After a long, drawn out, miserably hot and oppressive summer without hockey and no zamboni in sight, the only thing us Devils fans could do was discuss the upcoming season and speculate on what events that could possibly unfold via the message boards. Well, all of that is finally over and after an excellent training camp and pre-season, especially for the rookies and minor leaguers, there is only one thing that the Devils HF staff can do before the season gets into full swing and start filing reports about our favorite future Devils. And that is reconsider and re-rank the Devils top 20 prospects for the upcoming season. To probably no one’s surprise, there was some movement within the rankings, but nothing major nor nothing unanticipated. The largest climb in position was about 8 spots and the largest drop was 6 places, but most other movements were, on average, only one or two spots. One player graduated and one player was removed from the top twenty. Well, without further due, we would like to present the new top 20 prospects currently in the Devils organization.
1. Ari Ahonen- Goalie- River Rats, 6’2”, 172 lbs. Previous Ranking: #1
After signing a contract with the Devils last spring, Ari has completed his first training camp in New Jersey. Ari did, however, spend some time in Albany with Jacques Caron and the rest of the Rats. Although he did not receive any ice time during the pre-season for the Devils, he did have a solid camp. Ahonen will be working closely with newly hired Rats assistant coach and former Devils’ net minder Chris Terreri for the entire season in Albany. Ari did start in goal in the opening game for the Rats in a losing effort. He surrendered 4 goals, however, Ari did not receive the support he deserved. Initial reports indicate that the Finnish goalie has been frustrated at times trying to adjust to the North American game, but there is no doubt that he will overcome and prosper in the Devils organization. Another thing to anticipate for the rising talent is that there is no pressure to perform or be called up, unlike other Devils goalies. Ari is one of the top prospects in the league and one day will challenge Marty Brodeur for his position.
2. Brian Gionta – Right Wing- River Rats, 5’7”, 175lbs. Previous Ranking: #3
The speedy winger with great all-around skills broke just about every record at Boston College, won a National Championship, and was recognized nationally with several awards (all but Hobey) during his collegiate career. He has now signed his first professional contract and is looking to do the same in the NHL. Brian had a great training camp, so good in fact, that it seemed he won a roster spot and would be playing wing for Scott Gomez. Several critics, over the years and especially recently, have concluded that Brian will not be able to perform in the NHL like he did in college. Most of them are now quiet since it seems he will be the number one man in Albany. But that might change very easily. Gionta has proven through his pre-season conditioning and play, he is able to join the Devils if they require his services due to trade or injury. Don’t be surprised if you see him sporting a Devils jersey sometime before the end of the 2001-02 campaign.
3. Christian Berglund – Right Wing- River Rats, 5’11”, 186lbs., Previous Ranking: #2
After an excellent season in the Swedish Elite League for Farjestads, the feisty Berglund made the jump from Europe to the AHL. Christian was one of three or four players considered to replace Alexander Mogilny, but he was not the favorite. Christian posted excellent numbers in the SEL, especially penalty minutes, but he couldn’t do the same in the little time he had during pre-season. Christian is barely twenty-one years old and his progress and development does not need to be rushed. He did, however, have a good camp and he obviously displayed his solid hockey talent. With time, Berglund could develop into a Claude Lemieux type player, but don’t expect to see him wearing a Devils jersey until next fall in training camp. He should have at least a twenty to twenty-five goal season in Albany with a good amount of PIM’s to accompany them.
4. David Hale – Defense- U. of North Dakota, 6’1”, 204 lbs., Previous Ranking: #5
David is entering his sophomore year with the Fighting Sioux and they have one goal in mind, win the National Championship. They seem to be a pre-season favorite, but it will not be an easy task. David should receive more ice time in his second season, although UND is stacked on the blue line. Look for David to improve his offensive numbers and offensive potency, as well as his time on special teams. He his underrated as far as his puck carrying abilities and his transition game, but Lamoriello is not too concerned with that. With Daneyko and Stevens close to retirement, Hale will be needed to supply brute force and aggressive play in front of the net and along the boards. Two interesting side notes about David, he played in the World Juniors with fellow prospect Paul Martin and Hale will be joined by 2001 draft pick James Massen at UND.
5. Anton But – Left Wing – Yaroslav, 6’1”, 190 lbs., Previous Ranking: #7
But, who is considered one of the best Russian players not in the NHL, will compete in another season in the Russian Superleague for Lokomotiv. He had a great season last year and probably will do the same this upcoming campaign. He has the size, shot, speed, and ability to compete in the NHL, but he is another prospect that does not need to rushed. With his quick and accurate hands and his hard shot, Anton will be a force this year. With his rather larger frame for a speedy wing, But has learned to increase his presence on the ice, just another asset he will provide to the Devils.
