Devils Top 20 prospects

By Jared Ramsden

While Zach Parise remains entrenched as the Devils top prospect, there has been plenty of movement throughout the rest of New Jersey’s top 20 prospects list. Though the Albany River Rats have struggled a fair bit up to this point in the AHL season, many of the top prospects in the organization reside there and many of these prospects are playing up to, or beyond expectations. Those include the likes of Parise, Aleksander Suglobov and Aaron Voros who was the biggest riser in the top 20. In addition to those three and a few other River Rat prospects, there have been some less heralded prospects rising up the ladder early on this hockey season as Josh Disher and Tyler Eckford make their top 20 debuts. But there have been some disappointments in Albany and elsewhere as well.Tuomas Pihlman, Adrian Foster and Anton Kadeykin have fallen on hard times, most notably Kadeykin who plummeted down the rankings.

Below is the new Top 20 Devils prospect list at glance, with each prospect’s rank change in parenthesis. That is followed by a more in-depth analysis of how each player has preformed so far this year, along with a new player projection rating. Statistics are through December 29th.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (–) Zach Parise, C, Albany (AHL)

2. (+1) Aleksander Suglobov, RW, Albany (AHL)

3. (-1) Ari Ahonen, G, Albany (AHL)

4. (+1) Travis Zajac, C, North Dakota (NCAA)

5. (+7) Aaron Voros, RW, Albany (AHL)

6. (+2) Petr Vrana, C, Halifax (QMJHL)

7. (-3) Tuomas Pihlman, LW, Albany (AHL)

8. (+1) Ivan Khomutov, C, Albany (AHL)

9. (+2) Matt DeMarchi, D, Albany (AHL)

10. (–) Barry Tallackson, LW, Minnesota (NCAA)

11. (-5) Adrian Foster, C, Albany (AHL)

12. (+1) Teemu Laine, RW, Tappara Tampere (FIN)

13. (+3) Ahren Nittel, LW, Albany (AHL)

14. (+1) Ilkka Pikkarainen, RW, Albany (AHL)

15. (NR) Josh Disher, G, Erie (OHL)

16. (-2) Jason Ryznar, LW, Michigan (NCAA)

17. (NR) Tyler Eckford, D, South Surrey (BCHL)

18. (-11) Anton Kadeykin, D, Moscow Spartak (RUS)

19. (NR) Ken Magowan, RW, Augusta (ECHL)

20. (-2) James Massen, RW, North Dakota (NCAA)

Just missing the cut

Eric Johansson, C, Albany (AHL), Teemu Kesa, D, Albany (AHL), Cam Janssen, RW, Albany (AHL), Krisjanis Redlihs, D, Albany (AHL), Andrei Posonov, LW, Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik (RUS),

1. Zach Parise, C, Albany (AHL), 1st Round, 17th overall, 2003

Rating: 8.5 A

Parise has made a very quick adjustment to the pro game with Albany, as he is the top rookie scorer in the AHL. In addition to that, the skilled and crafty center currently leads the league in scoring with 24 points and also leads the team with 19 assists. Despite the struggles of the team in general, Parise’s play has been fairly consistent. Though most of his points do come on the power play, he is still playing well for a rookie. He and fellow rookie Aaron Voros have played a fair bit together and have showed some solid chemistry when they are paired up, however Parise’s linemates tend to shuffle from game to game as Albany head coach Robbie Ftorek tries to shake the team out of its funk.

There are some who thought Parise’s small stature would prevent him from becoming an elite NHL prospect, but he has put those fears to rest a good deal with his play this season as a pro. Parise has all the tools and intangibles to have a successful NHL career and he likely is NHL ready right now. However, with the season likely to be washed out for 2004-05, the Devils will be quite content to let Parise play at Albany and get a full pro season under his belt. Should there be hockey is 2005-06, Parise should easily be able to make the jump to the NHL.

