admits he isn't about to reinvent the wheel in his first season as coach of the New Jersey Devils
"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 the main priority of our coaching staff is to keep our defensive foundation and find a way to create more offense this year," DeBoer told NHL.com.
DeBoer seems intent on giving Devils fans that familiar recipe long associated with success in New Jersey by prioritizing defense.
However, does DeBoer have a team capable of playing that type of style in front of 39-year-old goalie Martin Brodeur
? After all, long gone are the days of blueliners Scott Stevens
, Scott Niedermayer
, Ken Daneyko and Brian Rafalski
DeBoer is confident the team will pick up where it left off last season, when coach Jacques Lemaire
inherited an 9-22-2 team Dec. 23, went 29-17-3 the rest of the way and nearly earned a playoff spot.
DeBoer is just as motivated as the Devils to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was hired by New Jersey General Manager Lou Lamoriello after missing the playoffs in all three of his seasons coaching the Florida Panthers
While DeBoer isn't about to finalize anything prior to the start of the season, there have been a few interesting developments in training camp.
For starters, it looks as though he'll stick to his initial plan of keeping Ilya Kovalchuk
on left wing and having Patrik Elias
begin the season at center. The coach also has said Zach Parise
and Elias have looked sharp working together, as have Kovalchuk and Jacob Josefson
. Kovalchuk played most of last season with Travis Zajac
as his center, but with Zajac sidelined for the first six weeks of the season with an Achilles tendon injury, Kovalchuk will have to adjust to a new center.
"We've got some combinations we're looking at and I think I'd like to keep Elias and Parise together," DeBoer said. "Josefson and Kovalchuk look pretty good together. Those are initial thoughts. I'm seeing some chemistry, but that's subject to change."
Kovalchuk scored just 5 goals in his first 28 games last season but finished with 31 goals and 29 assists. He had 6 game-winning goals in 12 games between Feb. 6 and March 4, aiding New Jersey's playoff push.
DeBoer tried different players on the right side for each line, but one player who could stick with Josefson and Kovalchuk is David Clarkson
. Don't be surprised if versatile forward Adam Henrique
, a 2008 third-round pick, earns an opportunity with the big club.
"I don't think we look at (Henrique) as either a wing or a center, but rather as both," Devils Director of Scouting David Conte told NHL.com. "I think he's adaptable, and if he hasn't done it, he'll learn quickly. He's a quick study."
Henrique led the Albany Devils, New Jersey's American Hockey League affiliate, with 25 goals and was second with 50 points. He centered Mattias Tedenby
and Nick Palmieri
during parts of training camp. Meanwhile, 34-year-old Petr Sykora, who was invited to camp on a tryout, was working the middle with Stephane Veilleux
and either Dainius Zubrus
or rookie Reid Boucher
. Sykora, a member of New Jersey's 2000 Stanley Cup team, played right wing for most of his career but was drafted as a center by the Devils in 1995.
IN: Steve Bernier
, RW (tryout, Panthers); Eric Boulton
, LW (free agent, Thrashers); Cam Janssen
, RW (free agent, Blues); Stephane Veilleux
, LW (free agent, Ambri-Piotta, Switzerland)
OUT: Tyler Eckford
, D (free agent, Coyotes); Trent Hunter
(tryout, Kings); Adam Mair
, C (tryout, Philadelphia); Brian Rolston
, LW (trade, Islanders); Anssi Salmela
, D (free agent, Avangard Omsk, Russia); Colin White
, D (free agent, Sharks)
Look for David Steckel
to be given every opportunity to work as a third- or fourth-line center, perhaps with Rod Pelley
and Vladimir Zharkov
. DeBoer also will have to find some room for enforcers Cam Janssen
and Eric Boulton
Lamoriello is optimistic the return of Bryce Salvador
(who missed all of last season with a concussion), established veterans Anton Volchenkov
, Andy Greene
and Henrik Tallinder
, and a group of talented youngsters will get the job done.
"One thing we really sort of looked at last year was the defense," Lamoriello told The (Bergen) Record. "The return of Salvador, and Volchenkov and Tallinder being here a year now (will help). Anton stayed here all summer, Tallinder played well in the second half last year and Greene helps stabilize the defense with four veterans. (Matt) Taormina is healthy so we'll see what he does, the improvement of (Mark) Fayne, and (Anton) Stralman making the decision of coming here (as a tryout) … he's a legitimate NHL player. (Alexander) Urbom's improvement, Adam Larsson
, (Matthew) Corrente … it's going to be interesting."
The wild card in all this is Larsson, the fourth pick of the 2011 Entry Draft, who many feel will earn a roster spot out of training camp. The last 18-year-old to go right to the big club from the draft was Sykora in 1995-96. Larsson also would present DeBoer a nice right-handed option at the point on the power play.
"The biggest difference between here and Sweden must be the speed and skills of the players," Larsson said. "Hopefully I'll get used to it. Of course, this is a dream for me. It's huge for everybody to be part of an NHL team. I'm just going to do my best and hopefully I will make the team."
During camp, DeBoer rotated his defensive combinations, but did have Tallinder working with Larsson, and Volchenkov with Stralman. Mark Fraser
, who played 26 games with the Devils in 2010-11, is also in the mix.
DEVILS 30 IN 15 RELATED STORIES
As if confirmation even were needed, Lamoriello has stressed there will be no training-camp battle to determine a No. 1 goalie -- that's Martin Brodeur
. His backup will be Johan Hedberg
. Brodeur is entering the final season of his contract.
"This is going to be the same as every other season," Brodeur said. "I'm not going to change my approach because I feel it could be my last. I just go out there and try to have fun and enjoy the game. After that, I'll evaluate how I feel about continuing. I'm approaching this season like any other season."
DeBoer also would prefer to discuss this season rather than what the future has in store for Brodeur, the NHL's all-time leader in games played (1,132), wins (625) and shutouts (116).
"The expectation is that he has a career year (in 2011-12)," DeBoer told the (Newark) Star-Ledger. "I don't think that's out of the question.
"I watched what (Dwayne) Roloson did last year with Tampa at 42. I don't think there is anybody in this organization that doubts Marty has a lot left in the tank. That's what we're hoping for."
Hedberg proved to be a more-than-capable backup when Brodeur was sidelined with knee and elbow injuries that limited him to 56 games. Hedberg went 15-12-2 with a 2.38 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in 34 games in his first season in New Jersey.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale