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Prospects learning with help from a legend

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils

Stevens diagramming a defensive drill. The Hall of Fame defenseman will have a more active role in New Jersey and Lowell.

email – When it comes to teaching young hockey players, it helps to have a Hall of Famer around for a little guidance.

Besides improving their conditioning and fitness levels at Devils rookie camp, this year's prospects have had the chance to learn from one of the best: former Devils great Scott Stevens.

Eric Gelinas, the Devils' second choice in 2009, values Stevens' input.
Devils President/CEO/General Manager Lou Lamoriello announced this week that the ex-defenseman will take a more active role with players in New Jersey and its American Hockey League affiliate in Lowell.

It was exciting news for the young talent in the organization, as few hockey instructors can touch Stevens' résumé. He retired in 2005 after three Stanley Cup titles with the Devils and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007.

"It's incredible," defenseman Harry Young said of his opportunity to take tips from a legend. "What a great role model. Anything you can learn from a guy like that, with that much experience – and especially because I want to be the same kind of player he was – you just try to take it all in."

Young, the Devils' eighth choice in 2008, captained the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires to an OHL championship last season and their first-ever Memorial Cup title. At 6-5, 200 lbs., he has the size and strength that can wilt an opposing forward, much like Stevens himself.

"He talks about the little things that he's learned and is trying to pass along to us," Young said. "He's been in the game a long time and he's done it all. He's the kind of guy that you want to learn from."

Maybe some of Stevens' trademark snarl has already rubbed off. Young dropped the gloves for a fight with Nathan Perkovich in Wednesday's session.

"It's intense out there," Young said of what has been a competitive camp. "Everybody's working hard, and everybody wants to battle to the fullest. Sparks fly. We're all friends here, but there's no friends on the ice."

Stevens' epic hits are the stuff of NHL lore, but No. 4 was no slouch on the offensive side of the puck either. He collected 908 career points in 1,635 NHL games, including 430 points in 956 regular-season appearances with New Jersey. It's no wonder Eric Gelinas, a skilled rearguard, listens closely when Stevens has something on his mind.

"The thing he's helped with the most is the way I position my stick on one-on-ones," Gelinas said. "He gives me tips, too, on how to position my shoulders, and how to pivot in different situations, say, with a guy coming out of a corner, or a guy coming down the ice at you."

Gelinas, the Devils' second choice in this year's draft, switched to defense from forward four years ago and put up 10 goals and 29 assists in 67 games last season with Lewiston (QMJHL) – a 20-point increase over his 2007-08 campaign. Measuring 6-4, 190 lbs., Gelinas' size draws quick comparisons to Chris Pronger.

But before he starts the 2009-10 season, Gelinas wants to become a better defender. He's ready to do whatever it takes.

"I came here with an open mind and I want to learn, so I keep my ears open," Gelinas said. "I'll try anything that they tell me can make me a better defenseman."

Stevens has done more than reach out to the defensemen. For young center Adam Henrique, the Stevens experience has truly been something special.

A clutch performer, Henrique led Windsor with nine points (4g-5a) at this year's Memorial Cup tournament, including the overtime goal that clinched the Spitfires' trip to the final. 

"He's a straightforward guy," Henrique, New Jersey's fourth choice in 2008, said of Stevens. "He tells you what you need to do on the ice, and where you need to be. When you're talking to Scott Stevens on the ice, you have to trust him. He's been around this game a long time, and I have the utmost respect for him."

Taking pointers from Stevens, a ferocious open-ice hitter during his 22 NHL seasons, is a much safer option than facing him as an opponent. Henrique, who's listed at 5-11, 190 lbs., laughed when asked if he felt lucky that he didn't have to keep his head up around the man nicknamed "Captain Crunch."

"You don't have to worry about him coming through the middle," Henrique joked. "Everything you hear about Scott Stevens is just how hard he works. Seeing what he's done over the years, he was an unbelievable leader and it's great that he's going to be helping out with the younger players."

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