Hockey fans watching the Devils this season could be excused if they don't recognize much of the team. The departure of two more key players this past summer left the team without scoring depth. That depth is to be replaced by a hodgepodge of veterans and inexperienced forwards tasked with creating offense in the poorly-named and highly competitive Metropolitan Division.
Both David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuk followed their desires to return home, leaving the scenic confines of Newark. Clarkson scurried north to Toronto, accepting a contract from the Maple Leafs burdened with the expectations of pleasing Leafs fans. Clarkson's departure from the Devils wasn't a foregone conclusion, but it wasn't much of a surprise. The shocker came several days after free agency opened when Kovalchuk stunned the hockey world with his retirement from the NHL, fleeing home to Russia for massive sums of KHL money.
To fill the gaping hole left by Kovalchuk, one of the world's most gifted skaters and league's top offensive players, the Devils brought in three free agents who will be playing for their third team in two seasons when the puck drops in October. Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder join the squad to give the Devils what potentially could be scoring depth if the two can overcome their recent concussion histories and regain their scoring touch, respectively.
Then there's Jarmoir Jagr. Jagr joins Ryder and Clowe as the other free agent soon to be playing on his third team in two seasons. Signed by the Devils in the later part of July after the Kovalchuk coup, Jagr brings his aging body to the Devils on a one-year, $2 million contract, which includes a bonus of $2 million if he plays 45 games. As for what to expect from Jagr, his goal-scoring days are gone but he's expected to contribute on the power play and can still control the puck in the offensive zone, as evidenced by several plays he made for the Bruins during the team's run to the Stanley Cup Final. That said, let someone else grab Jagr, but if he's there at a spot later in your draft where he's a value, snag him. However, Jagr's ceiling has only enough room for the top of his mullet.
The Devils' offseason wasn't entirely about departures, as the team made a trade on draft day to ensure their future, dealing the ninth overall pick in the draft to Vancouver for netminder Cory Schneider. (Vancouver used the pick on Bo Horvat). Schneider gives the Devils a legitimate No. 1 netminder when Martin Brodeur decides to retire (likely when his contract expires at the end of the upcoming season). The Devils didn't acquire Schneider to be the spectator with the best seats at Prudential Center and most figure the former Boston College star will see a minimum of 22 starts, as the Devils have 22 sets of back-to-back contests. The odds are that Schneider will usurp Brodeur's No. 1 role at some point in the season and presents more value for owners in drafts as opposed to Brodeur.
New Jersey still has a reliable source of secondary scoring in Patrik Elias and young center Adam Henrique, who signed a six-year contract at the end of August. Henrique presents owners with the most upside as he has shown the ability to play well alongside star linemates. His 51 points as a rookie two seasons ago came mostly with Kovalchuk and Zach Parise along his wings.
If you must draft a New Jersey defenseman, Marek Zidlicky is going to see the majority of looks on the power play to open the season, but the team is still high on youngster Adam Larsson as he enters his third season. Remember the risk associated with a player like Zidlicky, as he's shown himself to be inconsistent throughout his career.
New Jersey is a team in transition, a squad likely to be battling for one of the final playoff spots, but should offer just enough offensively to make several players on the squad viable options in the later rounds of drafts.
The Big Guns
Patrik Elias (LW/C): Elias re-signed with the Devils in June, avoiding free agency and likely committing to finish his career with the Devils. Even at 37, he's still a crafty playmaker and a reliable source of secondary scoring. He finished last year with 36 points, the bulk of which came early in the season before New Jersey's April swoon. Elias likely will play alongside countryman Jarmoir Jagr and can be expected to be a steady player for most owners after the second tier goal scorers are gone. He'll likely be one of, if not the team's leader in assists and he can be an asset on the power play. He's one of the steadier veterans in the league.
Cory Schneider (G): Welcome to Newark. In one of the more shocking moves of the summer, Schneider was traded to New Jersey with just the 9th overall pick in this past season's draft heading back to Vancouver. Schneider leaves the murkiest goaltending situation in the NHL to a situation where he is penciled in behind a future Hall Of Famer in Martin Brodeur. Brodeur is still the defacto No. 1 for the Devils, but expect Schneider to see a good amount, or bulk, of playing time, especially with the Devils having 22 sets of back-to-back games. If the Devils struggle, don't be surprised to see Schneider take over the starting role at some point this season. The odds of Martin Brodeur playing beyond this season remain to be seen, but it will be a surprise if the veteran sticks around after his contract expires. Schneider's value remains high this season, especially in keeper leagues, and it's easy to make an argument for him going well before Brodeur come draft day. Look for Schneider to thrive in New Jersey's system and he has shown the ability to steal games in the past.
On The Rise
Adam Henrique (C): One of New Jersey's more talented younger players, Henrique enters his third NHL season as one of the team's top centers. He missed a handful of games at the start of the shortened season with a wrist injury, but returned to register 11 goals and 16 points for the offensively challneged Devils. Look for Henrique to be slotted alongside some of the team's top forwards such as Patrik Elias or Jaromir Jagr and for him to build on the 51 points he recorded as a rookie while sandwiched between Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. Henrique has shown the ability to play alongside stars, now the Devils need him to establish himself as a legitimate offensive threat. His value remains higher in keeper leagues, but those in single season leagues will want to roll the dice on an upside play like the former Windsor Spitfire.
