For the first time since the 2000-01 season, a Devils AHL affiliate finally reached the playoffs. What is ironic is that that season was when the Devils affiliate was in Albany, which is where it will be located again next season after Lowell’s arena lease expired and Albany’s previous team moved to Charlotte. Though it was a short-lived postseason run after the Lowell Devils fell to the Worcester Sharks in five games, it was a very successful year of development for many of the young prospects in New Jersey’s organization.
Led by first-year head coach John MacLean, Lowell finished the regular season with a 39-31-4-6 record for 88 points. Despite a late-season funk, Lowell’s offense and power play clicked at a high rate for the majority of the year. MacLean, who is a candidate to be the next head coach in New Jersey, was a big reason for the offensive explosion. Players called up to New Jersey also raved about MacLean’s work on the farm with the youngsters. Whether or not MacLean is back at the helm for the Devils AHL affiliate next year, there is more talent on the way and likely more playoff berths in the future.
Matt Corrente, D, 22
Like the rest of the team, Corrente got off to a very quick start in Lowell. He earned his first call-up to the big club in November and got into seven straight games, some of which were played as a forward. He rode the Lowell-New Jersey shuttle a few more times over the course of the regular season, suiting up in 12 NHL games total. He saw limited minutes most nights and was held off the scoresheet, while recording an even plus/minus rating and 24 PIM’s. He got into two of New Jersey’s five postseason games, where he was deployed at forward again to help provide a physical presence. While in Lowell, he played in 43 games, recording five goals and 15 assists, to go along with a +3 rating and 74 PIM’s. Corrente isn’t going to be that upper-echelon, star defenseman, but he’s poised to earn a spot in New Jersey’s top-six group of blueliners next season. He provides toughness, physicality, and a ton of energy and will likely become a fan favourite in New Jersey quickly with his intense and rugged style of play.
Jeff Frazee, G, 22
It was going to be hard to repeat the success Frazee had in his rookie season in the AHL when he shattered numerous club records, and when he suffered a scary neck injury in a pre-season game, it delayed the start to his year and ultimately, led to an inconsistent season from Frazee. He was unable to ever wrestle the starting job away from minor league journeyman Mike McKenna and saw less action as the season progressed and the club was fighting for a playoff berth. In 31 games, he went 14-16-0 with one shutout, a 2.80 goals against average and a respectable .910 save percentage. The athletic goaltender definitely had a bit of a letdown compared to his 2008-09 season, however he still remains a viable goaltending prospect for the future. He just might need a little more time in the AHL after missing so much time last year. There are still no other goaltending prospects in the organization, so he still likely has the first crack at replacing Martin Brodeur down the road, but there will likely be more goaltenders in the system by then, which means more competition in the crease for Frazee.
Tyler Eckford, D, 24
Like fellow blueliner Matt Corrente, Eckford got off to a torrid start this season, and parlayed that start into his NHL debut in November where he suited up in three games and recorded an assist and even plus/minus rating. Despite his scoring pace slowing considerably in Lowell over the course of the season (he only recorded four assists over his last 21 games), he suited up in 61 games and managed to set a career high for goals (8), points (31) and a +11 rating, the second best mark on the club, which was a remarkable defensive turnaround after posting a team worst -16 rating in his rookie pro season. In five post-season contests for Lowell, he recorded one goal and an even plus/minus rating. The solidly built, strong skating rearguard with good puck skills showed great all around improvement in his game this season, and is poised to challenge for a full time spot in New Jersey next season. A restricted free agent this summer, Eckford could use a little more seasoning in the minors, but he is close to reaching his potential.
Nick Palmieri, RW, 20
Palmieri made a very smooth adjustment to the pro ranks, as he dressed for 69 games and finished third on the club and tied for third in AHL rookie goal scoring with 21 goals. He led all Lowell rookie forwards in overall scoring with 36 points. He made his NHL debut in late January, recording his only point, an assist in his first game against Florida. He dressed for six games total, before being returned to Lowell. In five playoff games for Lowell, he scored a goal and three assists. The hulking 6’2, 200+ lb power forward in blooming showed off his great shooting skills as evidenced by his 21 goals, and has good speed to go along with his sizeable frame. He needs to work on his defensive aptitude, but that will come with time. He’s likely ticketed for at least one more full year of AHL seasoning next year, but he’s not too far away from contributing as a regular in New Jersey. He is a potential 20 to 25-goal second or third-line winger.
