POINT PLEASANT — The Devils will need someone to help fill the void left by Travis Zajac’s injury.
With the veteran center expected to miss four-to-six months following surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle suffered in offseason training, the Devils will need at least one other person to fill a role at center and on the roster.
Two players who could step into center roles are Joseph Blandisi and Michael McLeod, but both know what Zajac meant to the lineup.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any replacing Trav. That’s a tough loss,” Blandisi said. “He plays a lot of minutes in all parts of the game, penalty kill, power play. It’s going to have to be a team effort really to carry that load, especially for the younger guys, we’re going to have to step up. Especially for myself, being one of the older younger guys. It’s a lot of weight on my shoulders as well.”
Devils hit the beach (PHOTOS)
Devils hit the beach (PHOTOS)
The Devils hosted their second annual Beach Bash on Saturday in Point Pleasant.
Blandisi played 68 NHL games over the past two seasons with the Devils, and he stayed in the NHL until the end of the regular season following an early February call-up in 2016-17. He has eight goals and 26 points over his two seasons.
While Blandisi has the benefit of NHL experience entering camp, McLeod will enter trying to secure a roster spot as a 19-year-old.
The Devils’ 2016 first-round pick has been preparing throughout the offseason to make a run for the NHL during his second training camp, and in his mind, Zajac’s injury won’t alter his approach.
“Him being out is a huge blow for the team, but it doesn’t really change my mindset,” McLeod said. “I wasn’t going to take his spot or anything. I’m just going into training camp, trying to work as hard as I can and see what happens from there. I’ll go in there with a positive mindset and show the team what I can do.”
The two young forwards will be in competition with Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha and others for time at center, where the Devils also have veterans Adam Henrique, Brian Boyle and Marcus Johansson. Boyle will definitely line up at center, while Henrique and Boyle can both play the wing.
McLeod said during Development Camp he was comfortable playing any position if it meant helping the Devils in the NHL in 2017-18, but he could get a shot at center with Zajac out. The Devils have a loaded center depth chart, and the flexibility of both Blandisi and McLeod to play center or wing adds to their value.
Regardless of how the final roster shakes out, Blandisi said the Devils will be missing a big piece when the puck drops on opening night.
“(Zajac’s) one of those guys the younger guys watch and look up to, even myself,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from Trav, just how he prepares himself day in and day out. He brings the same mindset to the rink everyday and the same effort. He’s such a consistent player, and that’s why Hynes trusts him so much in all aspects of the game.”