New Jersey Devils have deep and diverse group at NCAA level

By John Iadevaia

Blake Coleman - New Jersey Devils

Photo: Forward Blake Coleman is wrapping up a breakout junior season with the Miami Redhawks, where he has posted 18 goals and seven assists through 25 games. (courtesy of Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

Under general manager Lou Lamoriello, the New Jersey Devils have always valued players from the NCAA ranks. They currently have a nice balance of forwards and defensemen at the college level, led Boston College freshman Steve Santini

As for European talent, the organization has not had much success developing overseas players for some time. Adam Larsson and Artur Gavrus, selected in the 2011 and 2012 NHL Drafts, respectively, are the last players New Jersey has taken out of Europe.

NCAA

Blake Coleman, C, Miami Redhawks (NCHC)
Drafted 3rd round, 75th overall, 2011

The return of Coleman could not have come any later. His reinsertion to the Redhawks lineup has brought balance across the forward lines. Since his return on February 21st, he has scored eight goals, with four two-goal games, and four tallies coming in a back-to-back weekend with Denver. He is second on the team in goals with 18 and has 25 points on the season.

After struggling to find his role in his underclass years, the gritty, physical forward has found balance to his game. It is becoming apparent that Coleman's game might translate better to the pros than some of his teammates who put up better numbers. Should he keep this up, expect him to become an effective top-nine forward.

Alex Kerfoot, C, Harvard Crimson (ECAC)
Drafted 5th round, 150th overall, 2012

NHL teams do not usually get a full grasp on players selected from high school until they are established at the college ranks. Kerfoot is a good example of this. While his season ended in late February due to an injury, the rookie centerman was overall fun to watch. He played in 25 games and finished with eight goals, which ranks third on the team, and 14 points.

Kerfoot is blessed with natural offensive skill. He showed he is a very good passer, becoming more dangerous when he drove the net with his quickness. With his improved skating, he now has great feet and acceleration, becoming shifty, in that he can turn on a dime. Like many rookies, there are plenty of areas he will need to develop over time. He has to bulk up (currently 5'10, 175 pounds) as it was evident he was knocked off the puck too easily this year.

Blake Pietila, LW/C, Michigan Tech Huskies (WCHA)
Drafted 5th round, 129th overall, 2011

After a dreadful start to the season, Pietila has done a full 180 since the Great Lakes Invitational. Of his 28 points this season, a career high, 19 have come in 2014. It is also no secret that Michigan Tech has started winning more games with their captain playing better. Part of his turnaround has come by shifting from the wing to center. Even though he has not regularly played the position in a while, Pietila has excelled. While he could drift as a winger, he needs to remain active at center, especially down low defensively.

Combined with his solid play away from the puck, the junior has reached a new level in his development. Playing center has also opened up his physical side, as he delivers the body more on the forecheck, allowing him to get additional possession of the puck. As Pietila rounds out his overall game, the last hurdle for him is to become a consistent scorer for a full season.

Derek Rodwell, LW, North Dakota (NCHC)
Drafted 5th round, 144th overall, 2009

There are two arguments you can make with Rodwell. One is that the British Columbia native is just another foot soldier within the Devils limitless pool of bottom-six players that can grind it out. The other is that the future forward could become a useful fourth line player that excels when given ice time. That may include a big hit or fight to energize the team, steady play when the top-six need a rest, or even a timely goal.

In his senior season at North Dakota, Rodwell has enjoyed his finest year, both on the ice and on the stat sheet. Through 27 games played, he has scored five goals, two of them game-winners, and three assists. Scoring is obviously not his forte, but he thrives in puck battles and throwing his body around. He does his job well and his teammates feed off his play.

Steve Santini, D, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
Drafted 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2013

Santini has emerged as one of the best freshmen defensemen in the nation. Since joining Boston College, the Mahopac, New York native has gained more responsibility with the program, eventually rising to the top pair on the Eagles blue line. He is a physical, excellent skating shutdown defenseman with puck-moving skills that make him effective on both ends of the ice. Some areas he can continue to get better at are his discipline when bodying up an opponent and offensive production. Both should develop as he matures over the next three years.

Entering the postseason, Santini will look to bring his early big game experience to the forefront. While Team USA fell short at this year's World Junior Championship, he was one of the few bright spots. Through 31 games played with the Golden Eagles, Santini has 10 points (two goals, eight assists). He currently leads all NCAA defensemen with a plus-27.

Curtis Gedig, D, Ohio State Buckeyes (Big Ten)
Drafted 7th round, 204th overall, 2009

Gedig has grown from a relatively unknown high school player to the captain of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Now he could be weeks away from turning pro. But first, the former seventh-round pick must help his team contend for the Big Ten title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

When watching Gedig perform, it is easy to understand why he is the Buckeyes captain. He leads by example with his lunch pail style of play, winning puck battles in his own end providing good coverage. His shooting and footwork have helped him contribute from the blue line. He has seven assists and nine points, along with eight penalty minutes. A dependable defenseman that plays in every situation, Gedig might work his way into the NHL one day.

Joe Faust, D, Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten)
Drafted 4th round, 114th overall, 2010

Similar to Gedig, Faust is not a flashy player. In fact, it is not unusual to lose track of him on the ice. That is a positive sign for the Minnesota native, who has grown into the role of a shutdown defenseman. After scoring one goal last year, he has chipped in more on offense two goals, 12 assists, and a plus-11 rating. While he plays the body a lot, physicality is not a big part of his game. In fact, he has three minor penalties all season. As his skating has improved, Faust's defense has greatly benefited, allowing him to keep up with players, limiting their time and space.

Europe

Artur Gavrus, LW, Dynamo Minsk (KHL)
Drafted 6th Round, 180th Overall, 2012

Gavrus's rookie season in the KHL has come to a disappointing end. Injuries are once again to blame for hindering the forward's development. He was limited to 30 games with Dynamo Minsk and finished with four points and a minus-11 rating.

Where Gavrus did shine this season was on the international stage as the captain for the Belarus National team in the IIHF U20 division one championships. The country finished second, but the Devils former sixth round pick was named the best forward of the tournament. In five games, he netted five goals and six assists.

Other Notables

Miles Wood, LW, Nobles and Greenough (Massachusetts Prep)
Drafted 4th round, 100th overall, 2013

Wood de-committed from Brown University back in February and was considered the top uncommitted college hockey prospect. The rich got richer as it was Boston College where the Noble and Greenough star would choose. Despite being a junior, he might be looking to accelerate and join Jerry York's number one recruiting class in the fall.

The 6'2, 195 pound forward has taken a large step forward in his development. Using his speed, he will breakthrough any open ice but will move the puck when there is a play to be made. Impressively, his level of creativity has risen, as well as his ability to generate time and space for him and his teammates. His coach, Brian Day, believes he may develop into a dynamic, savvy player who can not only score, but make those around him better.

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