New Jersey Devils Depth Analysis, Fall 2011

By Jared Ramsden
Photo: A forward for the University of Miami (Ohio), Blake Coleman transitioned from wing to center last season and saw a huge jump statistically. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

The simplest way to sum up the Devils organizational depth chart is they are brimming with talent and depth on defense, thinning very quickly at forward, and slowly but surely building up a solid group of goaltending prospects. As a whole though, this is the strongest the organization has been overall in quite sometime.

However, with the pending graduation of some of the organizations top prospects, the overall depth of the system is going to take a hit. What that means is players are progressing through the system and establishing themselves as NHLers, which is what a franchise wants.

The majority of New Jersey’s prospects are pro, so expect another wave of prospects to hit the NHL level after these graduations, especially on the blue line where the team is hoping to build a group of defenseman who can mimic the stability the Devils championship teams of the early 2000’s had at the position.


Left Wing


The first thing that should be mentioned here is the untimely passing of Alexander Vasyunov. He had a bright future ahead of him and was taken much too soon.

The left wing position is the deepest of the three forward positions, but it is about to take a sizeable hit with the graduation of Mattias Tedenby full-time to the NHL. 2011 draftees Reid Boucher and Blake Pietila were added to the prospect pool and are supplemented by Mike Hoeffel, Derek Rodwell, John-Sebastien Berube, and Kory Nagy.

Tedenby, the flashiest forward prospect the team has had in awhile has essentially cemented himself as an NHL regular. He is currently playing on the third line around 10-12 minutes a night. In the future, look for him to emerge as a top-six winger who will contribute on the power-play. With Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk ahead of him at left-wing though, it’s possible that move to the right side could be in the cards.

Though it’s still early, it’s hard to believe Boucher fell all the way to the Devils in the fourth round of the draft this past summer. He may not be the biggest guy on the ice or the best skater, but the one thing he does know how to do is find the back of the net. He has an explosive shot and great instincts at the offensive end of the rink. He was set to play in the USHL before heading to Michigan State in 2012-13, but chose the OHL, where he currently plays for the Sarnia Sting. He needs to round out his game, but his upside is tremendous.

Hoefell completed his four years at the University of Minnesota in a less-than flashy style last year and is beginning his foray into professional hockey with the Devils AHL affiliate in Albany. He doesn’t project as a top-six forward, but he possesses a good mix of grit and two-way play and in a couple of years, could find himself as a productive bottom-six forward in New Jersey.

An intriguing addition to the Devils prospect pool, Pietila played more of a support role while on the US National Development Team last year, but still did enough to get noticed and get himself drafted. A speedy two-way winger, Pietila chose to join his brothers at Michigan Tech and is currently playing on the Huskies top-line. He projects as a checking line forward at his developmental peak, which is still a ways away.

Rodwell goes into his sophomore season at the University of North Dakota looking to play a more prominent role with the team after playing on the fourth line for the majority of his freshman season. The tenacious crash-and-bang winger has limited offensive upside, but he’s the type of player that all teams need to be successful and could eventually carve out a role for himself as a pro.

Berube and Nagy are currently trying to find their way as AHL regulars. Berube split last year between the ECHL and AHL and is looking to build on a solid rookie pro-season. He ultimately projects as a depth forward. Nagy is going into his third year as a pro and at this point it would be a stretch to think he has a future in at the NHL level.

Center

This is not an overly deep position in the organization, but because of the versatility of Patrik Elias and Danius Zubrus at the NHL level, it is not as big a concern as it could be. Headlining this position are Jacob Josefson and Adam Henrique.

With the injury to Travis Zajac, Josefson has been thrust into the second-line center role in New Jersey and though that is the position is expected to fill in the future, the team had hoped to ease him in as the third line center before giving him a more prominent role with the team. That being said, Josefson plays a very mature two-way game and does not look too out place playing a prominent role in the top-six. Unfortunately, he suffered a broken collarbone in late October and will now be out indefinitely.

