Like the ending of a popular television series, another season approaches. For the New Jersey Devils, the bulk of their cast returns (minus one primetime star who departed to play a lead role in his old stomping grounds). Experience and chemistry cannot be easily replaced. It is the advantage New Jersey has held over their opponents for a long time. But now, the future is approaching the club. Co-stars Patrick Elias, Dainius Zubrus, Bryce Salvador, and Martin Brodeur will be moving on in the next two to five years. Don’t forget the supporting cast of Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder, Marek Zidlicky, Johan Hedburg and (should he return) Petyr Sykora are getting close to considering their final days in the NHL. This hit series is going to encounter recasting for lead roles. It starts this season.
With left wing Zach Parise heading home, and a lack of depth at center, the Devils have two big holes to fill. Fortunately, there are two candidates that can fill those positions: LW Mattias Tedenby and C Jacob Josefson. You’ve seen the Devils 2008 & 2009 first round picks in cameo roles in the past. They’ve made their presence felt on the ice, yet have lack the consistency to keep them in the line-up game to game. Both Swedish natives, Tedenby and Josefson have faced their own challenges to staple themselves with the big club. In this uncertain time for the forwards corp., it’s time for both players to seize the opportunity.
Two years ago, Tedenby was brought up to play for New Jersey. The 5’10, 175 winger displayed determination and finesse with the puck. Oh, and the fact that he scored some pretty nice goals made the fans smile with glee. Here are the goals he scored in the 2010-2011 season, including a nice one against the Islanders and game winner against Carolina:
Then-head coach Jacques Lemaire had to balance Tedenby’s ice time in the second half of the season. Lemaire threw Tedenby in when the team needed a jolt or a scoring chance. He even got powerplay under Lemaire, netting two tallies during the spring. However, it was apparent that his softness was an issue. Being a rookie and small made him easy for bigger adversaries to knock him off the puck. Lemaire also hesitated to insert him into the line-up due to his flaws in the defensive zone.
His stat line from the 2010-2011 season:
GP G A P +/- PIM PP SH GW S S%
2010-2011 58 8 14 22 3 14 2 0 2 87 9.2
When the 2011-2012 season came around, Peter DeBour became the new head coach, and brought along a new system. Tedenby was given his chance to thrive under DeBoer. Unfortunately, he could not adjust. DeBour’s style required his players to forecheck and attack up the ice, a method you’d imagine would benefit the young Swede. However, his size was a disadvantage in attacking bigger players for the puck. Not to mention his defensive limitations strained him in his team’s own zone. He ice time was cut due to that. Eventually, he was sent down to Albany to finish the season. Here’s his stat line from last year:
2011-2012 GP G A P +/- PIM PP SH GW S S%
New Jersey 43 1 5 6 -15 16 0 0 0 46 2.2
Albany 35 6 14 20 0 22 3 0 - 81 -
This upcoming season could determine Tedenby’s future with the franchise. He is a small, speedy scorer, like Martin St. Louis. He doesn’t have to gain 20 pounds of muscle, but show grit fighting off defenders and be tough along the boards.
What will help Tedenby are his linemates. In 2010-2011, Patrick Elias and Jason Arnott were his primary companions. Last year, it was David Clarkson and Ryan Carter. While Clarkson and Carter have size to create room for Tedenby, their passing and offensive skills were not up to par with Elias or Arnott. The style of play is key here. Clarkson likes to get to the net and scrap down low while Elias can help feed the puck, even in traffic.
DeBour has to show Tedenby he has confidence in the young forward. If Sykora does not return, I’d suggest starting Tedenby with Elias, or even on the top line with Illya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac. Playing with skilled veteran forwards can help him feel comfortable at the pro level. Not to mention give him more space since defenses will be focused on the other threats. It will be his responsibility to show growth and consistency throughout the year.
Tedenby could become the dynamic goal scorer the Devils are lacking outside Kovalchuk at left wing. He could also become Niclas Bergfors: a previous promising prospect that never lived up to expectations, bounced around Atlanta, Florida and Nashville before landing in the KHL. It’s scary because their paths are similar. The people at InLouWeTrust wrote a dissecting piece on the similarities and where both players were at this point in their careers. It’s apparent that Tedenby possesses more skill and is further along in his development than Bergfors was. He’ll have to translate that night in and night out to stay on costume (on the ice making a difference) instead of wearing a suit (in the players suite watching the game).
As for Jacob Josefson, his journey has been different. Being a center on a team in need of centers, he’s had multiple chances to cement his place in the line-up. In truth, he has. The 2009 first round pick has an offensive upside along with his two-way play, and excellent hockey sense. His style of play matches with Kovalchuk. That combination has found results in the past. It’s likely with Parise’s departure that Kovalchuck will stick with Travis Zajac, but should Peter DeBour need to shuffle his lines, his potential 2nd/3rd line center could jump up to play with the team’s number one scorer.
What’s held Josefson back from becoming a fixture on the ice? A plethora of inopportune injuries that have stalled his progression just as he shows signs of growth.
In his rookie season in 2010-2011, he suffered a wrist injury on October 27th. He returned in February after a stint in the AHL, then finished out the regular season with the Devils. Jacques Lemaire praised the center for his two way play and skill in the offensive zone. Josefson was expected to make the team out of training camp. However, he fractured his clavicle in October, forcing him to the IR again (though it allowed Adam Henrique to take his place. The rest is history).
He returned in January 2012 and picked up where he left off from last spring. Near the end of the season, he was becoming the center that his teammates and coaches expected him to be. But on April 3rd, he received a fractured wrist and was sidelined 4-6 weeks. It was another unfortunate setback for Josefson. Fortunately he was able to return for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals and remain with the team for the rest of the playoffs.
His solution is simple: stay healthy. It’s unfortunate though because the Hockey Gods have cursed Josefson with one random injury after the other. It’s like Josefson hurts himself doing his own stunts and is written off for a time till he recovers.
The Devils are patient and careful to use him. He’s young, skilled and proven himself in the short phases he’s been healthy enough to play. You have to hope that these injuries don’t become a recurrence year after year. New Jersey can’t afford to lose a center given their lack of depth down the middle.
Josefson can play on the second line, but will most likely be on the third line to start the year behind Zajac and Henrique. His possible linemates are David Clarkson, Steve Bernier, Stephen Gionta, Bobby Butler, Krys Barch, and Mattias Tedenby. What he’s shown is the ability to blend in with the bottom six forwards and top six when he’s called upon.
Both Swedes have shown promise in the past, yet struggled through their own obstacles. Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson are going to be given multiple chances to make the big club. Peter DeBour and Lou Lamoriello value these players as possible solutions to their biggest holes coming into this season. It will come down to their ability to create positive results for the team on the ice. Tedenby could become a 20 goal scorer, or close to it. Josefson has the ability to reach 30 assists, though it will depend on his partners.
They are options amongst many players that will be fighting for a spot come training camp. For the Devils, they might be the best two available battling for those open spots come the fall.
About the Author: Sports Reporter by day, puck stopper between the pipes at night. I was the Locker Room Reporter for the Islanders for WRHU-FM. Currently, I cover the New Jersey Devils on HockeyIndependent.com and Metro Area Hockey on BrooklynFans.com Follow me on Twitter @John_A_Iadevaia