There are five new faces among the Devils top 20 prospects. Four are from the 2008 draft class and the other was a free-agent signing over the summer. Due to that infusion of talent, many of the players who were already in the system fell a few spots in the rankings.
What the Devils lack in quality, they make up for in quantity. Recent first-round draft pick Mattias Tedenby is the only player among the top 20 to have a grade higher than 7.0, with a 7.5 C, but on the flip side, no prospect in the top 20 has a grade lower then 6.0, showing that there is very little seperation overall in this group. It is a fairly deep group, just not a group that is budding with potential first line forwards, top pairing defensemen and future starting goaltenders.
Top 20 at a glance
1. Nicklas Bergfors, RW
2. Mattias Tedenby, LW
3. Matt Corrente, D
4. Petr Vrana, C
5. Nick Palmieri, RW
6. Alexander Vasyunov, LW
7. Matt Halischuk, RW
8. Brandon Burlon, D
9. Patrice Cormier, C
10. T.J. Miller, D
11. Mark Fraser, D
12. Tyler Eckford, D
13. Mike Hoeffel, LW
14. Mark Fayne, D
15. Nathan Perkovich, RW
16. Brad Snetsinger, LW
17. Vladimir Zharkov, RW
18. Anssi Salmela, D
19. Jeff Frazee, G
20. Adam Henrique C
Key: Rank (rank change), name, position, (Grade), age, projected 2008-09 team
1. (–) Nicklas Bergfors, RW, (7.0 B), 21, New Jersey/Lowell
Acquired: 1st round, 23rd overall, 2005 NHL Draft
Bergfors retains his status as the top prospect in the organization by a slim margin. Injuries to both of his shoulders in the first half of the season put him behind the eight ball and as a result, his statistics were not eye-catching. However, he did make the Devils opening night roster in 2007, and had he not been hurt after his first NHL game, he might have stuck with the big club all season long. It’s hard to remember that Bergfors is only 21, and already has three professional seasons of hockey under his belt. Though the Devils don’t appear to have many openings up front, expect Bergfors to push hard for a roster spot this fall. He has the skill to eventually turn into an effective top-six forward at the NHL level.
Acquired: 1st round, 25th overall, 2008 NHL Draft
Bergfors now has some competition for the most talented prospect in the system with the addition of the Tedenby at the 2008 draft this past June. Tedenby’s combination of skill, speed and offensive tools had scouts drooling, but his size appeared to cause some teams to shy away from drafting him. The Devils system was in dire need of an injection of talent up front and Tedenby definitely fits the bill. He will need to spend another season or two in Sweden before coming to North America, but the Devils no doubt have plans to pencil him into their top six group of forwards in the not too distant future.
Acquired: 1st round, 30th overall, 2006 NHL Draft
Corrente’s status as the top defense prospect in the system hasn’t changed, and he was just barely edged out for the second spot on the list by Tedenby. Despite missing more than half of his last season in the OHL for a multitude of reasons, Corrente’s development is right about where the Devils had hoped it would be when he turned pro. His combination of mobility, puck-moving ability and toughness give him a unique set of skills that should help make his eventual tranisition to the NHL a relatively smooth one. He might need a bit of seasoning in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL full time, but if the last two training camps are any indication, Corrente will put forth a strong challenge to make the Devils opening night roster despite the depth the team has on the blueline.
4. (-1) Petr Vrana, C, (6.5 B), 23, New Jersey/Lowell
Acquired: 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2003 NHL Draft
Vrana finally was able to take that much anticipated next step forward in his development this past year as he broke out offensively in his third professional season of hockey. He was by far and away the most consistent preformer on a below average Lowell team. While not spectacular in any one area, he brings a lot to the table, including intangiables such as versatility, work ethic and leadership. Most importantly for the Devils, he is highly effective at both ends of the rink. Just like fellow prospect AHL level, and he might end up even being better at the NHL level, playing with more talented and skilled players., there doesn’t appear to be much room on the roster for Vrana, but again like Bergfors, he should make a big push to make the team this year. Vrana really doesn’t have much left to prove at the
Acquired: 3rd round, 79th overall, 2007 NHL Draft
One of the more intriuging prospects in the Devils organization, Palmieri has flown under the radar somewhat due to the fact that he spent last season with one of the worst teams in the OHL. However, the power forward in making has an excellent skill set for a big man, and knows how to put the puck in the back of the net. Power forward types like Palmieri are often much harder to project, but at this point, it appears that Palmieri’s development is on the right track, and actually might even be a little ahead of schedule at this point. The Devils already have Palmieri under contract, and after a strong showing at Team USA’s World Junior Evaluation Camp in August, he appears primed for another strong season. His stock could rise.
