The New Jersey Devils are officially back. Today begins their training camp as they prepare for a shortened 2013 season, which will begin on Saturday on the road against the New York Islanders. With a short camp, the Devils will have to act fast to figure out what their roster will be in the short term.
Everyone signed to a NHL contract for this season is present in camp except for Adam Henrique and Ilya Kovalchuk. Henrique is currently recovering from a thumb injury. While his cast has been removed, he has not yet been cleared to skate as reported a few days ago by Tom Gulitti. He will not be active for the first few weeks of this season. Kovalchuk played in the KHL All Star game on Sunday. Kovalchuk scored three goals and did a little figure skating during the skills competition, but his Team West fell to Team East 18-11. Kovalchuk will return to the team on Tuesday, as reported by Gulitti, and he should be more than ready to go.
In order to fill out the roster, eight players were called up from Albany. Defenseman Adam Larsson and forward Jacob Josefson are expected to make the roster. Henrique definitely will once he's cleared to play. Given that the team is thin at forward, specifically on the wings, they called up five other forwards who all have some kind of shot to make the team. Based on Gulitti's report of the training camp roster, here are the additional call-ups with some quick thoughts about each.
- Bobby Butler was acquired by New Jersey after Ottawa bought him out over the summer. Butler has emerged as Albany's leading scorer with 15 goals and 8 assists in 32 games. He also has led them in shots with 92. He should be a safe bet to make the NHL roster to at least start this season. The hope is whether he can continue to contribute at this level.
- Mattias Tedenby previously held a spot on the team last season but played his way out of it. While he has struggled for the most part in Albany, he's gotten hot in recent games with a four game goal streak. It may help his cause to get back into the NHL along with the lack of depth at wing. I wouldn't hold my breath on whether he will stay in that spot, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility that he starts in New Jersey.
- Stephen Gionta, a part of last season's fourth line in the 2012 Stanley Cup run, is also back with New Jersey. He didn't spend a lot of time in Albany, having only played 11 games. He did get 3 goals and 2 assists along with 25 shots, so it doesn't appear that he slouched there. He may have to battle for his spot among other fourth-liners, but I think he'll be a part of the team's fourth line to start.
- Harri Pesonen was signed as free agent over the summer from JYP. I'm sure the New Jersey staff would like to get a closer look at him. He hasn't been torching the AHL, but there's some thought that he could be a grinder.
- Tim Sestito was also called up. We know exactly what he can do, which is not much. I don't think we'll see him in New Jersey unless they need someone to take spot duty.
Gulitti's report on the training camp roster reveals Devils have invited two additional forwards. The first is 2012 first round draft pick Stefan Matteau. Matteau is currently sixth in scoring for Blainville-Boisbriand with 18 goals and 10 assists in 35 games. Unfortunately, penalties continues to be an issue for him. He's been suspended for a few games this season, and his penalties in the pre-tournament warmup games was a part of his exclusion from the American U-20 team at the World Junior Championships. I don't think this means Matteau is terrible, but I bring it up to point out that it's not like he's been amazing so far. The Devils likely brought him in for the same reason they brought in Pesonen, to get a closer look at him playing with other NHL players. NHL teams can play prospects on an entry level deal for up to six games before their contracts begin for the year. I doubt the Devils will give any to Matteau unless he has an incredible camp.
The second invitee is Mathieu Darche. Darche played for Montreal last season but the free agent has not been signed by anyone. He's in New Jersey on a tryout basis, which makes considering his position. Darche is 36, he's never been all that prolific of a player, and he's a left winger just looking to see if he can get a job. Last season, Darche played in 61 games, scored five goals (two shorthanded, believe it or not), picked up seven assists, took 77 shots, and averaged 12:07 per game according to NHL.com. It's arguable that he's a better shooter than his 6.5% shooting percentage last season implies, but he's never been a very offensive player either. His advanced stats at Behind the Net reveal that he wasn't a positive possession player against fairly weak competition. That tells me he wouldn't do well outside of the bottom six. He's definitely not slated to be a replacement for Petr Sykora or even Alexei Ponikarovsky. There's not a lot about Darche to get really excited about. If there was, then a team would have signed him by now. Since he's here on a tryout basis, he'll have plenty of reason to make a strong case, but I wouldn't get my hopes up regardless of whether the Devils offer him a deal.
As a general point, I'm very curious how all of the non-Albany and non-European players perform. We can be confident that Marek Zidlicky, Anton Volchenkov, Kovalchuk, Larsson, Josefson, Butler, Gionta, Pesonen, Tendenby, and Sestito are in good shape already. They are the most likely to be in form from a playing perspective. Most of the Devils roster didn't play during the lockout. I'm hopeful they tried to stay in shape, but that's not necessarily the same as being in game shape. It's an issue that affects every team, so it may not make that much of a difference. Still, I would expect one of the priorities of this short training camp is to bring everyone up to speed while figuring out the lineup.
With the training camp roster now set, let's talk about it. What do you think the lineup will look like for the Devils for this coming weekend? Which one of the call-ups from Albany - excepting the obvious ones - will stay in New Jersey for the start of this season? Do you think Matteau has any chance of getting in a NHL game? Do you think Darche should be signed, provided he impresses in camp? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils' training camp and the upcoming season in the comments. Thank you for reading.