Future filled with promise for struggling New Jersey Devils AHL affiliate

By Jared Ramsden
Photo: Kory Nagy split the 2010-11 season between the AHL and ECHL where he posted modest totals playing as a checking forward. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

It was a rough season for the Devils parent club, and it wasn’t much better down on the farm in the AHL for the return of the baby Devils to Albany. The injuries, early season struggles and constant roster shuffling in New Jersey made it nearly impossible for new bench boss Rick Kowalsky to ice the same lineup on a game-to-game basis. The team was forced to use an astounding 47 players this year, putting an enormous strain on not just their team, but the Devils ECHL affiliate in Trenton as well.

There were a couple of solid stretches in which the team appeared to get going, but as a whole, the season was very inconsistent and disappointing. And it shows in the numbers as they were dead last (overall points, penalty killing, and goals against) or near the bottom (Powerplay and goals per game) in many major statistical categories. The worst part of the dead last penalty kill is that they lead the league in penalties and penalty minutes. Not a combination that led to a lot of success on the ice.

Though the team as a whole struggled mightily, there were some positive developments, most notably a trio of first year players. Adam Henrique, Alexander Urbom, and David McIntyre all took great steps forward as first-year professionals and are now all one step closer to realizing their dreams of becoming NHL’ers.


Forward

Adam Henrique, C, 21

While New Jersey probably wasn’t too surprised at Henrique’s success in his first pro season, they had to be a little surprised at how easy he made it look after a brief adjustment. He didn’t have a great training camp in New Jersey, a lot of which had to do with the fact he may have been worn out from playing so much hockey. Two straight Memorial Cup tournaments and World Junior Tournament will do that to you. However as injuries mounted in New Jersey, Henrique was thrust into a more prominent role in Albany and didn’t look back. Throw in the fact that he played the majority of the second-half of the season at left-wing and it makes his season all the more impressive. In 73 games he scored a team rookie record of 25 goals (eight of which came on the power-play), and tied a team rookie record for points with 50. Those 50 points ranked sixth best in the league for AHL freshman. He was paired on the top line for most of the season with AHL veteran and team leading scorer Matt Anderson, and also saw extensive action on both special teams units. He was rewarded by the big club with an NHL debut in New Jersey’s regular season finale. The consummate two-way forward appears just about ready for a full-time promotion to New Jersey.

Alexander Vasyunov, LW, 24

Vasyunov spent a good chunk of the early portion of the season in New Jersey as the team was felled by injuries, and acquitted himself fairly well, scoring a goal and four assists in 17 games. However his AHL season did not go nearly as well, as he posted career lows across the board. He had eight goals and 17 assists in 50 games. It should be noted though that Vasyunov was not often paired with the type of players that would help accentuate his skill set and he was probably hurt more than anyone by the constant lineup shuffling as he couldn’t generate any chemistry with linemates. The offensively gifted Russian winger is an RFA this summer and appears to be blocked in New Jersey, which is no fault of his own. He has the skills and potential to be effective at the NHL level if utilized properly, but it may not ever happen in this organization.

David McIntyre, C, 24

For a team that struggled to ice the same lineup on a game-to-game basis, McIntyre was one of the few constants coach Kowalsky was able to rely on this year. The first-year center and former Colgate standout dressed in 78 games, which technically lead the team because Steve Zalewski’s 81 games were combined between two clubs. McIntyre lined up in a variety of roles, sometimes paired with offensive players, and sometimes paired with checkers. This was mostly due to the constant roster shuffling, but also because he showed the adaptability to play whatever role was asked of him. He scored 12 goals and 18 assists on the year, while also tallying 51 penalty minutes. Possessing a nice blend of two-way play, grit and skill, McIntyre’s ceiling is limited, but he possesses the traits necessary to eventually develop into a fourth line, or perhaps even a third line player at the NHL level. He is a dark-horse prospect who could eventually find his way into the New Jersey lineup.