2. Aleksander Suglobov, RW, Albany (AHL), 2nd Round, 56th overall, 2000

Rating: 8.0 C

With a team-leading 11 goals through 28 games, Suglobov has already equalled his goal output from last season. He has missed a few games here and there with assorted injuries but it appears as though he has completely recovered from off-season surgery on his wrist which hampered him the second half of last season. Though he does lead Albany in goals, including a team high four on the power play, Suglobov’s consistency this season has been a cause for concern, as is his -11 rating. The Russian sniper was named the AHL player of the week during a torrid three-game stretch in early December where he netted 5 goals and 2 assists, including a four-point game. In the other 25 games though, Suglobov has been hot and cold.

Suglobov is a supremely skilled and talented winger who knows how to put the puck in the net. His hands and skating may be NHL-ready, but the rest of his game still needs a fair amount of work, most notably his defensive play and consistency. He still is a relatively young prospect so some inconsistency is to be expected; especially considering his rookie season was cut short due to injury. Should Suglobov remain healthy for the remainder of the season, the Devils would be thrilled to see him show some more consistent play night in and night out and improved defensive play with the River Rats. If that happens, he may have an outside shot at making the jump to the NHL level next year.

3. Ari Ahonen, G, Albany (AHL), 1st round, 27th overall, 1999

Rating: 7.5 C

Going into his fourth AHL season, Ahonen was expected to really come into his own, but early on this season he has struggled a fair bit. He has only won three games, and his GAA has risen to an ugly 3.55 to go along with a sub .900 save percentage. However, the defense in front of Ahonen has contributed to his struggles as Ahonen and fellow net minder Scott Clemenssen are routinely peppered with shots game after game. Ahonen, along with the rest of his teammates started the season well, but after missing a few games due to injury, Ahonen has not been playing overly well, which has coincided with the River Rats November and December struggles.

Ahonen’s numbers so far this season aren’t indicative of the agile and athletic Finnish netminder’s potential. Putting any goaltender in front of the Albany defensive core and they are likely to be struggling much like Ahonen is. Consider too that Ahonen has never really had the opportunity in his pro career to play with a solid, reliable blue line in front of him, which tends to make him a somewhat underrated prospect. That being said, Ahonen has the talent to be playing much better than he is. Should the NHL season resume, which is not very likely at this time, Ahonen would have a shot at backing up Martin Brodeur. For now though, he will have to try to turn his, and Albany’s season around.

4. Travis Zajac, C, North Dakota (NCAA), 1st round, 20th overall, 2004

Rating: 7.5 B

After tearing up the BCHL last season, Zajac was expected to carry that momentum on to the collegiate level this season. The 6’2, 205 lb. Zajac has done that and then some, as he is off to a fantastic start to his NCAA career with the North Dakota Fighting Sioux. Through 22 games, Zajac leads all NCAA Div. I freshmen with 12 goals and stands second in the WCHA rookie scoring with 19 points. His 12 goals also lead the Sioux, and his 19 points place him second on the team as well. Of those 12 goals, 7 have come on the power play. Zajac was most recently named WCHA rookie of the week after scoring 3 goals and an assist in two games over the weekend. He garnered some consideration for Team Canada’s entry at this year’s World Junior tournament, but with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Mike Richards, Patrice Bergeron and Jeff Carter making the team at center, it would have been hard to fit Zajac in.

Zajac has performed above and beyond expectations so far this season and the Devils have to be elated that their most recent first round draft pick has adjusted to the collegiate game so easily. There were some scouts who wondered if Zajac had more potential as a two-way third liner, or a top 6 scoring forward. Though it is still very early in his career, the later looks more likely after Zajac’s torrid first half of the season.

