New Jersey Devils depth analysis, Fall 2010

By Jared Ramsden

The Devils depth chart hasn’t changed substantially from last season. However, with the addition of a few more prospects from the 2010 draft, combined with the maturity and development of the rest of the organization, the system is clearly in an upward trajectory.

With more than half of the prospects in the Devils system playing pro this year, a lot of the faces on the depth chart will begin to see time at the NHL level and eventually earn full-time jobs. The Devils have already used six rookies early on this season, and that number is likely to rise with the big club hanging precariously close to the salary cap.

The talent the Devils have may not have the flash and dash that many other organizations have, but what they have is a solid and fairly deep group of prospects that suit the style of play that the Devils employ. What will be interesting is to see if the team goes through a bit of system wide style transition with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise now the focal points for now and in the future.

Left Wing

This is a position that is highlighted by star prospect Mattias Tedenby. It is also a position again that remains relatively stable, with the only changes from last year being the subtraction of Brad Snetsinger from the organization, and the position change of Kory Nagy to center.

Tedenby is the star pupil of not only this position, but of the whole system. The diminutive and highly-skilled Swede turned pro this year and while he progressively got better in the pre-season, the best place for him to be this year is in the AHL. He has played some right wing in the pre-season, and is actually listed as a right winger in the AHL, so a position switch to the right side might be something that the team will consider for Tedenby in the near future. With Kovalchuk and Parise patrolling the left side, it is a move that has some sense to it. While he may not evolve into a first-line winger, he has a very good opportunity to evolve into a 25-30 goal second-liner.

Alexander Vasyunov is an intriguing prospect, and one that is due for a major breakthrough going into this third pro season in North America. He recently appeared in his first NHL game, and should he build on the numbers he put up the past two years, he might get a few more cameos in New Jersey this year. The Russian sniper has vastly improved his play away from the puck, which has helped increase his stock in the organization. That all being said, Vasyunov’s strengths are his offensive skill-set and goal-scoring ability, so he will need to be utilized properly in order to take advantage of the whole package. He’s not a sure thing, but he might be closer to the NHL than a lot of people think.

Mike Hoefell and Derek Rodwell both play in the NCAA and play a somewhat similar style, but the difference is Hoefell is a senior at the University of Minnesota and Rodwell is a freshman at the University of North Dakota. Both play a predominantly north-south style, and fit the Devils mold of two-way, third-line type left wingers. Hoefell, who will turn pro at season’s end will need a year or two of AHL seasoning before being NHL ready, while Rodwell will be given plenty of time to develop in college before the team considers turning him pro.

When John-Sebastien Berube was drafted, the Devils knew he could fight, but also knew that he was very raw in the other aspects of his game. However, he showed vast improvement over his career in the QMJHL and earned himself a contract. He is starting this season in the ECHL with Trenton, a sign that the Devils are not going to rush this future crash-and-bang fourth-liner.

Ashton Bernard has not shown himself to be much more than an enforcer since being drafted and it would be very surprising to see him signed as he has a limited upside.

Center

Out of the three forward positions, center has the most depth from top to bottom and five of the six centers are already playing pro. Headlining the group is 2008 first round draft choice Jacob Josefson, easily the most talented of the bunch. Behind him are group of solid, two-way middle men who are looking to carve out roles in the organization.

The Devils have already had a firsthand look at their other prized Swedish prospect as Josefson was summoned from the minors after only one AHL game to help fill an injury and salary-cap depleted lineup. While he has been held without a point in his first handful of games, he has shown tremendous poise and hockey sense, as well as great play away from the puck. While the team likely would have liked to see him get some AHL games under his belt before getting called-up, he has not looked out of place at the NHL level. He is mature beyond his years and should slot in perfectly very shortly as the number two center behind Travis Zajac.

Perhaps no Devils prospect better fits within the system and style of play the team employs than two-time Memorial Cup Champion Adam Henrique. There was some thought that he would be fast-tracked to the NHL, but he did not see any action during the pre-season and was sent down to the AHL to get some seasoning. Henrique doesn’t standout in any one facet, but is about as well-rounded a prospect as the Devils have. He has those intangible qualities that you just can’t teach and he fits the mould of a third-line center to a “T”.

David McIntyre is relatively new to the organization compared to other prospects, but he is an abrasive and scrappy player who also has the ability to contribute offensively as he showed during his four years at Colgate University. He doesn’t get the headlines that some of the other prospects do, but he is one to keep an eye on this year as he starts his foray into the pro ranks.

Listed as a center, David Wohlberg is most often deployed as a left-winger at the University of Michigan, showing his versatility as a prospect. He is another solid two-way player, playing a similar style to that of McIntyre. Michael Swift has developed quite nicely as an un-drafted free-agent, though his overall upside is somewhat limited. Kory Nagy is still stuck in the ECHL due to the amount of depth the Devils have accumulated at the pro level, but he is a reliable, hard-working player who could fill the role of a fourth-line grinder in the future.

Right Wing

This is a position that is not very deep, but the quality of prospects here is quite solid overall. Four of these players already have at least one full year of AHL experience, and three of the five have played in a handful of NHL games, including 40 last year for Vladimir Zharkov.

Nick Palmieri scored over 20 goals as rookie in the AHL last year and is by far the most offensively talented player of the group. A tantalizing package of size, speed and skill, Palmieri showed the consistency last season that he often lacked playing junior in the OHL. He did not look out of place last year in a brief recall to New Jersey and his rocket shot and power-forward potential make him perfectly suited for a second-line scoring role.

