In our second installment of "Devils At The Break", we'll take a look at some of the young players who have stepped in and contributed during the first part of the season. With the plethora of injuries the Devils faced this year, their AHL players showed the talent the team built within their system. None of us can be sure what the young guys will bring in the second part of the season, but their play has, without a doubt, positively impacted the team in the first part of the season.
In training camp, the Devils young defensemen showed they could perform in coach Jacques Lemaire's system. But when injuries occurred on the blue line, Fraser was the one defenseman to stick around.
Fraser was drafted in the third round of the 2005 draft, and up until this season spent considerable time with the Lowell Devils. While in Lowell last season, Fraser played 74 games, leading all defenseman with 14 assists and 17 points.
Fraser received his call up this year on October 19, and set the tone in the Devils first matchup against Pittsburgh. Fraser scored on a shot from the point at 9:50 of the first period, and the Devils won the game, 4-1. Fraser added another goal against Pittsburgh on December 21. For the first part of the season, Fraser recorded two goals and three assists. He also finished +4 for the first half, an impressive number for a young player.
Fraser hasn't seen much ice time, only averaging 12:12 of ice time a night. But the Devils young defenseman has played solid in his time on the ice. Fraser doesn't seem to be out of position often, and he often makes the smart play. While he hasn't become a staple of the defense yet, I think Fraser outplayed veterans such as Mike Mottau several times leading up to the break. It'll be interesting to see whether he receives more playing time once the Olympic break ends.
The now-departed right-winger, who went to Atlanta in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade, showed the offensive talent we'd all heard about for the past few years. He looked to be one of the promising rookies for the Devils this year, but fell out of favor with Lemaire, which led to his departure.
Bergorfs was selected by the Devils in the first round of the 2005 draft, and became a regular in the Devils organization in 2007-2008. It wasn't until last year that Bergfors broke out, scoring 22 goals and collecting 51 points for Lowell. He also recorded 12 power play points with the AHL club.
Bergfors broke camp with the Devils, and he was expected to contribute from the outset. He found success on the powerplay, where he scored tallied 13 total powerplay points - including eight goals. But his offensive success couldn't please his coach. Lemaire constantly berated Bergfors for not playing defensive hockey and taking too long with his shifts. The rookie only averaged 14:53 of ice time with the Devils, and his departure in the Kovalchuk trade came as no surprise.
His offensive talent shining, Bergfors has made an immediate impact for the Thrashers. In five games he's already scored three goals - two game-winners - and recorded four points. Despite his absence, the right-winger contributed to the Devils while he wore the red, white and black sweater.
Another young right-winger, Zharkov was called up after getting off to a hot start for the Lowell Devils. Even though his offensive has slowed with the big club, Zharkov managed to stay around and become a productive member of the Devils.
The Devils selected Zharkov in the third round of the 2006 draft. The Russian-born winger joined the Lowell Devils in 2008, and over parts of two seasons (92 games) recorded 17 goals, 38 assists and 55 points. He also finished the 2008-2009 AHL campaign with a +23 rating.
The Devils right-winger made his NHL debut against the Islanders on November 28. Though he didn't get on the scoresheet, Zharkov put five shots on net and had several scoring chances. The rookie still hasn't scored his first NHL goal, but he's recorded eight assists while playing between the Devils third and fourth line. With some of the games he's played, I would think we'll see him light the lamp in the second part of the season.
What Zharkov lacks in offense, he's made up for with his defensive play. I haven't seen many of the Devils forecheck and play solid defense like Zharkov. The reason he's earned his consistent spot in the lineup comes from his solid play in his own end. He looks to pressure the puck whenever he's on the ice, which is something Lemaire stresses to all of his forwards. Zharkov doesn't play a ton of minutes, averaging 11:35 in ice time a game, but he's made the most of his opportunity. He's also seen some time with the powerplay, showing a little more responsibility for this team.
There have been other AHL players who played for the Devils this year, from Matt Halischuk (20 games) to Rob Davison (1 game). Many of these players contributed, but the three above contributed the most to the team before the Olympic break. With the injuries the Devils sustained this season, the play of Fraser, Bergfors and Zharkov helped to ease the pain of losing some key regulars. While none of them have become "twenty minutes a night" players, they've each given something to the team. Without their solid play, the Devils would have faced an even greater uphill battle in the first part of the season. While some of them may lose time or be sent back down, general manager Lou Lamoriello and Lemaire now know the caliber of players they have waiting in the wings.
Mark Fraser's photo: NewJerseyDevils.com
Niclas Bergfor's photo: Getty Images
Vladmir Zharkov's photo: Jonathan Newton, Washington Post