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Rookie camp opens under MacLean's lead

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Defensemen Tyler Eckford (37) and Eric Gelinas (42) at rookie camp on Monday.

Though he’s in the familiar surroundings of another rookie camp, John MacLean’s seeing it from a new perspective.

On Monday, MacLean hit the ice at AmeriHealth Pavilion to lead prospects through the first day of camp. After seven seasons as an assistant in New Jersey and one as the head coach in Lowell (AHL), MacLean’s now head coach of the team that drafted him sixth overall in 1983.

“It’s a little bit different, but with the coaching staff that we have and the resources that we have around here, I kind of want to be out there,” said MacLean, who was named the 19th coach in Devils’ history on June 17. “If we’re going to have some young guys, they’re going to have to get to know me, and I want to get to know them. Communication is going to be a big thing with us and how we approach the year.”

The Devils have 43 players at this year’s camp: six goalies, 15 defensemen, seven left wings, seven centers and eight right wings. The group was split into forwards and defensemen in the first two morning sessions before two more sessions in the afternoon.

The talent pool includes names that could appear in the Devils lineup this season. Center Jacob Josefson and left wing Mattias Tedenby are among those who will given every opportunity to showcase their talents now and at training camp in September.

“It’s those two guys and other young guys, too,” MacLean said. “There’s going to be some opportunities for some guys. Those two definitely have a shot and the other young guys have some shots, too. It comes down to how they do in training camp, how they manage.”

MacLean enjoys taking it in from ice level.

“I’ll watch the scrimmages from the stands, but I like being out on the ice,” he said. “You get a chance to see them, see how they react. You’re involved. Sometimes when you’re sitting up in the stands, you can’t whisper something in their ear.”

The focus of the weeklong camp is on getting to know the club’s young talent while giving them a chance to get acclimated within the organization.

“This is more about them getting comfortable in the environment,” MacLean explained.

Adam Oates, the newest member of MacLean’s staff, was among the coaches on the ice Monday. Named as an assistant on June 29, Oates joined Larry Robinson, who will go back behind the bench this season.

Regarded as one of the best playmakers in NHL history, Oates ranks sixth all-time with 1,079 assists and 16th all-time with 1,420 points. The 47-year-old former centerman retired as a player in 2004, and served as an assistant coach with the Lightning last season.

“I’m excited that we have Oatesy,” MacLean said. “He’s actually the perfect guy for what we were looking for. I didn’t know him before. Having played against him, I had a great respect for him. You know his offensive abilities and I think he’s going to add a lot to our team as far as special teams and working with centermen. He’s a creative offensive mind that’s going to be helpful. I think he’ll work well with Larry and I.”

While, in the past, former Devils like Tommy Albelin and Scott Stevens have been tapped for assistant roles, Oates is a new member to the Devils family.

“We clicked and his theories and his ideas – I think it’s going to be good,” MacLean said. “For us I think it’s good to have an offensive guy from outside and a [former] centerman. We need to get better on draws. Our power play needs to be good. I think we’re pretty good on covering the positions with our experience as far as playing. For coaching, I think it’s going to be helpful for the guys: somebody with a little different view that we’ll utilize.”

Oates also was known for his faceoff skills, something MacLean hopes will benefit centers Travis Zajac and Jason Arnott. Last year he worked specifically on Tampa Bay’s power play, which was ranked eighth overall (19.3%).

“I was definitely looking for an offensive guy; a centerman,” MacLean said. “I think he fits the bill perfectly. Draws are important. Playing against him, he was very creative. He played with some tremendous players. He has a great mind for the game. He’s definitely somebody that we were looking for in that aspect of the game. He worked on Tampa’s power play last year. Special teams are going to be huge. We’re going to have to work on it.”

Family Ties
This week, there's a new Zajac in Newark. Darcy Zajac, brother of Travis, is attending rookie camp after signing a minor league contract with the Devils.

"I guess the Devils saw something in me that they thought could help the organization in the future," said Darcy, whose career has followed in his older brother's footsteps. Like Travis, he played in juniors with Salmon Arm (BCHL) before joining North Dakota (WCHA).

After a senior season in which he posted career bests with the Sioux (eight goals, 11 assists in 41 games), the 6-1, 200-lb. right wing made two appearances with Adirondack (AHL). Now he's landed in the same organization as his sibling, though their games are nothing alike.

"A two-way gritty kind of forward," Darcy said of his playing style. "Obviously, I don't have the kind of finesse and offensive ability [Travis] has, but that doesn't mean I can't put pucks in the net."

Devils' President/CEO/GM Lou Lamoriello appreciates the younger Zajac's play and praised his "character, work ethic and family genes."

Darcy, who turns 24 on September 23, hopes to continue his development this season.

"I spent four years in college and I think I developed well there as a player," he said. "It's a pro game now, and wherever I end up I just need to keep working and keep developing no matter where it is. That's what this year to me is all about."

Travis drove down from Winnipeg with his brother and plans to work out on his own at Prudential Center during rookie camp.

"I'm sure it's exciting for him, too, to see him make the next step out of college," Travis said. "He had four good years there and for him to come to this organization, it's great for him."

Could we see two Zajacs on the same line someday?

"Maybe one day down the road, if we ever got to play together, that'd be kind of a treat," Darcy said.

Jersey Boys
There are three New Jersey natives at this year's rookie camp: right wing Bryan Haczyk (Secaucus), defenseman Dan Kolomatis (Basking Ridge) and goaltender Angelo Tsaganeas (Dumont).

Haczyk, 23, was a member of Seton Hall Prep's state championship in 2004, and has spent the last three seasons with Niagara (CHA). The 5-10, 185-lb. forward was named to the CHA's All-Academic team in 2008. In 109 games with the Purple Eagles, Haczyk has collected 18 goals and 32 assists.

Kolomatis, 19, is a product of the Atlantic Junior Hockey League's New Jersey Rockets, who play their home games at Prudential Center. Measuring in at 6-0, 170 lbs., he's played the last two seasons with Chicago of the USHL, collecting nine goals and 10 assists in 57 games.

Tsaganeas, 22, played two seasons with Bergen Catholic from 2004-2006 and has spent the last two campaigns with Sacred Heart (Atlantic Hockey).

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