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DeBoer enters new job expecting to succeed

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com
New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer recently was asked what change is needed to assure his team re-establishes itself as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

"I think we have to pick up where we left off last year," DeBoer told NHL.com. "Jacques (Lemaire), to his credit, came in and re-established New Jersey's identity as a team that was hard to play against every night. That played a big role in the team winning games in all kinds of different ways."

DeBoer was referring to New Jersey's 29-17-3 run under Lemaire, who replaced John MacLean as coach Dec. 23. As good a finish as it was, it wasn't enough to dig out of their early hole. The Devils ultimately missed the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons.

DeBoer is coming off a three-season stint as coach of the Florida Panthers, where he finished with a 103-107-36 record. While he may be the new kid on the block in terms of his association with the Devils, don't think for a second he doesn't understand what drives the organization.

""I think until you stand behind the bench with a group of players, or on the ice on a daily basis with them, no one knows them better than that person and Jacques knows this group inside-out from his experiences here. I really feel I'm ahead of the curve as far as getting off to a good start because of my conversations with him." -- Peter DeBoer

"I've spoken with Jacques since becoming coach and my conversations with him were very insightful," DeBoer said. "I think until you stand behind the bench with a group of players, or on the ice on a daily basis with them, no one knows them better than that person and Jacques knows this group inside-out from his experiences here. I really feel I'm ahead of the curve as far as getting off to a good start because of my conversations with him."

DeBoer won't tip his hand as to line combinations prior to the start of the season, but the players certainly have liked what they've seen thus far in his attempt to generate some immediate chemistry.

"Just from talking to him, I really like what he's been saying and what he wants to do," Devils forward Zack 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 'D' is 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."

DeBoer, 43, is the seventh different coach hired by Lamoriello in the last seven seasons. Despite failing to make the playoffs in three seasons in Florida, he said he learned plenty. He also realizes the expectations that come with coaching the Devils.

"When you take a job, you go in expecting to succeed," DeBoer said. "The only way to approach it is that you're going to have success, good things are going to happen and you're going to be there for a long time. If you approach it any other way, you're not going into it with the right attitude. I'm not concerned with what has gone on here in the past. I feel privileged to be working with an organization with the tradition they have, the great players here. I'm looking at it as a long-term relationship."

DeBoer obviously would like to see Ilya Kovalchuk begin the season strong. He scored just 5 goals in his first 28 games last season, but finished with 31, plus 29 assists. DeBoer doesn't believe Kovalchuk will have to change his style to conform to his coaching philosophy.

"I watched a lot of tape of the Devils in the second half of last season and thought Ilya was outstanding in both ends of the rink," DeBoer said. "I don't think he needs to change at all. I think great players make the people around them better, and I'm excited just to work with him."

He's also thrilled to be working with many young players looking to make their mark -- several of whom likely will earn roles right out of training camp. DeBoer used as an example former Florida Panthers forward Michael Frolik, who broke into the League during DeBoer's first season in Florida. Frolik, who has 53 goals and 126 points in 241 career NHL games, was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks last February.

"I think Michael Frolik turned himself into an outstanding pro," DeBoer said. "Here's a kid out of the Quebec league (Rimouski Oceanic) who no one anticipated playing in the NHL as soon as he did, and in his first two years in the League scored 21 goals.

"He earned the trust of the coaching staff that we could play him 16 or 17 minutes a night. That's the key for any young player -- earning that trust that the coach can play them. We have some young and talented kids here in New Jersey, names like (Jacob) Josefson, (Nick) Palmieri, (Mattias) Tedenby, (Adam) Henrique and (Adam) Larsson, so that's exciting."

DeBoer may have to rely on several of those youngsters for secondary scoring -- the Devils were last in the League in scoring last season, averaging just 2.08 goals per game.

"I think it's going to be something we'll spend time on in camp and through the exhibition games … trying to create more shots and more offensive-zone time," DeBoer said. "At the same time, we want to keep our defensive identity that has made New Jersey so successful. We can concentrate on scoring more goals, but if it's at the detriment of our defensive identity then you're not going to be further ahead, so that's the main priority of our coaching staff -- keeping our defensive foundation while finding a way to create more offense."

Parise, meanwhile, just is looking forward to the start of a new season.

"Regardless of who the coach has been, it's always been a pretty similar style of play and structure has always been the same," Parise said. "Of course, you want stability and a coach you can grow with, but hopefully we'll have that with (DeBoer)."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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