New Jersey Devils junior prospects seeing fair share of struggles early in 2014-15 season

By John Iadevaia
Anthony Brodeur - New Jersey Devils

Photo: Anthony Brodeur has struggled in the early part of the 2014-15 season with Gatineau Olympiques, managing a 5-4-0-3 record and a 3.72 goals against average. (courtesy of Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)

 

With a windfall of prospects graduating to the pros last season, the New Jersey Devils used the 2014 NHL Draft to restock their junior pool. A few players are underachieving but a handful have done well in the early part of their respective seasons.

OHL

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

Kujawinski’s final season with Kingston has gotten off to a somewhat disappointing start, as he continues to be mired with inconsistency. This is nothing new from the former third rounder, but it is concerning that he remains unable to string together strong performances on a night to night basis. After 18 games, he has eight goals and four assists.

It is disappointing because we have seen Kujawinski become the best player on the ice for a stretch only to disappear for a similar length of time. A sign of growth last season saw those down periods diminish but injuries cost him the chance to build upon his good play.

As of late, Kujawinski has started to find the scoresheet more consistently, with four goals in his last six games. This could be the early signs of Kujawinski starting to find the high gear, but it would not be a shock if he drops down to neutral once again.

Connor Chatham, RW, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 3rd round (71st overall), 2014

Early season injuries have contributed to Plymouth’s early season struggles. Yet they have allowed Connor Chatham to step up and perform admirably. The right winger does not have a lot of offensive talent, but he is using his all-around game to generate chances for himself and his linemates.

Playing in the Whalers top-six, Chatham has played a supporting role for the team’s more lethal scorers. The Illinois native went the first seven games without a goal until he netted four in two games, including a hat trick against Peterborough. For the rest of October, he only added three more points, then he was injured on October 25th. He returned to action on November 7th, and managed four points in five games since. On the season, Chatham has six goals and seven assists through 18 games.

WHL

John Quenneville, C, Brandon Wheat Kings
Acquired: 1st round (30th overall), 2014

The addition of John Quenneville at the 2014 NHL Draft strengthened New Jersey’s weak forward corp. He may not become an elite top-six talent, but Quenneville is expected to become a solid all-around player. He can play in all situations, play a finesse game when he needs to, or he can grind it out along the boards with his size. Only 18-years old, he is not going to be rushed so he can develop at his own pace.

With Brandon off to a terrific 17-4-1 start to the season and sitting comfortably at the top of their division, Quenneville has continued to expand his role on the deep, talented squad. He had a good start to the season until he suffered an injury on October 4th and missed the following eight games. The forward made a strong impression in his return against Kamloops with a four point game. After 14 games played, he has seven goals, 10 assists, five multi-point games.

Should Quenneville keep up this pace, he might have a new career highs in goals and points. It is a good sign that he is becoming more involved offensively while remaining just as strong and smart with his play away from the puck. Skating remains the area he must improve, but has plenty of time to improve on it.

Ryan Rehill, D, Kamloops Blazers
Acquired: 5th round (131st overall), 2014

Needing to add another defensive-minded blueliner, New Jersey added Ryan Rehill at the 2014 NHL Draft. The hard-hitting skater – who is 6’3, 214 pounds – is known to play with an edge and is a high character figure on and off the ice.

The Kamloops Blazers have struggled through the first third of the regular season. Defensively, they can improve and that includes Rehill. While his teammates love him in the locker room, the coaches surely would love it if he would cut down on his penalty minutes. In fact, he is one of the WHL leaders in penalty minutes with 59.

Looking ahead, Rehill is one of the few defensive-defensemen in the Devils system. However, with the young defenseman in New Jersey, Seth Helgeson on the bubble, and Steve Santini down the pipeline, Rehill has some tough competition ahead of him. His leadership and character traits make him a good role player, but he needs to cut down on his visits to the penalty box and become a better skater to avoid getting into vulnerable situations.

Brandon Baddock, LW, Edmonton Oil Kings
Acquired: 6th round (161st Overall), 2014

Brandon Baddock continues to serve as Edmonton’s enforcer in the bottom-six forwards. The Oil Kings have had an inconsistent season thus far. A handful of small winning streaks were dashed after a middling start to November. Before the downward trend, Baddock had been playing some good hockey on the third line.

He puts his physical tools to good use to win possession for his linemates, as well as fight, and he has produced two and seven assists in 21 games.

QMJHL

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

Entering the 2014-15 season, Anthony Brodeur was expected to take the mantle as Gatineau’s starting goaltender. The first four games went well enough, but by the end of October, the young puck-stopper was at an all-time low.

The Olympiques have not fared well overall, but that does not excuse Brodeur from being part of the problem. Still, he was unable to make the timely saves when his team needed. He has also started poorly in many games which has resulted in him being pulled in four contests. After 16 games, he is 5-4-0-3 with a 3.72 goals-against average, and .876 save percentage. This is an important season for Brodeur’s development, but his situation with the Olympiques is reaching murky territory.

Further complicating the situation is a recent free agent acquisition. Not confident Brodeur could hold down the starting job all season, Gatineau acquired veteran Brandon Whitney. Brodeur will now have to compete with Nicolas Lachance for the backup role and the chance to retake his spot as the team’s undisputed starter.

USHL

Joey Dudek, C, Dubuque Fighting Saints
Acquired: 6th round (152nd overall), 2014

Dudek has already committed to Boston College but had one year of school left, so joined the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints for the 2014-15 season. It was a good decision for him because he gets to test his skills at the highest level of competition for college-bound players.

After the first month, the New Hampshire native is still trying to make that transition. So much so that through 14 games he has only found the back of the net four times, assisted once, and racked up 18 penalty minutes. The playmaker has not found it as easy to create space to set-up plays and has gone long stretches without a point. However the year plays out, it is good experience for the centerman because he is recognizing the areas of his game that need to improve and the work ethic he will need when he goes to college next year.

New Jersey Devils Prospect of the Month: October

Quenneville had a solid start overall and the college prospects have done very well for themselves too. However, Damon Severson stands second to none after an incredible start to his NHL career.

Damon Severson - New Jersey Devils Prospect of the Month, October, 2014Entering his first year in the pros, Severson was a dark horse to make the New Jersey roster out of training camp. It would be hard considering the team was already carrying fellow youngsters Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas, and Adam Larsson. Yet the Saskatchewan native made a strong impression on the coaches and forced his way onto the opening night roster.

Severson has made his presence felt by helping the Devils even strength offense. His ability to create instant offense in transition and puck-moving skills have made opponents take notice of him. When October ended, he had four goals, three assists and a plus-six rating. He has also looked good defensively playing alongside Andy Greene on the top-pair while averaging 22 minutes of ice time.

It is hard to disagree that he was the Devils best defenseman in October. As well, he was named Hockey’s Future Prospect of the Month.

While he has cooled off recently, the future bodes well for New Jersey’s promising blue line. Between Severson, Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas, and Adam Larsson, all four under the age of 24 years old, the organization’s defense seems to be in good hands.