Hockey is one step closer to returning to the Rock, as New Jersey Devils rookies and prospects have reported for physicals today. This has been verified by the official Twitter account of the Devils, @NHLDevils. On top of this, all of the veterans except for Ilya Kovalchuk showed up in Newark for informal workouts according to Rich Chere. They will report later this week.
Just as important as that news, today the official training camp roster has been posted on the official team site. (Thanks to user C.J.Richey121 for posting it here earlier this morning.) 62 players will be competing for at least 20 spots on the Devils active roster.
Actually, no, that's not true. Most of those spots are spoken for by most of the veterans. Let's be frank. Guys like Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and all of the free agents can be penned into the roster right now. Short of a miraculous performance or injury, New Jersey is set at goaltending with Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg.
That said, it's not like camp will be a waste of time to follow. There will be battles for certain spots on the roster. The Devils are still a little thin at center behind Zajac and Jason Arnott. The third and fourth line center spots could be up for grabs. New Jersey has carried 7 (or more) defensemen on the roster at some point during recent seasons, so figuring out the blueline depth will carry merit. Of course, any prospect who plays sensationally in camp and preseason could very well force John MacLean's hand to find a spot for that player.
Oh, not to mention that there's this issue with the Devils needing to get below the salary cap by October 6. The Devils will need to see if anyone in the system is ready to step in when someone gets moved by trade or waivers. Per Rich Chere, Bryce Salvador and Brian Rolston are aware that they aren't necessarily safe; though, you never know with Lou when it comes to transactions.
I'm not going to presume who will go, and instead focus on the 62 that are here right now. Follow along after the jump for notable names, position listings, and other issues of interest as training camp soon begins. If you want to discuss the Devils' fine for the Kovalchuk contract rejection, then please go here.
Who's Here to Try Out?
Similar to rookie camp, the Devils training camp roster has a few new names here on tryout. The most notable one was announced a few days ago by Tom Gulitti, Marcus Nilson. Nilson is 32, and isn't a stranger to the NHL since he has played 521 games since the 1998-99 season. Looking at his numbers at HockeyDB, that he has put up a total of 67 goals and 103 assists in that timeframe suggests that he wasn't really a scorer. He did finish second in the Swedish Elitserien in goals with 24 in 53 games for Djurgardens last season; but that just suggests to me that he's a scorer in the SEL. It's doubtful he can translate that back to the NHL. Echoing the comments in this FanShot, I don't think he's got a real shot at making the Devils unless he seriously impresses all involved.
There are also two players from the Canadian major junior leagues also in NJ for a tryout. The first is goaltender Shane Owen switched from Erie of the OHL to Moncton of the QMJHL during his junior career but it doesn't seem that he was in either place based on his stats at HockeyDB. Given that he already played a game for Moncton, I wonder if he's eligible to go back? As it is, the Devils are set at goaltender at both the NHL and AHL levels. Perhaps the Devils just want to see him up close?
The second is right wing Thomas Nesbitt, who had a decent over-age season of 33 goals and 24 assists with the Ottawa 67s last year per HockeyDB. That he has improved from year to year is good, but his totals have been so low that I'm not sure he's just a scorer. If someone has seen him play in Ottawa, then it would be helpful to identify what he can and can't do. Nevertheless, he'll be likely looking to impress his way towards a minor league deal.
What About the College Prospects?
They're not here. While college hockey hasn't started yet, college definitely has and the hockey will get ready soon enough. Plus, to retain their NCAA eligibility, they would have to pay their whole way through camp. That's not happening. So Jon Merrill, Brandon Burlon, Mike Hoeffel, and others aren't going to be here.
How About the New Guys from the Prospect Camp? Are Any of Them Here?
For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Devils invited a number of additional players to their prospect camp back in July. Three did well enough and were signed by the organization (officially announced at the end of August by Tom Gulitti): Matt Anderson, Matt Lombardi, and Darcy Zajac.
Only Anderson and Zajac are on the training camp roster, though. Both are listed as right wings. Speaking of, let's go through each position for areas of interest.
Goaltender (8 Players)
Well, there's nothing really here other than to hope no one gets hurt. Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg have New Jersey's two spots in control. I would think Jeff Frazee and Mike McKenna locked down spots in Albany. Dave Caruso re-signed after playing in Trenton last season, so I would think he will still remain there. Owen is looking for anything at all, and the two drafted goalies from 2010 - Maxime Clermont and Scott Wedgewood - will go back to junior.
If you're hoping for a goaltending competition, then look elsewhere. Basically, everyone's got to get into shape and stay in good help. Though it would be nice if Frazee can show signs of potential for the future.
