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Devils look to yesterday to win today

Tuesday, 08.18.2009 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

This is the 18th installment of our 30 Teams in 30 Days feature, focusing on the New Jersey Devils franchise. In it, we look at the franchise as a whole in the State of the Union section, focus on the team's up-and-coming reinforcements in the Prospect Roundup section and recap this season's selections in the Draft Recap section. NHL Network also gets in on the fun with a block of Devils programming Tuesday night from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

STATE OF THE UNION

No, you can't flip on HBO and watch "The Larry Sanders Show" while it's still in its prime. Sorry, but O.J. Simpson is not on trial for double homicide. And you'll be extremely disappointed if you turn on your radio and expect to hear "Gangsta's Paradise" by Coolio in heavy rotation.

You can't blame Devils fans for any of these transgressions, because for the past two offseasons, their favorite team has partied like it's 1995.

Picture it -- Newark, 2008. Lou Lamoriello gave free-agent contracts to Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik, two veterans who were fresh-faced kids on the Devils' first Stanley Cup winner in 1995. Holik was a disappointment last season, and Rolston's numbers were limited by a lingering high-ankle sprain.

Fast-forward to this offseason, and it's like Lamoriello fired up the time machine again.

With coach Brent Sutter longing to spend more time with his family in Alberta, he wriggled out of his contract and took the coaching job in Calgary, a brisk 90-minute drive from his home in Red Deer. That left Lamoriello as a man without a coach, so he turned to Jacques Lemaire, who guided the Devils to that Stanley Cup crown in 1995.

Some New Jersey fans cringe when they hear Lemaire's name, remembering a time when a 2-1 game involving the Devils was considered a back-and-forth, offensive shootout. But that was a different era with different rules and different players -- well, not including Rolston -- and it's highly unlikely the Devils will resort to clutching and grabbing in a League that no longer allows clutching and grabbing.

But when you're a team that finished tied for 14th in goals last season and didn't exactly restock the cupboard after some key offensive contributors departed via free agency this offseason, can you blame fans for being worried?

"He's a center iceman who can do everything on both sides of the puck.  He makes other people better than him. He's a passer. He's the type of player -- he's a lefty shot -- that we need."
-- Devils GM Lou Lamoriello on No. 1 pick Jacob Josefson

Brian Gionta, who could be counted on for at least 20 goals each season, signed a five-year deal with Montreal. John Madden never will be mistaken for Wayne Gretzky, but he was certainly a contributor while he was matched up against the opposition's best scorers.

Tough guy and 2003 Stanley Cup Final Game 7 hero Mike Rupp left for Pittsburgh. No one was more valuable to the Devils last season than backup goalie Scott Clemmensen, who stood on his head while Martin Brodeur was sidelined for 50 games with a biceps injury. Now Clemmensen calls Florida home.

That's a lot of key departures for a perennial contender, and when Cory Murphy, Yann Danis and Ilkka Pikkarainen are the players stepping into the breach, you'll have to excuse Devils fans for being a bit skeptical. How can this team contend for an Atlantic Division title again?

While 1995 certainly has become retro in New Jersey the last couple of years, questioning Lamoriello's moves never seems to go out of style. Lamoriello, though never has been the kind of executive to bring in the big name. He'll take championships over headlines any day of the week, thank you very much.

The acquisition of Jeff Friesen didn't exactly burn up the newswires, but all he did was help carry the Devils to a Stanley Cup in 2003. People forget Jamie Langenbrunner never had more than 55 points in a season before coming to the Devils in a trade in March 2002, but he turned out to be a cornerstone of the franchise. Who was Brian Rafalski before he signed with New Jersey out of Europe in 1999?

While that sort of upside might not be there with Pikkarainen, Murphy and Danis, it's hard to question the organizational philosophy of Lamoriello, whose Devils have reached the playoffs in 18 of the last 19 seasons.

The names and faces may change, but the results rarely ever do.

PROSPECT ROUNDUP

With 2008-09 regulars Brian Gionta, John Madden, Scott Clemmensen and Mike Rupp all leaving via free agency, this could be the season that some of the Devils’ top prospects get a shot at the big time.

