Early arrivals skate at AmeriHealth Pavilion
|Rolston and 13 others skated Wednesday with goaltenders Yann Danis and Jeff Frazee. VIEW GALLERY
Fourteen players hit the ice, including captain Jamie Langenbrunner, David Clarkson, Andy Greene, Rod Pelley, Brian Rolston and Brendan Shanahan.
Yann Danis, who signed on July 10 as a free agent, and Jeff Frazee were in net.
The return of Jacques Lemaire as head coach could mean new roles for some players heading into 2009-10, including Rolston, who recorded three straight 30-goal seasons under Lemaire in Minnesota.
"It's a fresh start with a coach that I'm familiar with and had my best years under," Rolston said. "I'm excited and I'm looking forward to it."
Rolston's second stint with the Devils was hampered early by an ankle injury that forced him to miss six weeks last season. He called the ankle a "non-issue" on Wednesday. Fully recovered, he wants to regain his formidable scoring touch.
"I want to contribute to the team," he said. "That's the most important thing to me right now. Not necessarily scoring 30 (goals), but I need to get back to that for us to be successful."
He finished with 15 tallies and 32 points in 2008-09 – less than half his average of 32 goals and 67 points in three seasons with the Wild. Rolston returning to form would give the Devils an important offensive boost in the competitive Atlantic Division.
"We'll be in the position where we're going to need the goals," he said. "We're still going to have our top guys doing what they do. I just want to get back to being a consistent player to contribute. To have more goals is going to help, and that's what I'm going to be shooting for."
Rolston was asked if he expected to contend for a spot on the Devils' top line that has featured Langenbrunner at right wing with Zach Parise on the left and Travis Zajac in the middle.
Led by Parise's 45 goals and 94 points, all three players produced career highs last season in goals, assists and points. The Devils jumped to 15th overall in goals per game (2.90) last season from 27th (2.42) the year before.
"I'm not looking to have any competitions," Rolston responded, adding, "Those guys were fantastic for us last year and I truly believe Zach is up there with the biggest names in this League. They're all really good players."
Whatever his assignment in the year ahead, Rolston's confident that Lemaire will find the right one for him.
"Wherever he wants me to play, he's going to put me in the right position to succeed, I believe that," he said.
One thing that will remain the same under Lemaire is the captaincy. The head coach told The Record last month that Langenbrunner will be keeping the 'C'.
"I'm happy that he made that decision," Langenbrunner said Wednesday. "I want to be the captain of this team."
Besides spending time with his family in Minnesota, Langenbrunner's offseason included a trip to Team USA's Olympic orientation camp with Parise and Paul Martin in August.
"It was a good experience for me," said Langenbrunner, who represented the U.S. at the Nagano Olympics in 1998 and again at the World Cup in 2004. "Obviously (there were) a lot of new faces ... They did a nice job of keeping it light where you could get to know some guys."
Players at the camp were treated to a talk from Army Rangers and Navy SEALs which Langenbrunner said, "put everything in perspective. I think we all got a lot out of that."
As one of the older players to receive an invitation, the 34-year-old Langenbrunner's room assignment felt like a fountain of youth.
"I was rooming with (39-year-old Mike) Modano," he said, "so I felt young."
The summer's free agency departures mean the Devils' roster will have a new look when the team opens the regular season at home against Philadelphia on Saturday, Oct. 3.
Shanahan, who re-signed on Aug. 5, sees it as an opportunity.
"I think it's good for all organizations to have job opportunities within for any young player, or any player coming in if they make it in training camp," Shanahan said. "I'm definitely going to miss some of the guys we lost, but I'm not a big fan of how teams look on paper."
Shanahan wore a visor Wednesday, but said he's undecided about whether to keep it on full-time. A high stick near his eye during last year's playoffs was enough to make him at least consider the extra protection, which he believes young players should wear when they enter the League from juniors.
If it was up to his family, he said, he'd put on a full cage: "Sometimes I come home and scare the kids."
The veteran of 21 seasons will sport at least one change this year. After wearing No. 18 last season, Shanahan will return to the No. 14 that he wore from 1996 to 2008 with the Red Wings and Rangers.
"I was having a tough time, when kids would ask me for an autograph, remembering to write in 18," he deadpanned. "And my email address has a 14 in it too, and people were like, 'Why 14?'"
And for those fans that jumped in on a Shanahan 18 jersey last season?
"I'd say it's a collector's item," he said. "It just doubled its value."
Shanahan, who was drafted second overall by New Jersey in 1987, will get a chance to play another game in the jersey he wore for the first four years of his NHL career. The Devils are bringing back their classic red and green uniform for their contest against Pittsburgh on March 17.
Martin Brodeur is the only other current Devil to have worn the club's original colors, which were changed to red and black in 1992-93.
"It's probably a bad sign when you wore the throwback jersey," Shanahan said.
Pandolfo looking ahead
Jay Pandolfo's offseason included the birth of his son, Sam, on July 2.
"That kept me busy, that's for sure," Pandolfo said.
As for the news of Lemaire's return to New Jersey, Pandolfo took it all in stride.
"I've had a lot of coaches here," he said. "Any time you have a new one it's exciting."
He continued: "I'm looking forward to this season."
Things will be different for Pandolfo in 2009-10. His longtime role as a shutdown winger alongside defensive center John Madden had been a key factor in the Devils' past success. Madden, however, signed with Chicago this summer as an unrestricted free agent. They became full-time Devils a season apart – Pandolfo in 1998-99 and Madden a year later. Together, they were a part of the team's Stanley Cup titles in 2000 and 2003.
"It kind of hasn't sunk in yet because training camp hasn't started; the season hasn't started," he said of Madden's departure. "When it starts, it'll definitely be different not having him around. We played together a long time and had a pretty good run together. It was disappointing to see him go, but you kind of get used to it as far the business, where guys move around."
With or without Madden, Pandolfo's defensive talents will position him for similar duties this season.
"I think I'm probably going to be doing a lot of the same things; trying to kill penalties," he said. "I'm not sure who I'll be playing with, so I'm just going to wait and see."