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TRAINING CAMP: Keeping it Simple

Lindy Ruff wants his team to play aggressive and with pace, and when it comes to the defensive system he has simplified things for his group, which ultimately may play to this roster's strengths

by Chris Wescott TheChrisWescott / NewJerseyDevils.com

P.K. Subban has been in the NHL for quite some time.

The New Jersey Devils defenseman has seen all sorts of systems over the course of his career. So it's of note that he sees Lindy Ruff's system as being one of the more simplistic ones. 

Video: CAMP RAW | P.K. Subban 01.04.21

"The defense is very simple," Subban said. "It's work ethic. It's paying attention to details. So that's what we're working on in practice right now. But as a defenseman, I can tell you, I have played in a lot of systems in my career and this one's a little bit simpler. For a defenseman, you know exactly where you need to be, and it's going to come down to communication. I think you've got to communicate between the forwards and the defense, the forwards coming back into the zone have to be able to communicate. They've got their eyes up so they can see everything. So communication is a huge part of the system as well."

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The Devils will take Tuesday off and will return to the ice on Wednesday with a Camp Game scheduled for 11:00 AM ET and it will be streamed live once again on NewJerseyDevils.com.

Through the first few days of training camp, it is evident that Ruff expects his team to play with pace, but not reckless abandon.

Many of the drills Ruff has put his team through have emphasized attacking on defense, aggressively, particularly in the defensive zone corners to support and win battles. Ruff also likes his D to activate more which, according to Subban, means communication is crucial.

"I think that we're all trying and get on the same page," Subban said. "I think that the first couple of days there's always some growing pains, but I think that we're sorting it out as the days go by. And the consensus among our group, not just the defensemen, is that we all believe in this system and that it's going to put us in a better position to transition to offense."

With fast, skilled forwards, an aggressive, offensively inclined defensive structure could benefit the types of forwards the Devils have. And by keeping things simple, in theory, it allows the team to play faster and with more aggression. And while it's on the players to execute at the end of the day, it appears that they're eager to play a system designed for their strengths.

"Lindy is going to demand an attentive defense in our own zone," said defenseman Connor Carrick. "I've always been a guy that I appreciate clarity in our system. Where there are less reads as a d-man. And there's more clarity on when to go and when to be in pursuit and physical and that has always suited me well.

"And then offensively, he asks us to be involved and in motion at the blueline. That's always been a key part over the course of my career in terms of how I help create offense and keep the other team in their own end. That's the NHL game. How long can you make the other team defend?" 

It's still extremely early, but Sunday marked the first game of training camp. And Ruff was happy with how his defense, particularly the younger players, executed the fast, simple system.

"I was really impressed with how they handled the speed and some of the situations defensively," said Ruff. "I thought they played very well."

As for some of the veteran players, they too are making progress. However, not only are some of these defenders adapting to a new coach in Ruff, but some are also completely new to the Devils franchise. And so, even though it will take time, Sunday was a positive as a whole for the group of defensemen. 

"I think they're adapting," said Ruff. 

"I think, we've got [Dmitry] Kulikov in that he has a new system, new way of playing. [Ryan] Murray, I thought, in Murray's case that he just kept the game really simple. He just made the right plays. I think Kulikov sometimes got a little bit overactive for me, but again, there are situations that they're not used to playing in the way we want to play them. I mean, every team, from team to team, has situations that they want to play a certain way. So I think there's an adjustment, but I think those veteran guys, and like [Damon Severson] and [Subban], I thought we saw some good stuff out of our veteran players [on Sunday]."

One of the key positives of the Ruff hire this summer was how he has a history of tweaking systems to fit the roster he has. As a coach, this malleability is a boon, and it just may ultimately pay dividends once the Devils players fully adapt.

"I think in general, our group is young and skates well and is excited to get up and down the rink," said Carrick. "You know, I'm willing to bet and I know for sure that Lindy and his staff put a lot of time and effort into identifying our strengths. And it's not by mistake that we've chosen a system that plays well into them."

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