NEWARK, N.J . -- Unrestricted free agent left wing Mathieu Darche is starting training camp with the New Jersey Devils with the hopes of playing well enough to earn a contract.
Darche, who spent the last three seasons in Montreal, was on the ice Sunday at Prudential Center for the Devils' first official practice of the 2012-13 season despite not yet having a contract.
"It was unfortunate it didn't work out in Montreal; that my hometown and I was disappointed with that, but I'm real excited to be here," Darche said. "I've got a few days to prove that I'm in good shape and I can help this team. I still feel I can help a team and hopefully I'll be able to show that in the next few days."
Darche, 36, said his agent received a phone call from Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello on Saturday. After agreeing to come to New Jersey, Darche called former Canadiens teammates Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez, a pair of former Devils, to ask them what the team is all about.
"They said if there is a place where you should go when somebody calls you it's this place because this organization won't jerk you around -- they'll be honest," Darche said. "I think the style of play they play here suits my game. It's a simple game and from what they told me they are the type of team that like players that do the little details to have success. That's what wins and that's what I've been known in Montreal to do."
Darche, 36, had five goals and seven assists for 12 points in 61 games with Montreal last season. He had career highs in goals (12) and points (26) points in 59 games in 2010-11 and has 72 points in 250 career NHL games with Columbus, Nashville, San Jose, Tampa Bay and Montreal.
"I think he's gotta do what I've seen him do in Montreal," Lamoriello said when asked what Darche has to do to earn a contract. "He accepts his role. He's a fourth-liner who can get into a third-line in a short period of time. The thing I like the most about him is he's a very good penalty killer and good defensively, and I don't think you can have enough of those players as far as depth goes. We'll see."
With Darche, the Devils have 18 forwards on their training camp roster, but Ilya Kovalchuk won't join the team until Wednesday and Adam Henrique is still out while rehabbing a thumb injury he suffered while playing in the American Hockey League.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer said it's still too early to tell if Darche will be able to earn a roster spot.
"I'm excited to see him," DeBoer said. "I've always been a fan, obviously from the other bench. I haven't had the opportunity to coach him but it was a nice call when Lou told me he was coming to camp."
Lamoriello said Henrique will be re-evaluated Monday, but isn't expected to be ready to play for at least a few more weeks.
Jacob Josefson did not skate Sunday due to a lower-body injury, but Lamoriello said he's expected to skate Monday.
"I think that's going to be something that every team is going to have to deal with this condensed schedule, handling injuries," DeBoer said. "The nice thing about our team is that I believe we showed last year we had interchangeable parts. We could take somebody out and somebody could jump in and take their spot. I'm comfortable we have that kind of depth."
Petr Sykora, who scored 21 goals for the Devils last season, did not earn an invitation to training camp and remains an unrestricted free agent. Lamoriello said the Devils want to instead give an opportunity to some of their younger guys who they called up from the American Hockey League, including Mattias Tedenby, Harri Pesonen and Tim Sestito.
"It's not saying it's out of the question later, but right now we're going to go along this way," Lamoriello said.
Forward Stefan Matteau, New Jersey's first-round pick last year (No. 29) is in training camp. Lamoriello said the Devils are simply taking advantage of the rules that allow teams to have junior-aged players in camp and play them in up to five regular-season games without burning the first year of their entry-level contract.
Matteau has 28 points in 35 games with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL.
"I think it's more to just see where he's at," Lamoriello said of why Matteau is in camp. "He's been playing extremely well. He has size and strength, something you can't teach. He knows how to play the game. It'll be a good opportunity for us to see him, and it's the window we have with the rules."
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