5. Aaron Voros, RW, Albany (AHL), 8th Round, 229th overall, 2001

Rating: 7.5 B

By far the biggest surprise of the season has to be the early season play of Voros, who moved up 7 spots to fifth in the rankings. The hulking 6’4 winger has cooled off some after a very fast start, with only 1 goal in his last 17 games, but nonetheless, the Devils have to be thrilled at the progress this late round gem has shown so far. Voros sits fourth in River Rats scoring with 19 points, and is tied for second on the team with 9 goals. He’s also shown that he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty and has 91 PIM’s. Voros was named the AHL player of the week back in late October after he scored 4 goals and 3 assists in a four-game stretch. Voros has suited up for all 31 Albany games, and though his linemates change often, he has seemed to play his best when paired up with fellow rookie Zach Parise.

For player whose hockey career was in doubt in 2002-03 after having to get a tumor removed from his thigh, Voros has had to work very hard to get himself to where he is now. He has already surpassed expectations for an eighth round draft choice. He was able to get a taste of AHL action with Albany late last season, and that experience looks to have served him very well early on. Voros is the complete package with size, skill and power and he is just beginning to scratch the surface of his outstanding potential. Voros will bide his time in Albany for this season, and most likely the season after that. But the Devils will have to make room for this big, bruising winger in the very near future if he continues to play like he has early on this season.

6. Petr Vrana, C, Halifax (QMJHL), 2nd Round, 42nd overall, 2003

Rating: 7.0 B

Vrana looks like he is fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery to correct an injury that limited him to 48 games last season. He likely was not 100 percent in many of those games either as he tried to play through the injury. He is almost scoring at a point a game pace in 2004-05 with 29 points through the Halifax’s first 32 games; including a team high 19 assists. This is Vrana’s third QMJHL season, and he is currently captaining the Czech Republic entry at the World Junior Tournament in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Through the first three games of the tournament, Vrana has been one of the top scorers, with 3 goals, 2 assists, including a 3 point performance in the opening game of the tourney.

The Devils were concerned enough about Vrana’s shoulder woes last season that they signed him to a contract so that team doctors could oversee the surgery. He looks to be back in top form this season, showing the skill and desire that made the Czech native such a high draft choice in his draft year. The Halifax captain will finish off the season with the Mooseheads, and could make the jump to the pro ranks as early as next season. The Devils have a log jam of center ice prospects, and Vrana may be forced to move to the wing, but he is more than capable of performing as well there as he has at center ice.

7. Tuomas Pihlman, LW, Albany (AHL), 2nd Round, 48th overall, 2001

Rating: 6.0 B

Much was expected of Pihlman coming into the 2004-05 season after finishing up last season on a high note. But Pihlman seems to have regressed some and looks to be suffering through the dreaded sophomore jinx. He only has 2 goals and 5 points up to this point in the season and of late he has been in and out of the line up with the return of a few injured River Rats. Pihlman is not to be confused for a pure goal scorer, but he is capable of more offensively than he has shown so far this year

Pihlman’s sluggish start to the season has to be mildly alarming for the Devils, but this is only his second pro season. Writing him off at this point would be a mistake, but he may not develop into the power scoring winger that the Devils had once envisioned. He has NHL size and is defensively responsible, but at this point he may only develop into no more than a third line grinder with a 10 goal a year upside once he reaches the NHL. The Devils will monitor his progress closely the rest of the way with Albany and hope that he can get out of his early season funk and regain some of his offensive touch. He could challenge for a spot in 2005-06, but is likely a couple seasons away from reaching the NHL.

8. Ivan Khomutov, C, Albany (AHL), 3rd Round, 93rd overall, 2003

Rating: 7.0 C

For a 19-year-old playing in the AHL, Khomutov has held his own. While he has not put up spectacular numbers (only 2 goals and 5 assists in 26 games), the tall and rangy Russian pivot is slowly adjusting to the faster pace of the AHL after spending last season, his first in North America, in the OHL with the London Knights. His -12 rating is indicative of a rookie learning the defensive intricacies of the pro game. The adjustment to life in the AHL and the United States has been made somewhat easier by having fellow Russian Aleksander Suglobov as a roommate and interpreter.

