Over the past several season the New Jersey Devils have seen their share of grizzled veterans sail off into the sunset. Currently the team is in the midst of a major roster overhaul. The average age of the current roster is now just 28 and continues to get younger almost daily. Gone are over priced vets Brian Rolston, Colin White, and the Jay Pandolfo’s of the world. Instead the Devils have opted for a youth movement in search of the clubs fourth Stanley Cup banner.
New Jersey is known for their defensive style of play. It’s no secret they built three Stanley Cup championships around solid positional hockey and stellar goaltending. To this day, that remains the teams guiding philosophy as evidenced by the Devils last three drafts. Of New Jersey’s last 17 draft picks, 11 of them were either a defenseman or goaltender. That includes this past June’s NHL Entry Draft as New Jersey used the fourth overall pick to select defensive phenom Adam Larsson. It was the Devils first top 5 draft pick since Bill Clinton was playing his saxophone and smoking stogies in the oval office. The young Swede is penciled to be the franchise’s next great defenseman. He compliments an abundance of highly gifted defensive talent within the organization.
Offensively, the Devils have a plethora of guys that can fill varying roles within the club. Take a player like Nick Palmieri for example. The 6’2″ 215 lb winger uses his large frame to create space for the offense. He also plays sound defensively and is not afraid to get physical. A characteristic Devils fans have come to know and love from homegrown talent of the past. He is the prototypical New Jersey Devil forward.
New Jersey also have a couple of extremely gifted players up front. Prospects Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson display a bevy of offensive skill. Both appear to have already established themselves as bonafide NHL talents. Josefson even received high marks from former coach and NHL Hall of Famer Jacques Lemaire on a few different occasions. Another player to watch is center Adam Henrique. With the Devils lack of depth up the middle Henrique seems like a good bet to crack the line-up on opening day. His 50 points for the Devils top minor league affiliate was second on the club.
If there had been one glaring weakness within the organization it was the lack of an obvious replacement for Martin Brodeur between the pipes. Brodeur is entering the final year of his current contract and many believe it may be his last season, period. Over the last couple of years the team began to stockpile goaltenders because they knew someday that day would come. Young net minders Maxime Clermont and Scott Wedgewood have potential but are not forecasted to be franchise starters. However, Union College star Keith Kinkaid, whom the Devils signed earlier in the year, has the potential to be the next great goalie to come out of the Devils system. Throw in Jeff Frazee and New Jersey has given themselves a few more options in net.
New head coach Pete DeBoer must figure out in training camp which players are ready and which may need a few more season in the minors to develop. I’ll be curious to see how the open night roster takes shape. While the faces have changed it’s obvious the team concept is very much the same, play for the logo on the front not the name on the back. It will be interesting to see if the players being assembled can bring New Jersey back to the top, a place they called home for a very long time.
Below I’ve included some of the teams type prospects by position.
1. Adam Larsson – D Sweden The 6′ 2″ 197 lb Larsson is rated as the No. 1 European skater by NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, the No. 2 by International Scouting Services, No. 2 by The Hockey News and No. 2 by TSN. To say he is highly regarded is an understatement. The big strong defenseman was considered the best defensemen available in this year’s draft and the most NHL ready from this years solid crop of defenders which also includes Kitchener’s Ryan Murphy and Niagara’s Dougie Hamilton. Larsson will be an instant improvement to the Devils embattled defensive core.
2. Jon Merrill – D Michigan (CCHA) 7-18-25,+11, 42 GP. The number one ranked prospect in the organization, Jon Merrill just finished an outstanding freshman campaign for Michigan. He is still not quite ready to make the jump to the pro’s but already has many in the organization excited by his potential. He has already committed at least another year to school but 19-year-old Merrill has the size and skill to make him a future top pair defenseman for New Jersey but he has yet to fill out his 6’3 201 lb frame. Fans will have to sit tight for a couple of years before they have a chance to see Merrill compete as a pro.
3. Alexander Urbom – D Albany (AHL) 2-21-23,-9, 72 GP – The 6’3 205lb Swedish defenseman Alexander Urbom played eight games with the Devils last season and was impressive in limited action. He is regarded and a shut-down defenseman with some offensive potential. His size and skill give him a good shot at cracking the line-up in the upcoming season. He has the best shot of making an immediate impact on the big club.
4. Brandon Burlon – D Michigan (CCHA) 5-13-18,+14, 38 GP Brandon Burlon has already decided to leave the University of Michigan and turn pro. That’s music to the ears of many Devils fans. Burlon tied his career-best with five goals and set new career-highs with 13 assists and 18 points in 38 games this past season for the Wolverines. The offensively gifted blue-liner is a smooth skater with all the mobility of a top flight power play quarterback. The 21 year-old, second-round pick in 2008, would certainly help address New Jersey’s need on the back end. Even with his penchant towards leading an offensive rush, Burlon can still be a steady reliable defender in his own end. Expect him to see some time in Albany before he’s ready for the NHL.
