A look at the Albany Devils' forwards
After a pair of on-ice sessions in Albany, the Devils have 16 of their 21 remaining forwards healthy and working toward Saturday’s home opener against Manchester (5:05 p.m.).
Scott Parse, who skated Tuesday, was out Wednesday with a lower-body injury that left him day-to-day. That leaves the Devils with four of their six right wings ready to go Saturday. Two of the centers are down (Kelly Zajac, Steve Zalewski), leaving five healthy, and Jean-Sebastien Berube is the lone injured left wing, leaving seven healthy.
See the full injury report HERE.
That leaves a lot of options for coach Rick Kowalsky, who has been playing with the lines throughout the exhibition schedule to try to find the right combinations. Some of the choices for the opening-night roster are no-brainers, though.
You can be sure to see Calder Trophy finalist Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson, both centers who would be playing with the parent club if there were no lockout.
Right wing Bobby Butler, who was with Ottawa last season and split time between the NHL club and Binghamton the year before, is a sure bet, as are right wings Matt Anderson and Joe Whitney.
Anderson has been among the team’s leaders in his first two seasons with Albany, and Whitney led the team in points last year as a rookie with 15 goals and 29 assists in 72 games.
At left wing, expect Chad Wiseman and Mattias Tedenby to be suiting up. Kowalsky said Tedenby looks to have improved after a couple seasons of struggling to find consistency. Wiseman is always an asset, but had trouble staying healthy last season, playing in just 37 games and recording five goals and 14 assists. In his previous season with Albany, he had 44 points in 48 games (16 goals, 28 assists). If he can stay healthy, he’ll be in the lineup.
“It’s been going well. Ever since we got to training camp, things are going smoothly,” Whitney said. “We’ve got a lot of good players here, so I’m looking forward to the season.”
Last year, Whitney was the leading scorer on a team that had no player jump up and score goals in bunches for very long. The leading goal-scorer was Zalewski with 19, one of seven players with double-digit goals. And Whitney’s 29 assists was a team-high.
It was one of those “different guy every night” type seasons, but Whitney was that guy more than anyone. It’s not something he’ll dwell on, though.
“It’s a new season. Last year is last year. It’s in the back pocket now,” he said. “We’ll move forward. It’s a new year, and we have new guys here. I’ll just do the best I can to help the team win and work hard every day.”
Whether or not he’s the leading scorer again with this lineup doesn’t seem to matter much to him, but even with the deepened talent pool on the team, Whitney expects the same kind of production from himself.
“I always have confidence in myself and believe in myself,” he said. “All through the summer, I have, and my whole life. That won’t change this year with new personnel. There’s a lot of good players here, but I always feel I can go out there and score goals.”
Josefson is certainly one of the the guys who could put up good numbers for Albany as long as he’s here. In his first two seasons, he has been a little unlucky with injuries, logging 69 games with New Jersey (five goals, 14 assists) and 22 with Albany (five goals, 10 assists). So just getting to play while much of the NHL is idle is a plus for the young Swede.
“I want to be on the ice,” he said. “I think this is a great opportunity for me to play, and I’m just looking forward to it. I think it’s good for me to be here. I get to play hockey and be in shape.
“I feel pretty good, actually. I had a good summer, worked hard, put on a few pounds and feel a little bit stronger.”
When Henrique takes the ice Saturday, he will be starting his first season as something other than a rookie. Two seasons ago as a rookie in the AHL, he had 25 goals and 25 assists in 73 games with Albany and got into one game with New Jersey. Last season, of course, he played just three games with Albany (0-1-1) as he was called upon to fill in early in the season for an injured Travis Zajac with New Jersey.
He took advantage of that opportunity with 16 goals and 35 assists in 74 regular-season games, then added five goals and eight assists in 24 postseason games as the Devils made their run to the Stanley Cup finals.
It made for a longer season than usual for the young rising star, which just increased the need for a little time away over the summer.