Defense (19 Players)
Certainly, Andy Greene, Colin White, Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder, and Bryce Salvador are going to be in New Jersey as of right now. Therefore, I think here's really only two or three spots up for grabs. Yes, Mark Fraser was the #6 defenseman last season, but the Devils carried more than 6 defensemen and Fraser was heavily protected in his own end. There's nothing wrong with that, though. Based on this article by George E. Ays at Blueshirt Banter, young defensemen generally do well only when put into good situations. Like Fraser was last year.
Given that Tallinder and Volchenkov aren't two-way or offensive defensemen along with White and Salvador, I don't think Fraser's spot is all that safe. I don't think New Jersey needs to have have 5 defensive defensemen on their active roster. A defender with some puck moving skills and some offense would have a real good opening to make the team - not just for depth, but to fill a need. Anssi Salmela would be the first choice, but as far as I know, he's still recovering from a serious knee injury suffered in May.
While the cap may dictate who gets the spot(s), I think the favorites for someone to break into the Devils this season would be Matthew Corrente, Tyler Eckford, and Alexander Urbom. I believe Corrente is in the same spot as Niclas Bergfors was in last year. He's entering his fifth camp since being drafted in the first round and it's just about time for Corrente to prove he's really ready for the next step. Corrente got a couple of games last season, including two playoff games; but his biggest asset is that his coach in Lowell is now the New Jersey head coach. MacLean has seen plenty of Corrente by now and knows what he can do physically and positionally. It's up to Corrente now to earn a spot. That he voluntarily showed up for the prospect camp in July is a good sign he has the desire. Let's see if he can beat out his competition this year.
Unfortunately for him, his teammate Eckford can boast the same advantages and could fill the need for more offense on the blueline. Eckford has outscored Corrente in the two seasons they played in Lowell; and his cap-friendly $550,000 salary could tip the scales should the Devils be close to the cap ceiling. Amazingly enough, Eckford could be feeling more urgency than Corrente. He's 25 and while defense is a position where experience only makes one better, he's less and less likely to his potential from each year forward. I don't know how highly he's regarded within the organization; but this camp.
Urbom represents a lot of hype. He's big. He's played quite well in Brandon, his first year of North American hockey. Lou even praised him publicly as their "top prospect" back in July. Should Urbom impress in preseason, then why not give him a spot? In my opinion, he'd have to be really impressive for the Devils to burn his entry level deal early (making him an UFA much earlier) and to trust he can go from the WHL to the NHL without a problem. I think it's more likely he goes to Albany like most of the defensemen in this group.
Matt Taormina, Olivier Magnan-Grenier,
T.J. Tyler Miller, Mark Fayne, Rob Davison, Chris Murray, Dan Kelley, and Harry Young, and Eric Gelinas round out the group. However, nearly all of them are long shots. Nearly all of them are likely to go to back to the minors except for Gelinas - he'll go back to the QMJHL. Among them, I'd keep an eye on Taormina during preseason if only for his impressive production in his first full season of AHL hockey. The Devils do lack offense on the blueline; and a 50-point season on the farm team at least warrants a look.
Among all the positions, though, these few spots available will command intense competition. Fraser's already finished one NHL season, Corrente and Eckford are on the cusp, the organization likes Urbom, and others can definitely make some noise.
Left Wing (12 Players)
It's clear that Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk will take the top two left wing spots. I feel bad for Alexander Vasyunov. He was drafted with the projection to be a scoring forward and now there may not be a spot on a scoring line available for a long time should Parise get re-signed. I hope Vasyunov has been developing other skills and could switch to the other side, if only for his own sake. Remember: Patrik Elias is listed here and even with his skill, he's not moving either Parise or Kovalchuk elsewhere.
Brian Rolston and his massive deal is still on the roster, so the only real opening is for depth right now. A quick look at the group in camp shows two real possibilities. Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond is the incumbent "tough guy" due to being able to skate, hit, and not be Andrew Peters. Louis Robitaille will just have to remain in the AHL again. I would also suspect J-S Berube, Kory Nagy, and minor league vet Chad Wiseman to be long shots in this category along with Robitaille and Vasyunov. Expect those five to try and show the Devils they have serious potential and then go back to the minors.
The second likely possibility: Vladimir Zharkov. He had a fine 40 games and if he can show the Devils that he his shot's improved, then he should get a spot somewhere on this team. That was his only main fault, he's got good vision, a strong work ethic, and skates real well. When he's on the ice, the puck just goes the Devils' way; at a better rate that Parise last season even, despite being shifted around and playing with some poor hockey players (Peters, Ilkka Pikkarainen). It's a shame he'll be fighting hard with the other young wingers looking to breakthrough. But he did it last year, he can do it again. I have faith in him. Outside of Zharkov proving himself over again, I'm not seeing a noticeable fight.
