New York Hockey: Travis Zajac

Rapid Reaction: Rangers 3, Devils 2

March, 19, 2013
NEWARK, N.J. -- What it means: The Rangers finally gave goaltender Henrik Lundqvist some offensive support, tallying three goals to top the Devils 3-2 for their second win in as many nights. The Devils were a resilient bunch, erasing leads twice in the first period to tie the game, but they couldn't match Rick Nash's second-period go-ahead goal to force the game into overtime. New Jersey may be in line for a big boost soon, however, as Martin Brodeur readies himself for his first post-injury start. Brodeur backed up Devils netminder Johan Hedberg Tuesday in his first game back since missing 12 with a pinched nerve, but may start against Carolina on Thursday.

Nash attack: Following up a couple of sensational stops on the other end, Rangers winger Rick Nash streaked down the right wing before sizzling a wrist shot past Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg at 7:25 to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead in the second period. Nash, reunited with top-earning linemates Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik for the second straight game, leads the team in scoring with 10 goals and 24 points. He has also recorded a point in 11 of his past 15 games.

Offensive outburst: Scoring as many goals in one period as they did during a three-game losing streak, the Rangers rattled off a pair of goals within a span of 5:11 in the opening frame Monday night. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto capitalized on Hedberg’s puck-handling miscue and batted one in for a short-handed goal to open scoring at 11:49. Carl Hagelin was at the left post to bury a puck bouncing off the boards for a 2-1 lead at 16:50.

All tied up: Twice during the first period, the Devils erased a one-goal deficit to tie the game. Travis Zajac tallied his first goal in 11 games with a power-play goal at 15:15 and Anton Volchenkov knotted the score at 2 with a deflected shot with 2:47 remaining in the period.

Man down: A Rangers fan’s worst nightmare came to fruition -- albeit briefly -- early in the second period when Lundqvist went down in the crease after being clipped in the mask. It actually appeared to be his own teammate, defenseman Dan Girardi, who made the contact, though Zajac was sent to the penalty box for an interference call that left Devils fans furious. Although Lundqvist appeared shaken up initially, he remained in the game with no issue.

Poni out: Alexei Ponikarovsky left the game with an undisclosed injury in the second period and did not return to the game.

Up next: Rangers versus Panthers, Thursday at 7 p.m.

Ponikarovsky set to play

February, 15, 2013
Re-claiming his old No. 12, Alexei Ponikarovsky was back in a Devils jersey and practicing with his former teammates during the team's morning skate in Newark Friday. The 32-year-old winger is set to play Friday when the Devils host the Philadelphia Flyers.

He skated on the team's top line with center Travis Zajac and star winger Ilya Kovalchuk.

Ponikarovsky, who was originally brought in to New Jersey via trade last January before the deadline, was re-acquired Wednesday evening in a deal with Winnipeg that sent back two draft picks.

The move was prompted by an injury to forward Dainius Zubrus, who underwent surgery on his left wrist Thursday and is expected to miss four to six weeks.

Ponikarovsky, who played 33 regular-season and 24 playoff games with New Jersey last season, had two goals in 12 games for the Jets this season.

Devils' power-play scores, finally

June, 10, 2012
In saddling the Kings with their first road loss this post-season, the Devils also dented LA”s stellar penalty-killing effort with their first power-play goal of the series.

Entering Game 5 without a man-up goal on 15 consecutive attempts, New Jersey finally capitalized on captain Zach Parise’s first goal of the series.

Parise cashed in after an uncharacteristic gaffe by Jonathan Quick, who mishandled the puck behind the net and was beat to the right post to surrender the game’s first goal 12:45 into play.

“For us to get the first goal, that's always big,” Parise said after the game. “I think every team plays better when they've got the lead. You can get the crowd going a little bit, get them excited. We were able to do that.”

