Reviewing My 2009-10 Expectations for New Jersey Devils Forwards

This could have easily been titled, "Look at how wrong I was back in August!"

Back in August, I wrote a series of posts basically coming up with expectations for each Devil on the roster.  Not all of them were statisically based, a lot of them came arbitrarily.  Still, I felt it was better to state what I wanted to see out of each player prior to the season.   Now that the Devils have played a third of the NHL season, it's a good time as any to see how my expectations are bearing out. Today, I will focus on the forwards with the defensemen and goaltenders coming on either Thursday or Saturday.

Before jumping into exposing how right or wrong my August thoughts hold up, I have to note that this doesn't cover the current roster.  At the time, Nicklas Bergfors, Rob Niedermayer, Tim Sestito, Andrew Peters, Dean McAmmond, Matt Halischuk, and Vladimir Zharkov were not on the roster nor did I assume that they would make the team.  I will say that I have been pleased with them how they have played with the exception of Peters - who has done very little this season. Were I to place them in order from most impressed to least, I'd go with Bergfors, McAmmond, Niedermayer, Sestito, Zharkov, Halischuk, and Peters.

Also, while I had a set of expectations for Brendan Shanahan, his retirement makes following up on that pointless. So we're down to 11 here.

One more note, I'm using "current pace" for scoring but I'd take such projections with a grain of salt.  While, say, Jamie Langenbrunner is over a point per game pace, don't be shocked if he hits a slow patch later on.  I'm just using it to illustrate how right and how wrong my earlier expectations have shown.

Lastly, I will say this prior to the jump.  Please leave your thoughts on how the Devils forwards have been playing so far in the comments, as well as any criticism for stupid-in-hindsight expectations or what I say below.

Zach Parise, What I said then:

Ultimately, Parise reached such great heights in terms of production and on-ice contributions that I am hestitant to say, "Well, Zach, time to do it again." I think he can do it and he may very well do it, but to me, it's unfair to say he would have had a disappointing season if he doesn't put up 94 or more points.    Not that I'll be satisfied with only 25 goals and 60 points from Parise.  No, that would truly be disappointing.  Parise is so talented and has such a strong work ethic that he should be expected to lead the Devils' offense.  I expect him to be the team's leading scorer in 2009-10 unless Elias has a monster season not seen from him since the second half of 2005-06.   And to that end, if Parise finishes with about 35 goals and 80 to 85 points, I would be pleased - and so that is what I'm expecting.  Lower production from 2008-09, but not a big drop as I believe he is truly an elite forward.  (And, of course, if he scores more than that, then great.)


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Zach Parise 28 15 17 32 18 8 2 1 1 0 125 12.0

What he has done so far:

Parise is currently on pace for 44 goals and 94 points!  Which is just about the same production he had last season (one fewer goal, one more assist).  Talk about being proven wrong.  Parise is the unquestioned leader of the offense and one of the top shooters (125 currently leads the league, though that won't last) and scorers in the league.  In short, he's been exceeding my expectations.

Travis Zajac, What I said then:

I'm expecting Zajac to continue to grow as player, and so I want to see him win at least 52% of his faceoffs, use his size a little better in traffic, shoot at least 180 shots on net, and put up about 25 goals and 70 points.   Given his expected linemates and where he is at his career, I think that would be "the next step" in his progression.

What he has done so far:


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Travis Zajac 28 9 16 25 15 10 3 0 0 0 72 12.5

While he has shifted a little bit, he's currently in line to just go over most of those expectations.  Zajac has looked stronger on and off the puck, he's been the definitive #1 center on the team, and he's on pace for 26 goals and 73 points along with 211 shots on net.  Just what I was looking for, with the exception of faceoffs as Zajac has only won 51.6% of his draws.  Still, I can't complain as he's meeting my expectations.

Jamie Langenbrunner, What I said then:

That said, I still expect him to line up with Parise and Zajac as the Devils' first scoring line.  I still expect him to be responsible defensively while going forward, as that has been his game for his career. I still expect him to lead.  I still expect him to unload some big shots.  And he'll do all of that and do it well, I'm sure.  But what I don't expect is 29 goals and 69 points.  I can't help but think just out of sheer likelihood that his 2009-10 numbers will go down to more in line with the rest of his career.   If Langenbrunner can contribute about 20 goals and about 50 points along what he normally brings to the team, then I'd say I'll be pleased with his production.  With respect to overall offense, I don't think it's unfair to expect about 9 more goals from the rest of the team to make up the difference.

