ILWT Audition 2012: The Role of Young Players and The 2012-13 New Jersey Devils

Earlier this month, I put out the call looking for new writers for In Lou We Trust to write about the New Jersey Devils. I've opened up the audition to the community at large in order to get some new perspectives and additional voices on the front page with regularity. Since then, I've received eleven entries. Regardless of how they're received, I thank the writers of each and every one of them - you know who you are - for stepping up and submitting an entry.

Throughout the next two weeks, I will post each one under an anonymous name so you can discuss and critique the post without regard to who actually wrote it. I can ensure you that I did not change any of the content outside of formatting it in to the SBN platform. To that end, please note that I don't necessarily agree with what the posts actually say. I'm just letting them stand on their own. Please be constructive in any criticism and do offer your thoughts about whether you liked (or disliked) the post in addition to discussing it's content. Don't be mean, but be fair.

This fifth entry comes from Writer E DownGoesAvery, who made their submission on July 17. The focus of this audition post is about the young players in the New Jersey Devils organization. With the team losing a few players in this offseason in addition to the fact that it's a veteran-laden roster and the team's financial situation is up in the air, young players on cheap contracts are important. Writer E DownGoesAvery highlights who are those players are and what they can bring to the table after the jump.

As with any team that is restricted by a salary cap and intends on winning, there has to be at least one player who can be classified as a "bargain." That is, every team needs a player who contributed far more than he was expected to previously. For the cash-strapped New Jersey Devils, this is potentially more important than other teams who currently yield a higher payroll towards next season. Last season, the Devils benefited from Adam Henrique's breakout rookie season, as he posted 51 points, became a fixture on the league's best penalty killing unit and most importantly, allowed the Devils to not only survive without centers Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson, but actually flourish without them. He did that while making a raw salary of just $612,500 (plus bonuses). Looking ahead to the 2012-13 season, who are the top candidates to have a breakout season of their own? Here are some possibilities.

Mattias Tedenby - After showing flashes of offensive brilliance during the 2010-11 season, to say Mattias Tedenby struggled this past season would be like saying Martin Brodeur has had a good career. In other words, it would be a dramatic understatement. The former first round draft pick had an opportunity to be an NHL regular and contribute offensively in the process, but lapses in his game at both ends of the ice resulted in his eventual demotion to the American Hockey League. After posting just six points in 43 NHL games last season, Tedenby slowly found his game in Albany. He finished the season with 20 points in 35 AHL games.

After losing Zach Parise, Alexei Ponikarovsky and potentially Petr Sykora as well this summer (those three combined for 59 goals and 131 points with the Devils last season), the Devils have some holes to fill up front, and considering the budget that they're apparently on for next season, a marquee acquisition isn't exactly likely for the Devils. That means there will be opportunities for young players to have a chance at a job in the NHL. Tedenby figures to be one of the young players who has a shot at a lineup spot next season. We all saw the skill that the 22-year old Swedish winger possesses, as this YouTube user shows. He's already proven that he has the talent to play in the NHL, but he needs to be more consistent if he wants to play in the NHL next season and beyond.

Jacob Josefson - While Tedenby was the Devils' first round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Jacob Josefson was selected by the Devils in the first round a year later. Josefson wasted little time once he signed his entry-level contract in 2010. He started the season in Albany, but found himself in the NHL after just 18 AHL games. Like Tedenby, he showed signs of being a quality two-way center, but injuries have plagued him for most of his young career thus far. During the 2011-12 season, Josefson suffered a broken clavicle in October, returned to the lineup, finally scored a pair of goals in late March, but then broke his wrist just before the start of the playoffs.

Josefson will almost certainly have a chance to play in the NHL next season, but he has to stay healthy. His "bones of glass," as some jokingly say, have prevented him from establishing himself as an NHL regular, but he's only 21 years old, so there's plenty of time for him to develop into a quality two-way center. He'll likely start the season behind Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique on the depth charts as the third line center, which is ironic in a sense, because he was centering Ilya Kovalchuk and Nick Palmieri on the team's top line during Opening Night last season.

