This is my first Fanpost here at ILWT and I really wanted to try something interesting. Most people look at the Devils' youth (or lack of) and laugh at the mediocrity that is on the horizon. However, I want to address the issue while trying to channel my crystal ball. That's right, I'm going to make projections of where the forwards will be in their progression (and regression) in two years. (NOTE: none of my predictions will be based on the Devils' lack of skill -- i.e. Zajac is not and will not be a 1st line forward even if he plays the 1st line.) Now let's get started:
The Golden Years (35+)
Jaromir Jagr, RW (current role: 2nd line):
It is hard to imagine that Jagr will be anything more than a 3rd line forward after this season. Among all of the NHL's 42-year old skaters, only one (Gordie Howe) eclipsed .6 points per game (about 49 points in an 82-game season). Of course, Jagr is a special player who was able to put up 67 points in 82 games last season (.817 points per game), but the trend for most players tends to drop.Take Teemu Selanne for example: in 2011-2012 (at age 41), he had 66 points in 82 games (.805 points per game) but in 2012-2013, he had 24 points in 46 games (.522 points per game) and then completed his last season in ever slower fashion, 27 points in 64 games (.422 points per game).
The jump from 41 to 42 is generally baneful to most of the NHL's top players: only three players ever were able to keep their point per games at above .500 in those two seasons (Mark Recchi and Mark Messier with low .5s and Gordie Howe putting up .825 per game). Not only will his role likely be lesser, hopefully the team will have developed somebody or signed a free agent to supplement Jagr's game. Not only do I see him retiring after this season, I see him putting up something along the lines of 45 points in 80 games. (2015-2016 role: 3rd line/retired)
Dainius Zubrus, C/RW (current role: checking/4th line):
I'm Dainius Zubrus' biggest fan (even bigger than that Devils fan with the Lithuanian Love Machine nameplate on her jersey) but even I'm not delusional enough to see Zubrus as anything more than a checking line forward (be it 3rd or 4th). He's the team's most utilized penalty-killing forward, deeming him important. Additionally, though it is difficult to accurately judge a player's defensive game -- even with extended stats -- Zubrus on the ice generally leads to a higher save percentage for the Devils' goalies (91.4% to the average of 91.1%).
The most telling statistic is Zubrus' cold streak, five points in 35 games to round out the regular season. Although he had 19 points in his first 37 games, Zubrus was playing backbone to Jaromir Jagr and Travis Zajac, so he had no excuse to not be a .5 point-per-game player. As a checking line forward he does an okay job, so I think he could still be a top-12 forward next year in New Jersey, but he has not warranted another chance on the top two lines (unless it is as a purely defensive forward not meant to set anything up). He's still one of the team's most utilized forwards, so maybe 2014-2015 is a good time to transition into the Devils' youth (specifically the two-way forwards) and play out Zubrus' final year as a 4th line/depth forward. (2015-2016 role: depth forward).
Patrik Elias, C/LW (current role: 2nd line)
Although Elias remains one of the Devils' most potent forwards, his points per game in 2014 was one of his lowest totals in his entire career. His Corsi relative was just above the team average while his 58% of his starts began in the offensive zone, good for third on the team. Indeed, he would've had 67 points had he played 82 games, but his game was noticeably slower this year. At the same time, he is still one of the best Devils forwards and, barring any surprise nosedive, will be a top contributor. (2015-2015 role: 3rd line)
Silver Age (30-35-years old)
Tuomo Ruutu, LW/RW (current role: 3rd line)
There is so much to say about the Ruutu deal itself that I have decided to only speak of Ruutu as a player. Coming over for Loktionov and a mid-round draft pick was very telling to fans, both teams value Ruutu extremely high. At times, his play warrants the return. At other times, he looks as though he doesn’t belong on the ice. At first, he was one of the Devils’ best players, amassing four points in his first three games and +3 (compared to 16 points and a -17 before arriving in NJ). However, he coasted, moved down to the third line, briefly enjoyed a hot streak, and then the season was over. Overall, he finished his Devils season with a +1 and eight points in 19 games. The Finnish superstar will, in all likelihood, become better accustomed to the Devils’ game (one in which he fits well). Although the system will likely prevent him from ever matching that 57 point campaign, his Corsi rating suggests that he will at least merit and reclaim a second line spot by the end of next season. (2015-2016 role: 2nd line)
Michael Ryder, RW (current role: 3rd line)
How the mighty have fallen! Originally brought in as a 40-point forward with upside, Ryder greatly disappointed. His relative Corsi % was -1.5%, almost last on the entire team. He even played 47% of the team’s powerplay opportunities, good for fifth on the roster. Yet at the end of the day, 34 points in 82 games does not validate a $3.5 million salary if the defensive game is not there either. With any luck, Lou Lamoriello will dangle Ryder around this offseason in hopes of recovering one of the many mid-round picks that the team has lost over the years. Maybe some team will look at his resume and take a chance on a 33-year old forward making $3.5 million for just one more year. In any case, he likely will not regress too much in the next year (especially relative to this year). However, if Ryder finds himself on the right team, he could vie for second line minutes again. As a Devil, he has little chance of cracking the top six (barring injury or extended hot streak). (2015-2016 role: 2nd/3rd line)
Prime (25-30-years old)
