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30 in 15: Devils camp all about Jagr, goalies, rookies

Thursday, 09.19.2013 / 3:00 AM
Mike G. Morreale  - NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

While the retirement of Ilya Kovalchuk may have set the New Jersey Devils back offensively, coach Peter DeBoer would prefer not to dwell on the past and, instead, focus on the future.

"It's tough to express, but when something comes at you like that out of left field, it's obviously not something that you would even consider from where I stand," DeBoer said. "When it does hit you, it's obviously disappointing. You catch your breath for a day and get ready to move forward."

The Devils added forwards Jaromir Jagr, Michael Ryder, Ryane Clowe and Rostislav Olesz during free agency to help offset the losses of Kovalchuk and David Clarkson, who signed a seven-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. General manager Lou Lamoriello also brought in free agent forward Damien Brunner on a tryout basis. Brunner, 27, spent five years playing for Zug in his native Switzerland before joining the Detroit Red Wings last season.

"There's no 'What can you do now?' mentality … we have to find a way," DeBoer said. "I think that's going to be the mantra. The League isn't going to stand still and no one will feel sorry for the New Jersey Devils when the puck drops in October. We have to be ready to compete with the guys we've got and we've got a good group of people here."

Here are three areas that are sure to earn headlines during training camp:

1. The Devils will benefit no matter where Jagr is inserted into the lineup. The bottom line is a healthy Jagr, now the oldest player on the Devils' roster at 41, can still contribute offensively. DeBoer considers him one of the best players of all time and a likely first-ballot Hall of Fame selection. He had 54 points in 2011-12 with the Philadelphia Flyers and 16 goals and 35 points with the Dallas Stars (34 games) and Boston Bruins (11 games) in 2012-13. Jagr has been dealing with lower-body soreness during training camp, so the team is being extra cautious in the preseason.

"People want to play with those guys and those guys make other people better regardless of where you put them in the lineup," DeBoer told NHL.com.

2. The Devils must find a split of playing time between Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider. Brodeur and Schneider have proven track records and the expectation is there will be absolutely no drop-off regardless of who gets the nod. The Devils will need both goalies to come up huge this season, especially because the team has a League-leading 22 sets of back-to-back games on the docket. Brodeur is a five-time winner of the Jennings Trophy, presented to the goalie(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against in the regular season. Schneider shared the award in 2011 with Roberto Luongo as a member of the Vancouver Canucks.

3. There are several rookies with a legitimate shot at making the opening-night roster. Depending on their performance in training camp, left wings Stefan Matteau or Reid Boucher, and a trio of defensemen (Alexander Urbom, Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill) have legitimate shots at an extended stay. Gelinas and Urbom have spent as least two full seasons with the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Albany and appear ready to make the jump.

Gelinas (6-foot-4, 209 pounds) has 22 goals, 59 points and 101 penalty minutes in 132 AHL games, and Urbom (6-3, 216) has four goals, 43 points and 161 PIMs in 190 AHL games.

Boucher, 20, has done everything possible in two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with the Sarnia Sting, scoring 62 goals and 95 points in 68 games last season. During his 11-game stint in Albany last season, Boucher had three goals and five points, generating 33 shots.

"I want to be in better shape than I was last year [entering camp]," Boucher told NHL.com. "It's a goal of mine to play in the NHL, so I'd like it to be sooner than later, but I have to do my best and work as hard as I can and show that maybe there's a chance I could play."

Merrill, 21, has spent the past three seasons under the tutelage of Red Berenson at the University of Michigan and played a dozen games with Albany at the tail end of last season to gain some pro experience. The 6-3, 191-pound left-handed shot had one goal, eight points and took 20 shots with Albany.

"The one thing that is different this year from last year is mentally I feel I'm in a good place," Merrill said. "I think I'm ready going forward into training camp. I think there is no exact mold for an NHL defenseman these days. I think everyone gets the job done differently. I think if you can bring something to the team, that's what they're looking for."

Matteau, New Jersey's first-round pick (No. 29) in 2012, played 17 games with the Devils in 2012-13 and had one goal, three points and six penalty minutes.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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