5. Eric Gelinas – D Saint John (QMJHL) 12-32-44,+15, 62 GP Gelinas is tall and lanky. His 6′ 4″ 190lb frame has not even come close to filling in but when he does expect to see him get time as a mid-level defenseman for the Devils. Even though he recorded 44 points in 62 games, the converted forward is better suited as a defensive defenseman and is less likely to lead the rush up the ice. Gelinas just turned 20 and still has a couple more years of development before he could be of any help to the Devils NHL roster.
1. Jacob Josefson – C New Jersey (NHL) 3-7-10, +6, 28 GP – New Jersey took Josefson with the 20th pick in the 2009 draft and so far it looks like a pick well spent. The 20 year-old already has the New Jersey faithful excited by his apparent limitless upside potential. Devils management is hoping he develops into the two-way center the team has lacked in recent years. Even though Josefson was limited to just 28 NHL games, by splitting time between the big club and the AHL (Albany Devils) which included missing significant time with a hand injury, he still managed to finish his rookie campaign strong. Over his final 20 games the first-year center racked up ten points with a stellar +/- rating (+6
2. Mattias Tedenby – RW New Jersey (NHL) 8-14-22 58 GP -Swedish rookie Tedenby is small but flashy. At 5′ 9″ and 167 lbs the small but speedy left winger is a different type of player than Josefson. Despite his size, the Devils brass thought so highly of Tedenby they used their 24th overall pick in the 2008 entry draft to take the gifted winger. Tedenby has a tremendous offensive upside with hands and feet as quick as lightning and his effortless stick-handling impressed several of the Devils veterans. He is regarded as a natural offensive talent with moves that would leave even a seasoned defender dizzy. At just 21 years of age, he still has some maturing to do physically but his size is not a concern for New Jersey who have seen smaller players like Brian Gionta and Andy Greene excel at a high level. His 22 points (8g 14s) in 58 games led all New Jersey rookies.
3. Adam Henrique – C Albany (AHL) 25-25-50,-3, 73 GP – The Devils are in need of some help up the middle and Albany standout Adam Henrique seems like a natural fit. The gifted two way center just completed a solid 50 point season with New Jersey’s top minor league club. Henrique is the number 6 ranked prospect in the Devils organization. Hockey Futures described him as “having a style of game that will make him fit easily into the organization. He’s a sound two-way center who excels on face-offs and the penalty kill. Henrique has good offensive skills and instincts, but hasn’t really got a chance to showcase them just yet. His intensity wavers from time to time, but that is common for most players his age.” Henrique is a smart player that likes to get his hands dirty, ala Jay Pandolfo. He has shown a certain maturity that you don’t typically find in younger players. He could be a nice fit on third line as early as next season.
4. Mike Hoeffel – LW Minnesota (WCHA) 13-11-24,+8, 35 GP the 22-year-old winger finished four full seasons with the University of Minnesota before briefly joining Albany at the end of the last season. He has decent size and is a strong skater. His high energy fore-check makes him a valuable piece of any hockey team. He is a smart player that lacks a ton of offensive skill but could add valuable minutes as a member of the checking line in the next couple of years.
1. Jeff Frazee – G Albany (AHL) 11-15-3 2.90 GAA, .902 SVPCT, 33 GP Frazee is an athletic goalie that has the quickness and reflexes to make him a dependable netminder in the NHL. He does a good job of staying calm and not getting rattled but injuries have affected his play recently. After putting together a career best 28 wins in 58 games with a goals against average and .920 in the 2008-09 season, Frazee has failed to have another winning season and has yet to play more then 33 games. Now 24, If he remains healthy and New Jersey does not bring back Johan Hedberg or sign another back-up the job should be Frazee’s to lose.
2. Scott Wedgewood – G Plymouth (OHL) 28-18-2 2.99 GAA, .908 SV%, 55 GP A third-round pick last summer, Wedgewood has a solid first seasons as Plymouth’s starting goalie. He is highly regarded and could be the eventual replacement for Martin Brodeur. Wedgewood is still quite young so he still has time to prove himself as the leading candidate to lead the Devils in the future.
3. Keith Kinkaid – G Union (ECAC) 25-10-3 1.99 GAA, .920 SV%, 38 GP The addition of Kinkaid should be no surprise to Devils fans. The organization is looking to stock the system with possible replacements for the aging legend Brodeur. Kinkaid fits the mold of typical Lamoriello types of players. He’s American born, played college hockey and went undrafted. A definite diamond in the rough that the Devils hope will shine up very nicely.Two outstanding college seasons put Kinkaid on NHL scouts radar. At just 21-years of age the Devils have a chance to mold him into a solid NHL goaltender.
4. Maxime Clermont – G Gatineau (QMJHL) 11-10-0 New Jersey recently signed their 6th round (174th overall) in 2010 to a three-year, entry-level contract. Clermont has played the last four seasons with the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques. It’s possible he can return for another season or head to the AHL. The Devils have yet to announce their intentions for Clermont in the upcoming season but I suspect he’ll go back to Gatineau. A solid goaltender with a good glove, Clermont plays an aggressive style and controls rebounds well. He is excellent at covering angles while challenging opposing shooters. It is said at this stage of his development he lacks quickness in the crease and needs to work on tracking the puck, especially through traffic. Despite being French Canadian, Clermont does not appear to be the next Brodeur.
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