Nathan Perkovich, RW, 25

It was a forgettable second pro season for Perkovich, who came out of the gate slow after scoring 19 goals as an AHL freshman. To make matters worse, Perkovich suffered a high-ankle sprain in early December which cost him nearly three months of action. When he returned to action, Perkovich seemed to get going, recording nine points in 19 games, but as a whole, his season in general was a bit of letdown. He has had a knack for scoring goals at all levels over the course of his career, but the soon-to-be 26-year-old has likely peaked in terms of his overall development. Perkovich is an RFA, and it is likely that he will be re-signed, but at this point, it doesn’t look like he will get past the AHL level.

John-Sebastien Berube, LW, 21

Berube had two separate multi-game stints in Albany, dressing in 17 games total and recording two assists, but spent the majority of his first pro season with the Devils ECHL affiliate in Trenton. In 44 games for Trenton, Berube posted respectable totals across the board. He scored 12 goals (including five on the power play) and 18 assists, to go along with 84 penalty minutes. Berube is being brought along by New Jersey at a very methodical pace, but he does have the tools to eventually develop into a prototypical rugged, crash-and-bang fourth line forward. His first task at hand though is to make a permanent jump from the ECHL to the AHL, something he will look to do next season.

Kory Nagy, C, 21

After getting into 31 games last season in the AHL with the Devils affiliate that was then located in Lowell, Nagy had hoped to carve out a permanent spot at that level this year. However he only dressed for 13 games in Albany this season, spending the majority of the year in the ECHL with Trenton. A defensive minded checking forward who was a regular member of Trenton’s penalty kill unit, Nagy recorded nine goals and 13 assists in 57 games. If Nagy wants to make progress as a prospect and in the organization, he’s going to have to step up his game a make it as a full time player in Albany next season. That all being said, his upside is very limited and he’s going to have to work his tail off if he ever wants to have a future in the NHL.

Mike Hoeffel, LW, 22

A second round pick of the Devils back in 2007, Hoeffel signed an entry-level contract with New Jersey in March after finishing out his college eligibility with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and was assigned to Albany to get some pro experience under his belt. He ended up dressing in 10 games and scoring his first two professional goals. He also got an opportunity to play on both special teams units. He should be a lineup fixture in Albany next season, and provide a good mix of grit, physicality and two-way play.

Mike Sislo, C/W, 23

Sislo was signed by the Devils as an un-drafted free-agent in early April after completing a storied collegiate career at the University of New Hampshire. He capped his four years there with a fantastic 15 goals and 33 assists in 39 games. The undersized right-shooting forward got into three late season games in Albany and was held scoreless in those contests. Sislo showed the ability to adjust and improve his game throughout his collegiate career and is blessed with an above average offensive skill set. It will be interesting to see how he does as a professional, but given his track record in college, the Devils might have themselves a player in the future.


Defensemen

Tyler Eckford, D, 25

After a breakout 31 point season in 2009-10, it was thought that Eckford would be right in the thick of the competition for a roster spot in New Jersey this year. However a death in the family forced him to miss the majority of New Jersey’s training camp and ultimately, he was never able to get his season on track. He ended up with 12 points this year, only playing in 37 games (though he did play four games for New Jersey in early November), and was excused from the team for personal reasons in mid-January and did not play another game after that. It’s very possible that off-ice distractions contributed to his poor season, but the soon-to-be 26-year-old has likely peaked as a prospect and has also been passed on the depth chart by numerous young players that possess more long-term upside. An RFA this summer, it’s no sure thing that the team will qualify him and bring him back to the organization.


Dan Kelly, D, 22

One lesser-known prospect who quietly went about his business and had a pretty solid professional debut was Kelly. Often paired with one of Albany’s more experienced blueliners during the year, Kelly suited up in 61 games (he missed about three weeks of action late in the year) and recorded seven points and 71 penalty minutes. The most impressive stat for Kelly was his plus-7 rating, which tied for tops on the club. For a team that gave up as many goals as they did, it makes that stat all the more impressive. He was only a minus player in one month during the year, and that was the month of April when only five games were played. A meat-and-potatoes, defensive-minded defenseman, Kelly’s upside is limited to that of a depth defenseman, but the former Kitchener Rangers captain has enough character and intangible qualities that you can’t write him off just yet.