What he has done so far:


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Jamie Langenbrunner 28 7 19 26 10 10 1 1 2 0 72 9.7

Can you believe it, he's on pace to have his best offensive season of his career! At age 34!  The current pace calls for 26 goals and 79 points and that would be simply fantastic.  Even if he slips a little bit in scoring, he'd still likely be on his way to surpassing my expectations. This is more impressive when you consider that Lemaire has shifted Langenbrunner up and down at right wing across three lines through this whole season.  That Langenbrunner keeps getting points despite the changing linemates is a testament to how well he's been play.  Clearly, he is exceeding my expectations.

Patrik Elias, What I said then:

Ultimately, I expect Elias to still play like he has been for his entire career.  As far as what type of production to expect, I feel that if Elias can put up about 70 points next season, that would be more than fine.  65 points wouldn't be too bad, but I expect Elias to keep up his point per game rate close to 1 based on what he can do and the other factors in play. Could he repeat his 2008-09 performance? Sure! My expectations are only a little less than that.

What he has done so far:


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Patrik Elias 14 3 8 11 2 8 1 0 1 0 29 10.3

Elias missed training camp, preseason, October, and some of November as he was recovering from surgery that removed scar tissue from his groin.  Back in August, no fan saw this coming.  So keep that in mind as well as the fact that Elias has come back in the middle of the season and play his way back into shape.  Elias is currently producing at a rate of .785 points per game. Is this good enough considering the circumstances? I'm inclined to say yes.  Elias is currently on pace to put up 15 goals and 54 points, but I'd like to think he'll manage to get more goals than that - his shot isn't bad at all.  Moreover, if he catches on fire, then he's got an outside shot at hitting 60-65 points.  I'd say in all things considered, Elias is meeting my expectations in spite of the injury.

Brian Rolston, What I said then:

He knows his teammates much better after a season in New Jersey. The new head coach knows him well and will certainly use him more to Rolston's liking.  Brian Gionta is now signed with Montreal, so his former spot is really Rolston's for the taking: a right wing position on an actual scoring line, with the wondefully talented Patrik Elias.  Add his own personal desire to improve, and this is an excellent situation for Rolston. If he avoids injury and meshes well with Elias and Zubrus, then a big improvement shouldn't surprise anyone.  Therefore, I think it's fair to expect a big improvement. I would like Rolston to score at least 25 goals and put up at least 60 points.

What he has done so far:


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Brian Rolston 27 10 6 16 0 6 5 0 3 0 92 10.9

This is curious.  Rolston hasn't exactly been consistent in terms of his performances, yet here he stands as the second most prolific shooter on the team and currently on pace to put up 30 goals and 48 points.  Yes, that works out to 18 assists and I doubt Rolston will finish with that few.  Though I doubt many would complain if he does, in fact, put up 30 goals.   He has avoided injury, he's (mostly) been on a scoring line, and he does look very good as Patrik Elias' winger in recent games.  I would really like to see him put up more confident efforts more often, though.  If he does, he could hit 60 points as well as 25 goals.   To that end, I'd say Rolston has been exceeding my expectations for goals, but slightly below other expectations.   (Yes, I'm hedging here, so what, they're my expectations, I can do that.)

Dainius Zubrus, What I said then:

So what to expect?  If Zubrus does stay on at center on the second line, then I would like to see him win at least 51% of his faceoffs to start.  In terms of points, this is tricky as those two seasons right after the lockout are the only times Zubrus has had more than 20 goals and 55 points in a season.  All the same, I would like to see him improve over his production from last season.  So I'm expecting about 17 goals and about 30 assists.  Truth be told, I'd want him to break 50 points, I want him to score 20 goals, but I'm not really seeing any reason to believe that he will next season.