This was, in all likelihood, the end of the BCBG line, for better or worse. Indeed, they had their successes together, but if 2013-2014 is any indication, each of them will need to fend for a fourth line spot wherever they wind. Bernier -19 was his greatest failure in his career. His Corsi rating was also far below average. Carter and Gionta had the lowest relative Corsi ratings on the entire team. The Devils gave Bernier many chances on offense and even the powerplay this season, but he could not follow through with NHL level play. Though Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta are fan favorites, both of them left a lot to be desired. They played with heart but showed little skill and proficiency this season. Their time has come to go their separate ways. They will likely never be anything more than healthy scratches who occasionally see time on the fourth line. (2015-2016 roles: depth forward)
Travis Zajac, C (current role: 2nd line)
Travis Zajac had a strong season, albeit inconsistent. 48 points in 80 games is an okay points per game ratio (.60 points per game), yet that fails to tell the whole story of Zajac’s season. His relative Corsi rating was second highest on the team. Only Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr were more efficient 5-on-5 scorers than Zajac. With a long-term contract and a rejuvenated game, look for Zajac to see time on the first line once again, even if he is better suited for the second line. (2015-2016 role: 2nd line)
Adam Henrique, C/LW (current role: 2nd line)
No Devils forward’s future looks brighter than that of Adam Henrique. Not even 24-years old, Henrique, specifically his offensive game, has been astounding even though his defensive play leaves a lot to be desired. His relative Corsi rating is below the team’s average yet he still sees a great deal of time on the penalty kill. He is the team’s most utilized penalty killing forward. If Henrique can refine his play in his own zone (and perhaps, his faceoff game), we could be looking at the Devils first top-line forward since Ilya Kovalchuk. Look for his third full season in New Jersey to be the one in which he buffs up his weak spots. (2015-2016 role: 1st line)
Damien Brunner, RW (current role: 3rd line)
In all, Brunner had a pretty good debut season for the Devils. Was he a liability on defense? Yes. Was he streaky? You bet, but overall he was usually a bright spot in the lineup (even if his offensive abilities were also frustrating). He’ll never be a 2nd liner for the team, but playing alongside Elias and Henrique at the beginning and end of the season helped his confidence and overall lifted his game. He has a weak finish but is talented nonetheless. As a winger on the third line, Brunner should easily eclipse 35 points, barring injury. (2015-2016 role: 3rd line)
Ryane Clowe, LW (current role: 2nd/3rd line)
There is no player on the Devils more enigmatic than Ryane Clowe. With high expectations, Clowe did nothing to deliver at first before being knocked out by a concussion. Upon returning, Clowe was one of the hottest Devils around. Not only were his points per game fourth highest in his career (the highest in a season during which he suffered a major injury), but he was the only forward comfortably winging that first line next to Jagr and Zajac. In his first 15 games back from his first concussion of the season, Clowe put up 12 points. Finally, in late March, the team gave him a trial on the first line and he played well (albeit in limited action).
On the other hand, Clowe’s defensive game was downright awful, one of the worst performances by any forward. Sadly, Clowe was supposed to bring over some defensive skill when he arrived in New Jersey. Though he has not been worth the money thus far, Clowe could easily become a steady second line talent if he can return healthy next year. That’s a big if. (2015-2016 role: 2nd line)
Cam Janssen, RW (current role: depth forward)
Not much needs to be said about Janssen. He will not be re-signed even though statistics may mislead you into thinking Janssen has been a good player. The early-season run was very exciting for Devils fans and Janssen alike, but those days are long gone. He will not likely play another game in the NHL (unless there is an emergency call-up) and he doesn’t deserve the opportunity. (2015-2016 role: minor league)
Prospects (20-25-years old)
Jacob Josefson, C (current role: 4th line)
Perhaps Jacob Josefson is a decent player. In 27 games this year, he did not show the team that he was deserving of that title but has done so in the past. His defensive game was gaudy (playing alongside Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier did not help matters this season) and his offensive game is still developing at a snail’s pace. Overall, this season is likely not at all indicative of Josefson as a player; more likely, the statistics show a huge drop-off in talent from the BCBG line over the years. Give him a year with worthy linemates and perhaps something good will come out of it. (2015-2016 role: 3rd line)
Reid Boucher, LW (current role: 4th line)
In what was one of the bigger surprises of the season, Reid Boucher’s performance gave Devils fan great hope for the future. He played with goal-scoring ability yet displayed good hands and was overall pretty spunky. Sure, you could make the argument that most of his season was spent next to Adam Henrique, Michael Ryder (when he was hot), Travis Zajac, or Jaromir Jagr, but the numbers don’t lie: Boucher can produce with the proper linemates. He should definitely have the chance to play 50+ games next year in the NHL. (2015-2016 role: 3rd line)
Summary: now vs. the future
First line forwards: 0
Second line forwards: 5 (Jagr, Elias, Zajac, Henrique, Clowe)
Third line forwards: 3 (Ruutu, Ryder, Brunner)
Fourth line forwards: 3 (Boucher, Josefson, Zubrus)
Depth forwards: 4 (Bernier, Carter, Gionta, Janssen)
First line forwards: 1 (Henrique)
Second line forwards: 3 (Ruutu, Zajac, Clowe)
Third line forwards: 5 (Josefson, Brunner, Boucher, Elias, Ryder)
Fourth line forwards: 0
Depth forwards: 4 (Zubrus, Carter, GIonta, Bernier)
Minor league forwards: 1 (Janssen)
Retired: 1 (Jagr)
So what do you think about my assessment? Am I completely off? Am I too generous, too negative? Sound off in the comments section. Thanks for reading!
*All general statistics taken from www.hockey-reference.com, specific (Corsi, save %, etc.) taken from www.extraskater.ca and all linemate information taken from www.behindthenet.ca.