Devils 2007-08 junior prospects season review

By Jared Ramsden

OHL

Matt Corrente, D – Niagara Ice Dogs
Acquired: 1st round, 30th overall, 2006

All things considered, Corrente had about as good as season as could have been expected with all the game action he missed this season for the Niagara Ice Dogs for a variety of reasons. To start, he missed the first few games of the season still in New Jersey with the Devils after a second straight strong showing in training camp and NHL pre-season games. Upon his return, he missed time with a ligament injury in his wrist, and then re-injured his wrist in a fight that actually resulted in him getting suspended for eight games. And to finish off his injury-plagued regular season, Corrente broke his thumb in mid-January and missed the rest of the regular season. As a result of all those separate incidents, Corrente was only able to suit up in 21 regular season games, scoring two goals and 13 assists, along with posting a +3 rating and 64 PIM’s. He was fully healthy though for the Ice Dogs in the post-season, suiting up in all 10 games the team played, putting up five assists, a +4 rating and 33 PIM’s.

Corrente may not look like the most intimidating figure on the blueline, but is one tough customer who is solidly built at 6’0, 200 lbs. He is not afraid by any stretch to get involved physically, be it by either laying out an opponent with a big body check, or dropping his gloves and fighting. While injuries have somewhat hampered his ability to contribute offensively, he possesses the requisite mobility, skating and puck-moving skills to put up numbers on the scoresheet. He works hard in his own end, and is learning to hone his aggressive nature by playing a more controlled game and picking his spots to ramp up the intensity better.

While the Devils don’t want to rush their top defensive prospect, his strong showings in his only two NHL training camps demonstrate that he may not be that far away from reaching the NHL. And with the Devils likely to have some openings on the blueline next season, there is an outside chance that he could force the Devils’ hand and make the opening night roster. He’s not a top two defender, and likely never will be, but he has the all-around ability to contribute as a rugged, in-your-face second pairing defenseman, comparable in style to Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa.

Nick Palmieri, RW – Erie Otters
Acquired: 3rd round, 79th overall, 2007

After being one of the more pleasant surprises at training camp with New Jersey, Palmieri had a solid 2007-08 season with the OHL’s Erie Otters. Given the fact that he missed a significant chunk of the year due to a bout of mononucleosis and had to endure playing on one of the worst teams in the OHL in Erie, it makes his 28 goals and 18 assists in 50 games all the more impressive. Of his 28 goals, 13 came on the power play. And as is the case for most players playing on below-average teams, he recorded an ugly -30 rating, which is more a reflection of the team than his defensive play. With 122 PIM’s, Palmieri played with a bit of an edge during the season, but those high totals are also the result of the frustration of playing on team that only won 18 of 68 games. With the Otters missing the post-season, Palmieri joined the Devils AHL affiliate in Lowell to finish off his year, scoring one goal in nine games.

Palmieri is blessed with tremendous offensive tools for a 6’2, 215 lb winger. The budding power forward has great hands around the net and is not afraid to unleash his above-average shot off the rush or in the slot. When skating with a full head of steam, he can be very tough to slow down. While not the best playmaker, he at times showed the ability to set up teammates with good passes. Palmieri still has some learning to do at the defensive end of the rink, but that will come as he matures and gains experience as a player.

The Devils are quite high on Palmieri, despite being in the organization for only one full season. He was inked to a contract early on in the year after his strong showing at training camp with the Devils this past fall. He is still a little raw at this stage in his development, but he appears to have all the tools to develop into a 25 to 30-goal power forward in the future. Unless he surprises and makes the Devils out of training camp, he will return to the OHL this fall with Erie, however, a trade to a stronger team would likely be welcomed by Palmieri and the Devils.

Matt Halischuk, RW – Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 4th round, 117th overall, 2007

Halischuk started off the season on a tear, and only a high ankle sprain suffered during mid-season was able to slow him down. He also missed a few games in late December and early January as he was participating in the World Junior Championships, where he scored the game-winning goal in the gold meal game for Team Canada in overtime. In 40 regular season games for one of the top teams in the OHL, the Kitchener Rangers, Halischuk scored at well over a point a game clip, with 13 goals and 46 assists and posted an impressive +17 rating. He has continued his torrid scoring in the post-season for the Rangers, as he currently sits second in scoring behind teammate Justin Azevedo with 11 goals and 12 assists in 12 games. With Kitchener set to host the Memorial Cup this season, those numbers will only continue to increase.

Despite his small stature, Halischuk is perhaps the most well-rounded forward prospect currently in the Devils organization. He has top-notch skating skills, and is equally adept at setting up goals as he is to scoring them. What also sets Halischuk apart from other prospects is his desire, passion and off the charts work ethic. To back that up, in the annual OHL coaches poll, he was ranked as the top player in the in the “hardest worker” category in the Western Conference. On top of that, in that same poll, he was voted as the best penalty killer in the OHL’s Western Conference, evidence of his fantastic hockey smarts and overall defensive awareness.

