Goaltending highlight of CHL prospect pool for New Jersey Devils

By Jared Ramsden
Photo: Goalie Maxime Clermont posted a 2.55 goals against average during the regular season, one of the best in the QMJHL. (Photo courtesy of www.olympiquesdegatineau.ca)

The Devils boast a relatively small group of CHL prospects. Two of whom are still playing in the CHL playoffs. Scott Wedgewood and Maxime Clermont, both draft picks in 2010, shouldered the majority of the load for their respective clubs as number one goaltenders, while Eric Gelinas elevated his play after a mid-season trade. Forward Ashton Bernard bounced around to numerous different leagues and teams this year and appears to be on his last legs with the organization.

OHL

Scott Wedgewood, G, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 3rd round, 84th overall, 2010

Wedgewood wasn’t handed the starting goaltending duties in Plymouth after seeing limited minutes backing up Matt Hackett (MIN) for the previous two seasons as highly regarded Matt Mahalak was in direct competition with him. However Wedgewood started off the season on the right foot took the reins early. Despite fading somewhat down the stretch, he posted solid numbers in his first season as a full-time starter and really elevated his game in the OHL playoffs. He played an integral role in helping the Whalers upset the Kitchener Rangers in the first round before both he and the team ran out of gas in the second round against the Owen Sound Attack.

Highlighted by a red hot month of November that saw him earn OHL goaltender of the month honors (7-1-0-0, 1.65 goals against average, .947 save percentage and one shutout) Wedgewood was in the top ten of most of the OHL’s major goaltending statistical categories by the end of the season. He played in 55 games (and over 3000 minutes) and finished with a record of 28-18-1-1 with a 2.99 goals against average, a .908 save percentage and two shut-outs. He split more time with Mahalak in the second half of the season as he seemed to fatigue from the heavy workload, but turned in a commendable effort in the post-season. He faced a ridiculous 430 shots in 10 playoff games, compiling a respectable 3.27 goals against average and a stellar .923 save percentage.

A technically sound, hybrid style goaltender with great down-low net coverage and reflexes, Wedgewood showed a lot in his first full season as a starter in the OHL. Aside from struggling a bit with having to adjust to a heavier workload, he demonstrated a lot of traits that suggest he could develop into a number one netminder at the NHL level. His performance in the playoffs was especially noteworthy as he was bombarded with shots and was instrumental, if not the key to winning their first round playoff series. Wedgewood’s future in New Jersey appears to be very bright, but he will return to the OHL for another season of junior next year.

QMJHL

Maxime Clermont, G, Gatineau Olympiques
Acquired: 6th round, 174th overall, 2010

It’s was a bit of an up and down season for Clermont, but there have been more ups than downs as Clermont and the Gatineau Olympiques have made a nice playoff push and are currently playing in the QMJHL’s Conference Finals against the Quebec Ramparts. Playing in front of a strong defensive team, Clermont often faced fewer than 20 shots per game, which at times appeared to hinder him. He was relatively consistent however it often wasn’t pretty when he was bad and by season end, he had actually lost his starting job to in-season waiver pick-up Francis Lacarte and was relegated to back-up duty to start the playoffs. However, he won the series clinching game in round one and was lights out in the second round against Drummondville, propelling the Olympiques to the Conference Finals.

Clermont finished the regular season with a record of 28-10-1-4 in 48 games while recording a 2.55 goals against average (which was the third best average in the league), a rather pedestrian .896 save percentage and four shutouts. Head Coach Benoit Groulx appeared to lose some confidence in Clermont as he had a handful of poor performances down the stretch of the regular season which lead to backup Francis Lacarte starting off the post-season as the Olympiques number one netminder. However, after a relief appearance in game six of Gatineau’s first round series against Rimouski, Clermont appears to have regained the confidence of the coach and regained the number one job. His playoff numbers to date are phenomenal as he currently has a 2.19 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.

Technically sound, aggressive and possessing a good sized frame, Clermont still needs to iron out some weaknesses in his game, but overall it’s been a good season of development for the netminder. He showed a lot of fortitude scratching and clawing his way back to being the number one netminder and seems to have elevated his game when the stakes have been raised. The Devils could turn Clermont pro next season, however with the recent signing of collegiate free agent goaltender Keith Kinkaid, the Devils have a much more crowded crease now and have the option of keeping Clermont in junior for one more season.


Eric Gelinas, D, Saint John Sea Dogs
Acquired: 2nd round, 54th overall, 2009

In what his is swan song in the QMJHL, Gelinas is writing quite the story book ending while continuing to develop into one of the Devils brightest prospects. He started off his fourth season in major junior in Chicoutimi, where he was an assistant captain and was looked to as one of the go-to guys on a young Sagueneens squad. He was one of the most coveted players at the QMJHL trade deadline and ultimately, the powerhouse and top team in the CHL, the Saint John Sea Dogs, landed his services. Gelinas has picked up his physical intensity and has thrived playing in a more complimentary role for Saint John, who at this point look to be the odds on favorites to make it as the QMJHL’s representative in the Memorial Cup.

Gelinas recorded nine goals and 15 assists in 35 games to go along with a minus-10 rating with Chicoutimi before the trade to Saint John. With the Sea Dogs, his numbers took a bit of a dip, but that was more a result of playing on a well balanced and high powered offensive team. With three goals, 17 assists and a plus-25 rating in 27 regular season games for Saint John, his combined regular season totals read 12 goals, 32 assists and a plus-15 rating in 62 games. His 198 shots-on-goal was an astounding number for a defenseman, and showed an emerging confidence in his offensive skill set. So far in 13 playoff games, Gelinas has recorded four goals and six assists to go along with a plus-nine rating for the Sea Dogs as they currently are playing in the QMJHL conference finals against Lewiston.

While still a little rough around the edges, Gelinas has shown improvement in each of his four years in the QMJHL. He’s continuing to grow into his sizable frame, while at the same time starting to play with more of a physical edge, especially noticeable in the playoffs. The strong skating, hard shooting blueliner still shows some hiccups defensively, which is to be somewhat expected of this forward-turned-defenseman, but he is in the right organization to help improve that area. A potential trip to the Memorial Cup will be a good experience for the blueliner and hopefully be a nice cap to his career in junior before making the jump to the AHL next season. He’ll need a few years of seasoning there before being ready to challenge for an NHL job, but there is no doubt that he is a big part of the Devils future on the blue line.

Ashton Bernard, LW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles/Campbellton Tigers (MJAHL)
Acquired: 6th round, 174th overall, 2009

There’s not too much to say about Bernard’s season except that he’s needed his suitcase and racked up a lot of travel time, bouncing from team-to-team and league-to-league. From Campbellton (MAJHL), to Cape Breton (QMJHL), to Cowichan Valley (BCHL), to Truro (MAJHL) and finally to Flin Flon (SJHL), Bernard has seen a lot of Canada this year. In 24 regular season games combined with all of those squads, he scored two goals and five assists (all with Truro) to along with his usual high penalty minute total (116). He’s also recorded one goal and 66 penalty minutes in nine playoff games for Flin Flon. Bernard’s career seems to be going in the wrong direction as he hasn’t been able to stick in the QMJHL after four full years in the league previously. Bernard is not signed, and at this point, it would be surprising if the Devils opted to ink him to a contract.