Acquired: 2nd round, 58th overall, 2006 NHL Draft
If Vasyunov had signed with the Devils over the summer, it’s possible that he might have been ranked higher, because it could be argued that he has the most overall skill of any prospect in the system, even more than Bergfors and Tedenby. But until he makes a commitment to come over to North America, his ranking will likely remain fairly static, unless he makes absolutely huge strides this season. He’s a one-dimensional player at this point, and will likely not ever develop much of a two-way game. But his one dimension, offense, is hard to ignore, especially in a Devils system that lack players of Vasyunov’s ilk. It’s just hard to know at this point whether or not he really wants to play pro hockey in North America.
Acquired: 4th round, 117th overall, 2007 NHL Draft
Halischuk jumped up a whopping seven places in the rankings this time around and deservedly so after the absolutely fantastic 2007-08 season he had with Kitchener (OHL). For a guy who wasn’t even ranked by Central Scouting Services in his draft year, and for a guy who at this point last season didn’t even make the top 20, he has come a long way in a very short period of time. Halischuk is the prototype Devils player — gritty, hard-working, and equally effective at both ends of the ice. While probably not the most naturally gifted player in the system, Halishcuk’s combination of overall skill and intangibles has him on the cusp of emerging into a legitimate third liner in New Jersey in the not too distant future. He’ll likely need a full season in the minors this season before making the jump permanently, but it probably wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get into a game or two in New Jersey at some point this year.
Acquired: 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2008 NHL Draft
The Devils second-round selection at the 2008 NHL draft makes a splashy debut all the way up in eighth spot. A lot of weight in Burlon’s ranking is based on the fact that his overall upside is through the roof, and when you combine that with the tools that he already has, it’s scary to think about how good he might get once he gets more experience and fills out his frame. Burlon is a multi-purpose defenseman, but his skating and offensive skills are what really sets him apart from other defense prospects in the organization. Set to play at the University of Michigan this fall, he’s probably at least three collegiate seasons away from turning pro, but he is only going to get better and better and his skill set is tailor made for the up-tempo style of play in the NHL. This will quite possibly be the lowest that Burlon will ever be ranked in the top 20.
Acquired: 2nd round, 54th overall, 2008 NHL Draft
Cormier was just barely edged out by Burlon for eighth spot on the list. They are both very comparable in terms of overall upside, and there is not much seperating the two. Had he not spent the majority of last season on the injured list, he may have been drafted much higher than when the Devils drafted him this past June. As a result, the Devils may have gotten themselves a steal. Cormier is a well-rounded forward who plays with a bit of a nasty edge to his game. He was highly touted before even reaching the QMJHL, so that alone tells you that he still has a lot to offer and the best might still be yet to come. If he can stay healthy, he could be poised for a big year with the Memorial Cup host team in Rimouski and he has the potential to rocket up the rankings next time around.
Acquired: 4th round, 176th overall, 2006 NHL Draft
There are a handful of defensemen in New Jersey’s system ranked in the 6.5 B to 6.0 C range, so the seperation between that group is small. Each has a unqiue skill set, but the player who appears to have the most overall upside and be the most well-rounded defender of the group is Miller. Though his numbers last season don’t appear to be all that exciting, don’t be fooled, as he worked dilligently on his defensive zone play last season, and as a result, he made tremendous strides in his overall development. Combine his improved defense with his mobility, size and puck skills, and you have a defenseman who is on the way up and is only going to get better. Going into his third sesaon at Northern Michigan, Miller should be poised to have his best all-around season to date. He might be ready to turn pro at the commencement of his junior season.
Acquired: 3rd round, 84th overall, 2005 NHL Draft
Fraser’s drop in the rankings isn’t a slight against the season he just had. In fact, if not for the addition of three new prospects ahead of him, he would have remained exactly where he was last time the prospects were re-ranked, in eighth place. Fraser is not a flashy, offensively gifted type of defenseman, but what he does provide is sound and steady defensive presence in his own end, while also showing a willingness to play a physical brand of hockey and stand up for his teammates. He now has two full AHL seasons under his belt and probably does not need much more time there. However, he will likely at least have start the season there due to the Devils blueline depth at the NHL level. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him get into the line-up for a handful of games at some point over the course of the season though.