Parise’s first-period marker also provided a boost to a struggling unit that has been unable to find the back of the net against a tenacious Kings penalty kill that, before Saturday, had given up only five power-play goals in 73 times shorthanded this playoff run.

“It was big because we obviously wanted to score first and also [because] it was a power-play goal,” said Travis Zajac, who plays with on the first unit. “I think we haven’t been struggling -- we’ve gotten some good looks on the PP -- but it was nice to finally crack that with that one.”

With a 2-1 lead late in the game, the Devils used two defenseman -- first Andy Greene and Marek Zidlicky, then Henrik Tallinder and Mark Fayne -- at the points instead of Ilya Kovalchuk manning the left with a defenseman on the right.

The Devils can only hope they will be in the same position -- with a lead to protect late in the game -- come Monday when they try to prevent the Kings from securing the Cup for the third straight game.
Although Devils coach Pete DeBoer assured there will be no lineup changes for Game 2 Saturday, he said defenseman Henrik Tallinder will be available this series.

The 33-year-old veteran has not played since January 17 because of a blood clot in his lower left leg, although he is cleared to play and was listed as a healthy scratch in Game 1.

A Devils spokesperson confirmed Tallinder will travel with the team to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4, although he was not made available to the media today.

"You might see him as the series goes forward here," DeBoer hinted after the Devils' optional morning skate.

Before he was sidelined, Tallinder was one of the Devils' best puck-moving defensemen -- an asset that could be useful against a relentless, aggressive Kings forecheck that gave New Jersey trouble in the series opener on Wednesday.

DeBoer sounded willing to entertain Tallinder as a possibility, despite the Swedish blue-liner's lengthy layoff.

"Well, you're never sure. I do know this: I know he's kept himself in great shape," DeBoer said. "He looks good in practice. Before he went out, he was a top-two defenseman for us."

The Devils have received key contributions this post-season from other players returning from injury. Both center Travis Zajac (achilles) and Jacob Josefson (wrist) bounced back from shortened seasons to play vital roles as New Jersey rolled through the Eastern Conference this playoff run.

"It didn't hurt Zajac coming back in. I know you're jumping into the Stanley Cup Final, not into the last week of the regular season. But, Josefson jumped in last round against the Rangers coming off six weeks out with a broken wrist, and it didn't hurt him," DeBoer said.

"You know, you hope you get the desired result, but you never know."

Rapid Reaction: Devils 5, Rangers 3

May, 23, 2012

Recap | Box score | Photos

What it means: The Rangers erased a three-goal deficit with a staggering comeback that almost made up for their disastrous start, but Ryan Carter's game winner with 4:24 remaining sapped all the life out of Madison Square Garden as the Devils pulled off a 5-3 stunner.

After rattling off two straight wins, the Devils head home with a 3-2 series lead and the chance to finish off their Hudson River rivals in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday.

Gionta's a gem: Scoring the game's first goal and setting up the winner, New Jersey's Stephen Gionta's Cinderella story continues. The younger brother of former Devil Brian Gionta, Stephen has been a vital cog for the Devils as part of their productive fourth line since being recalled from the AHL for the team's regular-season finale last month.

Redemption shot: Dropped to the third line, struggling sniper Marian Gaborik earned his redemption with his third-period equalizer 17 seconds into play. Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur strayed from the crease and misplayed the puck, allowing Gaborik to bank the game-tying goal off his pads. Gaborik's turnaround was a dramatic one; he bungled a ripe opportunity early in the first with the Rangers trailing 2-0, missing on an open net in front at 6:31.

Brodeur gets earful: Following Brodeur's miscue that led to Gaborik's goal, the crowd's trademark taunts reached a deafening level and continued throughout stoppages in the third period.

So much for starts: For all the talk about their poor starts, the Rangers fell victim once again, surrendering three goals less than 10 minutes into play.

