It is night and day how much better the talent pool of the Devils system is compared to years past. The team still might lack that elite, can’t-miss prospect, but there are some really talented players throughout the organization.
With 15 of the top 20 prospects and 21 of 34 prospects in the whole system likely to play pro or just turning pro, a lot of these players will be getting NHL looks over the next couple of seasons. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see possibly two or three prospects play with the club on a regular basis this year.
The top 20 is headlined again by a trifecta of Swedish prospects, with the only difference being Alexander Urbom replacing the departed Niclas Bergfors (ATL) behind Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson, the team’s first round draft picks from 2008 and 2009 respectively. Three out of the five players from the Devils 2010 draft class, along with Matt Taormina, made their debut.
Top 20 at a glance:
1. (1) Mattias Tedenby, LW, 7.5C
2. (2) Jacob Josefson, C, 7.5C
3. (4) Alexander Urbom, D, 7.5C
4. (NR) Jon Merrill, D, 7.5C
5. (3) Matt Corrente, D, 7.0B
6. (11) Eric Gelinas, D, 7.5C
7. (5) Jeff Frazee, G, 7.5C
8. (8)Nick Palmieri, RW, 7.0C
9. (12) Adam Henrique, C, 6.5B
10. (6) Brandon Burlon, D, 7.0C
11. (10) Alexander Vasyunov, LW, 7.0C
12. (7) Tyler Eckford, D, 6.5C
13. (NR) Maxime Clermont, G, 6.5C
14. (NR) Matt Taormina, D, 6.5C
15. (9) Vladimir Zharkov, RW, 6.0B
16. (14) Mike Hoeffel, LW, 6.0B
17. (18) Nathan Perkovich, RW, 6.5D
18. (16) David McIntyre, C, 6.0C
19. (NR) Scott Wedgewood, G, 6.0C
20. (13) Mark Fayne, D, 6.0C
1. (1) Mattias Tedenby, LW, 20
Drafted 1st round, 25th overall, 2008
While there was a fair bit of movement throughout the list, the supremely skilled Tedenby remains the Devils kingpin prospect. For Swedish Elite League Champion HV-71, Tedenby played more of a support role for the club, scoring 12 goals and seven assists in 44 games, while compiling two goals and three assists in 16 playoff games. He also contributed six points en-route to helping Team Sweden capture the bronze medal at the World Junior Championship.
Tedenby possesses a dynamic array of offensive tools, most notably his blazing speed and electric acceleration. While he is definitely undersized, he does not shy away from the high traffic areas and in fact, has good finishing skills down-low. With two full seasons in the SEL, the Devils and Tedenby took advantage of an out-clause in his contract and signed him to his first pro contract during the summer. While it wouldn’t hurt Tedenby to spend a year in the AHL, if he impresses in training camp and pre-season, the team will not hold him back. He should eventually settle into a top-six role with the team, but it might not be until 2011-12.
2. (2) Jacob Josefson, C, 19
Drafted 1st round, 20th overall, 2009
If it wasn’t for Tedenby, Josefson would surely be the top prospect in the organization. He easily kept his runner-up spot though with a fantastic season as an 18-year-old (now 19) in the SEL, one of the best leagues in the world. Ironically enough, Josefson’s Djurgarden’s squad made it all the way to the league final before losing to Tedenby’s HV-71 team. He scored 8 goals and 12 assists in 43 games, while putting up three goals and two assists in 14 playoff contests. He teamed up with Tedenby on a line at the World Juniors, scoring six points in six games for the bronze medal winning Swedish team.
Josefson may not be as dynamic a prospect as Tedenby, but he is mature beyond his years and owns the intuitive two-way skills the Devils love in their prospects. He has elite playmaking skills and is slowly gaining more confidence in his shot. Josefson joined his countryman Tedenby this summer in signing his first pro contract and with the Devils lack of depth up the middle, he stands a very good shot at making the team out of training camp. While it’s not a lock, he has a high enough hockey IQ to make the jump right to the NHL. He should eventually slot in behind Travis Zajac to give the Devils a solid one-two punch down the middle.
