The New Jersey Devils have been chugging along since the end of the 2011-12 campaign ended. Most of the roster that fell just short of hoisting the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup will be back, save the ex-facto captain Zach Parise. But, it may be a change behind the bench that proves to be the teams biggest upgrade this off-season.
The “Captain,” three-time Stanley Cup champion and Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens assumes the role of assistant coach next to Pete Deboer behind the bench. Stevens replaces long time assistant Larry Robinson in overseeing the defensive unit. The change is well overdue and welcomed at a time when the Devils are on the verge of building another incredible blueline unit.
On Friday, New Jersey avoided arbitration with defenseman Mark Fayne by inking him to a 2-year, $2.6 million dollar deal. The Devils now have eight NHL defenseman under contract to go along with a slew of young talent already banging at the door. This gives the Devils a unique problem to have and one that affords them several options to ponder.
With Stevens in the mix, it also means a chance for him to shape the youthful flock in his mold, the likes of which the league has been devoid of since his retirement.
Many have outwardly questioned what the Devils next move is going to be. They can’t possibly go to camp with this many defenseman, can they? I say, “Why not?” Given that GM Lou Lamoriello trusts his coaching staff implicitly, I think it makes sense that he would at least give Stevens a chance to identify players he would like to work with long-term. Either players have “it” or they don’t. Let Stevens decide.
Over the last several years the Devils have spun a revolving door on the back end. Stevens brings with him a sense of stability and respect. His fiery intensity and acute understanding of the intricacies of playing defensive hockey make him a valuable teacher for the Devils defensive crop. A defensive crop that has been neglected and covered in weeds for the last several years. He might even be able to find a way to get Anton Volchenkov to pick up his physical play again. Now that would be something, wouldn’t it?
Maybe something a little more like this…..
Plus, Stevens gets time to mentor guys like Fayne, 2011 first-round puck Adam Larsson, 2009 third-round pick Alex Urbom. He will also be instrumental in the development of players such as Damon Severson (2012), Reece Scarlett, (2011), Jon Merrill (2010), Eric Gelinas (2009) and Brandon Burlon (2008).
“We have a lot of good, young defensemen and a lot of size, which I like,” Stevens said. “I definitely like size on defense. They take up a lot of space and make things difficult on the other team’s forwards. So, I like that and just the talent level. I think this is the deepest we’ve been on defense for young, upcoming defensemen in a long time. I don’t think we’ve ever had this kind of depth before. It’s very exciting. You can never have enough defensemen. It’s a position that takes some time to develop. We’re looking to try to get some of these guys to the NHL as quickly as possible to help our team,” Stevens said during the Devils prospect camp last week.
With No. 4 leading the way, the Devils won three Cups, and four conference titles in a span of eight years. To put that in perspective, It took the Devils eight years to make it back to the Finals since his retirement and even then it still took a few miracles just to get past the first round. We may never see New Jersey go on a run like they did in the mid 90’s to the early 2000’s, but the hope is with Stevens’ tutelage and knowledge trickling down through the ranks, the Devils can once again get back in the conversation as the league’s elite clubs.
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