Henrique is very close to making a permanent jump to the NHL. He made the team out of camp, and though he’s already been sent down, it won’t be long before he is up again. Much like Josefson, he possesses a high hockey IQ and plays a sound two-way game. His versatility (he played much of last season in the AHL at left wing) should serve him very well in the future.

New to the system this year is Blake Coleman, who led the USHL in scoring last season and was drafted this past summer in the third round by the Devils. A move to the center ice position led to a break-through season, however his skill-set long-term may be better suited to the wing. He’s a gritty and tenacious player who added a touch of finesse to his game that should serve him well in the future. Entering his freshman season at the University of Ohio, he’s still a few years away.

Rounding out the quartet of centers is University of Michigan senior David Wohlberg. He’s another player who’s long-term future might be at the wing (he’s deployed as a left-winger for the Wolverines), but for the time being, he’s still listed as a center at Hockey’s Future. Wohlberg’s best trait is his speed, but he displays a nice mix of grit, skill, and finesse and seems to be perfectly suited to playing a checking line role. He’s been developing at a very steady rate and should be ready for the pro game next season.


Right Wing

The right-wing position isn’t very deep. With the pending graduation of Nick Palmieri and the re-signing of Nathan Perkovich to an AHL deal, technically there will only be two right-wingers listed on the Hockey’s Future depth chart. Look for the depth of this position to be addressed over the next couple of seasons.

Barring something unforeseen happening, Palmieri will graduate from prospect to full-time prospect in November. He’s currently playing on the second line in New Jersey and could very well approach the 15-20 goal mark in his first full NHL season.

The Devils signed a handful of collegiate free-agents last spring, and University of New Hampshire senior Mike Sislo was the first to put pen to paper with the team. He scored 15 goals and 33 assists in his final season with the Wildcats and progressively got better each season. Though vastly undersized, he competes hard and isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty. He could eventually emerge as a checking line candidate in the not-too distant future.

Mauro Jorg was drafted in 2010 after catching the Devils eye at the 2009-10 World Junior Championships and has since spent two full seasons in the Swiss Elite League with HC Lugano. He has limited upside, but given the lack of depth at the position, New Jersey would be wise to consider signing him soon and seeing what he can do in North America.

Defense

As was the case last year, this is by far and away the deepest and most talent laden position in the organization. It accounts for just a shade below 50 percent of the Devils prospects, and will surpass that mark once some of the forwards graduate off the list.

The group is headlined by Adam Larsson and Jon Merrill, and is well supplemented by the likes of Alexander Urbom, Mark Fayne, Eric Gelinas, and Brandon Burlon. There is a nice blend of styles amongst this group and seeing as how it is an organizational weakness at the NHL level, you can expect to see many of these names don the red and black in the foreseeable future.

Larsson was the prize for the Devils finishing out of the playoffs. He was exactly what the team needed on the blue line, and if the early season is any indication, he’s likely not long for this list. The soon-to-be 19-year-old has been playing close to 25 minutes a night as well as seeing ample time on the first power-play unit. He’s already a top pairing defenseman and is only going to get better.

After a brilliant freshman year at the University of Michigan, the Devils had to be disappointed when Merrill was handed a 12 game suspension by the Wolverines to start this season. His questionable character allowed the Devils to steal him the second round of the 2010 draft, over-shadowing his supreme two-way skill and power-play prowess. He has the upside to be a number two or three defenseman, but his character is a red-flag that will require monitoring.

Many expected Urbom to jump right to the NHL last season, but perhaps expectations were a little too high. He ended up taking a back seat to Fayne, who emerged a pleasant surprise in his first professional season. The team is still high on Urbom and there is no denying his upside, but the team can afford to be patient with him, especially given Fayne’s emergence along with the addition to Larsson to the organization. Fayne’s long-term future may lie as a bottom pairing defenseman once all the dust settles, but in the meantime, he’s established himself as an NHL regular.

