignored in favor of players with more upside, but for those in deep leagues that start many defenders, heís worth a late-round pick.
Adam Larsson (D): The fourth overall pick in this past Juneís draft, Larsson has the potential to be a franchise defender with an all-around skill set rare for a player his age. Not as polished offensively as other prospects, he has a great sense of the game and a howitzer of a slap shot. Heíll find his niche defensively with the team but donít expect the offensive numbers to come in bunches, as rookie defensemen rarely have a huge impact. Regardless, heís an outstanding talent with plenty of intangibles that will fit in well with New Jersey.
Mattias Tedenby (W): Tedenby is one of New Jersey's brighter offensive prospects and should see regular ice time this approaching season with time on the team's power play units. He had 22 points in 58 games during the 2010-11 campaign and will turn 22 in February. His value lies more with his potential, but 15-20 goals are not out of the question from the talented young Swede. Remember his name in keeper leagues, but don't forget about him entirely in deeper standard leagues.