“You’d rather have a long season than a short one every year, but it makes for a quick summer and a quick turnaround,” Henrique said. “Obviously, this summer, it was a little different because of the lockout and the situation that everybody’s in. So it gave me a few extra weeks in the summer, a little more chance to work out.
“I think the biggest part of the offseason is just getting away from the game, especially when you’ve played that long — getting away from it, not having to think about it every day, not having to get in that zone every single day and be focused. So it’s nice to get away and not have to focus on it, just enjoy the time off. That’s the toughest part of the year, the mental drag. It’s a long season, physically, but mentally, it wears on you.”
In the preseason, Henrique centered LW Harri Pesonen and RW Anderson, a line he felt pretty comfortable with.
“I played with Andy when I was here, so I’m familiar with him,” Henrique said. “Harri is fast, he’s exciting, looks like he can make some plays, shoots the puck. But the combinations could be endless for a while. Hopefully, we get a bunch of lines together and are clicking right away and get things started on the right foot.”
Pesonen is a rookie signed as a free agent in June, having played exclusively in Finland up to this point. If he lands on the Henrique-Anderson line once Saturday comes around, he’ll be in for a treat. But that’s a treat that a lot of guys are in for, as the lockout strengthens the league and deposits a few more talented players on each team.
Anderson said it should be a lot of fun, even if a few of the guys playing down this season aren’t thrilled about it. Though every one of the guys in Albany who were pretty much a lock for a spot in New Jersey have said they’re approaching it as an opportunity and are glad to be playing.
“It’s better for everyone,” Anderson said. “Maybe for some of the guys coming down, they may be a little disheartened, but for guys who have been here for a while, speaking for myself, I’m excited to play with some great players and get some better players. It’s a great opportunity, and it’s all positive.”
Moving from left to right, here’s a look at the forwards on the roster:
Berube has split time the last two seasons between Albany and Trenton of the ECHL. In his 45 games with Albany in that time, he has a goal and eight assists.
Mike Hoeffel had five goals and four assists in 50 games as a rookie with Albany last season. He also had two goals in 10 games at the end of the previous season after finishing his career with the University of Minnesota.
Chris McKelvie has split the last two seasons between the AHL’s Connecticut Whale and Greenville of the ECHL. In 61 AHL games, he has five goals and six assists.
Pesonen played for Jyvaskyla in the Finnish league last year, totaling 21 goals and 14 assists in 60 games.
Tedenby has split time his first two seasons between Albany and New Jersey, totaling nine goals and 19 assists in 101 games with New Jersey. He has nine goals and 16 assists in 47 games with Albany. He’s fast, and when he’s in control of that speed and consistent from game to game, he’ll put up some points.
Wiseman has 21 goals and 42 assists in his 85 games with Albany over the last two seasons. He scored four goals in the span of 9:03 to single-handedly lift Albany to a 5-4 comeback win over Bridgeport on March 9, 2011.
David Wohlberg played six games with Albany at the end of last season after finishing up his collegiate career with Michigan. He had a goal in that stint with the Devils. In his 162 games with the Wolverines, he had 56 goals and 55 assists.
Harry Young is a wildcard, making the change from defenseman to forward. What’s certain is that he’s big — 6-5, 230 pounds — and will scrap. He had 142 penalty minutes in 52 games with Albany two seasons ago. It remains to be seen how quickly he comes around to playing as a forward. See more on Young’s change at the end of the blog entry on the defensemen HERE.
Philip DeSimone had a good rookie year with the Hamilton Bulldogs last season, finishing with 14 goals and 19 assists in 76 games. He, Mike Sislo and Bobby Butler were teammates at the University of New Hampshire and are reunited as Devils this season.
Henrique was pretty much covered in the text above. He’s good and getting better. But additionally, four of his 16 goals with New Jersey last season were shorthanded, so he’s a threat any time he’s on the ice.
