The defense of the New Jersey Devils have had their ups and downs this past regular season. In one sense, it has been far better than their anemic offense. In the other, they have had crucial mental lapses, which has led to leaving Cory Schneider out to dry.
This is the second part of my five-part series. You can find my article from yesterday on New Jersey’s forwards here, and their goaltending, coaching, and future are coming soon. Lets get started.
Out with the Old and in with the New
The Devils blue line has had a major shift in age with captain Bryce Salvador being injured the majority of the season, and Marek Zidlicky being traded at this year’s deadline. Their replacements have come in the form of a revitalized Adam Larsson, and young stud Damon Severson.
Adam Larsson specifically had a fantastic season, especially when New Jersey fired Pete DeBoer before Christmas. With consistently being in the lineup, Larsson’s confidence grew, and he finished the season by leading the Devils defense in scoring with three goals and 24 points. His ice time also got a huge increase as the former fourth overall section played over 25 minutes a game once DeBoer was fired, and the poise he played with was uncanny. His vision is supreme, and if Scott Stevens remains on the Devils coaching staff, I have no doubt Larsson will continue his success into next season.
Devils rookie Damon Severson also had a strong season, and if it wasn’t halved thanks to a left-ankle fracture he might have had a chance to be nominated for the Calder Trophy. Even with only playing 51 games Severson totaled 17 points, which was good for fourth among Devils defensemen.
Lets not forget about Devils mainstay Andy Greene, who has seen the entire Devils defense corps reconfigure around him. The 32-year Old’s play hasn’t dropped though, as he helped solidify himself and Adam Larsson as the team’s top defense pair, and continues to prove that he is one of the most underrated defensemen in the league.
Devils Need to Make a Move
It’s a good problem for the Devils to have, as even though New Jersey has one of the best young defensive prospect pools in the league, they might be able to trade one of them to acquire a scoring forward.
Kessel/Devils rumor interesting, but I don’t buy it. Devils at square 1, must draft young forward to build around (Marner/Crouse/etc).
— Matt Larkin (@THNMattLarkin) April 23, 2015
One of the Devils young defensemen who has been in trade rumors is Eric Gelinas. Gelinas couldn’t consistently find a spot in the lineup because of his average defensive play, and he just doesn’t seem to have a spot in their top six. The reason for that is New Jersey has guys like Mark Fraser and Peter Harrold who are used as 6-7 defensemen, and they also have Jon Merrill, who played on a pair with Damon Severson towards the end of the season.
Speaking of Merrill, he wasn’t included with Larsson and Severson because his season was average. Merrill didn’t seem to have the same impact as in his rookie season, and that could be because of the infamous sophomore slump. However, while his corsi, and overall possession stats were lower than average, I believe he can bounce back next season and be an integral part of their defense corps.
The question then must be asked is what went wrong here? Almost all the blame is on the forwards since they finished 28th in goals-per-game. However, the stretch of the season where Severson was hurt, and Merrill was going through a rough period, was where the defense fell apart. They weren’t consistent throughout the season, and that’s fine for now considering how young they are. New Jersey is going to reach a point though were they will need to trade one of their defensemen. Perhaps they can package one of them, plus their sixth overall selection in the draft for a high-end forward? We’ll have to wait and see.
Overall I was happy with defense this season. They finished 13th in goals against, and it’s better for them to get their inconsistencies out now. I’m sure that guys like Severson, Gelinas, and Merrill will have their share of mistake as we move forward, but there’s no doubt in my mind that this is one of the most promising young defense corps in the league.
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Corey Spina is a New Jersey Devils staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter, @CSpinaTHW.