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Thompson, Severson could be Devils' X-factors

by Mike G. Morreale

Several challenges await New Jersey Devils coach John Hynes in his first season as an NHL coach.

The most obvious being his ability to devise a strategy that will generate more offensive support for goaltender Cory Schneider.

Hynes sounds ready to hit the ground running and is more than willing to deal with any situation the Devils may face, good or bad. He knows there will be an adjustment period after spending the previous five seasons in the American Hockey League as coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the Pittsburgh Penguins' affiliate.

"There will definitely be a difference," Hynes said. "Teaching, relating to players and coaching the game are all similar as far as what you do as a coach. But those media commitments and dealing with different types of players will be different than the AHL just because of the career stage each player is in."

It remains uncertain whether or not the Devils will name a new captain. Bryce Salvador, who held that role the past three seasons, announced his retirement Sept. 2. General manager Ray Shero said a decision could be made during training camp when he and Hynes get a better feel for the team. Veteran defenseman Andy Greene, an alternate captain last season, and forward Adam Henrique are among the players who may be considered.

"We have some very good candidates who could easily be considered for the [captaincy], and if any one of them got it everyone would be totally fine with it," Schneider said. "I think there is that breadth of experience in our room. Bryce was our captain the last two years and he missed a good part of both of them. That was tough for us because he is such a leader and was a great captain. We went the last two years without a guy in the room who had [the captaincy]. We've done it and nobody has really made a whole lot of mention about it, so I think it could go either way."

Here are three X-factors that could lead to a successful season for the Devils:

Players should thrive in an attacking system: Expect the youngest coach in the NHL to get the most out of the young players in the lineup, including possible roster candidates Reid Boucher, Stefan Matteau, Paul Thompson, Blake Coleman and Pavel Zacha.

Hynes has stressed that the Devils will be hard-working, competitive and extremely tough to play against. Players adhering to that style will be in the lineup for the season opener Oct. 9 against the Winnipeg Jets.

"We want to be able to be competitive and in my discussions with [Shero] we want to be faster, we want to be quicker," Hynes said. "We have young guys coming in and the roster will be younger, but we also want to make sure that we have guys who will be competitive. That process will be undergoing the next couple of years.

"The main part of being a good defensive team is being able to play in the offensive areas on the offensive side of the red line. It's a lot of puck pressure and possession, and being responsible on both sides of the puck."

Paul Thompson could be surprise addition: Thompson, 26, who signed a two-year, two-way contract July 1, could prove to be a significant roster addition in a bottom-six role. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound right wing was second in the AHL last season with 33 goals and tied for second with 13 power-play goals. Thompson played for Hynes for three seasons with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton after being signed as an unrestricted free agent by the Penguins in March 2011.

Damon Severson to earn bigger role: Severson, who missed 31 games with a fractured left ankle last season, will be a major part of the growing defense corps. He considers himself an aggressive player so he's looking forward to playing in the fast, attacking system that Hynes could incorporate this season.

Hynes has said he likes Severson's demeanor and approach to the game.

In 51 games with the Devils last season, Severson had five goals and 17 points while averaging 21:57 of ice time per game.

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