Not even ranked by Central Scouting last season, the Devils saw something they liked in Halischuk and plucked him in the fourth round of the 2007 NHL draft. The team might have not had huge expectations for him going into this season, but Halischuk has surprised. As he continues to play in the OHL post-season, and eventually the Memorial Cup Tournament, Halischuk will continue to gain more big-game experience, helping prepare him for a transition to the AHL next season. While he is not likely to develop into a top-six forward, his savvy, two-way skills should translate well to the next level and should eventually help him evolve into an effective third line checker and penalty killer in the NHL.

Tony Romano, C – London Knights
Acquired: 6th round, 178th overall, 2007

The expectations for Romano going in the 2007-08 season were ramped up significantly after he chose to leave the NCAA and the Cornell Big Red for the perennial powerhouse London Knights of the OHL. However he got off to a terrible start, and never recovered. He went through some painfully long scoring droughts and was even sat out of games as a healthy scratch on occasion. Off-season shoulder surgery is partly to blame as Romano didn’t get to put in as much off-season conditioning work as he had hoped. In 66 games, he scored 12 goals and 10 assists, had a -8 rating and recorded 40 PIM’s. In four playoff games for the Knights, he scored once.

Romano’s offensive skill and creativity should have translated well to the CHL, especially with the Knights, but that did not transpire. He played well in spurts, but struggled to show any consistency, aside from a stretch in early November and mid January when he pilled up the majority of his 22 regular-season points. Romano has had a reputation as being a one-dimensional player, and the one concern of his move to the OHL from the college ranks in the off-season was that he wouldn’t get the same type of defensive coaching with London that he would have continued to receive had he stayed at Cornell. That wasn’t necessarily the case though, as he showed decent play without the puck. Overall, the effort was there on some nights, but Romano was too inconsistent in all facets of the game and he often shied away from the physical part of the game, again in part due to his off-season shoulder surgery.

There is no doubting that Romano has splendid offensive tools, but he never got comfortable in the OHL, and thus struggled to produce. With his move to the OHL, the Devils now have to sign him before the June 1 signing deadline, instead of being able to let him play a few more seasons in college to mature and round out the rest of this game. The Devils lack of depth down the middle and the fact that he does have such a high skill level, likely means that the Devils will sign Romano, despite his sub-par season. This off year for Romano could just be a blip in the radar, but he will have something to prove next season, assuming that New Jersey gets him under contract.

Brad Snetsinger, LW – Windsor Spitfires
Acquired: Signed as free agent, December 2007

One of the newest members of the organization, signing with the Devils just before Christmas, Snetsinger finished his junior career in fine fashion, despite a quick exit in the first round of the OHL playoffs at the hands of the Sarnia Sting. In his overage season, the Windsor Spitfire forward finished in a tie for 15th in OHL scoring with 37 goals and 52 assists in 68 games. Those totals were good enough to rank second on the team, as were his 89 points, seven points behind team scoring leader and 2008 NHL draft prospect Joshua Bailey. He also tailed 15 power-play goals, good enough for a share of the team lead. Unfortunately for Snetsinger, he only was able to suit up in two post-season games for Windsor after being suspended for three games for cross-checking an opponent in the throat.

Over the course of his junior career, Snetsinger’s numbers increased significantly each season. As evidenced by those numbers, Snetsinger has the ability to put the puck in the back of the net and looks to have the instincts of a natural goal scorer. He was ranked as the third-best penalty killer in the OHL’s Western Conference coaches poll this season, evidence that he also has the requisite two-way skills that are required as a player in the Devils organization. He has good leadership skills as he wore an “A” for the Spitfires all season long and took on even more of a leadership role on the team with the untimely passing of team captain Mickey Renauld late in the regular season.

At 6’2, 187 lbs, Snetsinger will need to put on a few more pounds to withstand the rigors of professional hockey next year, but the Devils may have found themselves a late-blooming prospect that can score goals, and play sound defensive hockey. The Devils have had some success lately with finding quality undrafted free agents such as David Clarkson and Rod Pelley, both of whom advanced through the system fairly quickly and made a mark in New Jersey this year. That is a trend that the team hopes will continue in the near future with Snetsinger.


Michael Swift, C – Niagara Ice Dogs

Acquired: Signed as free agent, April 2008

Tthe Devils recently signed diminutive 5’9, 165 lb Niagara Ice Dog overage center Michael Swift to an NHL contract. Coming off a 38-goal, 52-assist season that placed him firmly among the OHL’s top 10 scorers with 100 points, those numbers earned Swift the OHL overage player of the year award. In 10 playoff games, Swift continued to score at a feverish clip, putting up nine goals and nine assists before Niagara was eliminated in the second round of the OHL’s post-season.

Swift shows great passion and intensity for an undersized player, and is more than willing to play a little rough and get his nose dirty as evidenced by his 130 PIM’s in the regular season. As is the case with the majority of smaller players, Swift has above average speed. He has good vision in the offensive zone and also owns a strong and accurate wrist shot. Swift is also responsible defensively, as evidenced by his +36 rating during the regular season. He back checks hard, and is a very effective penalty killer. In the regular season and playoffs combined, he tailed an impressive seven shorthanded goals.

