The New Jersey Devils’ offense is about as top-heavy as they come, so when word surfaced that top center Travis Zajac could miss anywhere between three and six months, the uneasy search for answers began.
Early indications point to Patrik Elias being the temporary first line center (a role he has some experience with), but second line center remains a question mark. If the Devils decide to side with familiarity, they might make Dainius Zubrus their second center. There’s a chance that the team might go with upside and a littler mystery, however, in the form of 2009 first round pick Jacob Josefson.
There are some who believe that the Swedish pivot’s development would be better served playing against weaker competition in a third line role, but Josefson lined up with Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson during training camp on Sunday. Line combinations change enough during the regular season – let alone the earliest practices of the year – so it’s not safe to assume that Josefson will be a fixture on the second line. That being said, the fight to claim that spot ranks as one of the team’s most interesting training camp storylines.
Kovalchuk played most of last season with Zajac as his center. Josefson, who had three goals and seven assists in 28 games as an NHL rookie in 2010-11, knows there is an opportunity there for him.
“Both Kovy and Clarkson are really good players,” he said. “Everybody knows that. I just have to read off of them, so we can we can make some good plays. It’s always fun to play with those kind of players.”
Zajac’s absence has created a sizeable hole for the Devils because he did so many things: top-line center, power play, penalty kill, took pretty much every key faceoff. So, if Josefson, who was drafted 20th overall by the Devils in 2009, is able to take the next step in his development and play significant minutes as a top-six forward and on the power play, that will help the Devils considerably.
“Obviously, he’s one of our key players,” Josefson said of Zajac. “He’s gone now, so that just means that other guys have to step up and play until he’s back. We’re a good team, so everybody has to chip in and play for the team.”
Just one year ago, Josefson was merely fighting for a spot on the team in training camp. Now he’s staring down an opportunity to earn time alongside a $100 million player in Kovalchuk. The Devils traded up in 2009 to make him the 20th pick of that draft, so he’s obviously held in high regard in the franchise. It would be an impressive leap forward if Josefson manages to nail down that second line spot, though.