New Jersey Devils have numerous forward prospects at the Canadian junior level

By Jason Lewis

Stefan Matteau - New Jersey Devils

Photo: Forward prospect Stefan Matteau had plenty of drama in his 2012-13 season, from playing 17 games in the NHL to later being dismissed by his QMJHL team. (Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon SMI)

The New Jersey Devils 2012 draft class included seven junior level prospects, the most they have had come out of the CHL and Junior 'A' levels since 2008. With seven of the nine players at the junior level being forwards, the Devils can look ahead to restocking a struggling and low scoring Albany Devils AHL squad that has missed the playoffs three years in a row.

QMJHL

Stefan Matteau, LW, Blaineville-Boisbriand Armada
Acquired: 1st round (29th overall) in 2012

The lone representative for the Devils in the QMJHL has had a turbulent season all things considered. While statistically he played at just under a point per game pace this season with Blaineville-Boisbriand, a number of very odd circumstances have put the Chicago native in some strange territory. In January Matteau was cut from the United States Under-18 World Junior team and then after a call up in January to the Devils and a reassignment to the Q, Matteau reportedly quit the team in the middle of their playoff series against Baie-Comeau. It was then later reported that he had been indefinitely suspended by the Armada for insubordination.

Despite the off-ice drama, which is likely concerning to the Devils, Matteau is still a very talented power forward with a lot of upside. At 6'2 he is incredibly good using his size and strength to his advantage and is willing to play in the dirty areas of the ice and take the body. He plays on the edge, and has often gone over that edge in his junior career. In the beginning of the season Matteau was suspended for one game by the Q for a vicious hit from behind, a suspension his own team matched due to "a propensity for undisciplined play." Matteau has already played 17 games with the Devils this season and is physically mature enough to cut it in the NHL. The big question is whether he is mentally mature enough to do so. He skates a fine line most of the time and will need to learn when to let loose and when to rein it in if he wants to be successful in the NHL.

WHL

Damon Severson, D, Kelowna Rockets
Acquired: 2nd round (60th overall) in 2012

New Jersey took one defenseman in the 2012 NHL entry draft, and it is looking like a savvy pick. Severson, a 6'2, 200 pound Manitoba native, has had a terrific year this season with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. With 52 points in 71 games Severson was the team's leading defensive scorer, and his plus-43 rating was also impressive. Severson did benefit from playing on a loaded Kelowna Rockets team which lost just 16 of 72 games this year in regulation, but still credit Severson for having a tremendous year.

Severson has shown he is built physically for the NHL and does good solid work at both ends of the ice. He has very crisp skating ability, a keen offensive sense about him, and is incredibly swift at moving the puck out of his own zone efficiently. Defensively he is willing to not only take the body and clear out the crease, but he's dropped the gloves on occasion as well. After a solid year in the WHL it looks like the former second rounder will be up in the AHL and beyond very soon.

Reece Scarlett, D, Swift Current Broncos
Acquired: 6th round (159th overall) in 2011

Swift Current Broncos product Reece Scarlett had a great 2011-12 after being selected in June of that season by the Devils, and he followed that up in 2012-13. Scarlett is a solid puck mover, evident from his 40 assists on the year, which was tops amongst all defenseman on the team. Overall he was the Broncos leading defensive scorer, and was a solid plus-14 on a Swift Current team that struggled at times during the year. While he had a slow start to his 2012-13 season, he was a man possessed in January and February and had 23 of his 49 points in those two months.

The only thing holding Scarlett back is his physicality. Although he stands at 6'0, the 20-year-old defenseman needs to bulk up in order to deal with the intense physical nature of the AHL and beyond. He is incredibly mobile, but he may become a liability in his own end if he remains on the smallish side.

Graham Black, C, Swift Current Broncos
Acquired: 5th round (135th overall) in 2012

Overage draftee Graham Black again had a solid season with the Swift Current Broncos in 2012-13. He matched his 2011-12 point totals at 50 points, and increased his goal total from 17 to 24 between this year and last. Although Black was a late round pick for the Devils in 2012, a lot of people in the organization are excited for the Regina, Saskatoon native. He plays a very Devilsesque style, combining speed with a tenacious forecheck. He is a responsible two-way forward and has no problem getting in the physical areas despite his 5'11 frame.