Josefson, again, was pretty much covered above, but for those in need of more — I first saw this kid in a training-camp scrimmage before his rookie season, in which he caught my eye with a shorthanded rush and sweet goal against Martin Brodeur. He can be a lot of fun to watch, and hopefully he’ll stay healthy this year and give the fans something to see.
Tim Sestito, from Rome, N.Y., has split time the last three seasons between the Devils NHL and AHL clubs. In 64 games with New Jersey (one of them in the postseason this spring), he has three assists. In 134 games between the Lowell and Albany Devils, he has 32 goals and 35 assists. He led Albany in penalty minutes last season with 127 in 45 games.
Darcy Zajac and younger brother Kelly are both the little brothers of Travis Zajac, creating a Zajac pipeline of sorts for Lou Lamoriello. Darcy was a great faceoff man for Albany last season, and has 12 goals and 21 assists in 106 games with Albany over the last two seasons.
Kelly Zajac played three games here last season after finishing his collegiate career with Union College in nearby Schenectady. In 159 regular-season games with Union, he had 37 goals and 91 assists, leading the ECAC Hockey league in assists his senior season with 34. He was the ECAC Defensive Forward of the Year last year.
Zalewski came over to Albany in a trade two seasons ago from Worcester. In his 31 games with Albany at the end of that season, he had 11 goals and 12 assists. In 69 games here last year, he had 19 goals and 22 assists. He also logged seven games with New Jersey last season.
Anderson led Albany two seasons ago with 55 points (23 goals, 32 assists) in 76 games, the most he had played in his pro career (which started with Chicago in 2007 after he finished his collegiate career with UMass Amherst). He won a Calder Cup with Chicago. In 56 games with Albany last season, he had 10 goals and 21 assists.
Butler played exclusively with Ottawa last season, registering six goals and 10 assists in 56 games, then his contract was bought out and he signed as a free agent with the Devils in August. In 94 games with Ottawa, he has 16 goals and 21 assists. He played 47 games with Binghamton two seasons ago and finished with 22 goals and 11 assists.
Alexandre Carrier played in Austria last year after three seasons in the QMJHL. He had 12 goals and 16 assists in 39 games last year, along with 195 penalty minutes.
Parse has overcome hip problems that kept him sidelined much of his last two seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. He played 14 games the last two years, totaling three goals and three assists with L.A. The previous season, he played 59 games with L.A., compiling 11 goals and 13 assists. He also played 14 games with Manchester that year, booking four goals and 11 assists.
Mike Sislo scored three goals in three exhibition games this fall. He had nine goals and 18 assists last season in 59 games with Albany.
Whitney’s first pro point came as an assist in his one game with Portland at the end of the 2010-11 season after he finished up at Boston College. As a freshman with the Eagles in the 2007-08 season, he led Hockey East with 40 assists. He stands just 5-feet, 6-inches tall, but will go wherever he needs to to get the puck and will work his tail off to be a contributor.
A NEW LOOK
The Devils will change things up a bit, system-wise, heading into the season, and so far all reviews are positive.
“We’re going with a different style, some new systems,” Anderson said. “A lot of it was a little bit of feeling out, but there was definitely a lot more pace in our play and a lot more upbeat. We’re getting more puck possession.”
“There’s a few things in the system that’s new for a couple guys, so it takes some time to get used to those, but it looks very promising,” Josefson said.
“It’s a little bit different. It’s more of a tweak than a change,” Whitney said. “It’s going to take time to learn, but we’re harping on it every day and trying to get as good at it as we can. We’ll continue to work on it throughout the season.”
Installing a new system, or tweaking it, has had an bonus side-effect of bringing the team together a little quicker than usual. As the younger guys are learning, so are the veterans, and Anderson said having that instantly in common up and down the roster has been to the advantage of everyone.
“Everyone’s kind of on a new wavelength, and everyone’s learning at the same time,” he said. “It’s been a little more unique, and there’s a little more bonding with everyone because we’re all kind of new to this. There’s no ‘the old guys already know what we’re doing.’ No one really knows, and we’re learning together.”