The Devils can afford to be patient with the 6’3, 205 Khomutov with the likes of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Adrian Foster at the center ice position, by far and away the position with the most depth and talent in the organization. He is a very offensively gifted and talented Russian, and he already possesses NHL calibre size. As he becomes more comfortable as a pro, his numbers should start to gradually increase, and his defensive play will also improve. While Khomutov is likely two or three seasons away from fully realizing his potential, the Devils will be content to let him develop in Albany.

9. Matt DeMarchi, D, Albany (AHL), 2nd Round, 57th overall, 2000

Rating: 6.0 A

DeMarchi is the less heralded of the trio of collegiate defensemen drafted in 2000, as Paul Martin and David Hale have already made an impact at the NHL level. With his rugged style of play, DeMarchi seems to be banged up quite often which has caused him to miss 10 of the River Rats 31 games this season. When in the line-up though, DeMarchi provides a physical dimension on the blue line and his -1 rating is very respectable for an Albany squad that struggles to keep the puck of the net.

DeMarchi doesn’t have a very high ceiling and is not a flashy defensive prospect by any stretch of the imagination. However, because he is primarily a tough, hard-nosed, defense first type of defenseman, he should be able to reach his potential. The Devils will likely groom DeMarchi in Albany for a couple more seasons, much like they did with Colin White before he moved on to the NHL.

10. Barry Tallackson, LW, Minnesota (NCAA), 2nd Round, 53rd overall, 2002

Rating: 7.0 C

Going into his fourth and final collegiate season, much was expected of the senior winger, especially offensively, as the Golden Gophers lost some key veteran players to graduation. Tallackson started last season slowly, but came on late. This season, Tallackson hasn’t played poorly by any stretch, but his offensive contributions have been somewhat disappointing, with just 3 goals and 6 points. A sprained ankle has slowed him of late as well, as he has missed 8 of 19 games. When in the line-up, Tallackson has been using his size and strength to his advantage, often overpowering smaller foes along the boards.

Tallackson’s overall skill level is tremendous, but he has yet to put all of his tools together. For a 6’4 power winger, he has outstanding hands, and has the potential to be a high scoring winger. Tallackson will most likely turn pro following this season, and the Devils would love to see him put together a strong second half to finish of his college career. Tallackson has as much potential as any player in New Jersey’s system. The Devils may have to be patient and wait for him to put it all together, but once he does, he could sky rocket.

11. Adrian Foster, C, Albany (AHL), 1st Round, 28th overall, 2001

Rating: 7.0 D

Perhaps the most frustrating prospect in the organization, Foster oozes skill, but he has been unable to remain healthy, something that has dogged him throughout his young career. Foster was able to battle through a chronic abdominal injury and suited up in a career high 44 games last season. This season however, a shoulder injury has limited him to only 11 games in which he has 1 goal and 3 assists. When in the line-up, the slick and cunning Foster adds an offensive dimension to an Albany line-up that at times, struggles to score goals on a consistent basis.

The Devils have been very patient with the surprise 2001 first rounder, knowing that when they drafted Foster, that he was a project selection. Even after he finally was able to fully rehab his abdominal injury last year, he has been unable to shake the injury bug, which has set him back in his development. The Devils will try to remain patient with Foster, hoping he can stay healthy for an extended period of time before they start to consider giving up on him. But New Jersey’s patience has to be wearing somewhat thin with Foster’s chronic injury woes, and with other highly touted center ice prospects in the organization, Foster will continue to slide down the prospect ladder should he continue to constantly be on the injured list.

12. Teemu Laine, RW, Tappara Tampere (Finland), 2nd Round, 39th overall, 2000

Rating: 6.5 B

A move to new SM-Liiga team in Finland has rejuvenated the career of the swift skating Laine. After four seasons with his hometown team of Jokerit, Laine wanted more ice time and responsibility and on a deep Jokerit squad, that was unlikely to ever happen. However he has received ample ice time with Tappara Tampere and as a result, has flourished offensively. He has cooled off considerably after a torrid start to the season, but just past the mid-way point of the season, the speed skater turned hockey player has already tied his career high for goals (7) and points (13).