Acquired: 7th round, 217th overall, 2004 NHL Draft
After a tremendous junior season with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, a season in which he led all NCAA defensemen in scoring, one might have expected a large jump up the prospect totem pole for the big, offensively talented blueliner. But his place in the rankings actually remains static for the time being. The reason Miller gets a very slight nod over Eckford is that he’s a more complete blueliner, and has a touch more upside. His defensive play did improve dramatically over the course of his collegiate career and will receive another test with the step up in competition this year. Eckford’s transition to the pro game this season will play a major role in determining if he will ascend up the prospect ladder. He’s likely going to need at least one full season in the minors before challenging for an NHL job, but if he adjusts to the pro game quickly, he could get a cup of coffee in New Jersey as early as this season.
Acquired: 2nd round, 57th overall, 2007 NHL Draft
Hoeffel continues to make his way up the rankings, this time moving up two places, after moving up five spots last time around. Coming off an ACL tear and going into his sophmore season at the University of Minnesota, it was hard to really project what type of season Hoeffel would have in 2007-08. But he had an impressive first season with the Golden Gophers, leading the team in rookie scoring and progressively getting better as the season wore on. His two-way skills and size make him an intriuging power forward type of player. While there is an outside chance he could turn into a 20-25 goal scorer, it’s more conceiveable at this point in his development that he’ll max out as a third line grinder who chips in with 10-15 goals a season — a prototype Devils forward.
Acquired: 5th round, 155th overall, 2005 NHL Draft
Fayne is the last of the cluster of defensemen ranked in the 10-15 range who aren’t seperated by much. He had a very comparable season to Milller, both numbers wise, and in the fact that they both improved tremendously in terms of their play in the defensive zone. But Miller’s foot speed and the fact he has slightly more offensive potential gave him a slight edge over Fayne. Fayne’s skating did improve significantly though this season, as did his physical play, which is very important considering the imposing size he possesses. He’s a well-rounded blueliner, with a slight slant towards a more defensive style, but this could be the season that he starts to show some of the untapped offensive potential he has hiding away. Again like Miller, Fayne’s junior year could be a season in which he breaks out.
Acquired: 8th round, 250th overall, 2004 NHL Draft
Perkovich took a bit of a tumble down the rankings, but like many other prospects on this list, his tumble was mostly caused by the addition of new faces to the system. Playing at a lesser known hockey program at Lake Superior State has kept Perkovich in the shadows to some extent, but the fact remains that he knows how to put the puck in the net, as he led the Lakers in goal scoring for a second straight season. He skates well for a 6’5 forward, and as he adds bulk to his frame and gets stronger, the Devils may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of Perkovich’s overall upside. Perhaps the most underrated Devils prospect, one more strong showing in his junior year might be enough to garner him a little more attention among his fellow Devil prospects, and a move up the prospect rankings next time around.
Acquired: Signed as free agent, Dec. 2007
Continuing a trend that has been common throughout the list, Snetsinger is another player who fell in the rankings due the influx of new players. Snetsinger himself is still fairly new to the organization, having signed with the team mid-season. He will embark on his pro career this fall after finishing up strong in his overage season of junior in Windsor, finishing 15th overall in league scoring. While he will definitely have to fill out his lanky frame, Snetsinger has the requisite two-way skills that the Devils seek in their prospects. And when you blend that with his size and decent goal-scoring ability, there is a good chance that down the road that Snetsinger will eventually develop into a reliable role-playing winger at the next level. Something that will be interseting to watch this season is if the goal scoring prowess he showed in junior translate will translate over to the pro game. If that happens, a quick rise up the rankings could be in order.
Acquired: 3rd round, 77th overall, 2006 NHL Draft
While not as flashy and not possessing nearly the amount of overall skill and upside of fellow Russian prospect Vasyunov, Zharkov is a solid player in his own right. And now that he has crossed the pond to play in North America after signing with New Jersey over the summer, his development and progress as a prospect should significantly improve this season after two up and down seasons fighting to remain in the line-up with CSKA Moskava. Zharkov’s calling card is his blazing speed, as he is quite possibly the fastest skater in the organization. He has shown signs of developing into a strong two-way player, and his overall effort and competitiveness each game are also pluses. Like most Russians, he is blessed with a good offensive skill set, but did not get a chance to showcase those skills very often while playing in Russia. At worst, he should develop into a reliable third line winger, but the potential for more is there.