The Devils' high-energy fourth line chipped in with Stephen Gionta's backhander 2:43 into play, and the Rangers found themselves down two goals after Adam Henrique's shot glanced off Patrik Elias and Artem Anisimov less than two minutes later. Top-line center Travis Zajac ripped a sharp wrist shot across the grain to beat goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for a 3-0 Devils lead 9:48 into play.

Prust sparks crowd: After pacing through Game 4 while serving a one-game suspension, Rangers tough guy Brandon Prust returned to ignite the MSG crowd with a goal to whittle the Devils' lead to 3-1 with 4:19 left in the first period.

Captain in the crease: It took the Rangers all of 32 seconds to whittle the Devils' lead to one goal. Rangers captain Ryan Callahan redirected the puck past Brodeur on the first shift of the second period. The goal was reviewed but ultimately upheld because the puck deflected off Callahan's leg, not skate.

Brandons are back: Sidelined for almost a month, Brandon Dubinsky returned to the lineup Wednesday for the first time since suffering a right foot injury in Game 7 of the quarterfinals April 26. The 26-year-old forward played on a line with Anisimov and Callahan. Prust also came back after sitting out Game 4 while serving a one-game suspension for his elbow on Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov in Game 3. John Mitchell and Steve Eminger were healthy scratches.

Up next: Devils versus Rangers, 8 p.m. ET Friday in Newark.

Top line, unsung heroes and the fans

May, 17, 2012
Expect to see Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise paired together again.

After putting together that high-octane line for Game 2 Wednesday night, Devils coach Peter DeBoer said during a conference call Thursday that he liked how that line helped the entire team's depth in the Devils' 3-2 win over the Rangers.

"I think we got the desired effect," DeBoer said. "Maybe it didn't translate into 5-on-5 goals, but I think more than how that line specifically played, I thought it gave us four lines we could roll and really keep pressure on the other team."

The trio is usually split up during games, although they have been paired together before. Kovalchuk and Zajac are usually on the same line, while Parise is instead on a line centered by Patrik Elias. After the Rangers blanked the Devils in Game 1, DeBoer put together the three to galvanize the offense and create better scoring chances.

While they didn’t score any even-strength goals, Kovalchuk sniped home a power-play goal in the first to give the Devils a 1-0 lead, with Parise contributing an assist. They combined for seven shots on goal as the Devils evened up the series.

"I like what they did, I think they're capable of dominating a game," DeBoer said. "Maybe we didn't see that last night, but every time you roll those guys out they have the potential to do that on every given night, and I like what it allowed us to do with our other three lines and the balance we had."

EARNING PRAISE: After tallying a combined eight points during the regular season, defenseman Bryce Salvador has eight points in just 14 games in the playoffs, including two assists in Wednesday night's win.

"I don't know, I think maybe contract year," DeBoer said with a laugh about Salvador's offensive explosion in the playoffs. "He's an unsung warrior for us. I can tell you he's the one guy that probably doesn't know even know how many points he's got. He's just playing his game. That's what we need him to do. He's had a fantastic year for us and another guy we wouldn't be here without him."

DeBoer also praised the play of Marek Zidlicky. The Devs acquired the defenseman for three players, a second-round pick in 2012 and a third-round choice in 2013.

"He's invaluable. We wouldn't be here without him." DeBoer said. "I think it was a great trade Lou made identifying him and paying the price to go and get him. At the time, it looked like a heavy price to pay but he's been worth every bit of it and more."

WHERE THE FANS ARE: During regular season games at the Prudential Center, Parise noticed how the Rangers fans would make themselves heard when the Blueshirts scored. While the team is no longer promoting its "No Blue" initiative, Parise wants to see a home rink filled with Devils fans Saturday night.

"Hopefully, there won't be too many blue jerseys in the stands for this home game," Parise said.

Brodeur: MSG a 'tough place to play'

May, 17, 2012
Despite the constant abuse he faces from Rangers fans, Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur has said he enjoys playing at Madison Square Garden.

But he's not too fond of the rink itself.