3. (4) Alexander Urbom, D, 19
Drafted 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2009
Just like last fall, there are three Swedes atop the Devils prospect totem pole. The only difference is that Urbom has replaced the since-traded Nicklas Bergfors as the third prospect on the list. Urbom crossed the pond to play in the WHL with the Memorial Cup hosting Brandon Wheat Kings and had a phenomenal season. In 66 games, he recorded 12 goals and 21 assists, to go along with 87 penalty minutes, and a stellar plus-45 rating. In the post-season, he scored five goals and four assists in 20 games (Memorial Cup included).
Urbom’s offensive skills blossomed with his move to the CHL, and combined with his size, mobility and play in his own end, he has turned into a well-rounded defenseman with off-the-charts upside. As he continues to mature physically, he will become even tougher to play against. Urbom is eligible to return to Brandon for one more season, but it is not likely tha
t he will do so. The young blueliner is ready to turn pro and could very well skip the AHL all together and jump right to the NHL. He’s on a great development curve and in a year or two should be settled in at the NHL level as an all-around number two or three blue liner.
4. (NR) Jon Merrill, D, 18
Drafted 2nd round, 38th overall, 2010
Merrill, the Devils top pick from the 2010 draft, makes a splashy debut as the fourth ranked prospect in the organization. An off-ice incident dropped his stock somewhat, but the Devils were happy to snatch him up. Merrill suited up for the United States National Development Team Program this past season, scoring one goal and eight assists in 22 games.
Merrill may have slid out of the first round, but there is no denying the great offensive skill-set the defenseman has. He possesses great skating and mobility, puck-rushing aptitude and a strong shot from the point. He has good hockey smarts and is usually in the right position defensively, but must work on playing with a little more passion and physicality. He is off to the University of Michigan this fall to begin his collegiate career and the Devils will likely let him play three or four years with the Wolverines in order to let him mature before turning pro. He has tremendous upside and could end up being a second round steal.
5. (3) Matt Corrente, D, 22
Drafted 1st round, 30th overall, 2006
Corrente slipped a couple of spots in the rankings, but that had nothing to do with his play last year. His upside is just a little more limited than those ranked ahead of him. He spent a good chunk of the season in the AHL, however he did play 12 NHL games (several as a winger), but aside from 24 penalty minutes, was held off the score sheet. He also dressed for two of New Jersey’s five playoff games. In 43 games on the farm, he scored five goals and 15 assists, posted 74 penalty minutes and a plus-3 rating.
Corrente doesn’t have much left to prove at the AHL level and appears to be ready for a permanent jump to the next level. He will be in a fight with other prospects to make it full time, and much will depend on what the Devils do to rectify their potential salary cap conundrum. While he showed some versatility by playing forward last year, but the team ultimately would prefer to leave him on the blue line. The tough and rugged Corrente has good mobility and moderate offensive skills, and projects as a solid, no-nonsense, mid-pairing blueliner at the NHL level.
6. (11) Eric Gelinas, D, 19
Drafted 2nd round, 54th overall, 2009
Gelinas made some big strides this season in the QMJHL, and combined with his tremendous upside, rocketed up the prospect rankings. A trade from Lewiston to Chicoutimi seemed to spark him as he really heated up down the stretch and into the playoffs. He scored six goals and 25 assists to go along with 59 penalty minutes in 61 games, His combined plus/minus wasn’t overly pretty, but playing on two sub-par teams contributed to that statistic. He scored an impressive five points in six post-season games, and was one of the Saguenees best players.
The raw potential Gelinas possesses is slowly starting to bloom, as evidenced by his strong playoff showing and he might just be ready to explode this year. As he continues to grow into his 6’4 frame and learns the nuances of playing defense after playing forward at a younger age, his long-term upside is through the roof. The Devils signed him to a contract over the summer, but he is still three or four years away from reaching his potential. He will return to Chicoutimi for the 2010-11 season and look to continue his upward trajectory as a prospect.
7. (5) Jeff Frazee, G, 23
Drafted 2nd round, 38th overall, 2005
Regardless of what he did in his second AHL season, it was going to be difficult for Frazee to match the sterling numbers he put up in his rookie pro season. A sliced-throat incident before the 2009-10 season began got Frazee off on the wrong foot and he was never really able to regain the form he showed the year before. That’s not to say his numbers were awful, but he was unable to get into a groove, and only got into 31 games behind AHL veteran Mike McKenna. He won 14 games, posted a 2.80 goals against average and .910 save percentage.
