By Ryan Jahnke
#18 – Steve Bernier – Winger
2013 Season Stats
Games played: 47
Average Time on ice: 13:45
Points: 15 (8g, 7a)
Season Grade: B
Today marks the player preview of another right winger from the PDB’s crew and a proud member of the clutch line, Steve Bernier. Everyone remembers the story that Bernier wove for the 2012 playoffs along with Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta. Three relative nobodies coming together as the heart of the team just when Devils needed them most to account for 21 of the team’s points. It was a good story; two more wins and one less ridiculous boarding call and it would have been a great one.
This is what drove Bernier last year, coming so close and then being the focal point; the symbol of the crash. Right or wrong, everybody’s hopes for the greatest comeback of all time were dashed when Steve got thrown in for an absurd five minute major. By the way, I still maintain that Bernier did the right thing there; defending Gionta.
Instead of fading away, Bernier arguably put up one of his best performances since his first year in the league. In the shortened season, Bernier was ranked fifth on the team with eight goals, and eighth in total points with 15. He even managed to put up two on the PP, despite limited man advantage time. The minus-7 was the one black spot on what was otherwise a very good statistical year.
But the biggest mark of his improvement last year was his drive and hustle. At 6’2” and 220 lbs., it’s hard to describe a player as scrappy, but time and time again that was the side he showed us. He would dive into the corners and crash the net. Wherever there was a loose puck, Bernier would be there.
A big question for Bernier this year is what will happen to the line of Carter, Gionta, and Bernier. The defections of former top scorers to Russia or Canada and the influx of new talent have left the Devils’ lineup in limbo. We don’t know yet where new forwards Michael Ryder, Ryan Clowe, Rostislav Olesz and Jaromir Jagr will fit in. We can be fairly sure that their introductions into the depth chart will disrupt every line.
Outside of the playoffs, where they can make up the fourth line since there’s no room for an enforcer, it’s hard to see them staying together. Bernier will be moved around between the third and fourth lines initially, but depending on how well he plays and how healthy the team stays, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get some time on the second line as well.
We’ll also have to take a wait and see attitude regarding his ice-time with the special teams. Unlike Carter and Gionta, Bernier isn’t a strong defensive forward, so even in Pete DeBoer’s three-pair PK system he won’t be getting much time on the kill. What time he does get will be with the man advantage. Bernier fills a role that is needed on the power play. He screens, he digs, he keeps the play moving, he finds those loose pucks and sometimes he finds the back of the net. I’m not saying it will be easy. This is a big team with lots of guys who can get in front and ruin a goalie’s day. If Bernier uses his size and mobility to his advantage, he’ll do well and earn himself some extra time out there.
I believe Bernier will have a fairly productive year. It’s likely that playing alongside familiar faces down low, as well as some of the new acquisitions, will greatly benefit a player like Bernier. This should lead him back to the days when he was a significant third line contributor. If he can continue to play with the same tenacity he showed last year, then I see him putting up around 13 goals and nine assists. What’s more impressive is that he’ll do this on reduced time.
The new acquisitions combined with younger players trying to earn their spot has given Coach DeBoer some depth to experiment with. As a result, Bernier will find himself as the odd man out more than once. He’s likely looking at around 60-65 games, possibly over 70 if he stays healthy.
In case you missed them, here are the first six parts of the series: