Josh Disher, G, Erie Otters (OHL)
HT: 6’1 WT: 171 lbs
Draft: 2004 (6th round, 185th overall)
After declining an opportunity to play pro in the ECHL with the Augusta Lynx at the beginning of the year, Disher came into the 2005-06 season looking to build on the success he had attained in his two previous seasons with the OHL’s Erie Otters and earn himself an NHL contract with the Devils. Whether or not Disher will earn that contract still is up in the air after what could best be summed up as his most pedestrian junior season on an Otter team that struggled mightily and ended up on the outside looking in come playoff time.
His overall statistics were down in most major categories from his previous two seasons in Erie, but Disher can’t be held accountable for all the struggles that plagued the team. More often than not, he was facing upwards of more than 30 shots a game. He was still able to collect 21 of the Otters measly 25 regular season victories and again proved capable of handling a heavy workload, playing in 54 of Erie’s 68 games. Another factor that can’t be overlooked in Disher struggling somewhat over the course of the regular season and was noted in the mid-season update was that the Devils personnel trying to alter his playing style.
At the conclusion of his season in Erie, Disher, with permission from the Devils, agreed to a pro tryout contract with the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL (affiliate of Tampa Bay). However, before he was able to suit up for a game with Johnstown, Disher was summoned to the Devils AHL affiliate in Albany after starting River Rats goaltender Frank Doyle was needed to backup Martin Brodeur for one game. In his first taste of pro action, Disher came out on the losing end of a 5-2 game against the Philadelphia Phantoms but turned aside 39 of 44 shots, and earned some post-game praise from Albany head coach Robbie Ftorek. It’s not yet known whether or not Disher will remain in Albany or return to Johnstown, though the latter is more likely.
With Disher still unsigned to an NHL contract, these next few weeks at the pro level, whether it be in the ECHL or AHL, will be a good test for him and may ultimately determine if the Devils will choose to sign him by the June 1 deadline for 2004 CHL draft picks. The Devils do not have an abundance of goaltending depth at the minor pro level, which would lead some to believe that signing Disher is a no-brainer. Despite his struggles this past season, the Devils hands-on approach with Disher also bodes well for him being signed. If he comes to terms with the Devils, Disher would either start next season in the ECHL, or back up workhorse Doyle with the Devils recently announced new AHL affiliate in Lowell.
Patrick Davis, LW, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
HT: 6’2 WT: 211 lbs
Draft: 2005 (4th round, 99th overall)
Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery to get a player on track. Davis proved that true after an early season trade from the Kitchener Rangers, where he had played his entire OHL career, to the Windsor Spitfires. While not always playing up to his full potential in Kitchener, Davis still was contributed on the score sheet, but often left the team wanting more, especially defensively. It was after the trade to Windsor where Davis seemed to find his groove and play the best hockey of his junior career.
Averaging just under a point a game in the early part of the season with Kitchener, including 13 goals, his trade to the Spitfires seemed to light a fire under him and helped lead Davis to career-best numbers across the board. Davis went on a scoring barrage in Windsor, posting multiple-point games with great regularity. He racked up an eye-popping 51 points in 28 games with the Spitfires. His 35 goals ranked second on the team, and 68 points ranked him third behind Bryan Bickell (CHI) and Cal O’Reilly (NSH). The highlight of the season for Davis had to be a five-point night, including four goals, in an early January game against Saginaw. The only thing that really slowed Davis this season was a late season shoulder injury that caused Davis to miss a few games down the stretch. While the Spitfires aren’t an elite team in the OHL, Davis will help try to propel Windsor to an extended playoff run and continue building on the success that he had in the regular season.
Davis had always been an immensely talented player, but had not always performed up to his full potential. That was until this season. Davis showed more confidence, aggressiveness, a willingness to drive to the net, and some improvement defensively over the course of the season. His overall package has to have the Devils excited about his long-term potential and how his development curve has taken a sharp turn upwards. There is a chance that Davis could sign this offseason or the Devils may opt to have him return to Windsor for what would be his fifth and final OHL season. Regardless of what decision the Devils and Davis decide is best for him, he is unquestionably in the Devils plans for the future.
Mark Fraser, D, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
HT: 6’3 WT: 206lbs
Draft: 2005 (3rd round, 84th overall)
From being a first-year OHL’er, to getting drafted in the third round of the NHL draft by the New Jersey Devils, to taking over the Kitchener Rangers captaincy from highly-touted Mike Richards (PHI), the steady, stay at home Fraser accomplished a lot over the past two seasons of his young hockey career. While Kitchener was expected to have a little bit off a drop off in terms of overall talent from last season, Fraser helped captain the Rangers to 47 wins and to the third-best record in the OHL behind the talent rich London Knights and Peterborough Petes.
Statistically speaking, Fraser’s numbers both last season and this year were nothing spectacular. He still has yet to record an OHL goal in 117 career contests, and only recorded five assists, down from the eight he picked up last season. Nevertheless, Fraser contributed in ways that would not always show up on the score sheet. His one stat that stood out was his solid +13 rating, a testament to his terrific play and reliability at his own end of the rink. During the new year, Fraser only recorded a minus in three of the Rangers 25 games. Fraser had 129 penalty minutes, up from the 96 he recorded in 2004-05.
Fraser will lead his Rangers into the OHL playoffs with intentions of a long playoff drive and a possible rematch with the supremely talented London Knights. His long-term prognosis looks good at the early stage of his development and he is by far and away the most promising defensive prospect in the Devils organization. He’s likely not going to grow much in terms of offensive potential, but Fraser is showing signs of maturing into a leader and top notch defensive defenseman. Fraser’s intangibles and style of play put him in high standing in a Devils organization that prides itself on its defense. He will likely return as team captain in Kitchener next season, looking to continue to grow into his ample sized frame and round out the rough edges in his game.
Sean Zimmerman, D, Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
HT: 6’2 WT: 208lbs
Draft: 2005 (6th round, 170th overall)
Zimmerman is one of the many unspectacular defense prospects in the organization, and the third-year Spokane Chief had another respectable season. Much like fellow prospect Mark Fraser, Zimmerman’s contributions on a nightly basis wouldn’t always show up on the score sheet, though when he did contribute, he made it count. Both of Zimmerman’s goals this season were game winners. Along with his two goals, Zimmerman compiled a respectable 17 assists, and a +3 rating, tied for tops on a Spokane team that was one of the WHL’s worst this season. His durability over his three-year career in the WHL is something that shouldn’t be overlooked as he has played in all but six of the Chiefs’ 216 games, including all 72 games this season.
Zimmerman, much like Fraser, doesn’t have a whole ton of offensive upside, but he is the type of player that grows on you. What you see is what you get, and what you get is a smart and steady defender with excellent work habits in his own end. He also possesses the requisite size and physicality that most teams look for in a defender. Zimmerman will be playing for an NHL contract next season, and will likely be counted on as a leader going into his fourth season in Spokane and will hope to separate himself from a rather pedestrian group of New Jersey Devil blue line prospects.
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