By Dave Turner
If you were to pose a question to Devils fans; Who is the most important player on the team? You’ll get a ton of Martin Brodeurs and a healthy smattering of Ilya Kovalchuks, along with some votes for Patrik Elias.
I’ll give you a new name to add to that list: Ryan Carter. The same person who was almost a complete unknown until his playoff heroics last season.
The same Ryan Carter that scored five goals during last year’s playoff run.
The same Ryan Carter who has two shorthanded assists this year.
The same Ryan Carter who was picked up off of waivers last season from the Florida Panthers.
#20, who has already surpassed his previous season high totals in points with ten (3g, 7a) this year, has become an integral part of the New Jersey Devils.
Is Carter the most talented player on the team? No, but what he brings, is a perfect embodiment of the type of style the Devils want to play. He uses his size and grittiness to work the corners and forecheck hard.
Perhaps the one thing that he does best is that he has the ability to chip the puck in himself and go into the corner and dig the puck out. Skill doesn’t make that happen, it’s will-power, but certainly his size and fearlessness comes into play as well
Chalk it up to coincidence or not, but the Devils suffered their only three-game pointless streak of the season when Carter was out with a concussion.
Though he’s been separated from the line-mates that brought him so much success in the playoffs last year, a lot of that can be attributed to his success this year. The idea of Carter on a line with Travis Zajac and David Clarkson is one that might work well. Teams have been playing Clarkson differently and have played him much tighter in front of the net, so Carter’s skill set, and ability to win pucks might help in the process of freeing up Clarkson for some shots.
With Zajac and Clarkson the two Devils who are currently struggling the most, it’s almost to no surprise that Carter is thrown in there as “the fixer,” with the hopes that his game can jump start the play of the other two players.
The White Bear Lake, Minnesota native is already etched into Devils lore from last year’s postseason run, during which he scored five goals. None was bigger than his late third period tally in game five at Madison Square Garden after the Devils had squandered a three goal lead.
The fact is, if the Devils are going to get back to the playoffs again this year, they will need to get back to their ways of hard forechecking and solid defense.
Even against the Jets a few days ago, the Devils found a lot of success by keeping teams pinned into their own zone. With a player like Ryan Carter, who can consistently win puck battles, he is a very important part of this team, because he allows them to play their game much more efficiently.
Throw in those two short-handed assists and it says a lot. Not only to the fact that he’s creating offense on the penalty kill, but also that he has been killing more and more penalties for this team. Especially with some of the struggles that the penalty kill has had this year, inserting a guy like Carter more on the kill can yield good results.
If this team does manage to make another playoff run, it will be because they are getting contributions from the likes of Carter, Gionta and Bernier, much like they did last year.
Make no mistake though, the guy with the epic mustache, who will forever be etched into the minds of Devils fans from last year’s playoff run, is more than just a one-hit wonder. Ryan Carter is here to stay and he’s playing the best hockey of his career.
The same Ryan Carter who has become one of the most integral parts of the New Jersey Devils.