6. Sascha Goc – Defense- River Rats, 6’2”, 195 lbs., Previous Ranking: #12
This German born defensemen has earned a spot on the Devils roster for the start of the upcoming season, but Robinson is not ready to come out and say it. Recent injuries have allowed spots on the roster for Josef Boumendienne and Goc, but when Rafalski and Niedermayer return, which one will be left standing? Goc had a great training camp and survived some tough competition, but he seems to be the clear cut favorite to stay with the Devils after the smoke clears. Sascha clearly has improved from last year and will play more than just 11 games for the Devils in the months to follow.
7. Teemu Laine – Right Wing – Jokerit (FIN), 6’0”, 194 lbs. Previous Ranking: #9
Teemu had a very interesting year last year, he was too good to play in the juniors however, not quite there to be able to compete with the big boys in the elite league. Teemu was shuffled back and forth between Jokerit and their junior club on a couple of different occasions. He also sat a lot while he was up in the top league, which could have slowed his progression. He did take full advantage of the time that he spent of the ice. This year, Laine will be able to use his big size and play effectively on both sides of the puck as a second or third line winger instead of limited ice time on the bench or 4th line. Don’t expect to see Teemu for another couple of years in New Jersey because of his age.
8. Adrian Foster – Center – Saskatoon (WHL), 6’0”, 185 lbs., Previous Ranking: #11
The recent number 1 selection in the 2001 entry draft has an almost uncertain future. He appeared in training camp with the Devils to work on his conditioning and to see where he stands with his abdominal injury that has limited him to only 12 games in the WHL over the last two years. Supposedly fully recovered full his original injury, Adrian suffered another non-related injury that could put him on the shelf for the immediate future. He will be returned to the Blades when everything is better and initial reports say he looked good during drills and games in camp. Foster should have a good year in the juniors and hopefully, when he is ready, impact the Devils and the rest of the NHL.
9. Josef Boumedienne – Defense – River Rats, 6’1”, 198 lbs., Previous Ranking: #8
Josef was Albany’s best defensemen last year on both sides of the puck. He supplied excellent offense on the point during the power play and carrying the puck up ice from behind the net. Also, on the defensive side, he was physical, strong, and above all smart. He, according to Robinson, still needs to work on his game around the net and in deep along the boards. Boumedienne has improved from last year and saw action in his first NHL game against Washington on opening night and scored his first NHL goal. He was, however, unable to beat out Goc in camp, but is very able and willing to provide the Devils with solid defensive play when needed.
10. J. F. Damphousse – Goalie – River Rats, 6’ 0”, 190 lbs., Previous Ranking: #10
Damphousse is entering his fourth and possibly his last season in the Devils organization. After having an excellent second half of a season last year in the AHL, everyone believed that J.F. would be able and ready to back up Marty in Jersey after Beezer and Terreri had retired. Damphousse was the front-runner in the contest and it was his job to lose. But during training camp and pre-season, the job was stolen by Scott Clemmensen. J.F. performed well in camp, but not as well as he, Robinson and Lamoriello would have hoped for to claim the spot. All in all, J.F. is still a solid goalie with a good future ahead of him, but it just might not be in Jersey.
11. Aleksandr Suglobov – Right Wing –Yaroslav, 6’0”, 176 lbs., Previous Ranking: #15
Suglobov will be the in the same boat that Teemu Laine was in last year. We all know that he can hang with the best of them in the junior ranks, but how will he fare in the Russian Superleague? After a great showing at the Big 5 Tourny just recently, Suglobov should not be bounced around as much as he was last year. Expect him to see some limited ice time with But and the rest of Lokomotiv. Alek is young, but very talented and should have a very good upcoming year.
12. Mike Commodore – Defense- River Rats, 6’4”, 225 lbs., Previous Ranking: #6
Although he played well in camp and gave some good competition to Boumedienne and Goc for that defensive spot on the Devils, he is probably disappointed that he was not selected for the job on the top club. Commodore is a big, physical and strong hockey player, and with White, Daneyko, and Stevens already on the team, his services are not quite as needed compared to what the other two can offer. Do not be surprised if he does get some ice time, however, Mike was the clear favorite heading into camp to take it to the next level. Commodore should have a solid year in the organization, but mostly it will be with the Rats.
13. Scott Clemmensen – Goalie- River Rats, 6’2”, 207 lbs., Previous Ranking: #22
WOW! Scott played great in all pre-season appearances for the Devils after coming off an excellent season with Gionta and Boston College. If anyone figured, it would have been the other Eagle alum making the Devils, and not Scott. Going into camp, it was unclear he there was a spot on the River Rats for the goalie considering he would be battling three other netminders. Scott has solidified his position within the organization and for the time being, on the Devils by stealing back-up duties behind Marty. The play of Clemmensen could ultimately end the careers in New Jersey for either Damphousse, Henry or both.
