Fantasy Preview: New Jersey Devils

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Scott Cullen
9/17/2013 1:36:46 PM
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Losing Ilya Kovalchuk means some changes to the New Jersey Devils' plan of attack, but they were active this summer in their attempts to fill holes.

Top Picks: Patrik Elias, Cory Schneider Even at 37-years-old, LW Patrik Elias can provide comfortable reliability to fantasy owners, even if 36 points in 48 games last season counted as his second-lowest per-game scoring rate of the last decade. Since 2006-2007, Elias has scored 426 points, which ranks 29th and given his role as the Devils' offensive leader (particularly now that Ilya Kovalchuk is gone), Elias is a safe addition as a No. 2 left winger.

There is a lot to like about G Cory Schneider who has a .931 save percentage over the last three seasons, the best in hockey among goalies with at least 75 games played and, by all rights, he deserves a starting job.

Trouble is, the Devils have a future Hall of Famer on the roster and still haven't given the slightest indication that Schneider is the starter. On the contrary, it doesn't sound like Martin Brodeur is prepared to take a backup role and the Devils' loyalty to Brodeur could shape this decision. All of this makes Schneider a risky pickup, but if you believe that he will outplay Brodeur enough to take more starts, then Schneider has the potential to provide value as a Top 10 fantasy goaltender, maybe higher depending on how quickly he takes the lead.

Value Plays: Following a season in which he scored just three goals in 40 games, there is an opportunity to buy low on the value of LW Ryane Clowe. Clowe adds to his value with hits, but his value is further enhanced in leagues with penalty minutes, as he's one of five players to have at least 225 points and 450 penalty minutes. Revel in the value that you get when people write him off because of last year's goal-scoring anomaly when he had a 3.4% shooting percentage, compared to a career mark of 11.2%.

Unlike Clowe, RW Michael Ryder is coming off one of his better seasons. In fact, he's scored 0.76 points per game in back-to-back years, his highest rate since his rookie season (0.78), yet Ryder is a potential value play because he's 33 and while he's a three-time 30-goal scorer, that's happened only once in the last six seasons. As a No. 3 right winger, he should be a capable performer.

Likewise, 41-year-old RW Jaromir Jagr fits in about the same spot. He was productive last year, with 35 points in 45 games, but a playoff drought (no goals, 10 assists in 22 games) helps to sink his public perception. There is opportunity available in New Jersey for Jagr to play and fulfill a scoring role and he can still do it; not like he did at his peak, but good enough to hold down a spot on a fantasy roster.

Sleepers/Breakthrough: It's difficult for the Devils' centres to provide great fantasy value because they aren't the same kind of offensive producers as their wingers and, with centre being such a deep position, that makes Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac effectively sleeper picks, even though they are playing down the middle on the top two lines.

Henrique overachieved offensively as a rookie, in 2011-2012, crashing back to earth last year when he managed five assists (along with 11 goals) in 42 games. If he fits between Clowe and Ryder, that line could score, but maybe not enough for Henrique to be anything more than fantasy depth.

Aside from 2011-2012, when he tore his Achilles tendon, C Travis Zajac has been exceptionally durable, missing a total of two games in his other six seasons, but he also appears to be miles away from the 60-point scorer that he was when he had Zach Parise on his wing. Until he shows that he can produce more offensively, and playing with Elias and Jagr could sure help, Zajac is also a fringe fantasy performer.

Over the last three seasons, G Martin Brodeur has a .905 save percentage -- Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon were the only goaltenders worse with at least 100 games played -- and he's 41, so it's not likely to get better, but if the Devils are insistent that Brodeur is their starter, he could have value.

36-year-old D Marek Zidlicky has an offensive track record, though he hasn't scored as often (27 points in 70 games) in New Jersey and, over the last five seasons, his minsu-52 is fifth-worst among defencemen. Perhaps he'll connect with Elias and Jagr on the power play, but it's also possible you can do better than a 36-year-old with declining offensive numbers.

C Andrei Loktionov has 15 goals and 26 points in 87 career NHL games, including 12 points in 28 games with the Devils last season. He has some offensive promise, but probably needs to secure a spot in the top six to be relevant for fantasy owners. Same goes for Damien Brunner, who had 26 points for the Red Wings last season and is in camp on a tryout.

Rookies: There don't appear to be any prime positions for rookies in the Devils' lineup, but there are a couple that could challenge for time during the season. Stefan Matteau played 17 games for New Jersey last season before he was sent back to the QMJHL, which resulted in a tumultuous time in its own right. He's a big, physical winger, but maybe not offensive enough to generate fantasy interest.

D Jon Merrill didn't have the smoothest path at the University of Michigan, but he had eight points in 12 AHL games at the end of last season. The 21-year-old is big and skilled, and may need more time in the minors, but he could play a significant role for the Devils before long.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Patrick Elias (Photo: Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
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