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In this second DAB Q&A installment, I had the chance to ask a few questions to Matt McCrohan, one of the admins at Devils Army Blog. We covered a few end of the season-related topics about the Devil’s nightmarish season, some of the contributing factors to it, and more pleasant topics like players capable of helping the Devil turn their fortunes around next season, and what he thought about the upcoming playoffs.
One of this abysmal season’s few bright spots was Steve Bernier’s career year (16G 32Pts) after the counterproductive season he previously had. Bernier certainly took advantage of the Devils barrenly talented offense and made a strong case to return next year. If that happens, where could Steve Bernier fit into the potentially restructured offense the Devils could ice this coming October?
Steve Bernier is a guy who has really managed to come along in his Devils career thus far, and I can see him being a staple part of this team making another deep successful playoff run. One of the places he really was able to step up and become a provider was the power play, particularly on the west coast trip back in January when he took the spot of ill Jaromir Jagr. To be able to have a guy with a big body (6’3” 215 pounds) that is willing to position himself in tight on the goalie is something this team has really been missing. Not only does it create better opportunities for Bernier, but for the rest of the power play unit through screening the goalie and allowing for a high rate of tipped pucks, similar to what they were able to accomplish back in the preseason. I can see Bernier being a second line winger next year and getting ample power play time; he was a first round draft pick for a reason and we may be headed towards reaping the rewards of a talented player in the very near future.
Perhaps one of the most disgruntling lineup tendencies that even the succeeding coaching staff inherited from Pete DeBoer and co. was the constant positional shifting between center and left wing with Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique. Like the rest of the team, both players had forgettable seasons, but theirs were magnified on the count of their reliance to produce points. How much could the habitual flip-flopping between center and left wing have factored into their playing performances?
Like most Devils fans, this situation was one that constantly got under my skin. To constantly send your players out with a different mindset game after game is so incredibly detrimental to their overall performance. You don’t want to have a guy worrying about being in the proper positioning and at times feeling uncomfortable in crucial stretches of a game, especially for a younger guy like Adam Henrique. It seemed like just when he was getting comfortable playing alongside Jagr and on the wing position, they would change his line mates and throw him back into the faceoff circle, then back to the wing, etc. In regards to Elias, he has always been a more natural winger in my mind, and a very underrated playmaker in the offensive end. To take these two guys who can have tremendous offensive upside and put them into a more defensive minded position such as center is clearly going to drop off their productivity. Now that it is later in his career I can slightly understand moving a guy like Elias to the center position, especially because he is such a smart and responsible defensive player, but I think Henrique is best suited for the wing on this team. He is one of our better skaters and created countless opportunities simply off his forecheck, and especially on pressuring opposing goaltenders. You want to be able to give him some space along the boards to operate, while also allowing him to feel comfortable attacking the net and knowing that his center will have his back covering any odd man situations.
Reid Boucher, New Jersey’s best forward prospect, is in his second season with the Albany Devils. He made a few brief appearances in the NHL, during which he was tentatively used. A prospect like Boucher needs to be incorporated in the top-six and play more than fourth line minutes to see how he truly performs at the NHL level. If Boucher remains in the team’s plans for next season, how can the Devils reserve a spot for a player like Boucher to take in their top-six, in addition to getting the immediate scoring help they desperately need?
To be as blunt as possible, Boucher needs to be on our roster next season. The amount of equality in talent across the league now is incredible and younger guys are able to step in and become true playmakers and goal scorers almost at an immediate rate, especially at the forward position. A perfect example of how proper ice time can be beneficial is found right in our own organization with a guy like Adam Larsson. For whatever reason, DeBoer never truly felt comfortable giving Larsson a chance over long periods of time, but as the season went on and Larsson was given the chance game in and game out, he has now developed into one of our best and brightest young defenseman that we all thought he was going to be, back when he was drafted 4th overall. Boucher is an extremely talented young forward who has the potential to be a very potent goal scorer and just needs to be given the opportunity. I can see them starting him out on the third line next year, depending on who we acquire in free agency, even though I feel like he should be a second or potential first line type player given our roster. If given the proper amount of ice time, I can see Boucher putting up around 25 goals for us next season which we all know would be greatly appreciated for an offensively deprived team.
There are seven teams in the playoffs that failed to qualify last year (Islanders, Capitals, Senators, Predators, Canucks, Flames, Jets). Which one of these teams is capable of making the deepest playoff run?
Out of these several teams, I feel like the Capitals have the best chance of making a deep playoff run. I was leaning towards the Predators, but having to face Chicago in the opening round and than most likely St. Louis, it’s tough to pick a Western Conference team of this group. The Capitals have put together a very solid season and obviously have the potential to outscore any of the teams they match up against over a 7 game series, and Holtby has had one of the best seasons of his career thus far. He also has some pretty impressive career playoff numbers despite having a losing record, posting a 2.04 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. If the Senators weren’t matched up against the Montreal Canadiens I would have certainly leaned on them harder, but they are my sleeper team to watch out for, and don’t be surprised if the hamburglar continues to dominate games and find a way to send Ottawa to the Eastern Conference Finals.
After all three of their respective teams failed to reach the postseason last year, rookies Filip Forsberg, Mark Stone, and Johnny Gaudreau played integral parts in helping their teams make the playoffs. Which of these players was the most significant to their team’s successful regular season?
Johnny Hockey certainly had the biggest impact on his team’s success out of these three outstanding rookies. While he may not of had the better season statistically, given the team he has around him compared to playing with Nashville or even Ottawa, Johnny had to step in at a very young age and become a leader and the face of that franchise, and he was very successful at doing so. Calgary has a gritty, never say die attitude and the second you start to count them out is when they turn around and hit you the hardest. They are going to be a very tough team to play against in these playoffs, and I see them being able to knock off Vancouver and advance to the second round.
Thanks again to Matt for taking the time to share some of his thoughts on the Devils and upcoming playoffs. Remember to follow our Twitter @DevilsArmyBlog for the latest game and news updates.