With roster limits disappearing, the Devils will start recalling some of their prospects over the next couple weeks. It started Friday with center Jacob Josefson, who just returned from a concussion.
The Devils sent Josefson down to Albany earlier in the year. He’ll likely sit and learn and could crack the lineup if one of the Devils’ centers need a night off, but I don’t expect him to get a ton of playing time.
Matteau netted just one goal and had two assists in 17 games with New Jersey. The 19-year old was a healthy scratch for three straight games before Saturday and had not recorded a point since New Jersey’s loss in Buffalo on March 2.
As of 5:30 Sunday, the Devils had not announced any forwards to replace Matteau on their active roster.
UPDATE: (6:43 p.m)– The Devils public relations released a statement confirming Matteau’s return to Blainville-Boisbriand of the QMJHL.
I asked Albany Devils’ coach Rick Kowalsky if he knew whether his club was losing a forward with the move, and he said “I have no idea.”
Jacob Josefson has been an Albany scratch the last three games. I’m not sure if that pertains to this scenario, but it may.
I saw a tweet this morning from John Fischer of In Lou We Trust that just said “Tim Sestito? Ugh.” After a brief chuckle, I realized this move is about two things. Avoiding the obvious “filling out the roster” reason, the Devils called up Sestito to help with one thing: energy. The Devils have lacked it for long stretches during their current slump and have missed the energy that Ryan Carter used to bring as part of that third line. Will Sestito play more than seven minutes? Probably not, but during those seven or less minutes, he’ll forecheck and push the play and try to play with the kind of infectious energy that Pete DeBoer is hoping will spark the rest of the team. Of course, Sestito won’t do much of anything else, but that brings me to the second thing. Jacob Josefson is not coming up until he proves at the AHL that he deserves to be one of the Devils’ four NHL centers — or until there’s an injury that necessitates it. As I wrote yesterday, Josefson hasn’t shown nearly enough in the offensive end of the ice to justify bringing him back and yanking him game by game between the AHL and NHL isn’t going to help him either. Once Carter returns, which could be as early as tomorrow, Sestito is likely going back to Albany, so the Devils needed someone for a practice or maybe one game. Calling Josefson up for that limited timeframe wasn’t going to help him. Instead, it looks like Josefson (barring injury) will get an extended look in Albany while the Devils try to figure out what they have in the NHL.
Of course, once Dainius Zubrus return to the active roster, the Devils will have more roster shuffling to do, but those are posts for another day.
The Devils sent Jacob Josefson back down to AHL Albany on Monday, although Lou Lamoriello said Tuesday the Devils will recall a center from their AHL affiliate in time for Thursday’s game in Winnipeg. He wouldn’t specify whether it would be Josefson.
Goalie Keith Kinkaid was called up from Albany as a practice goalie but will be added to the active roster with Martin Brodeur being place on IR. He will serve as Johan Hedberg’s backup on Thursday in Winnipeg.
Kinkaid will remain as long as Brodeur is sidelined, which still doesn’t sound like it will be a long time. Meanwhile, Josefson looks to be the odd man out here. If Carter can’t go Thursday, the Devils will need an additional center and Josefson makes the most sense. However, as soon as Carter is back, that center is likely Albany-bound once again. Josefson has no one to blame but himself for this situation. While he’s been solid defensively and has made some plays on the penalty kill, he’s been far too ineffective offensively give the ice time he was getting before shuffling between Albany and New Jersey. Unfortunately for Josefson, the Devils have three two-way centers better than him in Zajac, Henrique and Gionta/Carter and Andrei Loktionov has looked much better than Josefson in his brief time thus far. Wherever Josefson lands, he’ll have to start scoring goals or else it’s unlikely he’ll find any sort of significant role with the Devils this season.
There’s two ways people might read this. One, Pete DeBoer wants forward flexibility and is tired of having to roll the same 12 forwards every game regardless of matchup or regardless of how they’re playing. Two, the Devils don’t really know how long Carter is going to be out and they can’t afford to go game to game with him on the roster.
