Last week the New Jersey Devils added forward Bobby Butler to the roster. Butler, along with Mattias Tedenby will presumably battle for a top six forward spot in camp. And while Lou Lamoriello did confirm last week the Devils still have interest in re-signing Petr Sykora, for now I will assume the Devils are working with what they have on their current roster.
Setting up a competition for a top forward spot should bring out the best both Tedenby and Butler have to offer. Both should have chips on their shoulder entering the year-Butler being bought out by Ottawa and Tedenby being demoted to the AHL-so I am excited to watch them in the preseason. That said, while they both have potential, Tedenby and Butler have produced little at the NHL level. Combined they have 25 NHL goals in 195 games.not exactly confidence inspiring.
Should they falter the Devils need to have a legitimate backup forward in place as forwards like David Clarkson or Jacob Josefson might be pushed up to second line duty. The Devils need to have a guy who over the course of a season that can chip in 10-15 goals. The Devils have a few players who have shown some scoring ability in the regular and the playoffs last season, but I think the forward that can add goals and play efficiently on a 3rd or even a 2nd line is Steve Bernier.
After the jump we will look at Bernier's past and speculate on how he can contribute in the future.
Bernier, a former first round pick in 2003 by the San Jose Sharks (he was actually picked before the Devils chose Zach Parise) hasn't exactly met the potential expected out of a top pick. He's bounced around the league a bit, going from San Jose to Buffalo, then Vancouver and Florida (coached by current Devil coach Pete DeBoer) before coming to Devils camp last year as a try-out.
After signing in Albany, Bernier eventually made it to the big club in the second half of the year and helped form the dynamite 'CBGB' 4th line that scored 10 goals (Bernier had two) in the Devils run to the Stanley Cup Final. The playoff run helped earn him a two year one-way contract extension.
While I wasn't a big Bernier fan last year I have come to respect him much more as a player. Bernier offers good size and decent skating speed along with solid defensive ability. Plus, he fits Pete DeBoer's fore checking system like a glove. One can even argue that he is too aggressive in his fore checking.
Over his career Bernier has topped out at 16 goals in a season, no eye-popping goal totals-with season lows the past two years of 5 in 58 games in 2010-11 and 1 in 32 games with the Devils last season. This year, the Devils need him to do more.
Based on his history can we expect more? To get a better sense of Bernier's contribution to his team let's look below at his shot totals, shooting percentage and line mates for the past few seasons.
(All statistics courtesy of NHL.com. Linemate detail courtesy of behindthenet.ca.)
What we see when looking at Bernier's stats is a decline in shooting percentage, shots per game and most importantly: goals. But what we also see are many teams giving him consistent 3rd line even strength ice time, showing me that he is doing what coaches like to call the ‘little things' right to justify staying on the ice, especially in the last two seasons. He's also been pretty effective on a power play and could sneak into the Devils second unit (either in front of the net or behind the goal) as Adam Henrique likely moves up to the first unit.
Viewing his past line mates, he obviously had success with better players in San Jose like Patrick Marleau and Milan Michalek while struggling in the past few years with players like Dainius Zubrus and David Booth.
How can this information guide us into projecting what Bernier might contribute to the Devils this season?
First, we have to look at the fact that while he wasn't that successful with his regular season line mates he had some good chemistry (and some luck) with Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta in the playoffs last year. Since Bernier isn't the type of player to carry the puck into the zone having two line mates with good speeds who are both strong on the puck will allow Bernier to protect the puck down low and start generating a cycle.
Second, even if he should play on a wing with Jacob Josefson or Patrik Elias (and late in games last year, he seemed to often find himself with Elias/Zubrus) you are then placing Bernier with players who can help create offensive opportunities that Bernier can put into the net. The fact that you can mention Bernier having the ability to play on the 2nd, 3rd or 4th line also gives Pete DeBoer plenty of roster flexibility in-game and during the season.
Third, as I mentioned above Bernier also offers DeBoer an additional option on the second unit power play. Considering that 25% of Bernier's career goals have come on the power play, he definitely deserves a shot there and can be that player who is in position to pick up a rebound from a well placed shot from the point.
Fourth, I have to believe that it is more likely that his shooting percentage jumps back up to the 8-9% range rather than staying at the 4-5% it has been the past two years. With Bernier, the key will be placing more shots on net to generate scoring opportunities. This started a bit in the playoffs as he averaged (with less ES ice-time of 10:04) almost a shot per game (22 shots in 24 games). With a few more minutes of ice-time per game next year, I can see Bernier getting more shots on net and giving him more opportunities to score.
Steve Bernier is not going to score 30, 25 or even 20 goals, but I think he can play a full season for the New Jersey Devils and return to his 13-16 goal seasons he had in previous years. This scoring can not only replace what Alexei Ponikarovsky brought to the table it also allows the Devils to utilize Bernier as a failsafe in the event that Butler, Tedenby or even Sykora (if he returns) don't shape out the way that they hoped.
Now it's your turn. Do you think Bernier will be able to score 10-15 goals this season? Do you see him as a viable option on the 3rd or even 2nd line? Are you still bitter about his penalty in game six of the Stanley Cup Final that you can't even discuss him right now? Thanks for reading and sound off below.