Stephen Gionta - Formerly known as "Brian's little brother," Stephen Gionta was arguably the biggest surprise of the playoffs. If anything, he was the biggest surprise for the Devils. Nobody could have envisioned Gionta playing as important a role as he ended up playing in the postseason after he was called up for the final regular season game of the 2011-12 season. Of course, he scored his first NHL goal in that game, which turned out to be the game-winning goal. That was enough for Peter DeBoer and the coaching staff to earn a spot in the lineup for Game 1 of the playoffs. The rest is history, as Gionta scored three goals and four assists in 24 games, and proved that he could be an NHL regular.

The question is: can he be an NHL regular? Can he sustain the strong offensive forechecking game he, Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter provided in the playoffs? Well, that remains to be seen. If you look at his Corsi numbers from the 2012 playoffs, they weren't particularly good, nor was the competition he was up against for much of the postseason. In addition, he's played a grand total of 13 regular season NHL games at the age of 28 years old. But he's been fighting the odds for much of his professional career already, so perhaps he's just a late bloomer? He'll have his opportunity to prove himself next season, as the first season of his two-year contract is a one-way deal.

Adam Larsson - While the Devils don't have a tremendous number of quality options at forward, they have plenty of young defensemen that are either in the NHL or considered prospects. There are currently six Devils defensemen signed to one-way contracts next season, and once Mark Fayne re-signs, that will make seven, but GM Lou Lamoriello insisted that Adam Larsson will be a regular in the Devils' lineup next season. That could mean one or more defensemen could be traded out of New Jersey, but either way, Larsson will see more consistent playing time than he did late in the 2011-12 season. Last season featured many highs and lows for the rookie defenseman. For the most part, his defensive play was strong, and he contributed offensively on occasion, but it was the one poor decision he would make in a game that at times marred the positive attributes of his game. An open ice hit delivered by Montreal's P.K. Subban injured Larsson late in the season, and upon his return to the lineup, he never really looked to re-gain his confidence. He did score a goal in his first playoff game in Philadelphia, which may have been a turning point for the Devils in their playoff run.

The most basic factor for Larsson entering next season is that he's not a rookie anymore. He's experienced a training camp and essentially a full season, and he enters next season knowing that he has a spot in the lineup. Unfortunately, the man who mentored Larsson for much of last season, assistant coach Larry Robinson, has left for San Jose. Adam, like every young player, will need to adjust to become a better player for next season, but he's a smart enough player to realize that, and if he can adjust, he can have a significant impact on the Devils next season and for many seasons after that.

Alexander Urbom - Considering there is a logjam on the blue line right now, it doesn't seem likely that Alexander Urbom will start the season in the NHL, but everyone knows how important it is to have depth, especially on defense. In the event that one or more defensemen gets traded out of New Jersey, and/or injuries are sustained, Urbom is probably the first man in line to step in, as was the case with Adam Henrique last season. Urbom has had two brief NHL stints in his young career (one lasted 8 games, the second lasted just 5 games). He hasn't looked completely comfortable in the NHL yet, but again, like Tedenby and Josefson, he's still young, and defensemen do tend to take longer to develop than forwards.

Urbom is 6'5", which will help him become a quality shutdown defenseman in the long-term, and he also has the ability to pinch in offensively, which is how he scored both of his NHL goals to this point. Now that Urbom has a taste of the NHL under his belt already, he must be ready for his next opportunity. It remains to be seen whether or not he'll get a chance to establish himself as a full-time NHL blue liner next season.

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Those are just a few of the players who could be the Devils' next breakout player. There are other possibilities, namely Eric Gelinas, Mike Hoeffel, Blake Coleman, Reese Scarlett, Brandon Burlon and even 2012 first round pick Stefan Matteau as a longshot, but regardless of who steps up, there will certainly be opportunities for some young players in the Devils' organization to have a legitimate chance in the NHL, and when young players contribute to the team, everyone benefits. Given the Devils' financial situation and loss of players to free agency, there's no time like the present for someone to seize the opportunity.

Editor's Note: Now that you read Writer E DownGoesAvery's post discussing the young players on the Devils that may matter, I want to know what you think. Do you agree or disagree with Writer E DownGoesAvery's arguments? What did you think of how Writer E DownGoesAvery wrote this post? Do you think Writer E DownGoesAvery hit all of the points? Based on how it was written and what was it about, is this the kind of post you would want to see regularly at In Lou We Trust? Please leave your answers and other comments about this post in the comments. Thanks go to Writer E DownGoesAvery for the submission and thank you for reading.

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