Keeping the farm fresh with promising youngsters isn't easy when you're consistently in the playoffs, as the Devils have been over the last two decades, but GM Lou Lamoriello has done a good job finding useful players in later rounds.

Here's a look at what could be coming through the pipeline for New Jersey sooner rather than later:

Mattias Tedenby -- The 5-foot-10, 176-pound left wing was the team's first-round pick in the 2008 Entry Draft. The 19-year-old still is a year or two from making an impact in New Jersey. Tedenby had a four-goal performance in a rookie camp scrimmage last month and looks like one of the team's brightest future stars.

Nicklas Bergfors -- Seemingly on this list forever, the 2005 first-round pick will have a real shot at making the big club out of training camp this season. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound right wing had 22 goals and 51 points in 66 games with AHL Lowell last season.

Matthew Corrente -- Coming off an injury-ravaged 2007-08 campaign with the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL, the 6-foot, 200-pound defenseman posted 18 points and 161 penalty minutes in 67 games with Lowell last season. He's a tough-as-nails defender with tremendous offensive upside who remains a season or two away.

Matt Halischuk -- A lack of size (5-11, 173) was the biggest knock on the right wing when he was taken in the fourth round in 2007, but it hasn't hurt him yet. In his first season with Lowell in 2008-09, he put up a very respectable 14 goals and 15 assists in 47 games. He's still a ways away from making the big club.

Nick Palmieri -- A 2007 third-round choice, the big right wing (6-2, 212) had 27 goals in 61 games with the Erie Otters and Belleville Bulls of the OHL. He really stepped up his game in the OHL playoffs, when he scored 14 goals in 17 games for the Bulls. Only 20, he's still a few seasons away from making the NHL.

DRAFT RECAP

After packaging their first- and third-round picks to attain Calgary's first-round choice, the Devils nabbed Jacob Josefson at No. 20 to start their 2009 Entry Draft. GM Lou Lamoriello was effusive with praise for the Swedish center.

"He's a center iceman who can do everything on both sides of the puck," Lamoriello said. "He makes other people better than him. He's a passer. He's the type of player -- he's a lefty shot -- that we need."

After that, the Devils loaded up on defense. They used four of their final six picks to select blueliners. Here's a closer look at each of the Devils' 2009 draft picks:

Jacob Josefson -- The first-round pick posted 16 points (5-11) in 50 games for Djurgardens in the Swedish Elite League last season -- impressive when you consider he was a 17-year-old playing with grown men. The 6-foot, 187-pound center is a solid two-way player according to Central Scouting's Goran Stubb. That's a trait the Devils value highly.

Eric Gelinas -- The 6-4 defenseman will eventually fill out his 185-pound frame and become quite an imposing figure on the blue line. His 39 points in 67 games led all Lewiston (QMJHL) defensemen. Gelinas wears No. 44 because he patterns his game after Chris Pronger.

Alexander Urbom -- The Devils took one Djurgardens player in the first round, and grabbed another here. Urbom is a defenseman, but is more of a physical presence (6-3, 196) than Gelinas.

Seth Helgeson -- For the third straight pick, the Devils looked to the blue line. The Faribault, Minn., native is a massive 6-5 and 220 pounds. Don't expect the second coming of Paul Coffey here -- Helgeson had just 4 goals in 58 games for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL.

Derek Rodwell -- The Devils looked to the offense and the future with the left wing, who in the fall will attend the University of North Dakota, the alma mater of Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. In 41 games with the Okotoks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, Rodwell had 17 goals and 12 assists.

Ashton Bernard -- The best way to get to know this bruising left wing is probably to check out some of his fights on the Internet. The 6-4, 197-pounder had only 4 points in 53 games with Shawinigan of the QMJHL, but piled up 111 penalty minutes.

Curtis Gedig -- The fourth and final defenseman taken by the Devils is more of a project than the other three. In 48 games with the Merritt Centennials and the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the British Columbia Hockey League, Gedig contributed 4 goals and 14 assists. He'll need to elevate his play against tougher competition in order to make his way onto an NHL roster.

Contact Dave Lozo at dlozo@nhl.com



 

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