New Jersey Devils have intriguing group of forwards at junior level

By John Iadevaia

Ryan Kujawinski - New Jersey Devils

Photo: Forward Ryan Kujawinski is one of seven prospects the New Jersey Devils have who are currently playing at the CHL level. (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The New Jersey Devils have eight prospects competing at the junior level this year; three in the WHL, three in the OHL, one in the QMJHL, and one at the high school level. Some of their forwards are big, skilled scorers but have to overcome personal deficiencies. The others are more defensive oriented but have displayed surprising offensive numbers of late.

The Devils have only two different position players in juniors. Damon Severson, one of the organizations best youngsters, is the only defenseman remaining. Likewise, Anthony Brodeur is the only goaltender in the system that is not in the pros.

WHL

Graham Black, C, Swift Current Broncos    
Acquired: 5th round (135th overall) in 2012

In his fourth season with the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL, Black once again is off to a strong start. This is not a surprise as the youngster has developed a tendency to start the year off hot before cooling off. Still, it is encouraging for the Devils management to see the center continue to build upon his offensive numbers. He has tallied 13 goals along with 16 assists and a plus-nine in 23 games.

While his vision and passing skills are good, Black's offense still has room to grow. That is only one part of his overall game. He is also highly regarded for his work away from the puck. He is a strong and persistent skater, who plays all three zones of the ice and does particularly well in a checking role.

Damon Severson, D, Kelowna Rockets
Acquired: 2nd round (60th overall) in 2012

Since being sent down from Devils training camp to juniors, Severson has picked up where he left off with Kelowna. His stellar play on the blue line has the Rockets looking like a contender yet again in the WHL. Other than improving upon his breakout passes and defensive zone play, there is not much more for him to accomplish at this level. The puck-moving defenseman can initiate or join the rush to create scoring chances with speed and execution. Patient with the puck, his heavy shot and awareness on the blue line can open up a defense at even strength.

The Rocket's assistant captain is off to his best scoring season thus far, scoring five goals, 13 assists, with a plus-four rating in 16 games played. His power play numbers though could be better (two points). He is expected to represent the WHL at the 2013 Subway Super Series.

Myles Bell, LW, Kelowna Rockets
Acquired: 6th round (160th overall) in 2013

Along with Severson, Bell was also named an assistant captain for Kelowna in his final year of junior hockey. The Rockets' leading scorer from a year ago, Bell's numbers are more tamed through the early going. Part of that can be contributed to Kelowna's scoring depth. The 20-year-old currently has eight goals, six assists, and a plus-seven rating through 16 games.

What is a good sign thus far is that Bell is picking up on the small plays and niches in his new position. Last season, he was moved from defense to left wing. The move allowed him to become one of the WHL's top scorers last season. His mobility, combined with his mindset to read the defense on the attack, gives him a unique advantage up the ice.

OHL

Ben Johnson, C, Windsor Spitfires
Acquired: 3rd round (90th overall) in 2012

It was a tough 2012-13 campaign for Johnson. His erratic on-ice play, along with an off-ice incident in March, put his hockey prospects in peril. Instead of derailing his career, it may have refocused the youngster. Since training camp, he has provided important secondary scoring for the Windsor Spitfires. His play away from the puck has also been more consistent and responsible. Through 15 games, he has eight goals, six assists, and a plus-three rating.

Part of his early success comes from comprehending his skillset. Johnson is putting his speed to work, quickly pressuring defenseman, creating space, and opening up lanes in the offensive zone. He has re-established his forechecking, showing no fear of delivering the body despite his small stature. His feistiness is also a benefit when he crashes the net for the loose puck. Unfortunately, Johnson tweaked his knee on November 7th in the first period and has been sidelined since.

Ryan Kujawinski, C, Kingston Frontenacs
Acquired: 3rd round (73rd overall) in 2013

Injuries have seemed to affect each of the Devils prospects in the OHL. Kujawinski sat out the final 11 days of October due to a lower body injury. Injuries aside, the big center has been fairly solid this year, posting six goals and four assists through 15 games.

Certainly Kujawinski has room to grow, but he needs to do what makes him successful. It all starts with winning draws, something his pro club could use in the future. With his size and hands, he will drive towards the middle to generate quality scoring chances for himself or teammates. When he is on his game, Kujawinski is difficult to stop. He will need to work on his issues with consistency in juniors, though that is an issue that many young forwards deal with.

Ben Thomson, LW, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 4th round (96th overall) in 2012

Thomson's physical role in Kitchener has come with its pros and cons. Thanks to his size, he is a good puck-handler who is hard to knock off the puck. He can get into the corners to generate the cycle and works well along the boards on both ends. While he is not expected to become a mainstay on offense, he has shown encouraging numbers in the past two seasons, especially considering the bottom-six role he plays.  

Thus far, Thomson has tallied two goals, three assists, a minus-five rating, and 34 penalty minutes. Recently, the Kitchener Rangers have been stricken by the injury bug which has led to their tumble down the standings. Thomson was not immune to this as he suffered an ankle injury on November 3rd's contest against the Mississauga Steelheads. It does not appear to be a severe injury, but he is considered day-to-day.  

QMJHL

Anthony Brodeur, G, Gatineau Olympiques
Acquired: 7th round (208th overall) in 2013

The young Brodeur is currently the back-up goaltender on Gatineau behind starter Robert Steeves. With only those two guardians of the corded cottage, there should be a healthy amount of games for the QMJHL rookie. It is a good situation for Brodeur considering the learning curve from high school to major juniors. Part of his alterations are picking up the speed of the next level, keeping his strong positioning on better shooters that will challenge him, and trying to stay aggressive when the big bodies come crashing down on his crease.

While his statistics can be better, Brodeur has given his team a chance to win. Most of his games have been one goal affairs, though he was pulled on October 18th after allowing three goals on nine shots in the opening period. Through 427:09 minutes, he has surrendered 22 goals. He has a 3.09 goals against average, a .887 save percentage, and a 5-2 record.

US High School

Miles Wood, LW, Nobles and Greenough School (Massachusetts Prep)
Acquired: 4th round (100th overall) in 2013

Wood is in his senior year at Nobles and Greenough. His final season of high school hockey begins on December 2nd. He is expected to join his brother Tyler at Brown University upon graduation. It may be the best decision in terms of physical maturity, as he is slightly built at 6'1 and 160 pounds. He remains a long-term project at this point in his development, but is a very fast skater.  

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