Every hockey season has its ups and downs and every team has to deal with injuries. Sometimes they really affect your team’s place in the standings. You can ask the Pittsburgh Penguins about that one. And sometimes they don’t affect a team so adversely because of organizational depth. Luckily that’s what the Devils have experienced this year. When news came out that Travis Zajac would be out for the first couple of months in the season a lot of Devils fans were upset because he was probably the one player that the Devils couldn’t afford to lose. There was a lack of proven depth at the center position and he was the #1 center. Then in the 3rd week of the season, Jacob Josefson (whom Devils fans were counting on to step up and carry the Zajac workload) breaks his clavicle and is out for 3 months. This left the Devils with Brad Mills as the top natural center on the team. Not necessarily someone with the scoring touch you’d hope.
The Devils decided to call up Adam Henrique from Albany to take the spot of Josefson. Henrique had been sent down as the team felt he wasn’t ready or producing as he should on the team. Out of necessity, they called him up and he’s done nothing except become the leading candidate for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. Playing alongside two of the best scorers in the game with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, Henrique has established himself as the #1 center this year. An added bonus is that he’s very good defensively and on the penalty kill where he has 4 shorthanded goals (tied for the league lead).
It was announced that Travis Zajac had a set back with his recovery and will be shut down for 2 weeks. We won’t be seeing him until after the All-Star break. This opens the door for the now-healthy Jacob Josefson to step up and be the 3rd line center the Devils need right now. Steve Zalewski hasn’t cost the Devils any games but Josefson is just a better player than him.
When the Devils get 100% healthy they will be an very balanced and talented team up front. Especially up the middle which is so crucial. Zajac will probably be the 3rd line center with Clarkson and Tedenby, making that line a big scoring threat given Clarkson’s new-found ability to score goals at will. You can also have Jacob Josefson center a line with Ryan Carter (another injury signing that has been great) and whoever Pete DeBoer wants to put on the other wing to create a quick, talented 4th line. That is a very deep team that can have all 4 lines contribute at any given time. Very important for a long playoff run.
It’s very interesting to see how one man, in Zajac, can balance out an entire team to make it better. But the emergence of Adam Henrique has made that possible. So I offer just a little advice to Devils fans upset about Zajac’s set back today: Be patient. This team will get healthy and when it does, they’ll be much better.