This is a big season coming up for Frazee, especially now that the team actually drafted two other goaltenders into the system this past draft. The team likely will cut him some slack given the nature of the injury he suffered last year, but he must bounce back to the form he showed as an AHL rookie.
The athletic goaltender still has great potential, and is still the goaltender of the future in New Jersey until the new goaltending prospects prove themselves. But he needs to bounce back this season in order to keep that title. With Johan Hedberg only on a one-year contract to backup Martin Brodeur, that job should be Frazee’s to lose in 2011-12, assuming he is up to the task.
8. (8) Nick Palmieri, RW, 21
Drafted 3rd round, 79th overall, 2007
Palmieri was one of the top goal scoring rookies in the AHL with Lowell last season, lighting the lamp 21 times. His 36 points placed him sixth on the team. He also scored four points in five playoff games. Palmieri even got a brief six game call-up to New Jersey where he recorded an assist and did not look out of place.
A tantalizing mix of skill, size and speed, Palmieri made a very smooth adjustment from junior to pro and may be closer to reaching the NHL level than originally thought. He has a hard and heavy shot and when on his game, he is a load to handle.
He would be best served by spending another season developing in the AHL, but he is definitely a dark-horse to make the team out of camp, and will at least see a handful of NHL games yet again this year before likely making the jump to the NHL full time in 2011-12.
9. (12) Adam Henrique, C, 20
Drafted 3rd round, 82nd overall, 2008
Windsor forward Adam Henrique has gradually climbed up the Devils prospect ladder since he was drafted in 2008 and was finally able to crack the top 10 for the first time. From his silver medal with Canada’s World Junior team, to being part of a second straight Memorial Cup Championship with Windsor, his 2009-10 season was simply magnificent across the board. After a 38 goal, 39 assist regular season, Henrique turned it up a notch in the post-season, scoring an unbelievable 20 goals and five assists in 19 playoff games, and then another four goals and four assists in four games at the Memorial Cup.
The Devils knew Henrique had the intangible qualities and defensive aptitude to fit the mould of a prototypical New Jersey prospect when they drafte
d him, but his offensive explosion over his last two years of junior hockey have elevated him to the status of the most well-rounded prospect in the system, bar-none. Henrique can do it all, whether it’s winning a key face-off, scoring a clutch goal, or blocking a shot on the penalty kill. Henrique might need a little bit of AHL seasoning this year, but he’s likely to see some NHL action at some point this season and by 2011-12, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him anchoring the Devils third line.
10. (6) Brandon Burlon, D, 20
Drafted 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2008
Burlon dropped a touch in the rankings, but that doesn’t take away from the upside he has. He took a slight step back in his sophomore season at the University of Michigan, but the whole team got off to a slow start and in general, underachieved for the majority of the year. He was able to avoid the injury bug that limited him to 33 games in his freshman year, suiting up for 45 games, scoring three goals and 11 assists.
While his offensive numbers weren’t overly impressive, Burlon still has a great set of offensive tools and is a fantastic skater with great mobility. He showed marked improvement at the other end of the rink as he simplified his game instead of trying to do too much. He’s never going to be a defensive stalwart, but has the ability to develop into a solid, mid-pairing, two-way defenseman. There is no need to rush Burlon with the amount of defensive prospects the Devils have turned pro over the course of the last two seasons, so he will likely play out the last two years of his college eligibility before signing.
11. (10) Alexander Vasyunov, LW, 22
Drafted 2nd round, 58th overall, 2006
Vasyunov’s play slightly leveled off this season after a decent rookie pro year, but he still owns a vast amount of potential. And his 16 goals and 22 assists in 68 games (10 more than the year before) for Lowell provide good evidence of that fact. A concussion caused him to miss and handful of games and may have prevented him from reaching the 20 goal mark. In Lowell’s short lived playoff run, he posted two goals and two assists in five games.
Year three in North America is going to be a big one for Vasyunov. While there is no denying the skills and goal scoring ability the slick Russian winger owns, he needs to breakout and take that next step in his development in order to progress and get a shot at playing in the NHL. He is the type of player that needs to be playing with skilled players in order to take advantage of his talent. If he can find some consistency in his game and get to the 25-30 goal mark this season with Albany, which he has the ability to do, it might be enough to propel him to the next level. Much will be told of his long-term future with the Devils after this season.
