New Jersey Devils’ minor-league system loaded with blue line talent

By Jared Ramsden
Photo: In his first professional season, Eric Gelinas has been shaky at times in his own zone. His puck-moving skills have been on full display however and he has the look of someone who can run the powerplay. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Aside from a recent five game winless stretch, the Albany Devils have played quite well for most of the season and as of this writing sit in second place in the highly competitive North East Division with a record of 14-12-3-2. Second year head coach Rick Kowalsky has had the team playing good team defense as the goals against has improved drastically compared to last year. Unfortunately, the offense hasn’t been as consistent as they have only scored 73oals, the second fewest league.

A handful of injuries combined with some call-ups to New Jersey have resulted in some inconsistent efforts as of late as the team has had to recall re-enforcements from the team’s ECHL affiliate in Kalamazoo. The defense has been especially hit hard with injuries to Matt Corrente and Jay Leach and the loss of Matt Taormina and Alexander Urbom on re-call to New Jersey. The only benefit to the above circumstances is that it has allowed first year pro players such as Eric Gelinas and Brandon Burlon to see increased ice-time.

Along with Gelinas and Burlon, other first year pros such as Keith Kinkaid, Mike Hoeffel and Mike Sislo will look to continue to gain experience over the second half of the season and help keep the baby Devils in contention for a playoff spot.

AHL

Brandon Burlon, D, 21

Burlon struggled to get into the Albany line-up early in the season due to the fact that the team was overloaded with depth at the defense position. He only dressed for two games in October, and was a healthy scratch for every other game that month. However he’s been playing a lot more recently with a depleted lineup, making up for lost development time. In 20 games, he’s recorded one assist and a minus-six rating. The mobile puck-moving defenseman has a good all-around skill-set, but doesn’t necessarily excel in any one area. A couple more years in the AHL and he should be NHL ready.

Matt Corrente, 23, D

Corrente got off to a fantastic start in Albany this year, recording two goals and six assists through the first 14 games of the season to go along with a plus-two rating and 42 penalty minutes. Unfortunately for Corrente though, he suffered an upper body injury in a game against Norfolk in mid-November and missed around a month. He has recently returned, going pointless in two games.

Jeff Frazee, G, 24

No longer the only pro goaltending prospect in the organization, Frazee has split the goaltending duties with rookie pro Keith Kinkaid, and so far it’s been a mixed bag of results for the fourth year pro. He has a 5-8-2 record with a 2.59 goals against average and .900 save percentage. It’s a very important season for Frazee who has struggled to regain the form he showed in his rookie pro season back in 2008-09. New Jersey hasn’t given up on him yet, but he needs to pick up his play or risk being passed on the depth chart by younger and hungrier prospects.

Eric Gelinas, D, 20

The learning curve has been steep for Gelinas in his first year as a pro, and has ramped up even more recently with numerous injuries to the Albany defense core along with re-calls to New Jersey. The hulking, swift-skating defenseman has six points in 30 games, highlighted by three point night in early October that saw him score his first two professional goals. His minus-10 rating is the worst on the club, so not surprisingly; his defensive zone play is still a work in progress. The upside is undeniable, but so is his need for minor-league seasoning.

Dan Kelly, D, 22

Kelly has been a jack-of-all-trades type for Albany so far this season and much like Burlon, was a victim of the numbers game early on in the season as he often had to sit as a healthy scratch and now is out with an injury. When he has been in the line-up, it has often been as a forward. He’s played just 14 games this year and has a goal and 35 penalty minutes. Kelly has good intangibles and just goes out and does his job when he’s in the line-up. His upside is minimal, but he’s a good guy to have around in the organization.

Mike Hoeffel, LW, 22

Hoeffel’s first full AHL season got off to a rocky start as he was injured after playing in his first game of the season in October and only recently returned to the lineup. In 11 games, he has been held off the score-sheet and has a minus-four rating. A physical, up-and-down winger, Hoeffel’s upside is limited to that of a two-way checker, but he showed in his collegiate career that he is capable of contributing offensively as well. He’ll need a year or two in the minors, but he’s a guy that has a future in New Jersey as a bottom six forward.

Mike Sislo, RW, 23

Sislo has cooled off after a relatively quick start, but has still been a line-up regular, suiting up in 29 of 31 Albany games so far. He’s recorded 14 points and a plus-seven rating, which is all the more impressive considering the A-Devils have allowed over 20 more goals than they have scored. The former University of New Hampshire scoring star progressed each of his four years at college and the hope is that the more experience Sislo gets in Albany, that same type of improvement will follow.

