Previewing Cutdown Day

Corey Griffin

The Devils have until 3 p.m. today to set their 23-man opening day roster. There’s definitely some interesting choices to be made, although not a lot of them. I’ll lay out who has likely made the team, who’s on the bubble and who’s likely headed to the AHL, or possibly back to juniors.

Made the 23
Forwards (13): Travis Zajac, Ilya Kovalchuk, Dainius Zubrus, David Clarkson, Jacob Josefson, Adam Henrique (IR) Bobby Butler, Cam Janssen, Krys Barch, Mattias Tedenby, Steve Bernier, Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter (APOLOGIES! Just realized I obviously left Patrik Elias off this list.)
Defensemen (7): Bryce Salvador, Marek Zidlicky, Anton Volchenkov, Andy Greene, Mark Fayne, Henrik Tallinder, Peter Harrold
Goalies (2): Martin Brodeur, Johan Hedberg

Not a ton of surprises here. Although the Devils would surely prefer to have Henrique healthy, his injury gives them a little more time to get a read on some of the fringe guys after a short camp. Speaking of which, guys like Butler, Barch, Tedenby, Harrold and Janssen would have had to be waived by Thursday’s deadline, so they’ll make the opening day roster with their future spots in no way guaranteed. Barch has a groin injury and could start the year on IR with Henrique if the Devils wanted to create some extra room. Assuming they decide to IR Barch to start the season, that leaves the Devils with two free spots.

So let’s get into the players still in question…

Stefan Matteau (C/LW): I’ve said from the beginning that I didn’t think he would stick past the five-game limit for juniors players, although my resolve has been weakened a bit by all the praise he’s been given of late. Seeing how impressive he’s been all camp and how the Devils are suddenly in need on the left side, I’d honestly be pretty surprised if he at least did get that five-game tryout. Plus, his five-game stint would end Jan. 29, which would within days of Henrique’s projected return. If Matteau doesn’t impress enough to stay and start his entry-level clock, then you’ve gotten him NHL-level experience while having a short-term,  capable fill-in for Henrique. Plus, they can always try to see if Mathieu Darche is willing to enter the regular season still on a tryout contract while they sort out what to do with Butler, Janssen and Tedenby. Who knows? Maybe he’s been impressive enough to stick for the season. Lord knows the Devils could use skill up front and I really like his two-way game. CHANCES OF MAKING THE 23:  Very likely.

Mathieu Darche (C/LW): Speaking of Darche, the 36-year-old former Canadien came to camp on a tryout after sformer Devils Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez recommended Jersey and spoke glowingly of the team’s front office and atmosphere. If Darche is willing, as we said about, he could stick around as a tryout while the Devils take some time to figure out who’s worth keeping and allow the Devils to keep three out of four players on the bubble (sensing a theme here?). I like Darche’s size and elder statesmen status on a team that could be pretty young up front, although he doesn’t really offer much beyond veteran depth. Pete DeBoer has tried him out as the third-line center a few times through camp, which is interesting because he could provide insurance there in case Josefson needs to rest his sore foot once or twice in the first two weeks. CHANCES OF MAKING THE 23: Decent, but likely only as a tryout.

Harri Pesonen (LW): The Devils basically took a flyer on Pesonen, signing the Finnish native to a one-year deal in June 2012 based on his scoring ability in the Finnish league. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, he’s never gotten above the “fifth” line all camp. Couple that with the fact that he doesn’t need to pass through waivers before being sent down to Albany and he’s as good as gone. CHANCES OF MAKING 23: As good as mine.

Adam Larsson (D): You’ve gotta think he’ll make the team right? I don’t know that everyone is so sure. Although DeBoer has said he’s willing to start the season with eight defensemen, do you really think the Devils will play the first two weeks with just one extra forward (two if Darche stays as a tryout)? With Josefson and Barch already banged up, you’re leaving yourself awfully thin up front in that scenario. I know that Harrold can play RW, which would help in a pinch, for sure, but then how much will Larsson play? DeBoer has made it clear everyone on the 23 will play — both because of the compact schedule and unproven roster — but wouldn’t it make more sense for last year’s No. 2 overall pick to play every night? He doesn’t need to pass through waivers to go back to Albany, where he spent the lockout playing, and they can easily bring him back if someone on D were to get hurt. All that said, I’d be pretty surprised if they sent him back to Albany after the way DeBoer spoke yesterday. Not to mention, they can create all sorts of roster space until Henrique returns by IR’ing Barch and keeping Darche on a tryout. CHANCES OF MAKING THE 23: Pretty good, but I’ve been known to be wrong.

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So in the end, I’d bet that’s exactly what happens. Everyone except Pesonen makes the 23, Barch hits the IR to start and they carry eight defensemen with Harrold doubling up as the 14th forward. If Darche wants to stay as a tryout, that’s a bonus. If he signs a contract, well, all bets are off and I’d guess Matteau gets sent back to juniors before the season starts. All of this, of course, is just a stall tactic until Henrique comes off the IR in roughly 10-14 days, but by then the Devils could’ve cleared a spot by cutting Darche or sending Matteau back to juniors. They’ll also have a pretty good idea on whether Tedenby or Butler will be able to contribute enough to justify keeping them.