The rookie blueliner has been one of the most pleasant upstarts in the NHL so far, using his skating and strength to help the Devils defense corps. But was he really a hidden gem, or just overshadowed?
Nashville’s Filip Forsberg has a pretty commanding lead in the race for the Calder Trophy, but he’s not alone in the impressive rookie category. New Jersey defenseman Damon Severson was a second-round pick of the Devils in 2012, but he’s already become a staple on the blueline this season, even if he didn’t have the name recognition of an Aaron Ekblad on his way in.
“Last year, we kept him right until the end of training camp,” said GM Lou Lamoriello. “He has a pro personality and a little bit of ice in his veins. He’s comfortable in his own skin and he can recover from mistakes.”
Now that he is up with the club, he’s putting in a full share of work each game. Severson ranks second among all NHL freshman in ice time per game at 22:45 and the leader – Dallas’ John Klingberg at 23:07 – has played 14 fewer games. In fact, Severson also ranks second amongst all Devils, with only veteran partner Andy Greene logging more time.
“He has the potential and ability to be an all-situation player,” Lamoriello said. “Very similar to Andy Greene.”
So the Devils aren’t hiding Severson and it really doesn’t seem like they need to. He has eight points through 22 games, plays some of the toughest minutes on the team in terms of quality of competition and pushes possession in the right direction: The rookie starts just 40 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, but ends 52 percent of them at the good end of the ice.
Along with his pro mentality, Severson is also blessed with several physical gifts, not the least of which is a 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame. It’s hard to believe he came into the Western League as a longshot, but that’s the truth. In a loaded 2009 WHL bantam draft for blueliners, the first four picks were Derrick Pouliot, Morgan Rielly, Griffin Reinhart and Matt Dumba. Severson wasn’t picked until Round 9, going 192nd overall. And while consistency was an early roadblock, Severson found his way and the Rockets had themselves a gem in the Melville, Saskatchewan-raised kid.
“He’s big, strong and a really good skater,” said Rockets GM and owner Bruce Hamilton. “When you can skate, you can get yourself out of trouble and that’s what he can do.”
Sure, there have been some learning experiences – like getting walked on a particularly awesome Vladimir Tarasenko goal – but otherwise it’s been a great early run for the 20-year-old. With fellow young Devils blueliners Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill (currently on the shelf) all contributing in different ways, the future looks bright for New Jersey’s defense corps, even if the team overall is struggling a little in the present tense.
For a team that has relied on greybeards for the past few seasons, it’s good to see some young legs getting into the action in Newark.