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Brodeur, Brunner to play Thursday vs. Isles

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils

Martin Brodeur
will make his first start of the preseason on Thursday when the Devils host the Islanders at Prudential Center.

Brodeur's expected to play two periods, same as Cory Schneider did in Monday's exhibition win over the Rangers. Even with 1,220 regular-season appearances under his belt, the NHL's all-time wins leader looks forward to a little preseason tune-up.

"The first step to get the season going is playing some preseason games," Brodeur said. "It's a feeling-out process every year. It's like riding a bicycle, you get it back, but sometimes it's a little bit harder to jump on your bike. We'll see how it goes [on Thursday]."

Free agent forward Damien Brunner is set to make his Devils debut. The pro tryout skated on a line with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus for a second straight day and is eager to find out how he might fit with the club.

"I think we'll find out over the next two weeks," Brunner said. "I've got to prove myself here every day and I hope I can do a good job of it."

During power play drills, Brunner worked with Elias and Steve Bernier.

"Obviously I have to help in areas where I'm best," he said. "I think I have to use my speed, my shot and create some offense and put some pucks in the net."

"He looks good out there," said head coach Peter DeBoer. "That's the idea, I think, of him coming here was to get in some games, get a good evaluation for us. The best way to do that is in games."

Thursday's game will also give the Devils a closer look at defenseman Jon Merrill. The 21-year-old made his pro debut with 12 games in Albany (AHL) last season and is among the young crop of blueliners bidding to make the NHL squad.

"I'm excited to get some action in the preseason game [Thursday] night," Merrill said. "Other than that, everything's been going smooth and it's been a really good first week."

Merrill was paired with Mark Fayne at practice and worked the point on the power play with Marek Zidlicky. But what he's most focused on is his own performance.

"I think the biggest thing is just stay consistent, play my game and not worry about the things that I can't control like who's in the lineup and who's practicing with who," said the former Michigan Wolverine. "Those are things that are out of my control. I just try to play my game and see what happens."

With Merrill and up-and-comers like Eric Gelinas and Alexander Urbom, Brodeur is encouraged by the next generation of Devils defenders.

"It's been great," Brodeur said. "I think the boys are playing really good. Our young guys, we have some big bodies and really mobile defensemen and the older guys are playing well so far. The games are where you start to see how it's going to pan out with the core we're going to have playing defense, but definitely feel real comfortable with what we have, especially with the young guys."

Both Brunner and Merrill hope to stick around for the season ahead. A week since veterans reported to camp, the battle for roster spots is well underway.

"I think guys just look at the depth chart and realize that there's a limited number of jobs and there's a lot of NHL players here," DeBoer said. "It creates great competition and the pace [at practice] is very good, I think, because of that."

Jaromir Jagr (lower body soreness) could be closer to rejoining the team for practice. He skated on his own Wednesday morning for the first time since last week.

"He did have a light skate today and it went well," DeBoer said.

Wednesday's first session:

Dainius Zubrus - Patrik Elias - Damien Brunner
Ryane Clowe
- Travis Zajac - Michael Ryder
Rostislav Olesz
- Andrei Loktionov - Steve Bernier
Ryan Carter
- Adam Henrique - Stephen Gionta
Mattias Tedenby
- Jacob Josefson - Krys Barch

Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Andy Greene
- Adam Larsson
Jon Merrill
- Mark Fayne
Anton Volchenkov
- Peter Harrold

Martin Brodeur
Cory Schneider

Power play
Bernier - Elias - Brunner
Clowe - Zajac - Ryder
Henrique - Loktionov - Olesz

Merrill - Zidlicky
Larsson - Harrold

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