"It's a tough place to play," Brodeur said following the Devils' 3-2 victory over the Rangers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night.

"There's so many bad bounces. The ice is not good, the boards are awful and the glass makes crazy bounces everywhere. In the second period, I think two or three just went right in front of my net. So mentally it's a tough game to play because you really have to look at the puck all game long."

• And about that penalty box door ...

Travis Zajac was probably the only one inside the arena who wasn't laughing after he took an interference penalty in the second period.

Zajac skated over to the penalty box to serve his two-minute minor, but the door wouldn't open.

The game was delayed for several minutes as a result.

At one point, Zajac sat in the home penalty box before workers -- after having tried to kick it in unsuccessfully -- finally got the away penalty box door open. Zajac tested to make sure the door would open once he finished serving his penalty. It did.

"Yeah, it slowed down a little bit of the game," Brodeur said. "I think the pace of the game. Again, things like that happen. You can't worry about it too much. Because it just happened that they scored probably in the next shift after we had the long wait. So it's not a fun thing, but it was sort of both teams."

David Clarkson had the game-winning goal for the Devils in the third period. Four of his five career playoff goals have been game-winners, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Rapid Reaction: Devils 3, Rangers 2

May, 16, 2012

At a glance: Surrendering Game 1 to the Rangers despite carrying play for much of the match, the Devils responded in Game 2 with a 3-2 win to tie the series at a game apiece. With the game tied at 2, New Jersey's David Clarkson deflected Bryce Salvador's shot 2:31 into the third period for the go-ahead goal. The Rangers' loss marks the third time this postseason that the team squandered an opportunity to take a two-game series lead. The best-of-seven set now heads to Newark for Games 3 and 4.

Double the deflection: Trailing 1-0 after the first period, the Rangers tallied twice on the power play during the second period to take a 2-1 lead. Defenseman Marc Staal was credited with the Rangers' first goal at 2:23; his shot deflected off Devils defenseman Salvador, then caromed off the end-boards before bouncing off Martin Brodeur's pads for his third goal of the playoffs. Scoring his second goal in as many games, Rangers rookie Chris Kreider deflected Anton Stralman's shot at 12:19.

All tied up: Tying the game late in the second period, Devils fourth-liner Ryan Carter tipped in Salvador’s shot. Coach John Tortorella looked irate after Marian Gaborik's casual clearing attempt allowed the Devils to keep the puck in the zone.

Gaborik benched: As penance for the Devil's game-tying goal, Gaborik was benched to begin the third period with Artem Anisimov skating on the team's first line with Carl Hagelin and Brad Richards. Gaborik did not reappear until taking his first shift of the period 11:20 into the third.

Block that: Giving the Devils their first goal of the series, Ilya Kovalchuk sniped one from the left circle to beat Henrik Lundqvist high-glove, although it was a laser Lundqvist had no shot to snag. Kovalchuk’s power-play marker, assisted by defenseman Marek Zidlicky and captain Zach Parise, gave the Devils a 1-0 lead at 13:39.

Loading up: Switching up the lines from Game 1, Devils coach Pete Deboer loaded up his top line with Parise, Kovalchuk and center Travis Zajac to start the game.

Un-hinged: In a bizarre-yet-comical twist during a tight game at Madison Square Garden, the door to the Devils penalty box jammed with Zajac waiting to serve his ill-advised offensive-zone interference penalty during the second period. Crew workers labored for almost 10 minutes -- even trying to kick the door open at one point -- before resolving the situation, which had several players chuckling on their respective benches.

Defensive substitution: Devils defenseman Peter Harrold made his first appearance of the series, replacing rookie Adam Larsson in the lineup. The 28-year-old even manned the right point on the Devils’ second power-play unit.

Up Next: Rangers at Devils, Game 3, Saturday at 1 p.m.

