Michelle Kenneth's Hockey and Musings

Jobs on the Line at Devils Camp

Travis Zajac

Travis Zajac

{This is a pre-release of an Inside Hockey article.}

With the temperatures starting to cool and children returning to school, a new hockey season is upon us as players flock to training camps all across the NHL. The Devils have seen many veterans from the previous season return with only a few new faces. But unlike previous seasons, the Devils have allowed several big names in hockey to attend camp on a tryout basis.

Ruslan Fedotenko, Scott Gomez, Tomas Kaberle, Mike Komisarek and Jordin Tootoo are all participating in the Devils’ Training Camp this fall. Rounding out the tryouts is Russian KHL player Renat Mamashev. Ryan Carter is also participating in camp without a contract.

With all of these big names showing up in camp, along with former Devil Gomez, this shows the direction the team is planning on going. They plan on entering the race hitting the ground running.

Mike Cammalleri

Mike Cammalleri

“We don’t really have that much time,” new addition Mike Cammalleri said of the new season. “We’ve got to get ready for Game One here and hit the ground running, and be ready to win and compete in games.”

“I think that seeing a lot of older guys getting the invite to the training camp, I think that show[s] that there are not certain spots for anyone” Devils veteran Patrik Elias said. “You’ve got to be competitive right away from the get-go. I think the last couple of years we missed the train a little bit at the beginning. It’s tough to get the points back. That’s the one thing that we’ve really got to emphasize on from today, pretty much, to have a good start.

“Hopefully we can start off positive.”

The first two days of camp saw a repetitive thought process. The Devils lost out on a lot of points early on in the season last year and it cost them in the end. They want to enter into the new season winning as many games as possible from the get-go. That means not only having the positive scoring power, but also a strong defensive corps.

“We’re spending a lot of time on our defensive game right now,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “That’s our bread and butter. That’s our identity. [We’re] really starting from our end of the ice here in camp and then work our way out from there. I really believe we’re going to score goals this year. We’re definitely going to get to offensive concepts and things like that. I believe personnel-wise, scoring is not going to be an issue. We have to make sure we are very hard to play against defensively.”

Martin Havlat

Martin Havlat

With the addition of Martin Havlat to this year’s squad, the Devils only need to round out the Czech contingency by adding Kaberle to the blueline alongside Marek Zidlicky. Imagine a power play consisting of the two Czechs on the blueline along with Havlat-Elias-Jagr communicating only in Czech out on the ice. This could be a powerful weapon for the Devils, especially with the demonstrated successful chemistry between Havlat and Elias as previously seen when they played for the Czech National team.

For extra defensive power adding left winger Ruslan Fedotenko to the lineup could add some positive tank power up front. Fedotenko, who is only 6’1”, collided with 6’3” Jon Merrill in the Devils first practice on Friday. It nearly knocked out the young forward and he had to be carried off the ice.

He is now listed as day-to-day after getting the wind knocked out of him.

Gomez, who got his NHL start with the Devils, knows the Devils’ system very well and has a relationship with the team after winning the last two Stanley Cups with the team. He knows Elias and his style very well. It seems as though he is almost a shoo-in to take a spot on the team.

But Gomez has something to prove to the club. He hasn’t been putting up the numbers these last few years. Teams are starting to lose their faith in the Alaskan native. The Devils may be his last chance. That means he has a lot to prove to the organization during this camp.

Who is in the most danger of losing their spot? The two top contenders are Michael Ryder, Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas.

Ryder has the capability of being an amazing player, but since joining the team last year, he still has yet to step up to his fullest potential. He was the weakest link last season. He’s brought that same player to camp.

“I expect quite a bit more,” DeBoer said of Ryder. “I think his heart is always in the right place, but I think he’s a better player than he’s shown so far.”

Gelinas was under the coach’s thumb last season. While he can send a wicked slapshot from the blueline, he was not providing the best defense. His skating has improved, even though that was already one of his strongest points. If he doesn’t improve his defensive skills, he could find himself without a guaranteed spot. These next two weeks of preseason games could determine his fate.

“I think the games are going to tell the tale,” coach said of Larsson and Gelinas. “I think it’s the responsibility of young players to get the trust of the coaches and their teammates. There’s going to be plenty of opportunity to do that. Those guys have to remember that.”

Ryane Clowe

Ryane Clowe

Another factor the Devils have to weigh into the decision-making process is the fate of Ryane Clowe. Clowe is considered day-to-day, but has been practicing with the team. After being out for much of the previous season with a concussion, the team wants to make sure he is 100% ready before allowing him to go all season in the line-up.

He will only see a few preseason games to prepare for the regular season, but it will also serve as a gauge to see if he is ready or not. If he is not ready, the team has to be prepared for the worst case scenario.

At the back of everyone’s minds is the loss of the Devils’ great hero, Martin Brodeur. While his son, Anthony, took to the net with moves very reminiscent of what made his father the NHL’s best goaltender of all time, there was a little bit of weirdness at the camp. This was the first time in over 20 years that Martin Brodeur was not at the Devils training camp.

“I just saw his son,” Elias said laughing about the weirdness of Marty not being at camp. “I just saw another Brodeur. But yeah, it is [weird]. For me, it was the one thing that was always here. When I show up for training camp, [he was] the one guy. Just shows you the time is flying by. It’s out there for all of us. It’s going to come eventually for all of us. We’ve just got to move on. It’s been part of the NHL more and more obviously with the cap and everything, not too many guys stay together for a long time. Obviously he was a special teammate.”

This will be the first time Cory Schneider takes the reins and becomes the only #1 for the New Jersey Devils. He begins the post-Brodeur era.

Even though he becomes the #1 goaltender, this will be the first time he has attempted to play more than 50 games in a single NHL season.

“As long as I’m able to play, I would love to play as many games as they want me to,” Schneider said. “I felt better last year the more I played. Even in a couple of those back-to-backs, I felt great on the second night. I haven’t done it before, so I’m going to need a little bit of help, whether it’s from Chris Terreri or the coaching staff, talking to guys that have done it on how to pace myself, how to know when my body feels good and when it doesn’t. I think a lot of that will come as you go through it.

“If I’m healthy and able to play, then I’d like to play as many as I can.”

With camp starting off this year in a highly competitive mode, everyone knows that their job is not guaranteed 100%. Even bringing back Scott Clemmensen, who successfully stepped in when Brodeur was injured in 2008-09, serves as a reminder to the new #1 that he will always have to step up his game each and every day.

There are a handful of amazing, talented players vying for a contract. It is in knowing that, each player has brought their A-game to camp.

“If you’re sitting in that room,” DeBoer said. “I think it’s an automatic, ‘Hey, I’m on notice. I better be ready to go here and show I belong.’”

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