Matt Halischuk, RW, 21
Halischuk made New Jersey’s opening night roster, and while he was in and out of the line-up, he still suited up in 20 games, scoring one goal and one assist before being demoted to Lowell for good in early December. He played well and produced offensively while in Lowell, but his big problem was an inability to stay healthy. He only played in seven games in January and February due to an injury. Overall, he played in 32 games and scored 11 goals and 11 assists to go along with a +6 rating. Halischuk probably could have stuck in New Jersey all season long, but his development will no doubt be aided by the extra time spent in Lowell, even though his injury problems limited his game action. Halischuk is a quick, tenacious, well-rounded forward who can contribute at both ends of the rink. A player in the Jamie Langenbrunner mold, Halischuk will again challenge for regular duty in New Jersey next season.
Vladimir Zharkov, RW, 22
Zharkov started the year in the AHL with Lowell, but was called up to New Jersey in late November after a solid start with the baby Devils, where he actually was leading the club in scoring. In 23 games, he scored six goals and 15 assists to go along with a sparkling +10 rating. Aside from an AHL game that was played in New Jersey in early January, Zharkov stuck with the big club permanently after his recall. He saw fairly regular duty early on, before being shuttled in and out of the line-up down the stretch, while he missed the entire short lived postseason run with an upper-body injury. In 40 games, he posted a very odd stat line of zero goals and 10 assists to go along with a +2 rating. He fired 54 shots, but was unable to ever find the back of the net. Despite that, he showed a lot of good qualities that should have him in line for regular third or fourth-line duty with New Jersey next season. His blazing speed, sound defensive play and tenacity on the forecheck are what kept in the big leagues all season long. He won’t ever be confused as a goal scorer, but he surely will get that first NHL goal next season, plus probably a few more. Zharkov should max out as a 15 goal, 30-35 point player, who contributes on the penalty kill.
Alexander Vasyunov, LW, 22
While it wasn’t quite the season Vasyunov hoped for, he took small baby steps in his development; his first full season in North America after coming over to the AHL after the season had started last year. He suited up in 68 games, missing only a couple weeks of action in March with a concussion. He finished fifth on the club in scoring with a career best 38 points and also finished fifth on the club with 16 goals. Most impressively, his +7 rating was best among all Lowell forwards. He was arguably Lowell’s best forward in the playoffs, recording two goals and two assists in five games. Vasyunov has a ton of offensive skill and upside, and will be entering a very important third season in the AHL this fall. He’s due for a breakout, and needs it desperately. There are a plethora of wingers in the system, and Vasyunov needs to break away from the middle of the pack as soon as possible if he is to have a future in New Jersey.
David McIntyre, C, 23
McIntyre came to the Lowell Devils on an amateur try out late in the season after wrapping up his four year collegiate career with the Colgate Red Raiders, in which he recorded 39 points in his senior season. He was inserted into the line-up right away and stuck through the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. In 12 regular season games, he recorded three goals and two assists to go along with a +1 rating, while in the postseason, he scored a goal and an assist in five games. That, along with his solid play in his senior year at Colgate was enough to help earn him a two-year entry-level contract from New Jersey in early May. A tenacious, abrasive, two-way center who plays with an edge, McIntyre is an intriguing prospect. He doesn’t have the high end offensive skills to be a top six forward, but as he showed over the course of his career at Colgate, he’s no slouch offensively and could eventually emerge into a serviceable role playing checker with a touch of offensive skill after a year or two of seasoning in the AHL.
Nathan Perkovich, RW, 24
If not for the splashy debut Palmieri had in his rookie pro season, Perkovich might have gotten a little more attention for what he did in his first professional season. He was known as a goal scorer over the course of his collegiate career at Lake Superior State, and it translated nicely to the pro ranks. He just missed cracking the 20-goal mark, finishing with 19 goals in 68 games and was fairly consistent for the most part, going more than five games without a goal only twice. He showed a penchant for scoring power-play goals, finishing tied for the team lead with 10 goals while on the man advantage. He recorded two assists in five playoff games. Already 24, Perkovich is going to have to make his move fast to keep up with all of the other promising wingers in the organization. The lanky 6’5 winger knows how to the put the puck in the net, and if he can build off last season’s goal totals, he may get an opportunity to show what he can do at the NHL level in a year or two.
