Devils' Zharkov Could be One to Watch in 2011-12

By Steve Palumbo

The New Jersey Devils are less than three weeks from the start of training camp. This could be one of the most important training camps in recent memory because unlike previous years there are a multitude of spots on the roster up for grabs. One player hoping he can snatch one of those spots is Russian right winger Vladimir Zharkov.

Zharkov, a third round selection of the Devils back in 2006 has played in parts of the last two seasons; he played well enough in the second half of last season to garner consideration as an everyday player. In fact he played in a career high 24 straight games between January and March mostly because of his strong defensive play. While in Lowell/Albany, Zharkov had pretty decent offensive stats, collecting 74 points in 122 games with a plus-28 rating. On the flip side, he’s found the NHL to be a bit of a tougher go, managing just two goals in 78 career NHL games over two seasons, but he’s still a plus-5 over that same span.

In order to better solidify his position on the team, Zharkov has been training with Devils’sniper Ilya Kovalchuk over in Mother Russia. One of the knocks on Zharkov is his lack of finish when given golden scoring opportunities. Let’s hope the time spent with #17 teaches him a thing or two about burying some of those chances especially if he is looking to earn an expanded role on the team.

While nobody expected Zharkov to be more than a third line or checking line type of player, former head coach Jacques Lemaire saw something different. Lemaire teamed “Sharky” with Patrik Elias and Kovalchuk. The line appeared to have pretty decent chemistry and Zharkov played a big role in that. His ability to force turnovers and coupled with solid defensive play gave the line some legitimacy. It wouldn’t be too far fetched to see the trio reunited at least in the pre-season to see if they show the same kind of connection this year. If they do, Zharkov may find himself on one of the top two lines and skyrocketing to stardom.

Is it October yet?

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