The Devils never really expected Laine to light the lamp like a pure goal scorer when they drafted him, but they had expected more offensively than what he had shown in the past couple seasons. Laine’s play was never really regressing, but it was not progressing as quickly as the Devils had expected. This season however, Laine has shown some offensive potential, and combined with his blinding speed and strong defensive play, has moved back onto the prospect radar screen. Now that Laine has gained some confidence offensively, next season may be the time to bring him to North America for some seasoning in the AHL with the River Rats.

13. Ahren Nittel, LW, Albany (AHL), 3rd Round, 85th overall, 2002

Rating: 6.0 B

It has been a roller coaster type season so far for Nittel with the River Rats, as he was grounded early on with a case of mononucleosis that caused him to miss much of the first two months of the season. However, he returned to the line-up in December and has been on a goal scoring binge, potting 5 goals and an assist in 8 games, after scoring only 4 goals all of last season. Included in that scoring frenzy was a three-game goal scoring streak. Despite the Rats recent lackluster play, Nittel has made up for lost time by playing some of the best hockey of his young career.

Another big, burgeoning power winger in the system, Nittel’s play of late has to have New Jersey’s scouting staff doing back flips. While he may not have the potential of an Aaron Voros or Barry Tallackson, Nittel does have the raw tools to be a goal scorer, as he shown lately. His bout with mono may have set him back some to start the year, but he looks to have bounced back quite nicely and looks to be on track for a strong finish to the season with Albany.

14. Ilkka Pikkarainen, RW, Albany (AHL), 7th Round, 218th overall, 2002

Rating: 5.5 A

The feisty Pikkarainen has been one of the more consistent River Rats up to this point in the season. While not expected to score very often, Pikkarainen has bagged 5 goals in 29 games so far, and has provided the Rats with an abundance of jump and energy most nights. His 50 PIM’s are a testament to his pesky, in your face mentality.

While Pikkarainen may only be the 14th ranked prospect in the system, he is not too far away from reaching his full potential, which is that of a third or fourth line two-way sparkplug who can chip in offensively from time to time. At age 23, Pikkarainen is likely getting close to having a checking type role with New Jersey. He was drafted at an older age than most other prospects in the system, so his all around game has matured faster than that of others in the organization. If the NHL is back in action next fall, Pikkarainen has an outside shot at seeing some duty with the Devils.

15. Josh Disher, G, Erie (OHL), 6th Round, 185th overall, 2004

Rating: 5.5 B

A new face in the top 20, Disher has picked up right where he left off last season as a rookie with Erie, playing in 25 of the Otters first 35 games. The competitive, workhorse goaltender has amassed 13 wins for an average Erie squad and has a very respectable .915 save percentage and 2.74 goals against average. In a recent game, Disher turned aside 41 or 42 shots in 5-1 Erie victory over Windsor.

Being a goaltending prospect in the New Jersey organization requires much patience and waiting. That being said, there is much less pressure on Disher to develop rapidly. Disher was seen as more of developmental pick with lots of upside, and up to this point in his brief tenure in the Devils organization, he has shown that he will be someone to keep a close eye on as he moves through the system.

16. Jason Ryznar, LW, Michigan (NCAA), 3rd Round, 64th overall, 2002

Rating: 6.0 C

Another of the Devils big, strapping power wingers, Ryznar’s start to the season with the nation’s third ranked Michigan Wolverines has gone off without much of a hitch. The 6’3, 205 lb Ryznar known more for being injured and underachieving in his first three years at Ann Arbor, hasn’t missed a game yet this season, and has 4 goals and 9 assists for 13 points, including a recent two-point performance against Michigan Tech.

Though Ryznar has slipped a couple of spots in the rankings, he has actually had somewhat of a breakthrough type season up to this point. Staying healthy has been a big key is his strong play. Ryznar’s offensive potential is not as great as some of the other power forward types in the organization, but if this season is any indication, he could develop into an effective checking type winger down the road.