Patrick Davis, RW, 24
In his fourth year as a pro, Davis emerged as one of the team leaders and put up career best offensive totals of 15 goals and 20 assists in 73 games. He saw time in New Jersey this season as a result of injuries to the big club, suiting up in eight games. He scored his first NHL goal in late January against Toronto. In five playoff games for the baby Devils, Davis recorded a pair of goals. Though he looked capable in his brief NHL stint this season, time is beginning to tick for Davis, who is going into his fifth pro season, while trying to fend off younger prospects from jumping him on the depth chart. He is a restricted free agent this summer and will likely be retained as minor-league depth.
Olivier Magnan, D, 24
It doesn’t seem like it, but Magnan has been with the Devils organization for four seasons now after being drafted by New Jersey back in 2005. His three goals and 16 assists in 71 games were career bests. He was held off the scoresheet in five post season games. A pending restricted free agent this summer, Magnan doesn’t stand out or make many flashy plays, but he is a competent soldier on the blueline. There are many more talented prospects in the organization so it’s going to be hard for Magnan to advance to the NHL, especially given that he has likely reached his ceiling as a prospect.
Kory Nagy, C, 20
Nagy, a graduate of the OHL, started his first pro season in the ECHL with the Trenton Devils, where he recorded four goals and nine assists in 33 games. He was called up to the AHL in early January where he stuck for the rest of the season, seeing sporadic action. In 31 games, he scored twice and added four helpers. Nagy is a player that works hard and has a good defensive aptitude. He is going to need two or three more years on the farm before being considered for regular NHL duty and is not likely to ever develop into much more than a checker at the next level.
Brad Snetsinger, LW, 23
After spending most of the 2008-09 season in the ECHL with Trenton, Snetsinger was able to snag a spot on the Lowell Devils roster this year. While he wasn’t able to stay in the line-up on a regular basis, it was more of a learning season for Snetsinger, who scored just five goals and 13 assists in 57 games. He did fire 116 shots on goal, so he wasn’t afraid to shoot. A free agent signee by the Devils after an outstanding final junior season in Windsor, Snetsinger has an intriguing skill set and will likely be given a couple more years in the minors to see if he can turn into the point producer he was in junior. He is a restricted free agent this summer, but will more than likely be qualified and retained.
Myles Stoesz, RW, 23
2009-10 saw Stoesz suit up for 35 AHL games, the most AHL games he’d seen action in since turning pro in 2007-08. He did see some time in the ECHL with Trenton, scoring four goals and two assists while recording 97 penalty minutes. His AHL numbers read a goal and an assist to go along with 148 PIM’s, which ranked second on the club. As evidenced by his stats, Stoesz is a one dimensional enforcer who likely doesn’t have much of an NHL future.
Michael Swift, C, 23
Swift quietly went about his business in his second year as a pro, and ended up putting up some pretty impressive numbers after a scorching finish to the season. In his last dozen games, Swift racked up an astounding 10 goals and six assists. That late season surge propelled him to second on the club in overall scoring with 55 points in 76 games, easily surpassing the 27 points he scored in his freshman season in the AHL. He led the club with 24 goals, and tied for the team lead in powerplay markers with 10. He also put up 71 PIM’s and an even plus/minus rating. Swift showed steady progression earlier in his development in the OHL, so it’s possible bigger things could be in store for next season. A fiery and intense competitor, Swift was one of the more pleasant surprises in the organization last season and has the requisite two way skills to eventually be a contributor at the NHL level. Another season like he has last year, and he might get a look in New Jersey sooner rather than later.
Matt Taormina, D, 24
After a fairly unspectacular four year run at Providence College, Taromina garnered little interest from NHL teams, and signed an AHL deal with the Devils organization for the 2009-10 season. By the end of the year, Taormina had earned himself an NHL contract after a spectacular 10-goal, 40-assist season. He finished seventh among all AHL blueliners with 50 points, while finishing second behind Montreal phenom P.K. Subban for points by rookie defenseman. Those 50 points in 75 games was good enough to place him third on Lowell in team scoring. He was not afraid to shoot, with a team leading 191 shots, a rare feat for a defenseman. He showed great powerplay quarterbacking ability with eight of his 10 markers coming with the man advantage. He scored a goal and three assists in five playoff games. Taormina consistently showed the ability to lead the rush up the ice, showcasing his good mobility and puckhandling skills. While not a great defensive defenseman, his -4 rating was nothing to scoff at. He’s undersized at 5’9 and 185 lbs, but he has the skill set to thrive in the NHL. He could end up being quite a find and might find himself in New Jersey sooner than he thinks if he can keep up putting points like he did last year.