How the Projected Top 6 Forwards Match Up in the Tough Atlantic Division

This month NHL.com has been doing a feature called 30-in-30 in which the site devotes one day to each of the 30 teams in the league for 30 days (hence the name 30-in-30). One of the articles written about each team shows the projected lineups for next season. According to NHL.com, the top two lines for the Devils opening night roster will be changing dramatically since Parise, a major goal scorer, left during free agency and Sykora, another top six forward, has yet to sign anywhere. That leaves at least two spots open on the first and second line. There seems to be a big hole in goal scoring for New Jersey with Parise leaving and Sykora still waiting on a contract. The main question is who will take their places on the top lines? Can the Devils keep up with the scoring power in the tough Atlantic Division without the 50+ goals Parise and Sykora provided?

After the jump I will compare the potential top six forwards for each team in the Atlantic Division based on the 30-in-30 featured lineups provided to see how the Devils measure up to their main competitors in the East*.

*Please note: the Islanders have not yet been featured for 30-in-30 so I am using an article from http://bleacherreport.com/

With the exception of the Penguins, each team in the Atlantic Division will be relying on some young players this season in hopes that they can step up and become scoring assets. The Devils, Islanders and Flyers each lost at least one top six forward to free agency which will open a spot for someone new. Let's take a look at the projected top six forwards for each Atlantic Division team next year by comparing their point totals from last season.

Remember, since they signed elsewhere these numbers do not include Parise or Sykora from the Devils, Parenteau from the Islanders, or Jagr from the Flyers - all major goal scorers for their respective teams last season.

New Jersey Devils:

Player

Games Played

Goals

Assists

Points

+/-

Kovalchuk

77

37

46

83

-9

Zajac*

82

13

31

44

-6

Zubrus

82

17

27

44

7

Elias

81

26

52

78

-8

Henrique

74

16

35

51

8

Clarkson

80

30

16

46

-8

Total

139

207

346

-16

*Numbers for Zajac are based on the 2010-2011 season due to an injury in 2011-2012.

New York Islanders:

Player

Games Played

Goals

Assists

Points

+/-

Moulson

82

36

33

69

1

Tavares

82

31

50

81

-6

Niederreiter

55

1

0

1

-29

Grabner

78

20

12

32

-18

Nielsen

82

17

30

47

-3

Okposo

79

24

21

45

-15

Total

129

146

275

-70

Compared to the Islanders, the Devils are set up quite well. New Jersey is ahead of New York in every category, including the Devils' weakest aspect, plus / minus.

New York Rangers:

Player

Games Played

Goals

Assists

Points

+/-

Hagelin

64

14

24

38

21

Richards

82

25

41

66

-1

Nash

82

30

29

59

-19

Gaborik*

82

41

35

76

15

Stepan

82

17

34

51

14

Callahan

76

29

25

54

-8

Total

156

188

344

22

*Instead of Kreider, I used Gaborik who will not be available at the beginning of the season due to injury.

In looking at the other Atlantic team from New York, the Devils aren't ahead by nearly as much. While the Rangers lead in goals and plus / minus the Devils take the lead in both assists and total points.

Philadelphia Flyers:

Player

Games Played

Goals

Assists

Points

+/-

Hartnell

82

37

30

67

19

Giroux

78

28

65

93

6

Voracek

78

18

31

49

11

Simmonds

82

28

21

49

-1

Schenn

54

12

6

18

-7

Briere

70

16

33

49

5

Total

139

186

325

33

The Devils and Flyers are very evenly stacked. Both top lines had 139 goals last year and the Devils lead in assists by only 2. The Flyers do take a major lead in plus / minus, though.

Pittsburgh Penguins:

Player

Games Played

Goals

Assists

Points

+/-

Kunitz

82

26

35

61

16

Crosby*

81

51

58

109

15

Dupuis

82

25

34

59

18

Cooke

82

19

19

38

5

Malkin

75

50

59

109

18

Neal

80

40

41

81

6

Total

211

246

457

78

*Numbers for Crosby are based on the 2009-2010 season due to injury in both 2010-2011 and 2011-2012.

Based on numbers alone, the Penguins are the clear leaders in the Atlantic Division. They lead every team in every category - and by a lot.

In comparing each team, the Devils measure up to much of the Atlantic Division equally. They finished behind the Penguins and Rangers in goals scored (tied with the Flyers at 139), while coming just behind the Penguins in assists. In total points, the Devils came in second (346) behind only the dominant Penguins (457). It is worth noting that these numbers are without both Parise's 31 goals and Sykora's 21 goals from last season. The team was able to keep up with a majority of the competition without over 50 goals while the other teams did not face as major losses. For example, the Flyers lost only the 19 goals Jagr scored last season while the Rangers are gaining 30-goal scorer, Nash.

The statistic with the largest gap between the Devils and the rest of their Atlantic competition is their plus / minus total (minus - 16). While many people believe that this is a somewhat useless stat, it's still important to note that there is a 38-point difference between the Devils and the Rangers, the next best team. In order for the Devils to be more successful next season, that number will most likely have to venture into the positive, or at the very least get closer to even. Other than that, the Devils stayed even with the Flyers and Rangers for the season while the Penguins broke ahead by quite a bit.

Although the Penguins are ahead of the rest of the division in each category, the Devils are pretty evenly matched with their other main competition in the Flyers and Rangers. This isn't surprising seeing how close the entire division was heading into the playoffs last season. It is also worth noting that the Devils were second in the division for goals against with 205. The Rangers shot blocking style came ahead with 182 followed by the Devils, Penguins (218), Flyers (225), and Islanders (251).

While the Devils have kept up with the rest of the division in most aspects, they will most likely have to improve their goal production and will need more than two of their top six forwards to have a positive plus/minus to move ahead. With that said, the numbers above show they have the ability to stay tight with their division - often said to be the best in the league without the likes of Parise and Sykora.

Do the numbers above give you any more confidence in the Devils scoring abilities for next season? Who do you expect to step up and score more goals? Do you agree with the NHL.com projected lines? Sound off below!

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