The New Jersey Devils Top 20 prospects list has a new look, and in the first time in several seasons, a new No. 1 prospect. Below is a list of the new top 20, and what to possibly expect from each this year.
#1. C, Zach Parise – The recently drafted Parise has tremendous upside as a skilled playmaking center. Parise was selected by the Devils 17th overall in the 2003 NHL draft. This season, Parise will return to North Dakota for his second NCAA season and will look to improve on last years numbers where he lead the Fighting Sioux in scoring with 61 points in 39 games.
#2. G, Ari Ahonen – After a lengthy stay as the top Devils prospect, Ahonen has slipped to No. 2. This drop is not reflective of his potential though. In his second season in the AHL, Ahonen doubled his win total, and recorded his first pro shutout. He also had a very respectable 3.04 GAA. Ahonen will again be with AHL affiliate Albany again in 2003-04 and will look to keep on improving his numbers. With Martin Brodeur leading the way in New Jersey, Ahonen still has plenty of time to refine and improve his game.
#3. D, Paul Martin – In his third season at the University of Minnesota, Martin had to fill the shoes of the departed Jordan Leopold and he did a very good job of it. The smooth skating, offensive minded Martin recorded 9 goals and 30 assists for 39 points. As for what to look for in 2003-04, Martin is currently deciding whether to return to Minnesota or to turn pro and sign a contract with the Devils. His final decision should be made within a week or two. If Martin does turn pro, he will have an outside shot at making the big club.
#4. LW, Tuomas Pihlman – No Devils prospect moved up the charts more than Pihlman this season. Pihlman had a breakthrough season in the Finnish Elite League with his club team JYP, and is a blossoming power forward. He had 19 goals and 34 total points. The Devils were able to convince Pihlman to turn pro as he recently signed a contract and will cross the border to North America. He will likely spend most of 2003-04 in Albany, and he no doubt has a very bright future in the swamp.
#5. D, David Hale – Hale had another solid season for North Dakota, despite missing a fair amount of game action due to a viral problem. One of the leaders on a strong Fighting Sioux squad, the hardnosed Hale decided to turn pro and sign a contract with the Devils this off-season. He stands a very good chance at cracking the Devils roster this fall. With the likes of Ken Daneyko, Tommy Albelin, Oleg Tverdovsky and Richard Smehlik not returning for the 2003-04 season, there will be open competition for those fifth, sixth, and seventh defensive spots. Expect Hale to spend some time with Albany, but it will not be shocking to see him earn regular duty along the Devils blueline.
#6. C, Adrian Foster – Foster spent most of the last season recovering from an abdominal tear, but not the same tear that has limited him over his career. He did fully recover in time to get into a few games with Albany late in the season, scoring 3 goals in 9 games. Foster, a highly skillful pivot still has tremendous upside. If he is able to shake off the injuries that have seemed to dog him thus far, he will have a very good chance to succeed at the NHL level. Barring a surprise at training camp, Foster will likely spend the majority of the 2003-04 season with Albany. The Devils big hope for Foster this season is that he can get through a full pro season injury-free.
#7. D, Anton Kadeykin – In his first season playing North American hockey, Kadeykin had a solid, but unspectacular debut with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. The solid two-way rearguard received a large dose of ice time, and recorded 2 goals and 10 points. The Devils top pick in the 2002 draft will be at training camp this fall, and although it is likely he will be spending most of 2003-04 at Albany adjusting to the pro game, he is a dark horse candidate to sneak into the Devils line-up as the a regular or extra. However, it would be best for Kadeykin’s development to have a full year at Albany.
#8. RW, Alexander Suglobov – Suglobov is a bit of an enigma. He is a supremely talented winger, but his performance from game to game was quite inconsistent. It wasn’t fully his fault though as he spent time shuttling back and forth from Russian League teams, and when he did play, he was used sparingly in a fourth line role. To help his development, Suglobov decided to sign his first pro contract this summer and will come to North America and attend his first NHL training camp this fall. Suglobov still has plenty of developing left to do, and the Devils will let him hone his skills at the AHL level with the River Rats this year.
#9. C, Petr Vrana – Another new addition to the top 20, Vrana was the Devils first of two second round selections in the 2003 draft. Vrana is very undersized, but he has been able to overcome that at every level he has played at with his immense amount of skill. The swift skating Vrana was one of the top players on one of the QMJHL’s top teams, the Halifax Mooseheads, where he recorded 37 goals and 46 points for 83 points. Vrana will return to Halifax for the 2003-04 season and will look to build on his very strong North American debut.