In an organization that has seen similar players like Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez come through the ranks, Graham Black seems to be in the right place to succeed. He will likely move on to Albany next year where his goal scoring and solid two-way play will be a welcome sight for an ailing Devils squad.

OHL

Artur Gavrus, RW, Owen Sound Attack
Acquired: 6th round (180th overall) in 2012

The exciting Belarusian who made a splash over in the OHL with Owen Sound Attack in 2011-12 made his way back over to Belarus to start the season with Nemad Grodno much to the dismay of many Devils fans and the Owen Sound Attack. However, after an apparent meeting with the Devils scouts, Gavrus made his way back to the OHL in January.

He only played 22 games and had 14 points, but also had an eight points 12 game playoff run with the Attack. With his Owen Sound team eliminated from the playoff contention at the hands of the Plymouth Whalers, Gavrus was invited to play for the Belarus National team for the 2013 IIHF World Hockey Championships.

Ben Johnson, C, Windsor Spitfires
Acquired: 3rd round (90th overall) in 2012

At the start of the 2012-13 season is was though that Ben Johnson would get a chance at playing in the top-six with Windsor rather than his regular third line spot on the team. However that wish was not granted and Johnson was again a third line forward for the Spitfires.

His production levels remained the same from his 38 points 2011-12, as he scored 37 in 64 games this year. His minus-28 rating is an area of concern, though Windsor was not the strongest team this year and they missed the playoffs entirely, so that number can be deceiving. Johnson is a raw offensive talent and as he gets more seasons under his belt in juniors, he will learn to better utilize his ridiculous speed to upgrade his goal and point totals. He will also probably want to round out his defensive game and put on a bit of muscle.

Ben Thomson, LW, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 4th round (96th overall) in 2012

There are no secrets about Ben Thomson's game. He is big, nasty, loves to hit, fights, and he will also score the occasional goal. At 6'4 and 220 pounds Thomson is already a physically imposing force, and over the years he added more of an offensive facet to his game, separating him from a prototypical heavyweight. In 67 games this year Thomson had 32 points including 15 goals, which again is respectable considering the role he is trying to fulfill.

He is obviously not going to be a goal-scorer moving forward into the AHL next season, but Thomson could find a niche in the new wave of heavyweight NHL players like Jordan Nolan with the Los Angeles Kings who can add more than just a fist and a big body. He will definitely have his work cut out for him, but with that kind of size the 20-year old has an edge that many players do not naturally have.

Reid Boucher, LW, Sarnia Sting
Acquired: 4th round (99th overall) in 2011

In his second season playing in the OHL, Boucher was a revelation. He was drafted by the Devils in 2011 for his goal-scoring ability, and while he had previously shown flashes of that ability, he took it to another place in 2012-13, leading the league with 62 goals in 68 games and setting a new team record in a single season. Of his 62 goals, 21 came on the powerplay and eight were game-winners. In addition to taking his goal-scoring to another level, Boucher also added more of an ornery streak to his game. He remains undersized, but he has been exceptionally durable.

Following Sarnia's post-season exit, Boucher joined the Devils AHL affiliate in Albany. He managed three goals and two assists through 11 minor league games.  

Junior 'A'

Alex Kerfoot, RW/C, Coquitlam Express (BCHL)
Acquired: 5th round (150th overall) in 2012

The 18-year-old forward out of West Vancouver in British Columbia is an incredibly raw offensive talent. However, as a fifth round pick the Devils knew going in that he was a long term project with little risk and high reward. Unfortunately his development took a bit of a step back this year as he was forced to go under the knife in December and had his Coquitlam Express season cut short with season ending shoulder surgery. It was a tough end to Kerfoot's BCHL career, as he is committed to Harvard next fall.

It is a positive step though moving forward, as Kerfoot can challenge himself at the NCAA level. He has a tremendous puck moving ability and great on-ice vision and three to four years of development in the NCAA against big strong players will do the forward a world of good. The Harvard Crimson are going through a bit of a rebuild and he should get plenty of opportunity to earn playing time.