For Devils It’s Next man Up Mentality By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
Quick, somebody call the M.A.S.H. unit. If ever an NHL team was in need of Hawkeye Pierce, Frank Burns and the rest of the crew, it’s the New Jersey Devils.
Heading into their matchup with the Montreal Canadiens the Devils are without the likes of: Jack Hughes; Jimmy Vesey and Nathan Bastian. In addition, Yegor Sharangovich and Miles Wood are playing through bumps and bruises of their own. Oh and did I mention they’ve been without their number one and number two netminders for over two months.
Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier aren’t coming back anytime soon. Hughes is done for the year. Vesey is likely to return at some point during the Devils’ upcoming five-game road trip. Ditto for Bastian.
In their place are two wingers who were recently called up from the Utica Comets: A.J. Greer and Fabian Zetterlund. Each has gotten into a handful of games earlier this season and each has made certain strides in their respective games to warrant being recalled.
“It’s very thrilling,” Greer said. “It’s exciting and I’m just ready to be on the ice and play another game.” Greer’s excitement is genuine and he knows, come game time, that he has a role to fill; one that was normally filled by Bastian.
“Nate brings a lot of physicality,” Greer explained. “Both defensively and offensively, on the forecheck. He’s very good at playing the body and recovering pucks. I think that’s how I always want to play. Whether I’m out there with him or on the bench, I always try to look at what he does and kind of role model my game after him. Now that he’s out of the lineup, I have to just maybe stick up for some guys and I’m ready for that test for sure.”
It certainly sounds like Greer is ready for what awaits him against Montreal. And as he so accurately put it, it’s going to be a test. New Jersey hopes he aces it.
Meanwhile, Zetterlund has had quite the season down in Utica. In 58 AHL games, Zetterlund has 52-points (24-G, 28-A). When he last suited up for the Devils in November he had a small role and didn’t do much of note. Now, he returns to the NHL carrying the confidence that he can get the job done offensively.
“It’s amazing to go out there again,” said Zetterlund. “The first time, I kind of saw how everything goes. This time, I’m actually here, playing my game. They want me to show who I am and what I’m about…I feel more comfortable playing my game and I want to bring that up here.”
Zetterlund should be able to take solace in the fact that Devils Head Coach Lindy Ruff is already planning on giving him a “bigger role. He’s gonna get more responsibility.”
“He’s been good offensively,” Ruff continued. “I think the look he’s going to get now with the amount of players we have out, it’s going to be a lot better look. It’s gonna be a lot different role than he had when he came up (in November). I think he should just embrace the opportunity. I like his speed and the tenacity he plays with.”
Every player in the minor leagues hopes to one day get his chance to show an NHL club what he can do. Zetterlund now has that chance. What he does with it and what happens next is up to him.
Like I said before, “it’s next man up.”