Andrei Loktionov (C): Following an early-season trade from Los Angeles, Loktionov showed flashes of tremendous skill surrounded by periods of inconsistency. Like most of his New Jersey teammates, Loktionov struggled in the season's final month but he has a the chance to put together a solid season. He has more skill than most depth forwards and a good start to the season could see him earn a larger role offensively. Loktionov is a player worth remembering in the later rounds of deeper leagues and can be a savvy waiver wire pick up if he starts to find his name on the scoresheet more often.
Travis Zajac (C): Like most of New Jersey's forwards, Zajac struggled to produce consistently last season, putting up a scattered 20 points and a mere 82 shots on goal in 48 games. He's still penciled in as one of the Devils' top two centers but he has yet to duplicate his 67-point season from 2009-10. Zajac is a steady defensive player who needs to shoot the puck more, but he's still guaranteed to see time on the team's top scoring lines. Zajac could be a good buy-low candidate this fall, remember his name in the late rounds on draft day.
Michael Ryder (RW): Ryder arrives in New Jersey playing for his third team in two seasons. During his more productive seasons, Ryder cracked 30 goals on three separate occasions and posted a respectable 35 points in 46 games between Dallas and Montreal last year and the Devils will be counting on him to shoot the puck often. Whether Ryder will duplicate some of his success in New Jersey is a risk the Devils and fantasy owners alike will have to take, but his value will be a bit higher in leagues that count shots on goal and power-play time. Ryder could be a decent late-round gamble on draft day, just don't expect a huge season from the veteran Newfie.
Marek Zidlicky (D): Zidlicky's performances at times last season was a comedy of errors. He's prone to the huge defensive mistake but he will still see boatloads of power play time because the Devils don't have any better options on the blue line in terms of puck movers. Zidlicky can still show flashes of offensive skill and he should see more chances now that Ilya Kovalchuk is no longer on the Devils taking two-minute power play shifts. Zidlicky scattered 19 points over 48 games last season, averaging over two shots per-contest. He's a decent option simply because of the time he'll see on the power play, but his upside is limited and he can be a liability defensively. He's no longer the playmaker he used to be, but he can be used to fill out the final spots of your blue line corps.
Two To Avoid
Martin Brodeur (G): Is this Marty's goodbye season? He has one year remaining on a two-year contract and the Devils seemingly shored up the future of their goal crease when they acquired Cory Schneider on draft day from Vancouver. The signs from the hockey gods point to Brodeur's retirement at the end of this coming season, but Marty will want to prove he has at least one more season in him. While not the netminder he used to be, Brodeur had serviceable numbers last season with a 2.22 goals-against average 13-9-7 record in 29 games, missing significant time due to injury. He's healthy heading into training camp and is still slated to be the team's No. 1 netminder even with Schneider on the roster. The Devils have 22 sets of back-to-back games this season, meaning Brodeur likely will sit out at least 22 of those 44 contests as he will not be playing the 75-78 games he did during the prime of his career. Brodeur can be a pick to balance out your goaltending roster, but he's not going to be your anchor. If he or the Devils struggle this season, they might turn to Cory Schneider earlier than anticipated.
Ryane Clowe (LW): Clowe was the subject of much debate this past July as the Devils signed the veteran Newfie to a five-year contract worth $4.85 million annually; a contract which, on paper, looked like one of bigger overpayments on free agent day. At his best, Clowe was a 50-60 point scorer in San Jose alongside some talented forwards, a physical winger who could deliver close to 100 penalty minutes, but that was several years and several concussions ago. Clowe was never a burner on the ice, but he struggled to get going last year with the Sharks, prompting a late-season trade to the Rangers where he notched eight points in 12 games after failing to score a goal in 28 contests with his original club. The Devils will be looking at Clowe to replace some of the production and minutes they lost in the David Clarkson departure, just make certain you pay much less for Clowe than the Devils did. Clowe can be a 40-point player but there are injury concerns and he'll need to be alongside players that can set him up. Those who subscribe to advanced statistics will note that Clowe is a good possession player, but the odds of him living up to his contract are slim.
Stefan Matteau (LW): Matteau saw 17 games in the NHL before the Devils returned him to Blainsville of the QMJHL, registering three points and seeing scant ice time. He's a budding power forward with an offensive skill set the Devils hope will show up sooner than later. He'll have a shot to make the team out of training camp, but how much of an impact he'll have remains to be seen. He's still a project at this point in his career, albeit one with much potential.
Reid Boucher (C): The OHL was all abuzz about Boucher after the center smashed Steven Stamkos' scoring record with the Sarnia Sting, notching 62 goals and 95 points one season ago. Nevertheless, there seems to be some concern regarding Boucher's size and his ability to be an NHL scorer. Expecting him to produce at his OHL pace in the NHL is silly, but he did put up five points in 11 AHL contests to end the first snippet of his professional career following Sarnia's exit from the OHL playoffs. The odds are slim that Boucher will make the Devils' roster out of training camp this season but he could see some limited action if he produces in the AHL or the Devils have injury issues. Regardless, Boucher is a keeper prospect worth remembering for the 2014-15 season.