14. Toumas Philman – Left Wing- JYP Jyväskylä , 6’2”, 206 lbs., Previous Ranking: #13
He is big, strong, talented and young. This only means one thing, he has a future on the Devils when he is ready after another couple of seasons in Finland. The Devils have had a lot of success with Finnish products and it was no secret that the Devils scouted Toumas during last season. He should have another good season and the organization looks forward to watching him develop and thrive into a future Devil.
15. Paul Martin – Defense- U. of Minnesota, 6’1”, 170 lbs., Previous Ranking: #16
Paul is entering his second season on a much-improved Golden Gopher squad from recent years. Paul is very fast, has great hands, contributes on special teams, solid in a defensive role, and most importantly, he is a very smart player. It will be interesting to see how many points young Paul will tally in the upcoming season. He is considered the offensive threat on Minnesota and can be compared to Brian Rafalski, but just a little taller. Paul had four points in seven games in the World Juniors Championship this past year.
16. Scott Cameron – Center- River Rats, 6’0”, 182 lbs., Previous Ranking: #18
After having three great seasons in the OHL, especially last year, Scott has decided to play in the AHL for the Albany River Rats. This sixth round draft pick is very much underrated and has been overlooked. Scott has blossomed into an excellent centermen and he should provide Albany with some nice offensive numbers and solid power play opportunities. The following year will be spent in Albany and after that, consider him as a contender for a spot or to be called up if needed in New Jersey.
17. Matt DeMarchi – Defense- U. of Minnesota, 6’3”, 184 lbs., Previous Ranking: #19
Playing along side Paul Martin, Matt is entering his third season on Minnesota’s ice hockey team. Although he does not post impressive offensive numbers, he is very solid when in comes to defense. Matt is also considered a little nasty and he is one of Minnesota’s enforcer, as he tends to rack up penalty minutes. Look for DeMarchi and the rest of Minnesota to have a solid year.
18. Brett Clouthier – Left Wing- River Rats, 6’4”, 226 lbs., Previous Ranking: #17
Brett left the junior ranks and will join the pros with the Albany River Rats. Brett is just what the doctor ordered on the AHL squad; he is big, nasty, and tough and is able to square off with the best of them. Thankfully, Brett is not a one-dimensional player as he learned how to bury the puck in his last season with Kingston. Clouthier and his size will make a nice addition on the Rats and he will help to protect guys like Gionta, Berglund and other prospects.
19. Max Birbraer – Left Wing- River Rats, 6’2”, 185 lbs., Previous Ranking: #24
Max had a sub-par season in Albany last year, but was highly regarded coming into the organization. He proved that a little bit during this year’s training camp in his play during a few pre-season games. Although he will not be called up to the Devils, watch for Max to improve and post the numbers he should.
20. Chris Hartsburg – Center- Colorado College, 6’0”, 190 lbs., Previous Ranking: #20
Chris is entering his fourth and final year at Colorado College. He is one of a few seniors on a relatively young and talent hockey club. Chris will be asked to help lead the squad on and off the ice, which should help his stock in the organization. Although, he doesn’t tally a lot of goals and assists, he is one of the best fore-checkers and defensive wingers in the college ranks. When he enters the professional ranks, he could possibly contend for the Selke Trophy.
Pierre Dagenais, who spent three excellent seasons in the AHL with the Rats, seems to have found a permanent position with the Devils. He played nine games last year in the NHL scoring 2 goals and 3 assists. It seems like he will do a lot more than that this upcoming season on a line with Scott Gomez and Sergei Brylin. His future seemed unclear entering September. There were reports that he had yet to sign with the club and eventually, he suffered a somewhat serious neck injury during camp. Most fans were concerned because he did not appear in most of the pre-season games and people were ready to award Brian Gionta a spot on the Devils. That all changed when he scored three goals in a pre-season game against Boston and followed up that appearance with another two points in the next game. Unless Dagenais does not perform like expected, he should remain on the Devils, but never rule out a trade, he could become the next Steve Kelly.
Mike Jefferson was removed from the top twenty rankings not for his on ice performance, but rather what is going on off the ice. Jefferson is a gritty, determined hockey player who is very passionate about the game. But every once in a while, his mental capacity should be questioned. Mike claims he should have made the Devils for the way he played in the pre-season. Next, he failed to report to the Rats on time because he was getting a second opinion about an injury. Since Lou is very concerned with the conduct of his players off the ice as well as in game situations, Mike’s days could be numbered in New Jersey. His first strike was the biting incident in a fight last season as well as not showing to River Rat fan functions. Just a little advice to Mike, firstly, you didn’t play that well and second, do you know who Deron Quint and Krys Oliwa are?
Please let us know what you think about these rankings. Any e-mails or comments below are welcomed and appreciated. Also, look for the top twenty to be reconsidered some time during the midseason. Finally, thank you for all of those who contribute to this site on a regular basis and most importantly, those who read and hopefully enjoy the articles. I look forward to another great season from the Devils, their prospects, and maybe even our reporting.