New Jersey Devils
2008/09: 51-27-4 – 106 pts (1st in Atlantic, 3rd in East)
Arrived: Yann Danis (NYI), Cory Murphy (FLA), Ilkka Pikkarainen (Finland)
Departed: Brian Gionta (MTL), John Madden (CHI), Michael Rupp (PIT), Scott Clemmensen (FLA), Niclas Havelid (Sweden)
All things considered, the New Jersey Devils had a fantastic season last year. After losing Martin Brodeur to a serious injury in early November, most people wrote New Jersey off. However, journeyman back-up Scott Clemmensen carried them to another division championship before they lost in the first round to the Carolina Hurricanes. That being said, it was a turbulent off-season in the Garden State. Coach Brent Sutter was released from his contract for personal reasons and then signed with Calgary in an incredibly shady move. He was replaced with former Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, who should bring back a strong defensive system to New Jersey. The team also lost two long-time veterans in Brian “I scored 48 goals one year” Gionta and John Madden, while Clemmensen bolted for Florida after his big season. On a brighter note, the team did re-sign Johnny Oduya, who is a key component of their defensive squad. Even with a full season from Brodeur, do not expect the Devils to repeat as division champs over the Penguins and Pronger-led Flyers. The losses of Gionta and Madden will hurt, but Devils should battle to remain a top five or six team in the East.
FANTASY WORTHY FORWARDS
Zach Parise (LW) – Parise busted out in a big way last year, finishing the season with 45 goals, 49 assists and a +30 rating. At the tender age of 25 he is just reaching his prime, and should be a perennial Rocket Richard candidate for the next five years. I see no reason why he will not once again reach the 40 goal plateau, and he should be considered one of the top left wingers on draft day.
Travis Zajac (C) – Like his teammate Parise, Zajac had a breakout campaign iin 2008-09, scoring 20 goals and 42 assists, while accumulating a +33 rating. Zajac should be the undisputed number one center and be a fixture on the first powerplay unit. 70 points is a reasonable estimate, and like any Devil he will be a huge asset in the plus minus department.
Jamie Langenbrunner (RW) – I would be a little weary of Langenbrunner this year. Last year he set career highs in goals, assists, points and plus minus at the age of 34. Some players get better with age, but I would make sure not to reach too early for Langenbrunner come draft day. A more realistic expectation would be 60 points and a +15 rating.
Patrik Elias (LW) – Like everyone else on this list, Elias had a fantastic season last year recording 78 points, his highest post lockout total. Thanks to position scarcity, Elias is a valuable commodity but he will not carry your team to a championship.
Keep an eye on: Brian Rolston
DRAFT WORTHY DEFENCEMEN
Paul Martin – Martin has been eerily consistent the last two seasons.
2007-08: 73 GP, 5 G, 27 A, +20
2008-09: 73 GP, 5 G, 28 A, +21
I would expect a comparable year again, and if he can stay healthy for 82 games he could possible reach that 40 point plateau. Martin’s only downside is that he does not contribute much in the penalty minute category.
Johnny Oduya – Oduya is a poor-man’s Paul Martin. He will give you similar statistics across the board, just a little lower in every category. He should score 30 points and can be considered a depth defenceman.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Martin Brodeur – While his GAA and SV% slipped, Brodeur had a solid campaign, winning 19 games and posting 5 shutouts in only 30 starts. He is one of the game’s best and should be considered in the top tier of goaltenders with Roberto Luongo and Niklas Backstrom. The only thing I would worry about is if he will start his usual 75+ games.
Bonus: Paul Martin shares names with a former Canadian Prime Minister which is always cool. Imagine a sniper for Vancouver named Bill Clinton.