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Devils' Zajac has room for improvement

Sunday, 09.28.2008 / 9:00 AM / Season Preview

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Everyone knows the superstars on each team -- the players who will score 50 goals, total 100 points, play the most minutes, make the most important saves.

To make the jump from good team to championship squad, however, every team needs contributions from unlikely sources. Call them surprise players, unsung heroes -- but keep an eye out for them.

Which players in the Atlantic Division fit this bill? NHL.com has come up with five -- one from each team -- as ones to watch

Travis Zajac, New Jersey -- Which player will suit up for the Devils this season? The rookie who scored 17 goals and looked to be a player on the rise? Or the second-year player who crashed with 14 goals and a minus-11 rating?

Zajac's minutes went down as the season progressed, and the 2004 first-round pick will have to work hard to get himself back into coach Brent Sutter's good graces.

At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Zajac has the size to go with a good amount of skill. If he can put it together, he'll certainly be a player to keep an eye on.

Jeff Tambellini, New York Islanders -- The Islanders are rebuilding their program after finishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. While that might not sound good, it does provide opportunities for players, and Tambellini will be one of them.

The left wing has been a scorer at every level of hockey, including two straight 30-goal seasons in the American Hockey League. All that success, though, never has carried over to the NHL -- in 79 games with the Los Angeles Kings and the Islanders, he has just four goals.

Part of last season's AHL success came on a line with right wing Kyle Okposo and center Frans Nielsen; if their minor-league success can translate to the NHL, Tambellini could be a player to watch.

Brandon Dubinsky, New York Rangers -- Dubinsky worked hard to earn a roster spot, and made the club look smart in keeping him. In 82 games, Dubinsky had 14 goals, 40 points and was even better in the 2008 playoffs, tying for the lead among rookies with 4 goals and 8 points.

 
 
Dubinsky also showed he can play with elite players, as he formed a nice partnership with Jaromir Jagr.

With Jagr's departure -- as well as the absence of veteran forwards Sean Avery, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka -- Dubinsky likely will see his 14 minutes per game of ice time increase.

Ryan Parent, Philadelphia -- When the Flyers traded Peter Forsberg to Nashville in 2007, Parent was the key piece for them in the deal.

They started to see the fruits of that deal last season. Parent never will be a big offensive contributor, but he was solid defensively in 22 NHL games. He was thrown into the fire in the playoffs, and was even better -- he was a plus-1 in Game 7 of the first-round series against Washington, and he had a first-period assist in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Pittsburgh.

After splitting the last two seasons between the American Hockey League and the NHL, the Flyers hope some of the maturation they saw last season will carry over and help him win a full-time job in 2008-09.

Miroslav Satan, Pittsburgh -- Following the worst season of his career, Satan certainly landed on his feet by signing with the Penguins. Playing on a line with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin can have that affect on a player.

Satan is healthy -- he played 80 games -- and at 33, he should have a few more quality seasons in him. He had just 16 goals last season, which snapped a streak of nine consecutive 20-goal seasons. He's scored 30 or more four times, something that could happen again playing with top-level centers.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.



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