#10. LW, Barry Tallackson – In two seasons with the University of Minnesota, Tallackson has been part of two NCAA Championship teams, something that will greatly benefit him down the road. Tallackson battled the injury bug for most of the 2002-03 season, but he heated up during the stretch run and was one of the Golden Gophers top players in the playoffs. He scored 9 goals and 23 points in 32 games. Tallackson has a great size/skill package and has the potential to develop into a high scoring power forward. He will return to Minnesota for a third season in 2003-04 and will look to help the Golden Gophers win an unprecedented third NCAA Championship in a row.
#11. RW, Temmu Laine – Laine has slipped a little in terms of his ranking on HF, due to strong performance from other prospects. However the fall also can be attributed to Laine’s progress leveling off. Though he played almost every game for Finnish powerhouse Jokerit, he was stuck on the fourth line for most of the season. Laine has world-class skating skills and has the ability to be a third line pest who can chip in with some offense, but he needs more ice time in order to develop. Laine will return to Jokerit again this season, and the Devils can only hope he will receive more ice time. Look for the Devils to try to sign Laine in 2004 and bring him to North America to further develop his game.
#12. G, Scott Clemmensen – Much of Albany’s improvement this season can be attributed to the strong goaltending, and along with Ahonen, Clemmensen provided that. Clemmensen has steadily climbed the prospect ladder, but like Ahonen, he will have to continue to bide his time in Albany with Brodeur blocking the way to New Jersey. His GAA of 2.65 was one of the best in the AHL.
#13. C, Ivan Khomutov – The Devils selected this lanky Russian centerman in the third round of this year’s draft. Khomutov played last season with Elektrostal in the Russian Elite League. Khomutov is blessed with immense talent and has the size/speed/skill package that all teams crave. He needs to work on his consistency from game to game and this season he will get a chance to test his game on the other side of the pond. He was drafted by the OHL’s London Knights in the CHL Import draft and will spend 2003-04 honing his skills in North America.
#14. D, Matt DeMarchi – DeMarchi finished his collegiate career at Minnesota on a very strong note, playing a key role in helping the Golden Gophers win the NCAA Championship for the second straight year. The steady, tough as nails rearguard lead the Gophers in penalty minutes and though not known for his offense, scored 8 goals in his senior season. DeMarchi signed a pro contract with the Devils this summer and will likely spend the 2003-04 season developing in Albany. Depending on his progress, he may see spot duty with the big club.
#15. C, Mike Rupp – Rupp is the closest of any prospect to having a regular NHL job. He saw action in 26 games with the Devils in the regular season and did not look out of place, scoring 5 goals and 3 assists for 8 points. The hulking centerman however will best be known for scoring the game-winning goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Rupp stands a very good chance at cracking the Devils line-up this fall. Expect Rupp to move to the “graduated” list on HF by mid-season.
#16. RW, James Massen – Massen had a breakthrough season at North Dakota in his second season with the Fighting Sioux and was definitely a pleasant surprise for the Devils, as he steadly climbed the prospect ladder into Top 20 status. One of the all of the sudden many budding power-forwards in the Devils system, Massen tallied 15 goals and 35 points in 42 games. He will return to North Dakota for his third season this fall and will look to continue to shoot up the Devils prospect ladder.
#17. LW, Jason Rynzar – Rynzar started slowly this year for Michigan, mostly due to injury, but did finish strong. He ended the season with 7 goals and 16 points in 34 games. Rynzar has a tantalizing size/speed package, but he needs to use his size more often. He has the potential to be a goal scorer, but he is still developing the offense side of his game. Rynzar will return to Michigan for his third collegiate season and will look to stay healthy and improve on last season’s totals.
#18. C, Chris Hartsburg – In his first pro season with Albany, Hartsburg got off to a very good start, but slowed as the season progressed. Injuries did play a part in this decline however. Hartsburg netted 7 goals, and was one of the better River Rats on the penalty kill. Hartsburg has upside as a two-way third line center, but he still needs time in Albany to refine his all around game and that is where he will likely spend the 2003-04 season.
#19. RW, Ilkka Pikkarainen – Pikkarainen was a relative unknown when he was drafted last year by the Devils, but he made enough of an impact in Finland this year to merit a spot on the Top 20 list. Pikkarainen plays a crash and bang style and also has a decent set of hands around the net. He signed a pro contract this summer and will bring his game to North American waters. He will likely spend most of 2003-04 in Albany but could see a handful of games with the big club.
#20. LW, Andrei Posnov – Posnov did attend his first pro training camp last fall with the Devils, but he returned to his Russian club league team for the 2002-03 season. Posnov does have some offensive upside, but he also is good at getting under the skin of the opposition, as evidenced by his high penalty minute total. Posnov will likely play 2003-04 in Russia again, but look for the Devils to try to sign him next summer and bring him to North America.