New Jersey Devils minor-league system replete with NHL seasoned prospects

By Jared Ramsden
Photo: In his first professional season, Adam Henrique has been among the top scorers for Albany all season. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

Just like last year, a plethora of injuries in New Jersey has lead to numerous players being summoned from the AHL, which has had a trickledown effect on both the Albany and Trenton Devils. The Albany Devils responded to the constant roster shuffling well last season, getting off to one of their best starts in franchise history, however this year has been a different story as 14 different players have been recalled at some point during the first half of the season. The injury bug has also played a major role in Albany’s struggles; much like it has affected the big league squad.

The team got off to a respectable start, but they have mostly been an inconsistent bunch that has struggled to put the puck in the net, and keep it out, which usually isn’t a combination that is going to lead to much success. Not being able to ice the same forward lines and defense pairings on a consistent basis have contributed to the team’s struggles. Only the lowly Adirondack Phantoms have fewer points than the 30 Albany has put up through 35 games as the club approaches the mid-way mark of the season.

The one positive to all of the prospects who have seen action at the NHL level, only to return to the AHL, is that they have been able to get their feet wet and a get a feel for what it’s like to play hockey at the highest level. This experience will be invaluable over time and should push all the prospects to the best of their abilities.


AHL

Patrick Davis, 23, RW

It may be hard to believe, but Davis is going into his fifth season of professional hockey in the Devils organization. Once thought of as a potential scoring winger, Davis has molded himself into more of a responsible, two-way player. He currently has 11 points in 28 games for Albany. Having already seen a handful of games at the NHL level, it’s going to be hard at this stage of his career for him to become an NHL regular.

Tyler Eckford, 25, D

Unfortunately for Eckford, a death in the family caused him to miss the majority of NHL training camp which resulted in other players contending for a full-time spot in New Jersey to creep ahead of him on the depth chart. He did get a brief four game look at the NHL, where he also got a chance to play in front of family and friends in Vancouver. He was held off the scoresheet in those four games and was returned to Albany in early November. He currently leads all Albany blueliners with 12 points in 31 games. There is no doubting Eckford’s above average offensive skills, but at the age of 25, his upside is not as high as others in the system and he is running out of time and chances to make an impression in New Jersey. It will be interesting to see what the organization chooses to do with him and if he has a long term future with the club.


Mark Fayne, 23, D

After a lengthy stint in New Jersey, Fayne was just returned to Albany with the return to health of Mark Fraser and Anssi Salmela. He was recalled in mid-November after playing sound and steady hockey for Albany. He dressed in 17 NHL games, scoring two goals and one assist, while recording a minus-eight rating. For a first-year-pro, he didn’t look completely overmatched, but there were times that he also showed his inexperience. In 17 AHL games, he’s scored a goal and four assists to go along with an impressive plus-five rating. Fayne does not have a high ceiling, but he acquitted himself very well in his NHL debut and might just have a future as a depth defenseman in the organization.

Jeff Frazee, 23, G

It was imperative that Frazee have a bounce back year after an uneven sophomore term in the AHL, and thus far, he’s been good, but he could definitely still up his play another notch. With veteran Mike McKenna in New Jersey for nearly a month replacing and injured Martin Brodeur, Frazee got a chance to get into a routine of playing on a more regular basis. He’s been great on some nights, but other nights, he hasn’t been at the top of his game. Frazee has also been let down at times by below-average defensive play. In 23 games, he has a 9-10-3 record with a respectable 2.76 goals against average, .905 save percentage and two shutouts. Finishing the season strong will go a long ways towards establishing himself as New Jersey’s goaltender of the future.

Adam Henrique, 20, C

It was a bit of an adjustment early on in his first year as a pro, but Henrique has slowly started to adjust and become more comfortable as the season has worn on. Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the injuries in New Jersey was Henrique as he was forced into a more prominent role on Albany, eventually settling in on the top line centering Vladimir Zharkov and Matt Anderson. In 30 games, the 6’0, 200 pound Henrique has scored eight goals and nine assists, and has a minus-one rating, which is a testament to his sound two-way play. Over the course of his junior career, Henrique got better and better and it appears he is taking the same development path at the AHL level. There was some thought he would be ready to play in the NHL right away, but spending a year in the minors is not going to hurt his development. He is perhaps a year, maybe two away from the NHL, but he has a future in New Jersey as a prototypical two-way, third line center.

Dan Kelly, 21, D

A very similar prospect to Young, Kelly is fresh off a five year junior career spent in Kitchener where he finished as the captain of the Rangers. In his first year as a pro, he’s suited up in 28 games, and posted a plus-one rating to go along with 34 penalty minutes. He recently just recorded his first professional goal in late December. Kelly is the type of player all teams need to be successful. He’ll need some development time in the minors for sure, but players of his ilk often find their way to the NHL.

David McIntyre, 23, C

McIntyre was able to get his feet wet in the AHL last year after completing his four years of college eligibility at Colgate and it has helped in his adjustment to becoming a full-time pro this year. He has easily been one of the most consistent players on an Albany squad that has seen its fair shares of up’s and down’s. He has been the only player on the roster to suit up in all 35 games, and sits fifth in team scoring with 16 points. On a club that has given up nearly 30 more goals against than goals for, his minus-one is very respectable. McIntyre doesn’t get a lot of hype in the organization, but he is one player to keep an eye on as his blend of skill,
smarts, two-way play, and grit make him a perfect fit for a checking line role. He’s more mature than many other first-year pro prospects, and as a result, he may not need much more time in the minors.

