The New Jersey Devils Third and Fourth Line Situation

Is this really what the Devils want for their fourth line?

The NHL is nearing the all-star break, and this year the Devils' fan base is having a much different conversation. Rather than being in the basement of the Eastern Conference, the Devils are fighting to stay in the playoff race. There have been talks about signing/trading Parise, the post season, and a host of other topics that are much more positive than last year. Except the Devils' financial situation. Right now, I'm optimistic that the Devils will make a post season run. After last year, I could care less how far it goes, I just think a lot of the players on the Devils roster can benefit from some playoff experience. Also, since all signs are pointing towards Josefson being healthy and Zajac nearing a return, will the Devils be a better more consistent team?

This season has been quite a battle, or lack thereof on the fourth line. Much of the season we have seen Boulton - Carter / Mills / Sestito - Janssen. If you weren't a Devils fan, you would think the Devils would just opt to cycle three lines. Not the case. DeBoer has chosen to give everyone a chance. I can only imagine DeBoer leaning over the bench to tell the fourth line; "just go out there and have fun!" because that's what it looks like sometimes. Now that the Devils have four NHL ready centers that are almost healthy, what should we expect? After the jump, check out what the Devils' fourth line can look like down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Clearly the Devils top six forwards are lined up. The Parise, Henrique, Kovalchuk line and the throwback line of Sykora, Elias, and Zubrus. After that, the next two lines are fairly unclear. Rather than speculating, I'll put their stats below, and then you can make up your own mind as to who belongs on which line.

Pos

Player

GP

G

A

P

PPG

+/-

Rel Corsi

PIM

S

S%

R

Nick Palmieri

26

4

3

7

0.269

-7

-9.8

12

38

10.5

R

Mattias Tedenby

43

1

5

6

0.140

-15

-4.9

16

46

2.2

R

Cam Janssen

35

0

1

1

0.029

-4

-6.5

55

11

0

R

Vladimir Zharkov

4

0

0

0

0.000

-2

-44.2

0

0

0

L

Eric Boulton

24

0

0

0

0.000

-8

-21.6

45

15

0

C

Ryan Carter

37

2

2

4

0.108

-13

-10.1

52

24

8.3

C

Brad Mills

22

0

1

1

0.045

-7

-7.4

13

15

0

C

Jacob Josefson

6

0

1

1

0.167

1

18.7

2

4

0

C

Tim Sestito

18

0

0

0

0.000

-5

-8.7

7

6

0

C

Steven Zalewski

6

0

0

0

0.000

-2

0.5

0

4

0

The first thing to note from this table is that all of the players have played almost a quarter of a season except for Vladimir Zharkov, Steven Zalewski, and Jacob Josefson. So almost everyone has had time to prove they belong in the NHL. Josefson's season was cut short by an injury, for those of you who are out of the loop. I'm not entirely sure why Zharkov hasn't been given opportunities like the rest of the players I listed. Steven Zalewski is a more recent call up, so the Devils are trying to shake up their fourth line. I believe this is for the better of the team.

If we just look at just production, Palmieri stands out with four goals and three assists through 26 games. The next most productive of these ten players is Tedenby with 1 goal and 5 assists after playing 43 games. Neither forward is a stand out third liner, but they have also played with weak line mates. My educated guess is that the Devils third line would be Tedenby - Zajac - Clarkson. Why Tedenby over Palmieri? Tedenby plays hard and always seems to be skating hard and battling in the corner. I also think Devils management likes him a little better than Palmieri and he will most likely benefit from playing with Zajac and Clarkson than with fourth liners. Therefore he will stay on the third line.

That leaves us with nine skaters to make a line of three. Before I reveal what I believe the fourth line will consists of I will put this disclaimer. Every NHL team has a tough guy. Somewhere along the line, the NHL GMs and coaches all decided that fighting is a necessity, therefore a fourth line will almost certainly have a large, strong player who can not necessarily play hockey. The Devils fourth line will likely consist of Janssen - Josefson - Palmieri. Now, if I was coach, I would substitute Carter for Janssen. Carter is less of a liability and actually has skill with the puck, not his fists.

The good news is that the Devils have several interchangeable fourth liners who could blossom playing with Josefson/Palmieri. Will they? It would be pure speculation if I say anything, but yea, I think Zalewski and Zharkov could show some signs of an NHLer if they have decent line mates. Barring injuries *knocking on wood*, the Devils fourth line will no longer be an atrocity. It may even surprise a few of us. The Devils are getting healthy with enough time for a little chemistry to develop between their lower lines and hopefully help drive the Devils into a good position come playoffs.

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