Albany Devils 2011-12 season preview

By Jared Ramsden
Photo: After splitting the past two seasons between the AHL and ECHL, Kory Nagy is making a bid for a regular AHL spot. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

It was a forgettable year for the Albany Devils last season as injuries at both the NHL and AHL level sabotaged any chance the team had for success. They finished dead last in the 30 team AHL circuit with a paltry 70 points and also gave up a league worst 283 goals. There were positives, such as the development of top prospects Adam Henrique and Alexander Urbom, but overall, it was a disappointing season for the team as a whole. Things can (and should) improve this year as long as the team can avoid injuries and cut down the goals-against.

The big change this summer was the ceasing of operations of the Devils ECHL affiliate in Trenton. Instead the Devils will be sharing an ECHL affiliate with the Vancouver Canucks in Kalamazoo.

Forwards

There will be a lot of familiar veteran faces up-front as captain Stephen Gionta, last years leading scorer Matt Anderson, Steven Zalweski, Chad Wiseman and Tim Sestito return to the team. Though not necessarily a veteran by age, Nathan Perkovich returns for his third season in the AHL well. Another possible veteran to add to the group is Stephane Veilleux who has returned to North America after a stint in Europe.

Though they got into a few games towards the end of the regular season, prospects Mike Hoeffel and Mike Sislo will both be entering their first full seasons at the professional level and be expected to contribute. Hoeffel, a second round pick in 2007 projects as more of a checker long-term, but will be expected to chip in offensively. Sislo, a free agent signing last summer scored 48 points in his final collegiate season at the University of New Hampshire and should be able to carve out a role in the top-nine.

John-Sebastien Berube will be looking to graduate full-time to the AHL after apprenticing mostly in the ECHL last season. Kory Nagy has bounced back and forth between the AHL and ECHL frequently the past two seasons and needs to establish himself at the AHL level. Darcy Zajac also returns after a solid rookie-pro season.

Vladimir Zharkov and Brad Mills appear to be fighting each other for a spot on the opening night roster. Zharkov was the favorite before camp started due to his extensive NHL experience the last two years, but Mills has caught the eye of new coach Pete DeBoer. It is possible both could break camp with the team, but more than likely it will only be one of them.

Though only on a minor league deal, winger Joseph Whitney stood out with an impressive prospect camp showing earlier in the summer and earned himself an AHL contract. He could be one to keep an eye on.

Defensemen

Aside from Jay Leach and newcomer Peter Harrold, there will be a very youthful flavor on Albany’s blue line this season. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering it is the deepest position in the system.

Top prospects Eric Gelinas and Brandon Burlon have somewhat contrasting styles. Gelinas is still raw and has some filling out to do, but he has a tantalizing combination of size and skill. He loves to rush the puck up the ice, but has to continue to evolve and develop defensively. Burlon is a little more mature having played three years at the University of Michigan and is quite well rounded. His mobility is his standout trait.

Joe Sova was signed early in the spring last year and was able to get his feet wet in Albany last season. He had good puck skills and should see plenty of action on the power-play. Dan Kelly returns after a solid pro debut as does the hard-nosed Harry Young.

Goaltending

This is the position that will be the key to turning things around in Albany. After a scintillating rookie season back in 2008-09, Jeff Frazee has struggled with injuries the past two seasons and has been unable to get in any kind of a groove. New Jersey hasn’t given up on him just yet, but time is running out for Frazee to prove that he has what it takes to make it to the next level.

Frazee will be pushed and challenged by newcomer Keith Kinkaid, who was signed out of Union College after a spectacular sophomore season that saw him record a miniscule 1.99 goals against average and .920 save percentage.

Also joining the organization after a magnificent playoff run in the QMJHL with Gatineau is Maxime Clermont. Though he does have junior eligibility left, he doesn’t have much left to prove at that level. He will likely be loaned out to an ECHL team, but could see some time at the AHL level depending on the health of Frazee and the play of Kinkaid.

Coaching

Rick Kowalsky returns behind the bench for his second AHL season and will be joined by assistant coach Tommy Albelin. With a lot of returnees on the roster, Kowalsky should be more comfortable and health permitting should be able to ice a regular set of lines and defense pairings.

Prospects

Adam Henrique had a fantastic first pro season and with the injury to Travis Zajac, he has a legitimate shot at sticking full time in the NHL with New Jersey this year. He has seen extensive action in the pre-season and though another year in the AHL won’t hurt him, he appears to be ready for the NHL.

There was always the possibility that Adam Larsson might have needed some development time in the AHL, but he has been given major minutes and top power-play time in New Jersey during the pre-season and appears to be a roster lock.

Alexander Urbom was thought to be an afterthought for a roster spot this year simply due to the depth at the defense position. But he saw action in New Jersey’s last two pre-season games and played very well, complicating matters for DeBoer, who is trying to decide whom of Urbom, Matt Corrente, Mark Fraser, and Matt Taormina make the team. One of the four (and possibly two) will likely make the cut in New Jersey. If Urbom does make the team, it won’t be as an extra defenseman. He needs to be playing regularly, be it at the NHL level or the AHL level.