The Devils were able to get a good read on Swift’s potential while monitoring the progress of Corrente, and thus were likely also able to get a bit of an inside track on signing him before other NHL teams got a chance to. While it’s obvious that Swift will have to bulk up to help overcome his small stature at the next level, the Devils are not very deep at the center ice position in the organization, so he stands a good chance to potentially move through the system quickly if he’s able to adapt well to the pro game in the AHL next season.

QMJHL

Kirill Tulupov, D – Victoriaville Tigres
Acquired: 3rd round, 67th overall, 2006

Tulupov’s move from Chicoutimi to Victoriaville back in November was supposed to give him a fresh start after falling out of favor with the coaching staff in Chicoutimi, but apparently the same problems surfaced in Victoriaville. Tulupov didn’t let it take away from his strong on ice play though, as he quickly became a favorite of the Tigres fans, which can likely be directly linked to his penchant for frequently delivering bone rattling body checks. In 59 games split between Chicoutimi and Victoriaville, Tulupov scored two goals and 13 assists, posted a -4 rating and also collected 76 PIM’s. In five postseason games, he was held scoreless, and posted a -3 rating as the underdog Tigres fell in six games to the Halifax Mooseheads. Tulupov missed one game of the series due a suspension for an open-ice hit on Mooseheads forward Logan McMillian.

In his second full season playing hockey in the QMJHL, Tulupov emerged as one of the most feared body checkers in the league, routinely dishing out devastating ohits, to go along with monstrous takeouts along the boards. The 6’3, 220 lb Russian behemoth picks his spots well, as he does not often stray out of position to deliver a punishing blow to opposing players. He protects the front of the net well, and keeps the crease clear. Aside from his dominant physical traits, Tulupov also shows the ability to rush the puck up the ice and contribute offensively, though it did not show up in his stats this season on an offensively starved Tigres team.

Despite only two seasons in the organization, Tulupov is quickly making a name for himself as a major physical presence and is swiftly moving up the prospect ladder as one of the Devils better defensive prospects. The Devils will need to get him under contract by the beginning of June, and it would be shocking if the club did not sign him. The next challenge for Tulupov will be to take his dominating physical game to the AHL, and continue to improve and refine his defensive zone skills. He’s not likely going to be a guy who plays in the top four at the NHL level, but Tulupov has the ability to evolve into an effective and intimidating bottom pairing defenseman after a few years of AHL seasoning.

Kyell Henegan, LW – Victoriaville Tigres
Acquired: 7th round, 208th overall, 2006

Henegan had an unspectacular season, split between Victoriaville and Moncton. In 46 games on the season, he scored one goal and eight assists. The more important stat for Henegan was his 77 PIM’s, as his future lies in his fists and pugilistic skills. Henegan is a former defenseman who was converted to a winger last season to better utilize his size and physicality. He has yet to sign a contract with the Devils and will need to do so by June 1 or he will become a free agent. Whether he signs or not is still up in the air at this time.

WHL

Ryan Molle, D – Swift Current Broncos
Acquired: 7th round, 207th overall, 2007

Molle quietly had a strong season for the Swift Current Broncos, showing steady improvements in his second full season in the WHL. On a much improved Broncos squad, Molle’s plus/minus rating jumped from a -15 last season all the way up to a +4. In 62 games, he scored two goals and eight assists and racked up 57 PIM’s. In 12 playoff games for Swift Current, he put up two assists and a +5 rating.

Solidly built at 6’2, 190 lbs, Molle was arguably one of the Broncos top defensive defensemen this year, logging major minutes on the penalty kill, and often being on the ice in late in games in which the Broncos were trying to protect a lead. He rarely gets caught out of position and plays a tough, physical game along the walls and in front of the net, keeping the crease clear for his goaltender to have a clear view of the puck. While he will never be confused as an offensive defenseman, he has good mobility and is a strong enough skater that he is able to rush the puck up the ice and distribute it to his teammates effectively.

Molle showed steady improvement with the Broncos this season, and seems to be on a good development curve after being selected late in the 2007 draft. He is strictly a defensive defenseman, and while he likely won’t ever develop into a top four blueliner, he appears capable of evolving into an effective bottom pairing defender who can contribute on the penalty kill. 

BCHL

Corbin McPherson, D – Cowichan Valley Capitals
Acquired: 3rd round, 87th overall, 2007

McPherson slightly improved on his numbers from last season, suiting up in 55 games for Cowichan Valley, scoring three goals and 14 assists and posting 55 PIM’s. Next season, he will move on from the BCHL as he will be playing in the college ranks in the ECAC for the Colgate Red Raiders. At 6’4, 210 lbs, McPherson is an imposing figure on the blueline, but is still raw at this stage in his development. He is far from reaching New Jersey, but will be one to keep an eye on over the course of the next few seasons.