What he has done so far:


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Dainius Zubrus 20 2 5 7 -1 10 0 0 2 0 33 6.1

The recent injury to Zubrus really hinders what he could be doing throughout the season. That just adds to the confusion surrounding Big Z.  Has he been useful in the run of play? Yes.  Has he shown a little versatility playing among the various non-first lines? Sure.  But is he meeting my expectations of him in terms of points?  No. Again, the injury leaves Zubrus out for likely all of December and some of January, so he's going to miss 15-20 more games on top of the 8 he's already missed.  That alone will hurt his chances of hitting 17 goals and 30 assists. Yet, at his current pace, he wouldn't come close to those values.  He wasn't even winning 50% of his faceoffs (he's at 49.2%).  I don't like writing this because I really do think he brings value to the team, but Zubrus was playing below my stated expectations so far prior to injury.

David Clarkson, What I said then:

Since I hope and expect Clarkson to cut down on his penalties in minutes and improve his defense, I think Lemaire will be forced to give him more ice time based on his performances alone. I would think that if Lemaire can utilize Clarkson for 14-15 minutes a night, then that alone should see his point totals rise.  

According to HockeyDB, it took Randy McKay 10 full seasons of pro hockey before he exceeding 20 goals and 40 points (24 goals, 48 points in 1996-97).   I honestly think that Clarkson can raise his game to do that next season - his fifth in pro hockey.  Given what I've stated so far, I expect Clarkson to finish with about 20 goals and 40 points in 2009-10.

What he has done so far:


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - David Clarkson 23 7 8 15 1 39 3 0 2 0 65 10.8

I really wish he wasn't injured because that just stunts his production.  Prior to the injury, I would have said that Clarkson has been playing well above expectations. He's been shuttled between the second, third, and fourth lines, and yet he provides solid production along with toughness (read: hits, PIMs) and all on an average of 15:08 per game.  He's been getting the minutes I hoped Lemaire would give him and he hasn't disappointed.  It'll be interesting to see how he and Zubrus play after their injuries.  Zubrus wasn't on pace for my expectations, whereas Clarkson was on pace for 25 goals and 28 assists prior to his injury.  Clarkson was exceeding my expectations then, and I certainly hope he can return to this form when he does recover.

Rod Pelley, What I said then:

Despite the spot he's going to fill in [third line center], I don't think it's fair to really expect a lot from him this season and so I won't.  While he's not technically a rookie, he's still relatively new to the NHL and he's coming up after a full season spent in Lowell.  It's like he is a rookie, in my view. He's a defensive forward so he isn't going to score a lot - that has to be considered as well. In terms of the latter, I would be more than pleased with any contribution he gives - perhaps 10 goals and 20 points at the most. On the defensive side, I'd like to see Pelley win close to half of his faceoffs, avoid taking penalties (less than 60, he had 78 with Lowell last season), and keep up with the opposition.   It doesn't sound like much, but again, I'm keeping the expectations low since there isn't much to go on with Pelley.   One thing is for sure, I certainly don't expect him to be the next Madden - it really is a lot to ask of a young player.

What he has done so far:


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Rod Pelley 25 0 2 2 -6 16 0 0 0 0 27 0.0

The Devils never placed Pelley as the team's third line center. Right before the season started, the Devils signed Rob Niedermayer to a deal and gave him the spot.  During the season, the Devils signed Dean McAmmond as additional depth (which was an important move in retrospect) and called up Tim Sestito, who actually played ahead of Pelley or in place of Pelley.  Not only was a he a fourth line center, but he was scratched for a few games.  Since being scratched, Pelley has played with a lot more vigor recently (now has 35 hits, 7:30 ice time) and without taking too many penalty minutes (currently on pace for 50 or so).   However, he's not going to hit these expected numbers on his current line.   He's just not producing, though that may change if the recent fourth line play keeps up their good work.  I think this is fine considering the circumstances, but I misplaced my expectations on Pelley since I assumed back in August that he would be replacing John Madden's spot on the third line.

Jay Pandolfo, What I said then:

Let's be frank here, Pandolfo is not and will not be an offensive force.  He's not going to be significant producer of points, he never has been, and it's foolish to expect him to do so now.  If he can contribute 10 goals and 10 assists, great.  If not, fine.  In any case, his defensive work is his "bread and butter" and he has to do better in that department. I expect him to finish with a better goals for/against difference on the ice; contribute to a penalty kill that didn't do all that well last season (79.9% success rate, 20th best in the league); and earn his way back to 15-17 minutes on average on the third line. Basically, he needs to be a solid, competant checking forward once again.