Alexander Urbom, D, 20

Urbom’s season was filled with many peaks and valleys, but for a first year professional who started the year playing seven games in the NHL as a 19-year-old, the young Swede did about as well as could be expected. The expectations for Urbom were high coming into the season, and though it may have been a disappointment for some to see him spend the majority of the season in Albany, it was the right choice for his development. The offensively talented defenseman was able to work on his defensive zone play, while also learning how to use his 6’3 200 pound frame to his advantage. He was often paired with veterans Oliver Magnan or Rob Davidson until being paired with newcomer Joe Sova near the end of the season. He lead all Albany defenseman in scoring with 23 points in 72 games and was a regular on Albany’s top power-play unit while also getting some experience killing penalties. Urbom was recalled to play in New Jersey’s regular season finale and scored his first career NHL goal on wrap-around. He’s a potential mid-pairing defenseman that should again vie for NHL duty next season, but it’s possible a little more AHL seasoning could also be in order.


Joe Sova, D, 23

The Devils were very active signing collegiate free-agents this spring, and the first one they inked was Sova, who had just completed his junior season at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. The feisty, smooth-skating, two-way blueliner recorded four goals and 20 assists to go along with 60 penalty minutes before signing with the Devils on March 19th. In 11 games with Albany, he recorded a goal and three assists. He saw a lot of time with veterans Jay Leach and Rob Davison early on before forming a solid pairing with Alexander Urbom. Sova provided an instant injection of mobility and offensive flair on the blueline and was awarded with a lot of time on the power play. There was an alarming lack of offensive production from Albany’s blueline this year, and Sova will be counted on to help make that less of a problem next year. He has an intriguing skill set and will be one to keep a close eye on.

Harry Young, D, 21

Young has a solid, yet unspectacular first pro season in Albany, which pretty much sums up what he did throughout his entire junior career where he captained the Windsor Spitfires to back-to-back Memorial Cups. Aside from a brief three-game demotion to the ECHL’s Trenton Devils, he spent the whole season in Albany. A similar type of player to Dan Kelly (though at 6’4 and well over 200 lbs, Young towers over him), Young dressed in 52 games, recording five points, a minus-five rating, and 142 penalty minutes before being shutdown for the year in late March after having his appendix removed. Young’s upside isn’t nearly as high as most of the other Devils defense prospects, but he provides a physical presence and sticks up for his teammates. If he can continue to improve his skating, he’s a guy that could eventually make it as a depth defenseman at the NHL level. He plays a style similar to that of current Devil Colin White.

Goaltender

Jeff Frazee, G, 24

While Frazee didn’t quite have the bounce back year that both he and New Jersey had hoped, he had a respectable season considering the injuries he fought and spotty defensive play in-front of him. He did struggle with consistency at times too, which is usually what happens when you can’t stay healthy and get into a rhythm. He posted a 2.90 goals against average, .902 save percentage to go along with 11 wins and two shutouts in 33 games. He only played 10 games after January 7th, missing a six week stretch due to a knee injury that eventually resulted in exploratory surgery. While Frazee does still have some upside, he all of the sudden has some competition in the crease as New Jersey has added three goaltending prospects to the fold since last summer as they prepare for the post Martin Brodeur era. He will likely be re-signed and brought back next year, but now at the age of 24, he desperately needs to stay healthy and regain his rookie form next year. His long term future in the organization depends on it.

Keith Kinkaid, G, 21

Though he was signed after Albany’s season was already complete, the signing of former Union goaltender Kinkaid is quite significant. Given that veteran Mike McKenna is an unrestricted free agent and not likely to be brought back, it’s very possible that Kinkaid will be paired with Frazee in Albany to start next season, When you look at what he accomplished in his sophomore season at Union (25-10-3 record, 1.99 goals against average, .920 save percentage and three shut-outs), the 6’3, 180 pound goaltender has a tremendous amount of upside, and has given the Devils fast improving group of goaltending prospects a real shot in the arm.