Numerous New Jersey Devils prospects came up big in postseason

By John Iadevaia

Ben Thomson - New Jersey Devils

Photo: Forward Ben Thomson played a key part of North Bay’s deep run through the OHL playoffs. New Jersey signed Thomson to an entry-level deal on May 23rd, 2014. (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

While the New Jersey Devils missed the 2013-14 NHL playoffs, quite a few of their prospects had impactful postseasons. Their AHL affiliate reached the playoffs for the first time since 2010, giving many pro prospects their first taste of the postseason. Other players at lower levels, such as Damon Severson and Ben Thomson, also had strong playoff performances.

AHL

A good number of the Devils top prospects were with Albany this year. They helped drive the team to the postseason for the first time in four years. Unfortunately, their run was short lived as they were eliminated in four games to the St. John's IceCaps in the first round.

Albany's best player was goaltender Keith Kinkaid, who rediscovered his game in April and looked like his old self from earlier in the year. The Long Island native played strong between the pipes, conceding nine goals in four games, but never received the goal support he needed. Kinkaid finished with a 2.26 goals against average and a .932 save percentage.

Jon Merrill finished with a goal, an assist and 10 penalty minutes. He was paired with Adam Larsson for the series. Both played good defensively, using their mobility to counter rushes and move the puck up.

Mike Sislo and Stefan Matteau each finished with a goal and assist as well. Since his NHL call-up, Sislo has played with confidence and it showed against the IceCaps. He was a nuisance to contain and go against on both sides of the puck. Meanwhile, Matteau showcased his strength by getting inside positioning on opposing defenders as well as the physical areas on the ice. Reid Boucher added a goal on 12 shots in his first pro postseason appearance.

Eric Gelinas (one assist all series) sprained his ankle in the fourth game of the series but suffered no structural damage and will not require surgery.

OHL

The North Bay Battalion entered the OHL playoffs on a six-game winning streak to lock-up the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Once there, they faced an arduous road to the Ed Chynoweth Cup. They barely got by Niagara in seven games in the first round, scraped by Barrie after six games, and swept Oshawa in the conference finals before falling to the Guelph in five games in the OHL finals. The bruising Ben Thomson played a role, providing seconding scoring at the right time and winning even-strength battles to wear down the opposition. He assisted on the game-winning goals in Games 6 and 7 of the Niagara series, then stepped up with seven points in the Barrie series. Thomson would finish the playoffs with five goals and 14 points, along with a plus-five rating and 64 penalty minutes.

On the other side of the bracket, the Windsor Spitfires were eliminated in four games at the hands of the London Knights. Ben Johnson was their best player as he scored a goal in each game and finished with six points in the short series.

Meanwhile, Ryan Kujawinski and the Kingston Frontenacs blew a 3-0 series lead in the first round to the Peterborough Petes. The centerman looked fine in the first three games – recording a goal and an assist – but went scoreless and finishing a minus-seven in the last four games of the series.

WHL

The Kelowna Rockets put together another stellar regular season but once again fell short of the WHL finals. They cruised through the first two rounds against Tri-City and Seattle before being dispatched by Portland in five games in the third round. Damon Severson ended his junior career strong, averaging well over a point-per-game and leading the Rockets with four goals, 14 assists and plus-four rating. He also was tied with Matt Dumba (MIN) as the second highest scoring defenseman in the postseason, only behind the Winterhawk's Derrick Pouliot (PIT). Fellow Devils draftee Myles Bell, who led Kelowna in scoring in the regular season with 77 points, was only able to play in the first four games against Tri-City before succumbing to an injury for the rest of the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Graham Black and the Swift Current Broncos mashed with the Medicine Hat Tigers in the first round. The Saskatoon native was held scoreless in the first two games that the Tigers won. He bounced back in the next three games, contributing four points, including a two-goal effort in Game 4 to help even the series. Medicine Hat would win Games 5 and 6 to take the series as Black finished with two goals, two assists, a minus-three rating, and six penalty minutes.

NCAA

In the college ranks, five prospects participated in conference tournaments while three reached the NCAA Tournament and two making Frozen Four appearances. Steve Santini and Boston College were one of those four teams competing in Philadelphia but were dispatched in the semi-finals by the eventual champions in Union College. Santini scored a goal in that game and played well overall in the playoffs.

While he was scoreless in the postseason, Derek Rodwell provided important fourth-line minutes in North Dakota's Frozen Four run. His college career ended when Minnesota defeated North Dakota in the semi-finals. Prior to this, Rodwell's team knocked out fellow prospect Joe Faust and the Wisconsin Badgers in the first round of the tournament.

Curtis Gedig performed admirably in the Big Ten Tournament as Ohio State survived Michigan State before shocking top-ranked Minnesota. Gedig's Buckeyes then took on Faust's Badgers in the conference championship game. Both players performed admirably, but Wisconsin would prevail in overtime over Ohio State to claim the title and automatic bid.

Finally, Blake Coleman and the Miami Redhawks upset St. Cloud State, then followed that by knocking out Rodwell and North Dakota. The Redhawks run would end at the hands of Denver in the NCHC Title game. Coleman finished with a goal and three assists in the four postseason games played.

Notes and Signings

On April 22nd, the Devils signed Black to a three-year entry level contract. A 5th round pick in 2012, he played in 209 games for the Swift Current Broncos and finished with 76 goals, 123 assists and a plus-21 rating.

His fellow 2012 draftees, Johnson and Thomson, were also signed to similar entry-level contract a month later on May 23rd. In their final OHL seasons, Johnson had 28 goals and 25 assists in 59 games with the Windsor Spitfires while Thomson notched 27 goals, 18 assists and 90 penalty minutes in 55 total games with Kitchener and North Bay.

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