The New Jersey Devils’ opening night roster will include three players that could fit the motto which brides traditionally follow on their wedding days, ‘Something old, something borrowed, something blue.’
On Wednesday the improbable return story of Petr Sykora culminated in the 34-year-old Czech forward signing a 1-year, $650,000 contract with the team in which he won his first Stanley Cup with 11 years ago this past June.
Sykora’s last stint in the NHL came during the 2009-2010 campaign where he spent 12 games playing for the Minnesota Wild. Since then he has played in both the Czech Republic and for the KHL’s Dinamo Minsk. He played a combined 41 games between the two leagues last year, amassing 28 points.
Sykora was given his chance to make the Devils as a last minute training camp invite. Expectations were — for obvious reasons — low for his odds by both the player and coaches. He was a good ten years older than most of the younger core players, yet due to the Achilles’ Tendon injury to Travis Zajac which has sidelined New Jersey’s number-1 center indefinitely, all bets were off for either veterans to walk on or youth to move in.
During the team’s first inter-squad scrimmage, Sykora netted a hat trick on goaltender Johan Hedberg. The feat was met with some reservation as it was against a handful of the greenest prospects in the Devils’ system. A few days later, Sykora was placed on the same line as Zach Parise and former fellow A-Line member, Patrik Elias. Since the match-up was made, the line caught fire and built up a formidable chemistry which the Devils hope will trend right into and through the regular season.
Sykora returns to the Devils for a second stint and will be wearing uniform number 15, a change from the number 17 he wore over the better part of 7 years which now is worn by Ilya Kovalchuk.
The injury to Travis Zajac gave Adam Henrique immense responsibility, and potential, a little ahead of schedule.
Henrique wowed the Devils last year with his performance in training camp, but the team elected to give him more time to further hone his skills with their minor-league affiliate in Albany. This year, Henrique came to camp as an outside favorite to make the team as a potential bottom-6 player. The Zajac injury made his Opening Night roster spot almost his to lose.
After a season in which he amassed 50 points in for the AHL Albany Devils, and played in the NHL Devils’ final game of the season, Henrique will start with the big club and will fight at least the early parts of the season to keep playing time versus Brad Mills and Rod Pelley.
The 6-foot, 196 pound Henrique will hope to maintain his rapid ascension to the Devils roster after only being 1 full season removed from playing for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. He will wear number 14 and potentially play left wing on the same line as 2nd year player Jacob Josefson and veteran David Clarkson.
With the trade of David Steckle to Toronto becoming official as of Tuesday afternoon, the ball is in Henrique’s court as he seeks to not be someone simply borrowed from Albany.
Going into this June’s NHL Entry Draft, nearly every Devils fan salivated over the potential of their abysmal season culminating in the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel in the form of blue-chip prospect Adam Larsson.
Of the top-30 prospects, only two players were consensus picks to providing immediate help to whatever team was able to draft them: #1 overall prospect, and eventual #1 overall selection by Edmonton, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Larsson.
From about February on, nearly every NHL scouting expert had Nugent-Hopkins going first in the Draft while Larsson’s stock fluctuated in the next 3 spots, shuffling with Gabriel Landeskog and Jonathan Huberdeau. The Devils had immediate needs at both the center position as well as on defense, so it was no surprise that their #4 overall pick had potential to be one of the best, and biggest, decisions for the franchise drafting so early for the first time in 20 years.
At the Devils’ Draft Party outside of the Prudential Center, chants of “Adam Larsson” echoed off the buildings and the intermittent rain showers that June afternoon.
Cheers erupted when Colorado selected Landeskog with their pick in the #2 position as it left only Florida to add further insult to the season. The fans rejoiced, however, as Huberdeau was selected by the Panthers, thus allowing the Devils to pick their coveted prospect in Larsson.
Debates began immediately over fan-boards whether or not Larsson should be on the roster, let alone could he, before he had even participated in a full-workout with the rest of his team.
Pieces began to fall quickly into place that further opened the door for Larsson to make or break the NHL team. He first signed for an impressively inexpensive contract for a player as talented and highly regarded, 3-years, $925,000 per season. Then, veteran Colin White was bought out by the team. This opened up two spots in the top-6 to be competed for between Larsson, Matt Taormina, and Mark Fayne.
Fayne, who spent much of the 2010-11 season with the Devils, was an early favorite. Taormina, who was sidelined with a broken ankle, allowing for Fayne to get his shot, was the wild card, and Larsson was an early fan-favorite to make the squad, for obvious reasons.
Fayne’s number was changed to 29 for camp [typically a good sign of making the team for players to earn a number below 30], Taormina was sent to Albany on Tuesday and Larsson, after a very impressive camp for a 19-year-old first year player, was announced as making the Opening Night roster by General Manager Lou Lamoriello.
On Wednesday, his first official practice as a member of the Devils at the NHL level, Larsson wore number 5.
As always, the expectations are high Surrounding the New Jersey Devils. This season, however, the players, management, coaching staff, and fans are all anticipating good things to happen and last season to become just a small blemish on the recent history of the franchise. After a 3-3 preseason, the Devils open up against the Philadelphia Flyers in their quest to start a new play