Centers (11 Players)
The Devils did add Jason Arnott through a trade, who should be the second center on the team behind Zajac. However, the big fight here is going to be over the third center. I didn't say the third line center, but the third center on the depth chart. When you consider that Arnott has missed more than a couple games in recent seasons, that third center is going to have to be able to fill in on spot duty. So it's not enough to get a guy who's able to handle the third line, but also have the capability of taking more minutes and responsibilities if necessary.
The interesting name here is Dainius Zubrus. He's listed as a center. He's played center for a whole season before, back in 2008-09 on the second line. While Zubrus didn't really light the world on fire (his production never will at this point), he's the third best center on this team right now. I think he's still a target to be traded or dumped, so there's going to be a lot of attention paid to Jacob Josefson and Adam Henrique.
Josefson supporters will point to his experience with a Djurgardens' professional team in the Swedish Elitserien, who were runners up to HV71 for the championships in this past season. Henrique supporters will point to his production and success with the Windsor Spitfires, who dominated junior hockey in the last two years. Both are beginning entry level deals, both which are not inexpensive at $900k (Josefson) and $875k (Henrique), so for the Devils to start them early may require either to do quite well. I wouldn't mind if either went to Albany for at least a season, just to get them more acclimated to the North American pro game; but the lack of sure depth at center may dictate otherwise. After all, Zubrus could be moved back to wing at some point or moved to another team soon.
The fourth center spot will also be up for grabs. Not only could this go to either one of Josefson or Henrique, but Rod Pelley (who's played the position before), Tim Sestito (who's proven himself at the AHL level), Michael Swift (looking to step up), Brad Mills (ditto), or David McIntyre (likely needs a full season in the AHL first). Pelley and Sestito both battled for a spot on the Devils last year, so they would be the favorites. Who knows, maybe both will get spots as the two center prospects get some pro experience.
Right Wings (12 Players)
Notice that Mattias Tedenby is among this group and not with the left wings. That's not a mistake, since he's not making this team at left wing ahead of either Kovalchuk or Parise. The Devils could follow the same plan for him as they did for Bergfors: wait for a scoring line position to open up before moving him to the NHL. But that's just a possibility. If Tedenby shows he can handle the rigors of a third or fourth line, then who knows? Right now, the Devils have two sure-fire guys on this list who will be in New Jersey: Jamie Langenbrunner and David Clarkson. If we assume Patrik Elias is moving to the off-wing, then that makes three - and a scoring line position for Tedenby probably would be taken there.
Basically, Tedenby will certainly have to be impressive to get on the current team. Like with Josefson and Henrique, I don't think it would be so bad if he gets a season of North American pro experience in Albany in 2010-11. With Langenbrunner's contract expiring after this season, Tedenby may have that opportunity in 2011-12.
The fourth line spot might be up for grabs. It could be Zharkov's, as he has played on the right side at times last season. Should MacLean want to make it a scoring line, then Tedenby could be there - but I'm not sure how well that would work. There's a number of minor pro prospects who could make a strong case with a fantastic camp. Among them, Patrick Davis and Nick Palmieri may be ahead of the pack on the basis of having a few NHL games of experience last season. Not to mention the others include Nathan Perkovich, the recently signed Matt Anderson, the recently signed Darcy Zajac, enforcer Myles Stoesz, Trevor Kell of Trenton, and try-outs Nesbitt and Nilson.
It may be easy to say that right wing has some competition among Tedenby, Davis, and Palmieri. However, any right wing spots may be an illusion since MacLean may just slide Elias and/or Zharkov over to the right and all four spots would be filled easily.
That Was a Lot; How About a Summary?
In short, the Devils are set at most of the positions on the roster. The fights in camp will be mostly for depth on defense and center. The wings may already be filled, so prospects there would be looking to show to management what they could do in the future, priority for injury call ups, and so forth.
Did the Devils Finally Assign Numbers to the Newly Signed Free Agents this Summer?
Yes. Another reason to pen them into the active roster for 2010-11. Per the Devils' official Twitter feed:
Here's the scoop on some new player numbers: Johan Hedberg - 1, Henrik Tallinder - 7, Jason Arnott - 25, Anton Volchenkov - 28
I have no idea what numbers will be assigned in training camp just yet. I think we'll find out soon enough since prospects will be skating tomorrow.
When Does Preseason Begin?
Now it's your turn. Who are you looking forward to seeing in training camp and preseason this year? Who do you think will be a big surprise in this camp? Who do you have the highest expectations for? Do you even agree of where I think the roster spot fights will be? Please leave your thoughts and more as training camp kicks off tomorrow for the New Jersey Devils.