12. (7) Tyler Eckford, D, 25
Drafted 7th round, 217th overall, 2004
Eckford showed significant progress in his second AHL season, even garnering a brief three game stint in New Jersey with the big club. However, his long-term potential is not as great as most of the prospects listed ahead of him. In 61 games with Lowell last year, he scored eight goals and 23 assists, and vastly improved his plus/minus rating. He went from a minus-16 in 2008-09, to a plus-11 this past year. In five playoff games, he recorded one goal.
Turning 25 in September, it is now or never for Eckford. Since being drafted in the seventh round of the 2004 draft, he has developed into an excellent, well-rounded defense prospect. But with a plethora of younger blueliners making their way through the system, Eckford needs to make his mark now. He stands a decent shot at making the big club out of training camp, but much like Matt Corrente, a lot will depend on what the club does to rid itself of salary cap issues. He projects as a mobile, number four of five defenseman, who can contribute on the power-play.
13. (NR) Maxime Clermont, G, 18
Drafted 6th round, 174th overall, 2010
The Devils finally decided to add a couple of goaltenders to their prospect pool this past draft, the second of which was QMJHL netminder Maxime Clermont. The Gatineau Olympiques goaltender was quite highly touted going into his draft year, but he, along with the team in general, had an up-and-down season. He played in 59 games, sporting a 24-31-0 record, to go along with a 2.81 goals against average, a .897 save percentage and an impressive four shut-outs. He also won four playoff games, with a 3.59 goals against average.
Clermont has a good sized frame for a goalie, is athletic, and loves to come out and challenge shooters. His rebound control is exceptional as well. He needs to work on his puck-handling, confidence and positioning. The Devils have no need to rush him with Brodeur showing no signs of slowing down and Jeff Frazee nearly ready at the AHL level, so Clermont will be given plenty of time to develop. He will return to a strong Gatineau club this fall, and in time, he definitely has the potential to emerge as a future starting goaltender at the NHL level.
14. (NR) Matt Taormina, D, 23
Signed as free agent, 2010
Easily the most pleasant surprise amongst the Devils prospects last year was the emergence of Taormina. Signed to an AHL level contract last summer, Taormina earned an NHL contract before the season was even out by posting outstanding numbers for Lowell. In 75 games, he recorded 10 goals (eight of which came with the man advantage) and 40 assists to go along with a minus-4 rating and 45 penalty minutes. He also led the club with 191 shots. In five playoff games, he scored once and added three assists.
Though he is vastly undersized, Taormina has remarkable mobility and puck-handling skills and showed the ability to rush the puck up the ice and quarterback the power-play last year. He is a major sleeper to make the team out of training camp, and he has the advantage of having a head coach in John McLean, that knows what he is capable of doing. He will be in a fierce battle with the likes of Corrente, Urbom and Eckford for one or two spots on New Jersey’s blueline this fall.
15. (9) Vladimir Zharkov, RW, 22
Drafted 3rd round, 77th overall, 2006
While it may be surprising to see Zharkov this low on the list, it is not a slight against his potential. He just doesn’t project as a top-six forward, which is why he is ranked behind other prospects with less pro and NHL experience. After scoring six goals and 15 assists in 23 games, Zharkov was summoned from Lowell in late November after a rash of injuries struck in New Jersey, and managed to stick with the big club all season long, though his role gradually diminished as the season wore on. He posted an odd stat line of zero goals and 10 assists in 40 NHL games.
Zharkov has a leg up on his competition for a full-time spot having spent the majority of last season in the NHL, and he most certainly has the potential to chip in some goals, despite being blanked in 40 games last year. Zharkov’s calling card is
speed, energy and relentless forechecking, which makes him an ideal fit on the third line. He is a good player at both ends of the rink, and projects out as a potential 10-15 goal, 15-20 assist type of player. He’s not going to be a superstar, but could very well carve out a Sergei Brylin type role with New Jersey for years to come.
16. (14) Mike Hoeffel, LW, 21
Drafted 2nd round, 57th overall, 2007
Hoeffel is a solid, yet unspectacular prospect and he is coming off another strong season at the University of Minnesota that saw him increase his output for a third straight season. The junior left-winger scored 14 times and added 10 assists, totals that likely would have been significantly higher had he not missed a month of action after coming down with a case of mono. Seven of his goals were scored on the power-play. He also posted a minus-1 rating and 22 penalty minutes.
