New faces look to contribute
Some of the new additions are homegrown prospects, but even the new veterans make for a different squad than last year.
Niclas Bergfors, 22, will be getting his second crack at becoming a Devils regular. He made the team out of training camp in 2007, but suffered a shoulder injury in his NHL debut and was eventually returned to Lowell.
Bergfors was called up for eight games last season and used the opportunity to score his first NHL goal. On the heels of his best offensive season in the AHL, Bergfors is chomping at the bit once again.
"Right now, it feels great, of course," Bergfors said. "Compared to two years, I feel I'm more ready and more mature. I feel ready to go right now, and I'm looking forward to it."
In 66 AHL games last season, Bergfors notched 22 goals and 29 assists for 51 points – a 24-point improvement over the year before. The biggest change has been his mindset.
"Just my mentality, and that's a big part of it: confidence," he said. "Going into a season with that feels much better. It's going to be a fun game."
He admitted being happy about his prospects for the year ahead.
"Who wouldn't be?" he said.
Here's a look at some of the other new faces to start the new season:
Yann Danis, 28, will handle the backup duties for Martin Brodeur. Signed as a free agent in July, Danis went 10-17-3 with the Islanders last season, posting a goals-against average of 2.86 and a save percentage of .910.
Mark Fraser, 23, was selected with New Jersey's third pick, 84th overall, in 2005. The 6-3, 220-lb. rearguard has five goals and 39 assists in 228 AHL appearances and got into seven games with New Jersey in 2006-07. Fraser will miss the start of the campaign while recovering from an upper body injury suffered in the preseason.
"These kids have shown that they're ready to play," said head coach Jacques Lemaire.
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, 24, got a taste of the NHL with eight appearances in New Jersey last season. This year he made the big club right out of camp. The bruising left-wing was New Jersey's seventh pick, 216th overall, in 2004. He collected an AHL career-high 216 penalty minutes in 60 games with Lowell last season.
Cory Murphy, 31, signed as a free agent over the summer. The offensive defenseman split 79 games between Florida and Tampa over the last two seasons, accumulating seven goals and 26 assists. Never drafted, Murphy spent five seasons in Finland and one in Switzerland after four years at Colgate (ECAC). He'll be counted on to contribute to the power play.
"He's a smart hockey player, he can move the puck and get away from people," Lemaire said. "He reads the play well, he's a guy you can use on the power play because he can dish the puck to the open man and put the puck in the net when it's time to."
Rob Niedermayer, 34, was acquired as a free agent on Sept. 25 to add size and strength to the center position. The younger brother of former Devils defenseman Scott, Niedermayer is a 15-year veteran who hoisted the Stanley Cup while with Anaheim in 2007. He notched 14 goals and seven assists in 77 appearances with the Ducks last season, while also playing in his 1,000th game.
"He's strong on the puck," said Lemaire. "He's an excellent penalty killer. You can use him on any type of line. You can use him as a checker, and I think he contribute offensively too."
Ilkka Pikkarainen, 28, returns to North America after three seasons in Finland following three with the Devils' AHL affiliate in Albany. Selected with New Jersey's ninth choice, 218th overall, in 2002, the winger scored 24 goals and 13 assists with HIFK Helsinki for a career-high 37 points last season.
Rod Pelley, 25, is back in New Jersey after a successful season in Lowell. Never drafted, Pelley signed as a free agent in 2006 and appeared in a career-high 58 games with New Jersey in 2007-08. After potting 15 goals and 23 assists in 75 games with Lowell last year, Pelley hopes to take another step forward in 2009-10.
Andrew Peters, 29, was signed as a free agent for his imposing physical presence. The 6-4, 240-lb. winger has played five NHL seasons, all with Buffalo. He had 81 penalty minutes in 28 games last year, and has amassed 557 penalty minutes in 200 career appearances.