17. Tyler Eckford, D, South Surrey (BCHL), 7th Round, 217th overall, 2004

Rating: 6.5 C

It is safe to say that Eckford’s outstanding play so far this season may have caught the Devils off guard. Then again, the Devils do seem to have a knack for striking gold with late draft picks. The numbers Eckford has put up thus far this season are astounding, especially considering that he is a defensemen. Through 37 games, Eckford is the highest scoring blueliner in the league with an eye popping 15 goals and 29 assists for 44 points, which is good enough for 18th in league scoring. 11 of those 15 goals are power play markers. The highlight of Eckford’s season was his four-goal, five-point performance in a late October game.

Now that Paul Martin and David Hale have established themselves as NHL’ers, the Devils all of the sudden seemed to have a system bare of any potential impact defensemen. They may have found a real good one in Eckford. Good offensive defensemen are hard to find, and though Eckford has not yet faced top level college competition, something he will do next season at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, the numbers he has put up this season are spectacular. He is still in the development stage of his career, but what he is showing now is impressive.

18. Anton Kadeykin, D, Moscow Spartak (RUS), 2nd Round, 51st overall, 2002

Rating: 6.0 D

Kadeykin’s stock in the organization is falling quite substantially. After a rocky second OHL season with Sarnia, Kadeykin had hoped to crack the Albany roster this year. After he failed in that attempt, he returned home to Russia to play with Moscow Spartak, but he has yet to see any action with the Russian League team.

It was hoped that bringing Kadeykin to North America would help in his development. That has not been the case though, as Kadeykin’s play has regressed slightly since coming to North America. Going back home to Russia looks to have set his development back some as well as Kadeykin is not getting the amount of playing time that is necessary for a player at his stage of his hockey career. The Devils invested a second round pick on Kadeykin, knowing that he was a project type player, and it is still much too early in his career and development to label him a bust. The Devils hope Kadeykin can get back on track the second of half of the season with Moscow.

19. Ken Magowan, RW, Augusta (ECHL), 7th Round, 198th overall, 2000

Rating: 5.0 C

Magowan had hoped to crack the River Rats opening season roster, but with a plethora of young talent at the AHL level, it was decided that Magowan would be best served to begin his pro career at the ECHL level, where he would be guaranteed more quality ice time. Up to this point, it looks like the Devils made the right move, as Magowan leads the Augusta Lynx with 11 goals, and stands fourth overall in team scoring with 18 points. He is in the Top 20 among rookies in the league in scoring. Defensively, Magowan also has played well as evidenced by his team high +7 rating.

Magowan’s pro career is off to a decent start, and should he keep up his current offensive pace, the Devils will likely give him some time with the offensively challenged River Rats later in the season. Though not as highly thought of as the likes of an Aaron Voros or Ahren Nittel, Magowan has a good size/skill package that could move him up the New Jersey prospect ladder fairly quickly.p>

20. James Massen, RW, North Dakota (NCAA), 6th Round, 194th overall, 2001

Rating: 5.0 D

Massen had hoped to bounce back with a strong fourth collegiate season after struggling to find the goal scoring touch last season that he had in 2002-03. So far, that has yet to happen, and more recently, a sprained ankle cost him some playing time. Through 18 games with North Dakota, Massen has only 1 goal and 1 assist. Despite the offensive shortcomings, Massen still plays a strong grinding game that keeps him as a regular in the line-up.

Massen’s development offensively has gone backwards since a promising 2002-03 season that saw him score 15 goals and he hasn’t been able to snap out of his goal scoring famine since. Once thought of as a potential goal scoring power forward type, Massen’s future may be as a third or fourth line role player at the NHL level. He has NHL caliber size standing at 6’2, 220 lbs and has teased the Devils with offence in the past, so he is someone that shouldn’t be given up on just yet.

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