The Devils have been patient with their 2007 top pick, and so far, it’s looking like it’s paying off as the strong skating Hoefell is developing into a jack-of-all-trades winger, capable of contributing in a variety of ways, much like Jay Pandolfo did for the Devils in the prime of his career. His ceiling isn’t very high, but he grades out as an above average checking line winger, who can chip in with some timely offense. He is going into his senior season with the Golden Gophers this fall and will most likely sign an entry-level contract with the Devils at the end of the year and turn pro for the 2011-12 season.
17. (18) Nathan Perkovich, RW, 24
Drafted 8th round, 250th overall, 2004
Perkovich moved up two notches on the list after making a relatively smooth adjustment to the pro game. Although he cooled off down the stretch, Perkovich still managed to score 19 goals, 14 assists, and 81 penalty minutes in 68 games with Lowell. He also chipped in one assist in five playoff games.
All the lanky 6’5 Perkovich has done at every level is score goals, which is a big reason why he manages to sneak his way into the top 20 list more often than not. His advanced age means he doesn’t have quite the long-term upside of other forwards in the system, but if he continues to score goals, he may eventually get a shot in the NHL. But he definitely will need at least another year of seasoning in the AHL and will have to continue to score in Albany to keep himself on New Jersey’s radar.
18. (16) David McIntyre, C, 23
Trade from Anaheim, March 2009
One of the more intriguing prospects in the system, McIntyre finished off his collegiate career in style at Colgate, and was at, or near the top of many of the Red Raiders statistical categories. He scored 11 goals and 29 assists in 35 games, to go along with a plus-6 rating and 60 penalty minutes. He signed an amateur try-out in the AHL with Lowell at the end of Colgate’s season and stepped right in a played very well, recording three goals and two assists in 12 regular season games, and a goal and an assist in five playoff games. That all helped pave the way for McIntyre to sign his first pro contract over the summer with New Jersey.
McIntyre is the type of prospect that doesn’t really excel in any one area, but is proficient in all aspects of the game. He’s equally adept at playmaking as he is shooting, and while he definitely shows more of a slant towards offense, he is no slouch defensively. Throw in some grit, feistiness and intensity and you have a player that is tailor made to play on the third line, with a touch of offense to his game. It will be interesting to see if he can produce at the same level in the AHL as he did over the course of his collegiate career. Regardless, he has a bright future as a third or fourth line center down the road.
19. (NR) Scott Wedgewood, G, 18
Drafted 3rd round, 172nd overall, 2008
The first of two goaltenders drafted by the Devils in the 2010 draft, Wedgewood’s selection in the third round caught most observers off board, mostly because Wedgewood spent the majority of the season backing-up Matt Hackett for the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers. In 18 games, he went 5-9-0 with a 3.26 goals against average, .909 save percentage and one shutout. In the playoffs, Wedgewood may have put himself on more teams draft boards after putting up an unbelievable 70 save performance in an overtime loss to the Windsor Spitfires.
A very raw, project-type goaltender, Wedgewood is a technically sound, hybrid style goaltender with good puck-handling skills. He is not assured to be the number one goaltender in Plymouth this fall, but with Hackett turning pro, Wedgewood will see much more action than he’s seen in his previous two seasons of junior. Given that he has never been a full-fledged starter before, it will be interesting to see how he responds to a bigger workload. The Devils will have a better idea of what they have in Wedgewood after the completion of this season.
20. (13) Mark Fayne, D, 23
Drafted 5th round, 155th overall, 2005
Drafted all the way back in 2005, Fayne saved his best season for last as his senior year for the Providence Friars was by far his most productive in all aspects of the game. He played a ton of minutes, and saw extensive action on both special teams. The team captain recorded five goals and 17 assists, both career bests, in 34 games while putting up 14 penalty minutes. The Devils then signed him to his first pro contract in early August.
Fayne, much like Tyler Eckford has developed very well over his course of time in the Devils organization, and the hulking defenseman is now ready for the next challenge in his career. Fayne is physical defensive defenseman first and foremost, but he showed in his senior year that he has a modicum of offense to his game. He does not have a very high-ceiling, however, he has the tools to eventually develop into a prototypical, stay-at-home, bottom pairing blue liner after a couple of years of seasoning in the AHL.