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Parise healthy and ready to get back to work

Saturday, 09.24.2011 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 15

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Parise healthy and ready to get back to work
Zach Parise watched the Devils go through the highs and lows last season, and from his perspective, the team is closer to getting back to the playoffs than missing them again.
Zach Parise got a pretty good look at the New Jersey Devils last season. A knee injury in October allowed him to observe the team from afar for the next five months, a team that at times was the worst in the League and at times the best.

"It was really frustrating, from both sides," Parise said. "At the beginning, when we were struggling, you want to be there and help out. Then the other time, when everyone is winning and having fun, you want to be there, too. You definitely see the game from a different perspective from up in the suites. You see different things on the ice, which could be a good thing. You don't wish it upon anyone, but it's good to see things from up there."

On Dec. 29, the Devils were 9-25-2 and in 30th place in the NHL. But they made an improbable push for a playoff spot with a 23-3-2 stretch under new coach Jacques Lemaire, who replaced John MacLean after the rough start.

"I'm not saying we're going to go 75-7, but I think that's closer to what you're going to see. We're hoping, at least."
-- Zach Parise

The Devils eventually faded and missed the postseason for the first time since 1996. Parise returned for one game in April, but was shut down for the rest of the season as a precaution. After nearly a full season of observation, which Devils team does Parise expect to see this season -- the one that struggled or the one that dominated?

"I'm not saying we're going to go 75-7, but I think that's closer to what you're going to see," Parise said. "We're hoping, at least. I think it's most important for us to forget about last year -- everything. We had a lot going on at the beginning of the year. There's a lot of things that went on and resulted in that bad start. For us, we need to realize that doesn't have an impact on us this season. We have to start over."

Between a rookie coach in MacLean, a new superstar to work into the fold in Ilya Kovalchuk and Parise's knee injury, there were plenty of reasons for that putrid start. But the Devils have a new, experienced coach in Peter DeBoer, Kovalchuk has a full season in New Jersey under his belt and Parise is 100-percent healthy again.

"It's like it never happened," Parise said of his knee injury. "When I skate now, I don't even feel it. That's a good, reassuring feeling. For me, it was important to play again (at the end of last season). I think that game, it was more so I got the game. I realized I could play and I'm comfortable playing."

Parise, who signed a one-year contract with the Devils and is in line to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, seemingly is the perfect choice to fill the team's vacant captaincy. He was selected by the Devils in the first round of the 2003 Entry Draft and has grown into one of the team's leaders.

But will the Devils bestow the "C" upon a player who could leave after this season? That remains to be seen, but Parise said he would be honored and excited if the Devils choose to make him their captain.

"Of course I would like to. But if I'm not, I'm not going to be depressed," he said. "I think right now, with our team, we're in a transition period where for six years, I was always the youngest guy and all of a sudden I'm one of the oldest. We're at a point where there are a lot of veteran guys who aren't with us anymore.

"As a player, you try to take a little bit more of a leadership role every year. Whether you have the 'C' or not, it's not as if players are going to look at me different. That's just now how it is. Players just respect other players whether they got a 'C' on their jersey or not."

Parise and DeBoer haven't spoken about the captaincy, but they have had a conversation about the upcoming season. Parise believes the team's ninth coach in seven seasons (Lemaire and GM Lou Lamoriello had multiple stints) will bring the system and attitude the Devils need to get back to the postseason.

"Just from talking to him, I really like what he's been saying and what he wants to do," Parise said. "I believe in how he wants us to play. Playing against his teams in Florida, they might not have been the most skilled teams, but you know they were going to come at you hard and be in your face all the time. The (defensemen) are going to be pinching. I think that'll be important for us, to get our (defense) more active and get involved in the play and play a more aggressive game.

"I think that's the way teams play now that are winning. It'll be good for us."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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