Kukla's Korner Hockey
by David Pavlak on 08/16/11 at 03:02 PM ET
This coming season will be an important one for the Devils. After battling out the second half of the season last year, the Devils still were not able to pull back into playoff contention, and found themselves on the outside looking in. Injuries were a big reason that led the Devils on the slippery slope which they could not endure. If the injury bug comes back to bite the Devils again, then the door opens up for some of the AHL players to try to make an immediate impact upon arrival. Vladimir Zharkov and Alexander Vasyunov were able to accomplish that this past season, and will contend for a starting spot this year.
There are three players though who have a particular style about them that make me think one day they could shine in the Devils organization: Stephen Gionta, Matt Anderson and Maxim Noreau.
All Devils fans are familiar with the last name Gionta. From family genes alone you would imagine that he has a shot somewhere down the line to show what he can really do out there on the ice. He played 12 games with the Devils this past year, and the centerman struggled. Trust me, I see his stats the same way you do. It’s a big goose-egg in the point’s column and was -3 to boot. Not very impressive, I know. However, 12 games is not enough time to showcase what he could possibly do in the big leagues. He was playing third and fourth line minutes, I would be impressed if he registered two points in twelve games. His time in the AHL has shown signs that he could make it, but there are inconsistencies that need to be addressed.
He has accumulated 95 points over 5 AHL seasons, averaging out to 19 points a season. If he adds a consistent presence to his game, he could easily be averaging 25-30 points a year. At 27 years old, he still has a window of opportunity to adjust, but that window is closing soon.
Anderson is another center who seems to be more deserving of a chance to showcase his abilities. In the minors last season, he finished with 55 points in 76 games, scoring 23 times. He has also shown major improvements over his time spent in Albany. Playing for the Chicago Wolves to begin his career, he finished his second season with 31 points. The next year he finished with 45 points and then just finished this year with another increase in stats again.
As his stats increase, the Devils should give him a serious look if they need to call up a center. He offensive games moves fluidly, and is also a credit to have on defense as well. Anderson is 28 now and could very well end his playing days in the minors, though his talent would seemingly be wasted by staying there. If the Devils end up in another hole like last season, there is no harm in trying out a few of the younger guys on the big stage, and Anderson should be first in line.
Noreau is a solid defensive prospect that the Devils may be looking into already. The Devils and the Wild completed a deal that sent him over to the Garden State, and while he remains not completely NHL ready at this moment, he has shown he has the ability to push his game to the next level.
With the Houston Aeros, Noreau finished the 08-09 campaign with 39 points through 77 games played. He followed that year up with a 52 point season through 76 games. He is able to play consistently night in and night out. Now all that he needs to do is tweak his game to become NHL ready. I am not saying he should be dropped right into the top defensive pair unit, but he is receiving praise for his ability to move the puck well, something the Devils have been missing. At 24 years old, he could find himself splitting time between the AHL and the NHL which wouldn’t be bad for him. Hopefully it prepares him both physically and mentally to be able to perform up to par every night in New Jersey.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.
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