18. (NR) Anssi Salmela, D, (6.0 C), 23, New Jersey/Lowell
Acquired: Signed as free agent, May 2008
After a season in which he led all defensemen with 16 goals in the SM-Liiga in Finland, Salmela fielded offers from many NHL teams before choosing to sign a contract with the Devils late in the spring. At 23 years of age, and having played in the top men’s league in Finland over the past few seasons, he has a big maturity edge over many other prospects currently in the system. He may have already peaked in terms of his overall development, which isn’t a bad thing, but it just means his overall upside is limited somewhat. Salmela is an intense, and passionate player which should help with the transition to hockey in North America. He’s is a well-rounded blueliner, but with a slant towards offense with his mobility and puck skills. Since he likely doesn’t need much if any time in the AHL, it will be interesting to see if he can have a Johnny Oduya type impact in his first full season of pro hockey in North America.
19. (-2) Jeff Frazee, G, (6.5 D), 21, Lowell (AHL)
Acquired: 2nd round, 38th overall, 2005 NHL Draft
After a hugely dissapointing junior season at the University of Minnesota that saw him lose the starting goaltender’s gig midway through the year, Frazee perhaps has the most to prove out of any prospect in the organization this season. What is most frustrating to the Devils is that they know Frazee is blessed with a huge amount of natural talent. It is the mental aspect of the game and a lack of focus that has caused Frazee’s development to stagnate. Now that he is turning pro, it is hoped that a fresh start and pro level coaching will get Frazee back on track. Right now, he is the only goaltending prospect currently in the system. The Devils surprisingly did not draft a goaltender this past year, which makes this upcoming season all the more critcal for Frazee’s future in the organization. Is he the future No. 1? Or will the team have to look elsewhere for Martin Brodeur’s heir? Both of those questions will likely be answered by the end of this season.
Acquired: 3rd round, 82nd overall, 2008 NHL Draft
Henrique rounds out the Devils top 20 group of prospects as the fifth new face to appear in the rankings. He flew a bit under the radar this season in part because he played on such a deep Windsor team. Overall though, he had a steady and strong year. With the addition of Henrique to the system, the Devils added yet another solid two-way player to the fold. He’s a fantastic defensive center and penalty killer and now that he will likely get some of those top line minutes this season, don’t be surprised to see Henrique break out offensively with the Spitfires. That being said, Henrique’s future at the next level lies as a defensively responsible third line center, perhaps in the John Madden mold. He’ll chip in with offense, but be more relied upon for his play in his own end of the rink.
Missing the cut
Vili Sopanen, LW (6.0 C), 20, Pelicans (Finland) – The solidly built Finnish winger had a fantastic first full season in the SM-Liiga, scoring 15 goals as a 19-year-old. Another prospect who flies under the radar, Sopanen is on the cusp of cracking the top 20, and could very will be there next time around with another strong showing in his second season with the Pelicans.
Tony Romano, C (6.0 D), 20, Peterborough (OHL) – Once one of the more highly touted prospects in the organization, Romano still has plenty of upside but will need to put last year’s dismal showing in London behind him in order to get back into the top 20 group of prospects. A trade to the Petes should give Romano a fresh start and a new lease on life, and hopefully a return to the promise he showed in the NCAA before jumping ship to the CHL.
Matt Delahey, D (6.0 C), 18, Regina (WHL) – The well-rounded blueliner will return to Regina for his third sesaon of CHL hockey this fall. Similar in style to Mark Fraser, once he adds more muscle to his frame, he should be an intimidating pressence on the back end.
No longer eligible
Kirill Tulopov, D (Not signed) – A fan favorite in junior with his bone crunching body checks, the Devils chose to not sign the physically imposing Tulupov, possibly feeling that his swashbuckling style of play didn’t fit in well with the team.
Barry Tallackson, LW (Age) – Tallackson’s age bumps him from being considered a prospect at Hockey’s Future. He was re-signed by the team in the off-season, but at this point remains a player who has yet to live up to his full potential.
Rod Pelley, C (Graduated) – Pelley was crusining along in his first full NHL season last year, well on his way to graduating off the list, before falling out of favor with the coaching staff and becoming the spare forward towards the end of the season and into the playoffs. He did however suit up in enough games over the last third of the season to graduate. He’s likely peaked as a fourth liner checker, and will be in tough to make the team this fall.
Jason Ryznar, LW (No longer in the organization) – Ryznar showed glimpses over the course of his time in the organization, including a short NHL stint in his rookie pro season, but injury problems hampered his development and as a result, the Devils chose to let him walk as a free agent.