What he has done so far:


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Jay Pandolfo 11 1 2 3 -1 2 0 0 0 0 17 5.9

Like other Devils forwards, the injuries hurt his production.  However, we are talking about Jay Pandolfo and his current production pace (I believe it is about 6 goals and 12 assists) is perfectly acceptable considering his offensive skills.  Moreover, Pandolfo has averaged 15:10 over the whole season while playing on the third line and has averaged 2:23 on a penalty killing unit that is currently ranked tied for 10th in the league.  Of course, Pandolfo didn't play on said unit for 17 games, but he is back on PK duty.  In fact, he immediately returned from injury to playing his normal (and expected) workload.    When Pandolfo is on the ice in even strength situations, per Behind the Net, the shots against per 60 shows no change (stays at 25.1) and the goals against per 60 does increase from 1.57 to 2.64.  However, Pandolfo is playing against a positive quality of competition and the lack of games does skew these numbers from Behind the Net.   Still, I would say that Pandolfo is meeting my expectations so far and I'm glad to see that after such a poor 2008-09 season from the checking left winger.

Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, What I said then:

Leblond is an OK skater, he can bring "energy" into a lethargic game, and he likes to be physical and aggressive.   He's also not a scorer by any means and so all we can really expect from the player is hits and plenty of penalty minutes.  Since I want - and expect - David Clarkson to fight less, Leblond should be more than able to replace him in that role.   That is, when he actually plays.  Given that Leblond is not going to develop into an offensive or defensive contributor, there's going to be some games where the Devils really don't need an enforcer to play 4-7 minutes and/or spend 5 minutes in a box.

What he has done so far:


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond 7 0 0 0 -3 0 0 0 0 0 2 0.0

What has Leblond done so far this season?  Not much of anything really.  When Andrew Peters has been getting more games than you, it's a sign that the season isn't going so well. Though to be fair, I'll say that while Leblond has not met my expectations, he has not earned a chance to stay on the roster.

Ilkka Pikkarainen, What I said then (thanks to HIFK supporter Patrik Sjögren):

So what to expect? Well, from what I read, it's a real mixed bag here.  Physical/agitating play, a hard shot, and damaging on-ice discipline issues really seem to be the traits that stick out from what Patrik has seen in 3 years of the player.   Hopefully, only those first two traits stick out in preseason as he competes for a spot.  Even then, I would still pencil him in only for a fourth line position. But I'm a little less enthused about him, to say the least!  Still, let's see what he does in preseason before bemoaning the signing.

What he has done so far:


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Ilkka Pikkarainen 18 0 1 1 -4 8 0 0 0 0 11 0.0

Pikkarainen was known for being an agitator and has he done that? Well, not quite.  He was the right wing for an ineffective fourth line and wasn't doing much like Peters and Pelley. It wasn't until recently where something must have clicked in Pikkarainen's head.   Maybe it was the injury to Clarkson, leading him to think he needs to step up with the grit? Maybe the coaching staff had a talk with him?  Maybe something else?  Whatever it is, he's been playing more like a physical fourth liner recently along with Pelley.  Not as much as an agitator, as I'm pretty sure he drew exactly one call this season.  There's more energy in his gliding, he's stepped up his hitting (now at 30), and he has been good about staying out the box/keeping "Evil Ilkka" from showing himself.  If he keeps this up, then I'd be fine with the way he plays.  But overall, I must say that Pikkarainen has not met my expectations for a physical/agitating fourth liner until recently.

Overall

I must say, even with my arbitrarily defined expectations, a good number of the Devils forwards are either meeting them or exceeding them.  Most importantly, those who are doing that are the top forwards on the team: Parise, Zajac, Langenbrunner, Elias, Clarkson (pre-injury), and Rolston (in goals only).   I'm very glad to be wrong on my expectations for Parise and Langenbrunner, in particular.  They are having just excellent seasons.   I'd like to see the bottom 6 do a bit more (as well as Zubrus), but their chances are limited mainly due to the fine play of the additional forwards that made the team after these expectation posts were written.

Let me know what you think of all of this in the comments.  Thursday or Saturday, I'll go through the defensemen and goaltenders (hint: Martin Brodeur still rules, but only meets my expectations since I expected him to be great.)

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