Today, rookies have reported to training camp with the New Jersey Devils. Per Tom Gulitti, they aren't skating yet as there is no ice; but they are here for physicals and other matters. As a result, Gulitti and Chere were able to get words from three rookies - defenseman Matthew Corrente, right wing Nicklas Bergfors, and goaltender Jeff Frazee. Each has a different situation with respect to whether they'll make the team.
"Right now my plan is to go in and play my best," Frazee said Wednesday as Devils rookies took physicals at the Prudential Center. "Hope for the best and expect the worst."
The worst isn't so bad. That would be playing in Lowell (AHL) again this season, where he was 28-22-6 with a 2.62 goals-against average and four shutouts last season.
"That's definitely a possibility," Frazee acknowledged. "I totally respect that. They know what's best for me."
In my opinion, this is the correct view. While the Devils have 6 goaltenders for training camp, it's clear that Martin Brodeur will still continue to be the best at what he does and so will be the starter. Yann Danis has NHL experience and has done well in a backup role last season. I feel very strongly that Frazee needs shots, situations, and minutes to gain experience and improve as a goaltender. Even if he bests Danis for the #2 goaltender spot, he's not likely going to get what he needs for his development as Brodeur's backup. I think another season as the starting goaltender in Lowell would be best for Frazee, and I think that is what will happen.
Both Chere and Gulitti reported that Matthew Corrente's shoulder is fine and that he feels confident with his development. Keep in mind that Corrente was held out of the Devils prospect development camp earlier this summer due to a shoulder strain, so this is certainly good news. Here's a relevant quote from Gulitti's post on Corrente:
"I don't think it's a job to be won necessarily," he said. "It's up to me. I just want to come and have the best camp I can. I feel when I'm ready I'm going to be there. It's all up to me. I can't think about behind the scenes the things that are going on."
Corrente is taking a less tense approach to camp this year. He admitted he was too nervous during last year's training camp when it appeared he would have an opportunity to make the team, but played poorly and ended up in Lowell (AHL) for the entire season.
"I'm more relaxed, living in the moment, one day at a time," he said. "Each day is another opportunity for the next. I'm just taking it one day at time."
This is the right mindset because Corrente is in an odd position. Yes, he's the top defenseman prospect in the system and could very well step into the NHL this season. However, in my view, he's got to beat out Rob Davison, Jay Leach, Tyler Eckford, and Cory Murphy just to definitively prove that he is the Devils 7th defenseman on the depth chart. While all these depth defensemen make Andy Greene's spot more precarious, it falls on each of them to prove to the Devils coaching staff that they deserve a spot on the team. A nervous or too relaxed of a performance in camp or in preseason could spell a trip to Lowell instead of sticking around for a bit in Newark.
Unless there's going to be a trade, I think this will be a compelling development in training camp and preseason.
Lastly, there is Nicklas Bergfors. Given that the Devils only signed Ilkka Pikkarainen at forward for New Jersey, you would have to think this is going to be a make-or-break training camp for him. Based on this quote from Chere's post, I think he knows this to - but he's hopeful about his chances.
"It was kind of a full team last year," Bergfors said as rookies took their physicals at the Prudential Center. "They had 12 forwards. I honestly didn't see any spots last year. I know there are a few this year. I have a better feeling going into camp."
In my opinion, he's right and this really is his best chance at making the New Jersey Devils. Given that Lemaire wants to look at Patrik Elias at center, Bergfors should hope this experiment will go real well. Elias at center would allow Brian Rolston to play left wing and free up the right wing spot on the Devils' second line. Since Bergfors' main assets are offensive skills, this would be a better fit than throwing him onto a third or a fourth line.
Not that it'll be right for the taking. Elias succeeding at center is a big "if" in my opinion; and Bergfors will have to ensure the Devils management and coaches that he's finally ready for the NHL in both practices and in preseason games. Even if that right wing spot opens up, who is to say that David Clarkson can't step up and fill that spot himself? Jamie Langenbrunner provides grit along with the high-flying Zach Parise and effective scoring pivot Travis Zajac; the combination of scorer-scorer-more gritty player is definitely a possibility.
That all said, let's ask this basic question. We have three rookies, each at a different position and each with a different fight ahead of themselves in training camp. Who among these three has the best chance of making the team? Do you see either of them? Are you getting excited for Devils hockey now that rookies have reported? Let me know what you think about these developments in the comments.