Spring is in the air, and the hockey season is about to wrap up across all levels. While the New Jersey Devils missed the postseason for the third consecutive season, fans can take solace in the performances of the organization’s prospects. The 2014-15 season saw Damon Severson go from NHL rookie to everyday starter, as well as some other standout seasons down in Albany.
All five college prospects excelled with their respective teams, while Joseph Blandisi and Ryan Kujawinski have had career years during their final seasons in junior. Below is my list of Devils year-end award winners for the 2014-15 season.
Hardest Worker: Ben Thomson, LW, Albany Devils
Behind Damon Severson, Ben Thomson was the next-best Devil to make a seamless transition to the pros. Once thought of as nothing more than a fighter, the power forward has come a long way since he was drafted in 2012. Since training camp, Thomson seemed to adapt quickly to the pros—bringing his scrappy, energizing play to bolster Albany’s bottom-six. He made a living in the dirty areas, using his body to protect the puck or scrapping for rebounds in front of the net. He has been so good that he has become a staple in Albany’s lineup. With his recent offensive growth, Thomson could perhaps develop into a role player for New Jersey.
Hardest Shot: Blake Coleman, C, Miami (Ohio) University
Coleman is a versatile forward who can play almost any role asked of him. His aggressiveness in the dirty areas is matched by his talent with the puck. The 5’11, 200 pound centerman sends his shots on goal with extra oomph—hard enough to generate rebounds or quick enough to find the back of the net. One of his remarkable three goals in the NCHC Championship Game came via the slap shot, helping Miami claim the conference title. Coleman finished his senior year with 37 points in 37 games. The power-forward is finishing his degree and is expected to sign with the organization in the summer.
Best Defensive Prospect: Damon Severson, D, New Jersey Devils
Damon Severson was one of the Devils’ best players at even-strength, backed up by good possession numbers on a team that struggled to win the possession battle on most nights. Whether it was veteran Andy Greene or fellow youngsters Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas or Jon Merrill, all of the Devils’ defencemen played better when they were paired with Severson. His defensive coverage was fine as a rookie. He still made mistakes but he was responsible for the most part and never lost the trust of the coaching staff.
Fastest Skater: Graham Black, C, Albany Devils
The Devils have a few speedy forwards in their system but most of them are likely to become bottom-six forwards. Graham Black is notable because he has the potential to play in the top half of the lineup. He demonstrated that throughout his junior career, and held true this season in his rookie year with Albany. The winger may not have lit the scoreboard on fire, but was always involved in the play, either attacking the opposing defensemen head-on or using his speed along the boards.
Prospect of the Year: Damon Severson
This was the year of Damon Severson. No other Devils prospect had the impact that he did at his level of play. He quickly established himself on the Devils blue line from the start of the season. The offensively-starved team benefited from his transition capabilities and puck skills from up top in the offensive zone. Just as remarkable was how responsible he was in all three zones. Despite missing 31 games due to an ankle injury, he returned in March and did not look out of place. With his ability to join the rush and generate offense, the young NHL defenseman has a bright future in New Jersey.
Breakout Player for 2015-16: Miles Wood, LW, Boston College
After two seasons with Noble and Greenough, Miles Wood will join Boston College this fall. The power forward has dominated the prep school system with his blend of speed, physicality and skill. Concerns about how he would fare against players his own age in higher tiers were partially answered when his talents were showcased for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. He finished his prep school career with 35 points in 17 games, just over two points-per-game. Wood could play a big role in igniting the stagnant Golden Eagles offense in 2015-16.
Most Improved Prospect: Ryan Kujawinski, C, North Bay Battalion
Before the season started, we here at HockeysFuture predicted that Kujawinski was primed for a breakout year. After years of inconsistent performances in the OHL, the centerman has remained a steady force throughout the season and a constant threat to score each night. Kujawinski had a decent start to the season in the fall, but began to hit his stride when he was traded from Kingston to North Bay in January. He produced at under a point-per-game pace, scoring 33 goals and 59 points in 61 games—a career high in both categories. Thus far, his fine form has carried into the postseason, and he has seven points through the first two rounds of the OHL playoffs.
Overachiever: Joseph Blandisi, C, Barrie Colts
After the Colorado Avalanche let go of Blandisi over the offseason, the former sixth round pick was had something to prove during his final OHL season. The centerman more than doubled his previous career high in points, scoring 112 this year, and he was the driving force behind Barrie’s offense all season. His stickhandling, puck protection and work ethic made him a dynamic force in junior. While his defensive play is another area to improve upon, it is unknown whether his scoring capabilities can fully transition to the pros.
Underachiever: Reid Boucher, LW, Albany Devils
Coming off a positive rookie season, Reid Boucher succumbed to the dreaded sophomore jinx. The forward hoped to improve his goal-scoring consistency in his second pro season with Albany. However, the Michigan native underwent five separate goalless streaks of five games or more throughout the year (his longest being 11 games without one). Boucher remained active in the offensive zone, generating an average of over three shots per game, but the puck simply did not go in for him. Boucher will get the chance to remain in New Jersey next season as the franchise faces a massive overhaul to their forward corps.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Alex Kerfoot, C, Harvard University
The Harvard Crimson were a fun team to watch this season. The young team surprised many across the college landscape with their speedy, offensive play—featuring the emergence of Alexander Kerfoot as a playmaking first-line centre. Along with Jimmy Vesey and Kyle Criscuolo, the trio formed one of the most productive lines in college. He finished the season with eight goals and 22 assists along with a plus-16 rating.
Kerfoot’s summer workout regime helped him adapt to the physical grind of a full NCAA season. Despite that, he still missed over a month and a half with an upper body injury in the winter. This setback should not overshadow Kerfoot’s growing stock in the Devils organization, but it is another footnote to add to his checklist of injuries.
Player of the Month: Ryan Kujawinski, C, North Bay Battalion
For the second month in a row, Ryan Kujawinski is the Devils prospect of the month. It is well deserved as the centerman has been clutch in the postseason for North Bay. In the Battalion’s second round series win against Barrie, he added three goals and two assists. He also scored the game-winning goal in double-overtime in Game 4. He has been playing a confident game since joining North Bay in January. More importantly, it was his most consistent year of junior hockey yet, and he has become a consistent scoring threat.