Keith Kinkaid, 22, G

Kinkaid has struggled slightly as of late, but overall he’s shown glimpses of what made New Jersey so excited to sign the former Union College goaltender last spring. He’s posted an 8-7 record with a 3.06 goals against and .900 save percentage. His season highlight so far was a 34 save shutout win over Norfolk in November. He was also summoned to New Jersey for a week and a half while Martin Brodeur was out with injury. The 6’3 goaltender uses his size well and isn’t afraid to come out a challenge opposition shooters. At this point, it seems as if it’s only a matter of time before he grabs the starters reins in Albany.

Matt Taormina, 25, D

If not for a severe ankle injury suffered last season while in New Jersey, it’s likely that Taormina would be graduated from Hockey’s Future prospect list. He started training camp in New Jersey behind the eight ball and a back injury pretty much sealed his fate as he was dispatched to Albany. To his credit, he didn’t sulk and played very well, leading all Albany defenseman in scoring with 12 points in 23 games. He was called-up to New Jersey recently to help the big club cope with injuries and has recorded two assists through seven games.

Alexander Urbom, D, 20

Urbom has made great strides in his development from his first pro year to this season. The game has started to slow down for Urbom, as he has been making smart plays with the puck in his own end and not found himself caught out of position nearly as often as last year. He led all Albany players with a plus-six rating before his recent call-up to New Jersey, which is proof of his improved defensive play. He’s recorded six points for Albany, and while he has been deployed in a more defensive role, he has the tools to contribute offensively. In five games in New Jersey, he’s recorded a plus-one rating and nine penalty minutes. He’s on the cusp of becoming an NHL regular but would likely be best served to play the rest of the season in the AHL before challenging for a full-time NHL job next season.

Kory Nagy, LW, 21

Nagy has spent the entire season in Albany, but has only dressed in 17 games recording an assist and a plus-one rating. At this point, Nagy looks like he’s going to top out as a career minor leaguer and doesn’t appear to have much of a future at the NHL level. He’s competent defensively and skates well, but has a below average skill-set.

ECHL

Maxime Clermont, G, 19

The youngest pro prospect in the organization, Clermont has spent the majority of his first pro season in the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings. He was briefly in Albany while Keith Kinkaid was up in New Jersey and actually won his first and only AHL start this season, making 28 saves in a 3-2 win over Providence in October. In nine games for the K-Wings, Clermont has gone 4-2 with a 3.39 goals against average and .893 save percentage. The Devils will take their time with Clermont as he is only 19 years-old and still has plenty of development time left ahead of him. He’ll likely be in the ECHL for the rest of the year barring injuries in Albany.

John-Sebastien Berube, LW, 21

Berube was in-and-out of the lineup in Albany early in the season, dressing for only eight games and couldn’t carve out a full-time spot on the roster so he was re-assigned to Trenton of the ECHL in late-November. In 13 games there, he’s scored two goals and seven assists and a plus-two rating. Berube has the type of skill-set to be an effective fourth-line grinder at the NHL level, but it will likely be two to three years before he’s able to reach that point.

Timo Pielmeier, G, 22

Pielmeier was just acquired in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks in a mid-December trade. The German-born goaltender is currently toiling in the ECHL with the Elmira Jackals where he has a record of 5-5 with a 3.25 goals against average and .879 save percentage. At this point, it’s hard to forecast what his long term future with the team is, but for the time being he adds more goaltending depth to the organization.

Joe Sova, 23, D

Sova like many other defenseman in the organization this season was a victim of the numbers game in Albany but instead of being a healthy scratch, he was dispatched to the Devils new ECHL affiliate in Kalamazoo to start the season. In 18 games, he scored two goals and five assists to go along with a sparkling plus-10 rating. His plus-eight rating in October won him the ECHL Plus-Performer for that month. He has since been re-called to Albany where he has dressed for 10 games and scored two goals and an assist. Sova has good puck moving skills, and while he might not have the same upside as other guys in the system, he’s still a guy to keep an eye on.

Harry Young, D, 21

A continuing trend amongst Devils minor pro defenseman, Young played all of last season in Albany before being dispatched to Kalamazoo to start the season. In 14 games with the K-Wings, he recorded two assists, 19 penalty minutes and a minus-five rating before recently being re-called to Albany. Young, much like Dan Kelly, has a lot of intangibles and is a good guy to have around, but his upside is very limited at this point.