Realistically, it’s a combination of both of those reads. DeBoer obviously needs roster flexibility because I can’t imagine he’s very happy throwing Krys Barch out every night. Also, can we just come out and call this a concussion? If it were the average “upper-body injury,” then the Devils would have some sort of official timeline or timetable for recovery. Whether they’d give it to us is another matter, but they would still have known before today if Carter was going to need to be placed on IR. The good news is Carter is eligible to be activated immediately, so if he makes a sudden recovery this week the Devils would still have the option to put him back in the lineup immediately.
As for Josefson, his recall makes sense because of the very flexibility I just mentioned. Josefson can play center or left wing, the latter of which is severely lacking with both Carter and Dainius Zubrus injured. DeBoer could use him on the LW of the fourth line alongside Andrei Loktionov or on the third line in Carter’s place, which is where he might fit best. Josefson is having major difficulty finishing before he was sent down, but on the third line he wouldn’t be expected to do more than forecheck, occasionally come in and take draws and be sound defensively — all of which he can do. The third line generates offense by working hard, not by scoring skill and I think he would make a nice temporary option there for as long as Carter is out. It would also allow DeBoer to mix and match Matteau and Barch on the fourth line depending on the matchup.
I would expect Josefson to be available for this afternoon’s game, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Depth Will Be The Devils’ Downfall This Season
The Devils have suffered two significant injuries in the past 10 days, first losing Dainius Zubrus to wrist surgery and then Ryan Carter to a likely concussion. Zubrus is out at least another three weeks and possibly as much as five, while Carter is sidelined for at least this weekend. These injuries have led me to seriously reconsider the Devils’ realistic ceiling for this season because of one major problem.
They Devils are so frighteningly shallow up front they’re one injury away from struggling to ice 12 NHL forwards.
Don’t believe me? It’s true. With both Carter and Zubrus on the shelf, both Stefan Matteau and Krys Barch are in the lineup tonight and there is no extra forward. Seriously. Since the Devils continue to carry eight defensemen, Carter is the 13th forward. If any of the top 12 get hurt tonight, either Carter would have to go on injured reserve or one of the defensemen will have to go.
The Devils knew this was an option to start. They knew keeping eight D-men could end up coming back to bite them, but instead of dealing one of them for a depth forward, they’ve decided to tough it out. It’s worked for the most part all season and the Devils have played much better than anyone expected. I personally think they’re one of the three best teams in the East right now along with Pittsburgh and Boston (Side note: Not buying Montreal, yet.). But they are standing on such dangerously thin ice that it terrifies me — and it should scare you, too.
Alexei Ponikarovsky is back in black (and red). The Devils re-acquired the left wing in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a fourth- and a seventh-round pick in the 2013 draft. You may remember the Devils let Ponikarovsky walk in the offseason after he put up seven goals and 20 points in 33 regular-season games last season. He also had a goal and eight assists during the Devils’ run to the Stanley Cup final.
So why bring Ponikarovsky back? You mean besides the gaping hole at left wing on the first and fourth lines? Kidding.
Lamoriello said they wanted to re-sign Ponikarovsky last summer, but were waiting on another player, and Poni signed with WPG.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) February 14, 2013
And then there’s this…
Speaking with DeBoer before the season I mentioned losses of Parise and Sykora, he said not to forget Ponikarovsky. The coach fond of him— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) February 14, 2013
The Devils also announced Dainius Zubrus will need surgery and be sidelined for two to eight weeks, but we’ll get into that in another post. As for this move, it seems pretty obvious the “player” the Devils were waiting on last summer was Zach Parise and Ponikarovsky chose to sign a one-year, $1.8 million deal with Winnipeg instead of waiting for New Jersey. He should help provide solid depth up front, especially with Zubrus out until possibly late April. The Devils have been trying to find someone, anyone to fit in at left wing on the top line alonside Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk and Ponikarovsky did show a nice scoring touch during last season’s limited run. I’d expect him to get at least get a game to audition there, possibly as early as Friday night against Philly.
It also depends on who the Devils send down. It would in no way shock me if it’s Stefan Matteau, who has played better since his contract situation was “resolved,” but remains far from a top-line player. He was mostly playing there because Pete DeBoer was reluctant to break up the incredibly efficient second and third lines for more than a shift or two. The other options are Andrei Loktionov (which would surprise me) and Bobby Butler. I can’t seem them sending Loktionov back to Albany after one optional practice when Lou specifically said the coaches wanted to take a couple days to see what they had. As for Butler, he’s played pretty well since he was called up and seems like a good fit on the fourth line. Plus, Butler is a natural right wing, so he’ll likely stick unless they want to play Jacob Josefson or Matteau on the right side on that fourth line.