Rapid Reaction: Devils 3, Panthers 2 (OT)

April, 24, 2012

Recap | Box score | Photos

WHAT IT MEANS: There will be a Game 7.

Travis Zajac scored 5:39 into overtime and the Devils evened their best-of-seven first-round series with the Panthers at three games apiece, beating Florida 3-2 in Game 6 on Tuesday night in front of a sellout crowd at Prudential Center.

The Devils are now 5-3 in Game 6s all time when trailing 3-2. They are 2-2 in ensuing Game 7s.

MARTY! MARTY! Martin Brodeur wasn't tested often, but when he was, he came up big. His best save of the night came with 2:31 remaining in regulation, when he robbed Mikael Samuelsson with his pads to send the game into overtime. Brodeur wound up making 14 saves.

GOALVALCHUK: Ilya Kovalchuk has been invisible for parts of this series. But the superstar left winger wasn't invisible on Tuesday night. At 15:39 of the second period, Kovalchuk snuck in from the left side, went backdoor and buried Zajac's pass from behind the net at the left post. It was his third goal of playoffs, came on the power play and gave New Jersey a 2-0 lead.

Kovalchuk also fed a cutting Zajac for the winner at 5:39 of the extra session. It was Zajac's third goal of the series.

BERN BABY, BERN: Steve Bernier struck first for the Devils with 3:23 left in the first period. After Peter Harrold kept the puck in at the point, the defenseman took a shot that was deflected on goal by Ryan Carter from the slot. Bernier corralled the rebound and threw the puck back toward the net from a sharp angle near the red line. It trickled under Scott Clemmensen (39 saves), giving New Jersey a 1-0 lead. The Devils outshot the Panthers 13-6 in the opening frame.

COMEBACK KIDS: The Devils outshot the Panthers 16-4 in the second period, but Florida tied the game on its first two shots of the frame. Kris Versteeg (third goal) scored from the high slot to bring the Panthers within a goal. Sean Bergenheim (third) knotted things at 2 when he buried a rebound at the right post. Bergenheim appeared to take down Kovalchuk at the other end of the ice, but no call was made. The Panthers got a 4-on-2 odd-man rush the other way, which led to the left winger’s tying tally.

SAVIOR: The Devils nearly had a 3-0 lead at 5:35 of the second, but Clemmensen reached back to stop the puck just short of the goal line after David Clarkson's shot hopped over his stick. The former Devils netminder also robbed Alexei Ponikarovsky on the doorstep with a pad save to keep things tied midway through the third. Clemmensen had 34 saves in the first 60 minutes.

SHORTHANDED: The Panthers were without power-play quarterback Jason Garrison and No. 1 goaltender Jose Theodore due to injuries.

UP NEXT: Game 7, Thursday night at BankAtlantic Arena in Sunrise, Fla.

W2W4: Devils vs. Lightning

March, 29, 2012
At a glance: With a chance to clinch a playoff spot, the Devils host the 11th-place Lightning with only five games left to play in the regular season. All New Jersey needs to secure a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs is at least one point and a regulation loss from the Washington Capitals. The Devils are also in with a win, even if the Caps secure a point in a beyond-regulation loss to Boston tonight. Goaltender Martin Brodeur will make his fourth consecutive start.

Reunited: The Devils finally have forward Travis Zajac back where they wanted him all along. The 26-year-old center, in his third game back from an Achilles injury, will center a top line with captain Zach Parise and sniper Ilya Kovalchuk. Zajac scored the shootout game-winner in the team's 2-1 win against Chicago on Tuesday.

Back on blue line: Defenseman Anton Volchenkov returns after missing two games with a lower-body injury. The 30-year-old blue-liner declined to characterize the injury -- or divulge the cause -- but said he’s "ready to go" against the Lightning tonight.

Stammer time: For the fourth and final time this season, the Devils will face the league's leading goal-scorer, Steven Stamkos. The former first overall pick is out in front of the pack with a staggering 55 goals, a number that caused Devils coach Pete DeBoer to call him "maybe the best scorer in 20-25 years." The 21-year-old has nine goals and seven assists in 15 career games against the Devils.

