A common misconception and narrative regarding the New Jersey Devils during their era of winning three Stanley Cup titles is how the team was strictly a defensive trapping team. Sure they had a system and defensive defensemen like Ken Daneyko and Colin White but they could also move the puck and score.
It’s an element the Devils have been trying to recapture since Scott Niedermayer bolted to Anaheim and Brian Rafalski departed to Detroit. Trying to mold or acquire all-around defensemen with a scoring touch has been a mixed bag for New Jersey. The organization has tried everything from Vladimir Malakhov part II, Paul Martin, Johnny Oduya, Marek Zidlicky, Eric Gelinas, and Adam Larsson.
This season the Devils may have finally found something in the way of offense from the back-end. Damon Severson and Yohann Auvitu are making their presence felt on the New Jersey rush.
Much like another former Kelowna Rockets star defenseman and Devils draft pick Sheldon Souray, Severson has a knack for making things happen at both ends of the rink. Although he isn’t quite as big and doesn’t possess the powerful howitzer of Souray, Severson is rugged and always creating chances.
Damon Severson gets the Hat tonight for his solid Play and as the captain said, "He is playing with attitude" pic.twitter.com/SCWPhWdZIr
— NJD Equipment Staff (@NJDSk8Guy) November 13, 2016
Last season, Severson topped all Devils defensemen with 21 points. During the Calder Cup playoffs with the Albany Devils, Melville, the SASK-native embraced the challenge of big minutes in high-pressure situations, dishing out eight helpers in eleven matches.
In the early going, Severson is carrying over the momentum and boosting New Jersey’s attack. Through 14 games, Severson is first on the squad with nine helpers (including five on the power play) and second with eleven points.
Catching the Captain
Severson’s point totals are making some wonder if he can top legendary Devils defenseman, Scott Stevens. Back in 1993-94, Stevens led all New Jersey scorers with 60 assists and 78 points. If you’re wondering how Stevens missed out on the Norris Trophy that season, Ray Bourque amassed 91 points while winning the award with the Boston Bruins. Although, Stevens did boast an impressive plus-53 rating, compared to the plus-26 of Bourque.
It may be premature to start talking about Severson in the Norris Trophy conversation but it’s this type of play which had folks mentioning Severson in the early race for the Calder Trophy before he injured his ankle during his rookie campaign a few seasons back. Approaching the number which Stevens amassed in the 1993-94 campaign isn’t totally out of the question.
Playing the Rover
In terms of Auvitu, there’s a lot in his game that mirrors Rafalski’s. Undrafted, like Rafalski, Auvitu knows when to jump into the play and when to stay back.
Auvitu isn’t shy about shooting the puck either, ranking second on the club with 34 shots. When it comes to Corsi for percentage (53.8) and relative Corsi for percentage (8.6), Auvitu leads all New Jersey defensemen in both categories.
In his rookie campaign with New Jersey in 1999-00, Rafalski was eighth on the squad with 128 shots. Plus, Rafalski’s plus-21 rating ranked fourth on the team.
Given what the Devils lost on defense, with the departures of Larsson and David Schlemko, coupled with early season question marks, New Jersey has to be thrilled with how this unit is clicking in the early going. Players such as the aforementioned Severson and Auvitu are prime examples of guys stepping up and making plays happen on the Devils attack.
Michael Gwizdala covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers. Michael is also an Associate Producer at WNYT NewsChannel 13. Additionally, Michael was once a Media Relations intern for the AHL Albany River Rats. Michael is a graduate of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.