New Jersey Devils Preseason Review and Damien Brunner Signing

The New Jersey Devils preseason has been surprisingly hectic thus far. Typically, the preseason for most teams is to check out some young talent while finding out who has chemistry with other players early on. Although these games don’t count, the Devils have many interesting story lines in these “meaningless” games.

Let’s start with the defense. If you are a New Jersey fan, you also may know of the immense depth of prospects this team currently has, which include: Jon Merrill, Damon Severson, Alex Urbom, and Eric Gellinas.

Jon Merrill is a highly touted prospect coming out of college (University of Michigan), and coming to the Devils AHL affiliate (Albany Devils) last season helped him showcase his talent to the organization. Merrill appeared in 12 games for Albany, racking up one goal and seven assists. In his first 12 professional hockey games, he tallied eight points; for a defensemen, that is superb. As for his play for the big league Devils this pre-season, it’s been promising.  He has made a few defensive mistakes, most notably in the first game in Brooklyn vs. the Islanders. These mistakes can be corrected over the course of a season, and isn’t anything I’m worried about too much given how difficult it usually is for defensemen to adjust to the NHL level.  It’s his game in the offensive zone that really get’s me out of my seat. He recorded a goal and an assist against the Islanders on September 19th, seriously showcasing some offensive talent that can’t be taught. His ability to move the puck on the power play was great and may be a reason coach Pete DeBoer calls him up to the big club this season.

Alex Urbom is a former third round pick in 2009. His three straight seasons in the AHL may scare some people reading his stats page, but it shouldn’t. He was drafted from Sweden at age 19, and having three season of AHL games under his belt may help him in the long run. His game in the pre-season has shown flashes of defensive greatness. His ability to play in the defensive zone was impressive, and he really stood out. His ability to move the puck was mediocre, and isn’t his strong suit. Overall, his preseason play has shown that he can be a rock of defense, but you need to be more polished overall to make an NHL team’s defensive pairing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the Devils this year; a third line pairing could work out.

A player to seriously watch this year is Eric Gellinas. Another defensemen to appear in multiple AHL seasons makes the pre-season roster. Gellinas may make the roster for just one defining characteristic: his slap shot is a thing of beauty. His movement on the power play was something the Devils have been looking for for a while. Not to mention his defensive play was superb, making it hard for him to be sent back up to Albany. The power play boost he provides may be something the Devils can’t miss out on.

Finally, we have Damon Severson. Severson is a raw 19 years of age, and his play looks that way. Although he didn’t look like an all-star out there, he does have a high ceiling of talent, and a few more years in the minors, then to Albany, may help him realize that potential.

A player who has been highly critiqued so far in his young NHL career is Adam Larsson. Coach DeBoer says that playing Larsson in all situations this season is their goal, and it does makes sense. He has looked good on the penalty kill as well as the power play, so going into the season it’s a change that people will look out for. For Larsson’s sake, this season will be the difference between a “Bridge Deal” or a full on long-term contract.

Since the Devils have so many players on the pro roster already (Adam Larsson, Andy Greene, Mark Fayne, Bryce Salvador, Marek Zidlicky, Anton Volchenkov, Peter Harrold) it’s going to be tough to crack the rotation. If one of the young D-Men does make the team, it means that one of the names just mentioned may be moved.

As for the forwards go, there have been some ups and some downs.

The never ageing Jaromir Jagr has already sat out about a week’s worth of training camp, including all preseason games so far due to “lower body soreness”.  He’s back to skating with the team, but getting him into a preseason game would be reassuring.

New Devil Ryane Clowe was taken out of the last pre-season early after taking a big hit. Although the report is that he’s feeling better, getting him 100% healthy is something all Devils fans would like to see.

One player that has been an overall disappointment since being drafted is forward Mattias Tedenby. Tedenby apparently gained a few pounds in the off-season, and it shows. He looks bigger, which may help him play a full season considering how small he was. Tedenby has shown some skill in the offensive zone that I’ve never seen from him before, and hopefully can crack the line-up at some point.

The best forward prospect the Devils have is winger Reid Boucher. Boucher signed his three-year entry level deal last year, bringing him to Albany. In 11 games he notched 6 points. Coming off of his record breaking 62 goals for Sarnia in the OHL, he brings high expectations. My fear is that he may not live up to expectations, similarly to the Tedenby situation for years. So far in preseason, he’s looked decent, but in all likelihood will be sent back down.

As for recent pick-up, forward Damien Brunner, he is still playing under a PTO and it looks like he will be signed at any moment. In his first pre-season game, he found some great chemistry with Patrik Elias, and may be a future pairing once he’s signed. The Devils have the cap room (around $3.8mil to spare), and could definitely fit him under that. Although early speculation had him on the third line with Andrei Loktionov and Dainius Zubrus, the play that Brunner and Elias had together the other night against the Islanders may shake up the top-six or NJ.

The goaltending for the Devils so far is the telling of two very different tales. Newly acquired goalie Cory Schneider has not given up a goal in his first five periods played – an absolute brick wall in net. As for veteran Martin Brodeur, he gave up four weak goals against the Islanders in his first appearance. Although he was playing behind a young defense that night, some of those pucks just should have not gone in. Hopefully he bounces back on opening night in Pittsburgh.


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