Second scratch: Rookie defenseman Adam Larsson will sit out for the second straight game. The 19-year-old, who has struggled since returning from a back injury last month, was made a healthy scratch Tuesday and will have to wait at least one more game until he returns. Recently recalled Peter Harrold impressed DeBoer with his play Tuesday and earned himself at least another game against the Bolts.

Captain's back: Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier will play in his first game in more than a month. The 31-year-old forward has been sidelined since mid-February with a broken hand but is expected to return against the Devils.

Zajac practicing with Devils

March, 16, 2012
Injured forward Travis Zajac took another step toward returning from a lingering Achilles injury when he practiced with the Devils Friday morning.

The 26-year-old center missed four months after sustaining the injury during an offseason workout in August and, following his season debut in December, was sidelined again after only eight games.

Zajac, who skated as an extra forward with Eric Boulton, has not played since January 2. He told reporters Thursday that he came back too soon, but did not re-injure his Achilles tendon. He has since been cleared for contact and said he plans to play before the regular season ends.

"It's nice to just get in game situations," Zajac said of his first full practice. "You have to be able to think and move with the puck, which is the biggest difference, and I felt pretty good."

Zajac has no timetable yet, but will continue to work on improving his conditioning and timing.

"Mentally, it's starting to feel good," he said. "It's been a long layoff. [I'm] just trying to combine everything and get as close to game-like speed and conditioning as possible."

Devils recall Josefson, Mills

January, 17, 2012
The Devils have recalled centers Jacob Josefson and Brad Mills from Albany (AHL), the team announced Tuesday morning.

Josefson and Mills' recall comes with the team lacking in depth at the center position. After making his season debut in December, Travis Zajac is back on injured reserve with a sore Achilles. Rookie center Adam Henrique, who missed Saturday's game in Winnipeg, is questionable for Tuesday's game against the Jets. The 21-year-old forward skated laps Monday, but did not practice.

Josefson, who was forced to undergo surgery back in October after suffering a broken clavicle, played two games in Albany Saturday and Monday and may be a possibility for Tuesday.

Mills, who cracked the Devils roster out of training camp, has two goals, five assists and 48 penalty minutes in 18 games with Albany this season. He tallied a goal in Albany's 5-3 win over Adirondack Monday afternoon.

Zajac "tough to ease in"

December, 16, 2011
The much-anticipated return of top center Travis Zajac has finally arrived, but with the relief also comes a unique challenge to Devils coach Pete DeBoer.

DeBoer admitted he'll have a hard time refraining from using the talented 26-year-old pivot as much as he'd like.

"He's a tough guy to ease in because he does so many things well," DeBoer said after the Devils morning skate Thursday. "But especially being in a back-to-back situation, we're going to try to monitor that."

In his first game back since missing four months with an offseason Achilles injury, Zajac will skate on the third line between left wing Mattias Tedenby and David Clarkson.

DeBoer isn't exactly sure how that will translate in ice time, but he said he won't be using him for 20 minutes in his season debut.

When jokingly asked if 19 was a possibility, DeBoer chuckled.

"We'll see what easing in means."

After missing the first 30 games of the season, Zajac said he can't wait to get back on the ice.

"I tried to get to bed early but I still have some nerves flowing a little bit," he said. "Definitely excited to get going."

Zajac will have to wait a bit longer than usual -- puck drop is one hour later than usual because of Friday's pre-game ceremony to retire Scott Niedermayer's No. 27. More on that later...

Training camp preview: Devils

September, 16, 2011
The Devils missed the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96. Along the way, franchise forward Zach Parise was lost to injury and rookie head coach John MacLean was fired. The team had a remarkable surge after stalwart Jacques Lemaire appeared back behind the bench, but it wasn't enough to score a postseason berth. Can they pick up the pieces with new coach Pete DeBoer at the helm?

