Scott Stevens started his NHL career with the Washington Capitals and the St. Louis Blues, but it was with the New Jersey Devils where he made his mark. He served as Devils captain from 1992 through 2003 and won three Stanley Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003. In addition, he represented the Devils at 10 of his 13 NHL All-Star Game.
Stevens was also the first player to have his number retired by the Devils, as his No. 4 was raised to the rafters in February of 2006.
Now, Stevens returns to the team that always appreciated him as an assistant coach. He will join head coach Peter DeBoer and another new assistant, Matt Shaw, for behind the bench for 2012-13.
In a conference call on Tuesday, Stevens, who had been working with the Devils since 2006 as a special assignment coach, said he had talked about the position with his family and felt he was ready for a new challenge. He said that he was itching to get more involved and to get behind the bench and into the game action he misses from his playing days. Furthermore, as a three-time Cup winner, he was ready to “win in a different way.”
“I’ve been away from the game; I’ve kept my foot in the door. I’ve been away for a while,” Stevens said. “It just feels right now. I enjoy what I’ve been doing, but I feel like I’m ready to jump in full-time.”
Stevens is most excited about working with the Devils’ defensive corps, saying, “We have a lot of good young defensemen and a lot of size, which I like…and just the talent level. I think this is the deepest we’ve been on upcoming defensemen for a long time. I don’t think we’ve ever had this type of depth before, so it’s very exciting.”
Like the rest of the Devils organization, he is excited about the continued development of Adam Larsson, the Devils’ first-round pick in the 2011 draft. In his first professional season, Larsson had 18 points and a minus-seven in 65 games, missing time due to injuries and personal reasons. Despite this, he was fifth on the team with 20:37 of ice time and 67 blocked shots, and he also tied seventh for 1:38 of ice time on the power play. His 94 hits were also ranked seventh.
Stevens said that he likes Larsson’s agility, size and puck-handling, but that he wants to work with the young star on consistency.
Stevens points to DeBoer’s more offensively-charged system as something that will be good for the team.
“I think the team got better and better at Pete’s system…there’s no question the guys really brought into it.” Stevens said about the team’s performance this season. He believes DeBoer has the knowledge to keep the Devils on the cutting edge of a game that’s always evolving.
DeBoer’s work showed this year. The Devils were 15th in the NHL with 2.63 goals scored per game, an improvement from 2010-11, when they were last with 2.08 goals scored each game. Larsson was the highest scoring defenseman on the Devils this year, and Stevens feels the coaching staff can get more offense out of the blueliners.
Meanwhile, the team defense remained consistent. The unit was eighth in the NHL with 2.5 goals allowed per game, and they were also eighth in 2011 with 2.52 goals against.
Although Stevens is a New Jersey legend, he still has big shoes to fill behind the bench. Larry Robinson, a coach who has been with the Devils over several seasons, accepted a position as an associate coach with the San Jose Sharks. Robinson was an assistant coach during the Devils’ 1995 and 2003 Cups and a head coach during the 2000 championship season. He was also in charge during the 2000-01 season where the Devils lost to the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Finals. That year, the Devils won the Atlantic Division with a record of 48-19-12-3 record.
Stevens said that he learned a lot from Robinson, such as positioning and how to be patient during the game, as well as playing “the right way.”
“He’s always been a special person for myself and the Devils,” Stevens said. “We wish him the best, we’re going to miss him, but we have to move on and get the job done.”
As a new era in Devils hockey begins, with Robinson on his way to San Jose and 2011-12 team captain Zach Parise joining the Minnesota Wild, Stevens had a message for the Devils fans.
“I look forward to seeing the fans at the games and supporting the Devils like they have in the past. They’re great fans. I look forward to seeing them and hearing them in the upcoming games.”