While it came as a surprise to some that Zharkov didn’t crack New Jersey’s opening night line-up after spending the majority of last season in the NHL, that doesn’t at all diminish his stature in the organization. He was forced into duty last season after a rash of injuries hit the big club and while he didn’t look completely out of place, there were still facets of his game that still needed maturing. He is perhaps the fastest skater in the system, and is best deployed as a forechecking torpedo. He does have decent offensive skills, but that won’t be his calling card once he gets back to the NHL.

Not many people talk about Nathan Perkovich, but all he has done at every level he’s been at is score goals, and that is something you cannot teach. While he still needs to work on filling out his lanky 6’5 frame, if he continues to score, he will keep himself on the prospect radar. Patrick Davis is a seasoned AHL veteran now who has not developed the offensive side of his game as well as the Devils had hoped. He is quickly running out of time to make a name for himself. Switzerland native Mauro Jorg was drafted this past summer after impressing at the World Juniors and will continue to play in his native country until the Devils deem him ready to turn pro.

Defense

The Devils have done a fantastic job turning an organizational weakness into arguably its biggest strength. There isn’t a lot of potential star power here, but the depth and diversity of talent the Devils have accumulated over the course of the past few seasons is quite impressive.

With Matt Corrente, Alexander Urbom, and Matt Taormina at, or having seen time at the NHL level already this season, combined with the potential of players such as Jon Merrill, Brandon Burlon, and Eric Gelinas, there should be quite an overhaul on the Devils defense corps over the next few seasons.

Though he didn’t make the team initially out of camp, Corrente was summoned to New Jersey early in October and was a regular in the lineup until he recently fractured his hand and is now out indefinitely. He is not a flashy or overly offensively talented defenseman, but he plays a physical and rugged game and sticks up for his teammates. He needs to worry about making the simple play and staying in position, but at this point, he doesn’t have much to gain playing in the AHL anymore.

Alexander Urbom and Eric Gelinas are similar style defenseman, though Gelinas is a little rawer at this stage in his career. Urbom, who had a stand-out debut in the CHL last season made the Devils out of training camp, but after a rough start, he was dispatched to the minors to gain some valuable seasoning. The team is still very high on the well-rounded 19 year-old Swedish blueliner, and he will eventually be a major cog for years to come. Gelinas stuck around for a while in training camp this fall, and even got into a pre-season game with the Devils, but he still needs to fill out his sizeable, and still growing frame, while rounding out the other rough edges in his game. His upside is tremendous.

Jon Merrill and Brandon Burlon both patrol the blue line for the University of Michigan, both were second round picks of the Devils and both possess tremendous mobility and offensive upside. Merrill is only just beginning his collegiate career and is already seeing a heavy workload on the Wolverine blue line. He fell in the 2010 draft due to character concerns, but he arguably has the biggest upside of any Devil blueliner. Burlon looks to be back on track in his junior season after a rough sophomore term, and while his upside is not as high as Merrill’s, he is a solid prospect in his own right.

Matt Taormina almost literally came out of nowhere last season to score 50 points as a rookie in the AHL, and earned himself an NHL contract before this season was out. His story got even better this season as he made the team out of training camp and at this point, it appears he has earned himself a full time NHL gig. He is playing over 20 minutes a night and seeing time on the first power play unit.

Though he has become a somewhat forgotten man after missing most of training camp due to a death in the family, Tyler Eckford might now get an extended look in New Jersey now that the team has become beset by injuries to their defenseman. He is a little older than most of the other prospects, so his window could be closing quickly and he must take advantage of his opportunity.

Along with Merrill and Burlon, the Devils have four more blueliners toiling in the NCAA. Two are sophomores, and two are freshman. Corbin McPherson, a big, all-encompassing blueliner at Colgate and Seth Helgeson, a towering, stay-at-home defenseman are the sophomores, while Curtis Gedig (Ohio State) and Joe Faust (Wisconsin) are the freshman. All have varied skill-sets and all are a long ways away from being able to fully gauge their long-term potential.

Mark Fayne, Harry Young and Dan Kelly all are making their pro debuts in the AHL this year, with Fayne possessing the best all-around package and upside of the bunch.

Goaltending

At long last, the Devils finally decided to add some more goaltending prospects to the stable to join Jeff Frazee in the system. They drafted two goaltenders at the 2010 draft, with the knowledge that Martin Brodeur’s career is slowly winding down.

Frazee had a rough second go-around in the AHL, but the team still has high hopes for the athletic netminder. It’s not a shoe-in that he is the goaltender of the future in New Jersey, but he is the closest thing the Devils have to one right now and is the only goaltending prospect that is playing pro hockey right now.

Scott Wedgewood and Maxime Clermont were added this year to give the team some much needed goaltending depth. Wedgewood was a little bit of an unknown, seeing limited time as a back-up with the Plymouth Whalers in two seasons, but has already seen a huge spike in playing time with Matt Hackett turning pro. He is very raw, but he has a lot of upside. Clermont was highly touted going into his draft year, but he and his team in Gatineau had a rough go of it last year, which led to him sliding all the way to the sixth round of the draft. Both Wedgewood and Clermont will not be rushed, but they will be closely monitored over the next season or two to see if they might be the answer to the future in net for the Devils.