Main Storylines

1. Will Parise stay? That will be the question in everyone's minds all season, even though the 27-year-old winger can't resign with the Devils until Jan. 1. If he opts to test the market, it would be a devastating blow to the organization and the team's future. Teams will be clamoring after the franchise forward in what could be the biggest free-agent sweepstakes the NHL has ever seen.

2. New regime: In his first year as head coach of the Devils, DeBoer will be charged with juggling several sensitive issues. What type of relationship can he forge with Parise and fellow marquee player Ilya Kovalchuk? How will he allot playing time between the two players -- both of whom play the left wing? And how will he manage veteran NHL icon Martin Brodeur between the pipes? Every move will be scrutinized and a misstep could prove costly.

3. Filling the void: The loss of first-line center Travis Zajac to a torn Achilles tendon leaves the Devils with a gaping hole down the middle. Zajac, who suffered the injury in August during an offseason workout, is expected to be out until December. Who will step up in his place? Patrik Elias, Jacob Josefson and Dainius Zubrus are all candidates to fill the void.

New additions

D Adam Larsson: The Devils selected the 18-year-old Swedish defenseman fourth in this year's draft and hope he can step in and contribute right away. Larsson (6-2, 209) played in 37 games for Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League last season and finished with one goal and eight assists.

LW Eric Boulton: One of two signings this summer made to bolster the team's toughness, 35-year-old Boulton will battle it out with Cam Janssen for a role as the team's enforcer.

RW Cam Janssen: The former Devil (2005-07) signed this summer on a two-way deal. The 27-year-old winger returns to New Jersey after racking up 370 penalty minutes in the past three-plus seasons he spent with the Blues.

Wild card

Former Devil Petr Sykora, who won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2000, is attending camp on a tryout. There will be no guarantees of a roster spot and the veteran will be likely fighting for his last chance to play in the NHL.

Bottom line

The 2011-12 season is a pivotal year for the franchise. Many questions integral to the team's future need to be resolved so the Devils can move forward and re-establish themselves as a perennial postseason lock.

Projecting Ilya Kovalchuk

August, 25, 2011
There may be no fan base more a ready to put last season behind them than that of the New Jersey Devils. What started as a season of optimism and wild expectations, quickly plummeted into a pit of salary-cap constraints, injuries, firings and abject despair. Shiny new free agent Ilya Kovalchuk, brought in to lift the Devils’ offense to new heights, instead helped drag it to new lows -- the team finished with the worst goals-for-per-game average of any team since the lockout. And it wasn’t particularly close.

So this season, what can we expect? With the Insider Summer Skate series heading to Newark Thursday, Hockey Prospectus’s season projections show a rebound year for Kovalchuk, who did start to put it together under Jacques Lemaire in the season’s second half. Here’s what author Timo Seppa had to say about Kovy:

“For whatever reason, Kovalchuk's shooting percentage is down significantly in his 108 games while in a Devils' sweater. A 15.1 percent career shooter when traded from Atlanta, Kovalchuk only shot at an 11.5 percent clip for New Jersey.”

A little regression to the mean should help there. Plus, with Zach Parise back in the fold, and healthy, it’s a reasonable expectation that the offense will bounce back significantly in 2011-12 -- though Travis Zajac’s injury might be a bit of a concern. The bigger question still seems to be the blue line. To that end, prospect analyst Corey Pronman focuses on the Devils’ top draft pick from 2011, No. 4-overall selection Adam Larsson:

“He doesn't stand out in any one particular area, but he's seemingly above average at every aspect of the game. He can skate, pass, handle the puck and shoot and is an intelligent player.

“It isn't that hard to see him being a steady force on the Devils' first pairing for many seasons.”

That sounds like precisely the kind of prospect the Devils could use. We’ll have to wait until training camp starts to see for sure though.