Analysis: Devils Announce Opening Day Roster

The opening day roster is set, which means training camp has officially come to a close and the 2013 season starts tomorrow. There will be some changes once Bobby Butler clears waivers tomorrow, but we’ll roll with this for now.

Forwards (13): Travis Zajac, Ilya Kovalchuk, Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Jacob Josefson, Bobby Butler (Waived), Stefan Matteau, Cam Janssen, Krys Barch, Steve Bernier, Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter

Defensemen (8): Bryce Salvador, Marek Zidlicky, Anton Volchenkov, Andy Greene, Mark Fayne, Henrik Tallinder, Peter Harrold, Adam Larsson

Goalies (2): Martin Brodeur, Johan Hedberg

Corey Griffin

Before we get started, the Devils assigned the injured Adam Henrique to Albany purely as a roster move. He’ll be back as soon as he’s healthy. With that out of the way, it seems we’re looking at pretty much the same roster I guessed at yesterday. I didn’t think they’d demote Mattias Tedenby, but that was a move necessitated by roster math more than anything. He’ll be back tomorrow afternoon once Butler clears waivers or is claimed by another team and will likely be in the lineup against the Islanders. I’m still a little perplexed as to why they held onto Butler for an extra day, but in the end that’s the equivalent of crying over spilled milk. Training camp invite Mathieu Darche is still hanging around and will practice with the the team for the next week while the Devils try to figure out if they want to clear a roster spot and sign him to a contract.

We’re also looking at almost the exact same group of players on opening day/night that took the Kings six games in the Stanley Cup finals last June, with three exceptions: Henrique, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Zach Parise. They’ve been replaced, in roster spot only, by Josefson, Butler/Tedenby and Stefan Matteau. Obviously Parise is the biggest exception out of the three and it’ll be up to Zajac to step into the first-line center role that Parise had occupied for so long. Josefon didn’t play a ton in last year’s playoffs, but he’ll slide in as the third line center, essentially replacing Henrique, who will be the full-time No. 2 center once he’s back. As for Tedenby, it’s time for him to show he belongs at the professional level. Despite the speed and skill set necessary to play top-six minutes, the former first-round pick struggles with the defensive side of the game and for all of his offensive ability, he hasn’t put a ton of points on the board on either the AHL or NHL level. While Henrique is out, I’d imagine he’ll get a shot at playing on the second line alongside Elias and Clarkson. That’s two weeks for him to show what he’s got. The big difference is Matteau, an 18-year old who will get what amounts to a five-game tryout less than a year after being the 29th overall pick. He’s got a very solid two-way game and likes to throw his body around. His teammates, including Marty, have raved about him throughout camp, but it’s incredibly rare for someone his age to go straight to the league. As we mentioned yesterday, the five-game rule for juniors players this year coincides nicely with Henrique’s return and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s bounced back to his juniors club before the Devils are forced to keep him on their roster for the entire season.

On the back end, it’s pretty much business as usual for the Devils. Marty should play around 30 to 33 games, with Hedberg cleaning up the rest. The defense in front of them remains completely unchanged from last year, although I’m very curious to see how much playing time Larsson gets early on. Carrying eight defenseman could make it difficult for the bottom pairing to generate chemistry while Pete DeBoer tries to find the right connections, which must come quickly in a compact season. It’ll be Salvador’s first season wearing the captain’s “C,” although I don’t expect it to weigh on him much. This isn’t like when Messier passed the “C” to Leetch across the river years ago. Salvador plays a quiet, sound defensive game and he’s a good shutdown defenseman. Outside of Larsson and Fayne, it’s a pretty veteran group and that should help the Devils in the shortened schedule, although I suspect the eight defensemen is also meant to cut down on the wear and tear that is expected this season.

All in all, if Marty stays healthy, I see no reason why this team can’t compete for a playoff spot. I’d still like to see them add some scoring on the wing, but I think they should be able to get through the first couple weeks with what they have. Clarkson will have to continue his offensive progression from last season and they’ll need more of the same from Zubrus and Elias, especially early on. The big question for this team will be depth up front. While they return basically the same unit that almost went the distance last year, one injury, let alone multiple, to a key guy up front (Kovy, Zajac, Elias) will sink them. With that in mind, I wholly expect this roster to change before the early April trade deadline — the question is whether it will come via trade or the FA wire (Petr Sykora, anyone?).