Regardless, a lot of moving parts right now in New Jersey.
The Devils recalled Andrei Loktionov after two games with AHL Albany. You may recall the Devils acquired Loktionov from the L.A. Kings in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick last week. Loktionov was called up Wednesday to take the roster spot of the injured Dainius Zubrus, who was placed on injured reserve as deals with an upper-body injury.
Lou Lamoriello said he and the coaches wanted to get a better look at Loktionov, but Pete DeBoer said he could stick around longer than that.
Pete DeBoer said Loktionov is an option for playing Friday because he's here, but they will look at him next two days before deciding that.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) February 13, 2013
Okay, but where does he fit? The Devils have been searching for a left wing on the top line and DeBoer loves versatility.
Loktionov actually said that playing wing was "a huge problem for me."— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) February 13, 2013
The trade for Loktionov made a lot of sense. The compensation was minimal, the talent is definitely there and the overall value makes the deal a no-brainer. But I do have to point out that the center-heavy Devils (the YOUNG center-heavy Devils), added a player who has proven he’s unable to play the wing and just asked out of L.A. because they had no room up the middle for him. So where does that leave Loktionov given the current makeup of the Devils’ roster? He’s obviously not going to unseat Travis Zajac or Adam Henrique and DeBoer has made it clear those two are both centermen. Ryan Carter? Nope, not with the way that line has played since being put together last season. That leaves the fourth line and the current fourth-line center, Jacob Josefson.
We said at the time of the trade would eventually have to fend off Loktionov to keep his spot in the lineup, although Zubrus’ injury has certainly sped up the meaning of “eventually.” Make no mistake, Loktionov is a legit NHL player. After the trade, Hockey’s Future ranked him immediately as the top forward prospect in the Devils’ system. That’s not to say he has a higher ceiling than say, Reid Boucher, but he is probably the most NHL-ready forward they have in the system. So Josefson should be worried. He has had legitimate trouble finishing in the offensive end this season despite multiple chances. Josefson’s biggest asset is his ability to play both ways and kill penalties. Unfortunately, Loktionov is also a two-way centerman that kills penalties and has a bit more offensive skill than Josefson.
So should Josefson be worried? Probably. Is this a convenient way to send a shock to Josefson’s system in the hopes it jump starts him? Perhaps. There’s also the possibility that the Devils like what they see from Loktionov in practice today and tomorrow and move Josefson to left wing on that fourth line with Bobby Butler on the right side for Friday’s game. That would essentially turn Krys Barch into a spare part most nights, which is what enforcers should be these days. Josefson has proven he’s comfortable enough on the wing to give it a shot for a short time while the Devils evaluate Loktionov’s skill set and ability to contribute on an NHL level. The only problem would be when Zubrus is healthy enough to return, the Devils would have a decision to make. Thankfully, the Devils would have options at that point — but that’s another post for another day.
Loktionov is a solid two-way player who can fulfill various roles on the team ranging from a defensive expert on shorthanded units to a playmaker on a power-play unit. He sees the ice well and effectively uses his linemates, creating a number of scoring chances. A couple of more significant improvement areas for Loktionov include his faceoff skills and his scoring ability. Specifically in regards to his scoring ability, while always a danger in the offensive zone, Loktionov prefers to pass rather than shoot and in a shot-filled North American style of hockey a more multi-dimensional game would make him more dangerous and hard to contain.
We’ve talked about the team needing to increase its forward depth and this trade does exactly that, despite Loktionov being sent to Albany for the time being. While he might not be the top-six forward many had hoped the Devils would add, this seems more in line with how Lou Lamoriello has gone about his business this season. Also, the addition of Loktionov gives the Devils someone to legitimately push Jacob Josefson with from inside the organization. Prior to this trade, Josefson’s roster spot was about as secure as he could expect, given the lack of options to replace him. However, Josefson continues to skate primarily on the fourth line despite being given multiple chances on the top units. I wouldn’t be surprised if Loktionov gets the call to the Devils once they decide to send Stefan Matteau back to junior. The fifth-round pick isn’t anything of note, so all in all a very solid trade for the Devils.