Much has been made of the loss of Scott Gomez, the first-line center who had 13 goals and 47 assists for 60 points and won 52 percent of his faceoffs. Gomez is 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds. His replacement, Dainius Zubrus, is 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds and recorded career highs last season in goals (24), assists (36), and points (60), in 79 games split between Washington and Buffalo. He gives the Devils a different look up front if he centers Patrik Elias and right wing Brian Gionta. John Madden figures to center a line with left wing Jay Pandolfo, a Selke Award candidate, and either Sergei Brylin or ex-Islander Arron Asham. That's the Devils' shutdown line, and it’s one of the best in the NHL.
Travis Zajac had a strong rookie season with 17 goals and 25 assists and will likely center left wing Zach Parise, who nearly doubled his point production in his second season with 31 goals and 31 assists, and Jamie Langenbrunner, who was slowed by a groin injury early in camp. There will be a battle for the right wing job on this scoring line among David Clarkson, Grant Marshall, Nick Bergfors and Barry Tallackson. Finnish veteran Jari Viuhkola and rookie Rod Pelley will battle for fourth-line center. Mike Rupp and Noah Clarke will battle for time on the left wing.
Elias, Zubrus, Gionta, Zajac, Parise, Rupp, Bergfors, Langenbrunner, Brylin, Tallackson and Clarkson all will compete for time on the power play with Elias, Gionta and Zubrus likely to form the first unit. Langenbrunner led the Devils with 12 power-play goals, Gionta had 11 and Parise scored 9. Elias and Brylin each had eight. Since Rupp can play left wing and center and Zubrus can play center and right wing, it gives new coach Brent Sutter some options. One idea might be to put Elias and/or Zubrus on the point and Rupp's big body in the pivot to screen the goalie and knock in rebounds. He's done that well before. Zubrus operates well from behind the net while Elias directs from the side boards, possibly giving the Devils two power-play systems to defend against. It will be a work in progress.
Not so the penalty killing, the NHL's fourth-best unit last year. Madden, Pandolfo, Brylin and Langenbrunner form two solid penalty-killing units. Amazingly, they had very little point-production while shorthanded. Pandolfo had a goal and an assist and Madden had two assists. Then, again, the Devils faced the by far the fewest shorthanded situations, 271, of any team in the NHL. Penalty killing — and the ability to stay out of the penalty box — have been one of the cornerstones of the Devils' long run of success and should continue to be so this season.
Up and Coming
David Clarkson — Clarkson is big and strong and has decent offensive skills. He could be a good fit with scorers like Parise and Zajac, especially if the Devils try to mold him into a Mike Knuble-like role, working the boards, protecting his linemates and shoveling in rebounds.
Barry Tallackson — It looked like Tallackson would make the team a year ago, but he struggled in training camp and then suffered a wrist injury that limited his contributions in Lowell. Look for Tallackson to win a job in training camp and meet the Devils’ expectations for him.
Nicklas Bergfors — He has struggled in his two AHL seasons and will probably return to get his game on track. If he comes on fast, he could join the roster this year.
Rod Pelley — Pelley looked good in a fourth-line role last year and has the size and intensity to play in the NHL.
Brian Gionta — Gionta had a natural chemistry with Gomez, scoring 48 goals and adding 41 assists two years ago. His numbers fell last season when he was hindered by a lingering groin problem during the second half of the season. Gionta will have to adjust to a new center and must avoid injuries — particularly those that compromise his speed, the key to his game.