Nick Palmieri, 21, RW

Having made a relatively seamless transition to the pro level last season, scoring more than 24 goals as a rookie, Palmieri has struggled with inconsistency this year, something that plagued him while he was in the CHL. In 24 games, he has scored 11 points. The 6’3, 200 pound right winger is blessed with great hands for a big man and when he’s driving hard to the net, he can be nearly unstoppable. Being that he is still relatively young, and that he has yet to reach his full potential, the Devils still have high hopes for Palmieri. The lack of depth and the age of the current right wingers in New Jersey means there will be plenty of opportunity for Palmieri to make an impact with the big club in the not too distant future. He was just recently recalled to New Jersey where he is getting a chance to play in the top-six.

Nathan Perkovich, 25, RW

Perkovich had a pretty easy go of it in his first year as a pro after playing four full years of collegiate hockey at Lake Superior State, scoring 19 goals. It’s been a little tougher for him this year though, as he battled injuries and only has four goals and four assists through 21 games. Perkovich has an intriguing size/skill package, but at the age of 25, he does not have the upside of other prospects in the organization. He has shown a knack for scoring goals at every level he’s been at, so that will be his meal ticket to the NHL, if he makes it that far.

Michael Swift, 23, C

It was a slow start to the season for Swift, but he has come on as of late and now lead the club in scoring with 22 points, and leads the team with 12 goals. He’s proven to have been a very effective on special teams with five power-play goals and two short-handed markers. The third year pro is a jack-of-all trades, master of none type of forward who can play pretty much any style necessary. He works hard, and plays with an edge. There are more talented prospects ahead of him on the depth chart, but he has enough intangible qualities that could help him reach the NHL in the near future.

Alexander Urbom, 20, D

Urbom jumped right from the CHL to the NHL after impressing during training camp and the pre-season, but after six games, he was reassigned to Albany to get some much needed seasoning. While he hasn’t lit the world on fire since being demoted, he has played a heavier workload and gotten more minutes than he was seeing in New Jersey. This has helped the towering Swede’s development and get back some of the confidence he showed in the NHL exhibition games he played in. In 29 games, he has 10 assists, one of the better marks on the team. Aside from Jon Merrill, he probably has the greatest upside amongst all the Devils defense prospects. His offensive skills and instincts are top notch, but he needs to learn how to position himself better in his own end and use his imposing size to his advantage. Spending the rest of the season in the AHL definitely isn’t going to hurt him in the long run.

Alexander Vasyunov, 23, LW

Vasyunov started the season off in Albany, but was only recently returned to the AHL club after a fairly lengthy stint in the NHL with New Jersey. He played well in spurts and recorded four points in the 17 games he played in New Jersey, including his first NHL goal in later October against Anaheim. In 13 AHL games, he has recorded two goals and three assists. Vasyunov showed that he could play when paired with the proper linemates at the NHL level. He has a high skill level and has shown improved defensive aptitude since arriving in North America. It will be interesting to see if he gets another shot in New Jersey this season.

Harry Young, 21, D

After captaining the Windsor Spitfires to back-to-back Memorial Cup Championships, Young was clearly ready to take his tough and rugged style of play to the professional level. While he definitely hasn’t stood out, he’s provided steady defensive play in his own end and stuck up for his teammates on numerous occasions by dropping the gloves. In 27 games, he’s scored one goal and three assists, to go along with 72 penalty minutes. Young doesn’t project as more than third pairing blueliner at best, but with his work-ethic and intangible qualities he possesses, he could very well make it to the NHL one day.

Vladimir Zharkov, 22, RW

Somewhat surprising is the fact that the soon-to-be 23 year old Zharkov did not get re-called to New Jersey until late in December. He suited up in 40 games for New Jersey last season and the common thought amongst most was that he had a better than average chance to break camp with the team. He had spent the majority of the season playing on Albany’s top line with Anderson and Henrique. The speedy Russian plays a sound two-way game and is an excellent forechecker who is adept and forcing turnovers. He doesn’t have a very high ceiling, but he knows how to play his role and will likely get an extended audition in New Jersey to finish off the second half of the NHL season.

ECHL

John-Sebastien Berube, 21, LW

Berube is being brought along slowly by New Jersey, and so far, it looks like that’s been the right move. The big and burly winger got progressively better throughout his career in the QMJHL, culminating with his best season last year. So far in 25 games for Trenton, he sits fourth in team scoring with 18 points (8 G, 10 A) along with a minus-one rating and 40 penalty minutes. His strong play earned him a chance to play for Albany as he was recently re-called to the club. He fits the mould of a physical, fourth-line forward with the ability to chip in a little bit of offense. But he needs probably another year or two of development time in the minors before being considered for NHL duty.

Kory Nagy, 21, C

Nagy recently returned from a short nine game stint in the AHL with Albany to help them cope with the injuries and re-calls to New Jersey. He recorded one assist in those nine games. In 18 games with Trenton, Nagy has scored four goals and six assists. He is a regular member of Trenton’s penalty kill and plays well defensively. Nagy works hard night in and night out and provides great intangible qualities. While he won’t ever wow anyone with his skills, he could prove to be a useful depth forward in the future.