Gelinas and Burlon are both entering their first pro seasons. Gelinas, who was part of the Memorial Cup Champion Saint John Sea Dogs in his final year of junior is loaded with upside. He has a tantalizing size/skill combination, but is still quite raw still in need of overall refinement. His ceiling may be higher than Burlon’s, but Burlon is a safer bet to reach his long term potential. He’s not overly flashy, but does a little bit of everything well. Both with likely have their fair share of growing pains this year and it will be interesting to see how they perform in the AHL.

Two guys who are currently lost in the plethora of defense prospects, but not bereft of talent are Matt Taormina and Matt Corrente. Taormina was on the cusp of becoming a full-time NHLer early last season until an ankle injury knocked him out for the rest of the season. If not for that injury, he might be playing a regular shift in New Jersey right now. Injuries also wreaked havoc on Corrente last season, who was once upon a time the top defense prospect in the system. Both still have upside, but they both will have to bide their time until there is another opening at the NHL level.

The Devils usually have a large collection of defenseman brewing in the NCAA, and this year is no different. Seth Helgeson, Corbin McPherson, Curtis Gedig, Joe Faust, and Patrick Daly are all developing and plying their trades at the collegiate level. Helgeson, a punishing behemoth of a defenseman has the most intriguing upside of the bunch. All the others have traits that make their long term potential appealing, but still have a lot of development time left on the horizon.

An intriguing addition to the organization is Reece Scarlett. He didn’t have the greatest draft eligible season for the lowly Swift Current Broncos last year which helped cause his draft stock to plummet. However the Devils gladly scooped him up in the sixth round. He has a very slight frame, but played upwards of 30 minutes a night for the Broncos and good puck-moving skills and un-tapped offensive upside. He’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Joe Sova was signed out of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks after his junior season and has possesses a good all-around skill-set and power-play acumen, but he, along with Harry Young are likely going to have to bide their time in the ECHL because of the depth at the position.

Dan Kelly made a good account of himself after signing with the organization as a free-agent, but he’s going to have to fight tooth and nail to move up in the pipeline.

Maxim Noreau was acquired from the Minnesota Wild in the summer, and was thought of as a potential dark-horse after another all-star AHL season. However he chose to sign over-seas in Switzerland. New Jersey still owns his rights, but he will not be prospect eligible when and if he decides to come back to North America.

Goaltending

With 39-year-old Martin Brodeur in the final year of his contract and 38-year-old Johan Hedberg on a one-year deal backing him up, this is a position that will be watched very closely over the next couple of seasons. It is not an overly deep group, but the team finally started to add some prospects in 2010 and will need to continue to add prospects as they look to find their goaltender of the future.

Two years ago, Jeff Frazee was the only goaltending prospect in the system. He has since been joined by Scott Wedgewood and Maxime Clermont (both drafted in 2010) and collegiate free-agent Keith Kinkaid, who was signed last spring.

Frazee was re-signed to a two-year contract in the summer, a show of faith to the talented goaltender who has yet to regain the form he showed as an AHL rookie back in 2008-09. Injuries have wreaked havoc on his development and has prevented him from getting into any kind of rhythm. With more goaltending prospects nipping at his heels, this is a key season for him to show that he’s still a part of the organizations long-term plans.

Wedgewood and Clermont both showed glimpses of how good they can be last season, especially in the post-season where they both put their respective teams on their backs at times, willing them to victory. Wedgewood’s performance put him on Hockey Canada’s radar as a potential goaltending candidate for the World Junior team. He’s gotten off to a bit of a slow start in Plymouth this year, but off all the organizations goaltending prospects, he probably has the most long-term upside and potential. Clermont had more uneven moments than Wedgewood last year, but finished with a bang, nearly getting Gatineau a birth in the Memorial Cup. He signed in the summer and will begin his pro career in the ECHL with Kalamazoo.

The newest addition to the goaltending fold is Kinkaid, who stared and posted some eye-popping numbers as a sophomore at Union College last year. He had previously been to NHL prospect camps, but did not get signed until the Farmington, New York native chose to stay close to home by signing with the Devils. The opportunity to advance through the system quickly likely played a role in his decision to sign in New Jersey in well. Look for him to push Frazee for the starting role in Albany this season and perhaps take the job outright before the season is over.