To say the Devils injury problems are severe would be an understatement.
Since the preseason, the team lost Bryce Salvador (concussion), Brian Rolston (hernia surgery), Zach Parise (torn meniscus) and Mark Fraser (broken hand). New Jersey also began the season without Anssi Salmela, who tore his ACL during the World Championships this year. In total, the Devils lost a combined 339 games between those five players. It's a shocking number, and one that's certainly contributed to their abysmal start.
With the rash of injuries, the Devils needed to depend on rookies to fill several spots in the roster. The Devils have already used seven rookies this season, and that number could rise throughout the season. Some rookies looked good, others overwhelmed, and others in between. Here is our evaluation of every Devils rookie who took the ice this season, in order of games played.
1. Matt Taormina (15 games, 5 points, +1 rating)
Taormina is the Devils best rookie so far this season. The undrafted forward from Providence College (where Lou Lamoriello first got his start) is in the top ten in points on the team and is tied for second in goals. Taormina stepped up and became the team's best offensive option along the blue line, supplanting Andy Greene from that position. The defenseman earned the trust of coach John MacLean, and now gets regular time on the powerplay.
The rookie defensemen continues to get it done in the defensive zone as well. He's not a Scott Stevens or Ken Daneyko, but Taormina is generally solid in his own end. Sometimes he makes a dumb mistake, as every rookie does, but he's by far made the best impression this season.
2. Olivier Magnan (9 games, 0 points, -2 rating)
Magnan made his debut in Montreal on October 21, and he made his presence known immediately. The rookie threw his body around and looked strong in his own end, drawing rave reviews from Devils color commentator Chico Reesch. Since that game, Magnan continued to earn the trust of MacLean, gaining significant minutes in his following games.
Magnan isn't going to light the lamp or make dazzling offensive rushes. His job is to play physical defense and use the body. Through nine games, he's looked good doing just that. Like Taormina, he's going to make mistakes throughout the course of a game. But his have been limited, and he's outplayed veterans like Henrik Tallinder during his time with New Jersey.
3. Tim Sestito (9 games, 0 points, -1 rating)
Sestito did his job during his time with the Devils, filling in along the fourth line and generally playing around eight minutes a night. He didn't do anything spectacular, but wasn't depended on for his offensive skill. The Devils looked for him to fill space and play well, and he generally gave them what they asked.
As a center, however, Sestito struggled from the faceoff circle. In eight games, Sestito only won 43 percent of his faceoffs (in his ninth game, against the Blackhawks, he didn't record a faceoff attempt). That ineffective play brought down the amount of shifts MacLean could use Sestito, because his faceoff percentages were so weak. In the minors, he'll have to work on that weakness.
4. Alexander Urbom (7 games, 0 points, -3 rating)
I've got to admit, the struggles Urbom underwent through seven games were a bit surprising. The rookie made the team out of training camp, even though he never played North American hockey. As a result, he looked a step too slow on the ice. He never seemed to flash the offensive potential shown during his time with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL last year either.
Urbom needs to get his feet wet in the AHL before anyone can give him a true judgment. The NHL looked too fast for him, and some seasoning should help him learn proper positioning and when to be aggressive. Secretly, I wanted him to score so Doc and Chico could do some type of John Sterling-esque goal call. Maybe it'll come next year.
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5. Matthew Corrente (6 games, 3 points, -1 rating)
Corrente got a taste of the NHL last season, when he played in 12 games, collecting 24 penalty minutes. This season he looked better, and he contributed on the offensive end. But offense will never be Corrente's forte. The young defenseman plays a physical game, and isn't afraid to drop the gloves on the ice. That willingness to fight cost him some games, as he broke his hand in this fight against Ryan Clowe of the San Jose Sharks.
Corrente could be an average to above-average NHL defenseman, but I think he needs to pick his spots better. Sometimes he's too aggressive and too willing to drop the gloves. He's got some offensive potential, and while we all appreciate sticking up for teammates, the blue line needs to contribute points. He'll be back soon from his injury, so we'll get to see - and evaluate - Corrente even further in the next few weeks.
6. Alexander Vasyunov (6 games, 1 point, +1 rating)
Vasyunov is another pleasant surprise for the Devils this season. After recording only one point - an assist - through five games in Albany, the Devils recalled the rookie left-winger. MacLean paired him with Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias, and he seemed to fit right in. Vasyunov assisted on Elias' game-winning goal in Anaheim, but has seen his role diminish since then. After getting over 10 minutes of ice time in his first three games, Vasyunov failed to break that mark in the next three. But he's stuck around, with the Devils continuing to look at what their rookie left-winger can bring to the table.
Vasyunov, like many of the rookies, needs a longer look at the NHL level. Sure, he had a good game with Kovalchuk and Elias, but those guys make others around them better. He's a rookie with plenty of time to prove his worth. In his six games, he's looked solid but unspectacular.
7. Jacob Josefson (4 games, 0 points, -2 rating)
Next to Taormina, Josefson may have been one of the best Devils rookies this season. The center didn't record a point in four games, but that was a lack of luck. After a rough preseason, Josefson seamlessly transitioned into the Devils lineup. He played with the second line, replacing Jason Arnott as the center. But like many Devils, Josefson found himself on injured reserve with a ligament injury.
The Devils had high expectations for Josefson, and I believe he's just beginning to scratch the surface of his talent. Like Sestito, the young Swede needs to improve on his faceoffs. But we've seen some nice passing and solid scoring attempts from the rookie center. I'm excited to see how he returns from this injury and what he can do with an extended stay in the Devils lineup.
8. Tyler Eckford (4 games, 0 points, -1 rating)
Eckford made the second appearance of his career with the Devils this season, after playing in three games last year for New Jersey. His call-up this season hasn't been as memorable. He only received heavy minutes in one of four games (14:04 against Vancouver), but he hasn't done much with his other opportunities. He only played three shifts against the Blackhawks, and was returned to the Albany Devils on November 4.
Eckford has some offensive potential, evidenced by his stellar seasons with the Lowell Devils. He doesn't look quite ready for the NHL, and he needs some more work. Maybe he needs to build confidence in Albany, but he should bring something more to the table in later call-ups.
9. Brad Mills (4 games, 1 point, +1 rating)
Mills made an immediate impression during his four-game stint with the Devils. In only his second game, he dropped the gloves against the Kings. He then scored the game-winning goal in the Devils' 5-3 defeat of the Chicago Blackhawks. But he didn't do enough to stay, as he was sent back down on November 6.
Mills looked good, but there's no way to predict whether or not he'll do well. He's a 27 year-old minor leaguer, and he hasn't stuck with the team so far. His four games showed some promise, but we'll see whether he gets another shot this season.
The Devils rookies performed well so far. They've made mistakes, as every rookie will, but the Devils should be happy about their performance. This is the second straight year where most of the rookies made seamless transitions into the starting lineup, and some have logged important minutes for the Devils. They haven't been stars or once in a generation talents, but most of the players earned their spot in the lineup. Debuting this many rookies isn't the ideal situation for the New Jersey Devils, but the organization has to be excited for the potential talent their minor leagues hold. It's been a mixed result so far, but the Devils rookies looked solid so far.