Sophomore, University of Alaska
After a stellar rookie year leading the Nanooks defensemen in scoring, Tyler Eckford has been even better this season. Through 23 games, he has already bettered his point total of 18 (three goals, 15 assists) from last season, with 19, including five goals. His 19 points lead all Nanooks defensemen, and Eckford currently stands third on the team in overall scoring. His 14 assists are tied for first on the team. His most memorable performance to date came back on Nov. 3 and 4 when he posted four assists and the game-winner in the second game in the Nanooks tie and win versus Nebraska-Omaha. The performance also earned Eckford his first CCHA Defensive Player of the Week honor.
Where Eckford has really made his mark this season has been on the outstanding Nanooks power play. Alaska sports the nation’s 12th best power play with an 80.7 percent efficiency rating. Of Eckford’s 19 points, 11 have come with the man-advantage (three goals, nine assists). He is currently on pace to double his offensive output of his freshman season.
The Devils look to have unearthed another late-round gem in Eckford. A forward-turned defenseman and a seventh-round pick of the Devils in the 2004 NHL draft, Eckford is continuing to excel at the collegiate level in his second season at UAF. Standing at 6’3, 215 lbs, the offensively gifted blueliner is continuing to work on the defensive side of his game and is slowly but surely making strides in that area. Eckford appears to have all the tools to develop into a two-way defenseman who can quarterback the power play.
Mark Fayne, D
Freshman, Providence College
As a 6’3, 220 lb. defenseman, Fayne is known more for his physical style (his 35 PIM’s are second on the team), than offensive contributions. However, on a Providence College team that has had difficulty scoring this season, Fayne has done his part to help the cause. To date, Fayne has posted five points (three goals, two assists). His three goals lead all Friars defensemen. Fayne’s first collegiate goal came back on Nov. 14 versus Northeastern. He currently plays on the Friars top defensive unit with sophomore Cody Wild (EDM).
Fayne has played in all 21 Providence College games thus far and has played in virtually every type of situation. Part of what makes Fayne such a valuable commodity for the Friars is his mobility and tremendous athleticism. He skates and gets around the rink remarkably well for a man his size.
Fayne is one of four freshman players drafted by the Devils that has had a relatively smooth transition thus far to a step up in competition. A former Nobles and Greenough High School standout and relative unknown to many Devils followers, Fayne is now starting to garner some attention now that he is playing in the NCAA. Though he is still quite raw in terms of his overall development, it appears as though the Devils may have found themselves another potential two-way defenseman. His overall upside is tremendous.
Jeff Frazee, G
Sophomore, University of Minnesota
The first half of Frazee’s sophomore year with Minnesota was actually quite strong, alternating starts with senior Kellen Briggs and in the process helping the Golden Gophers go on a torrid 22-game undefeated streak that ended on a 2-1 loss to Wisconsin on January 12th. Frazee has put up some very good numbers in his ten starts. He has posted an 8-1-1 record with a .900 save percentage. His 1.98 goals against average currently ranks sixth in the nation. In his Minnesota career to date, Frazee has never lost a road game. After shutting out Wisconsin on January 13th, he has a career road record of 7-0-2.
One reason behind Frazee’s success this season is maturity and recommitment to his game, both of which have gone a long way in helping his confidence as well. His focus and attention to the details of playing his position have vastly improved thus allowing the high skill and technical level that he possesses to be more frequently evident.
Nowhere was that seen more than at the recent WJC, where Frazee backstopped Team USA to a bronze medal. He posted a 4-1-0 record with a .939 save percentage and a 1.72 goals against average. Frazee, who started the tournament as a backup to Jeff Zatkoff (LA) came in after Team USA lost their first two games of the tournament and did not look back after that. If not for Frazee stepping up in place of Zatkoff, the Americans would have been in tough to medal at the tourney.
Though the Devils aren’t loaded in terms of goaltending prospects as a whole, Frazee is the Devils top goaltending prospect in the system. Athletic, and flexible, Frazee, as noted earlier, has vastly improved in his sophomore season despite still having to share starts in the Golden Gophers nets. Frazee’s strong play at the WJC is a perfect example of just how far he has come in terms of his overall development and the Devils have to be pleased with the significant turnaround he has shown from his freshman season.
Dan Glover, D
Senior, Cornell University
Injuries have taken quite the toll on Dan Glover’s senior year. After missing 12 games to start the season due to recovering from hip surgery, Glover finally made his senior year debut at the Florida College Hockey Classic holiday tournament back on Dec. 29 and 30, helping the Big Red to upset New Hampshire before falling to Maine in the Championship game, and those have been the only games thus far this season that he has played in. Glover has yet to register a point this season.
In an organization that now has an abundance of defensemen, Glover needs to have a strong second half to make the Devils take notice. A defensive blueliner by trade, Glover must also hope to remain healthy for the remainder of his senior season so he can show the Devils that he is indeed worthy of earning a pro contract.
T.J. Miller, D
Freshman, Northern Michigan University
On a team that hasn’t had much to cheer about in the first half, freshman T.J. Miller has been one of the few bright spots thus far. Miller is second among Wildcats defensemen in scoring with ten points (one goal, nine assists) in 23 games. He posted his first collegiate point back on Oct. 28 versus Ohio State. His most memorable performance to date came on Nov. 15 versus Minnesota-Duluth, when he notched his first (and thus far only) goal and three assists in the losing cause for NMU.
While many view Miller as simply an offensive-minded defenseman, the blueliner from Placentia, CA has actually been quite good taking care of his own zone this season as well, though his -7 rating shows he is still learning the defensive intricacies of the game. However, as he continues to learn and develop the finer points of defensive responsibility at the collegiate level, he has the potential to blossom into an excellent two-way defenseman.
A fourth-round pick of the Devils out of the BCHL in the 2006 NHL draft, Miller skates remarkably well for a 6’4, 220-pounder who still has room to grow and fill out. Miller is a smart player who has demonstrated excellent poise with the puck in his first season with the Wildcats. Miller, like fellow freshman defender Mark Fayne, has had a relatively smooth adjustment to the collegiate level of hockey to date and gives the Devils yet another budding two-way defensive prospect to get excited about.
Nathan Perkovich, RW
Freshman, Lake Superior State University
Perkovich got off to a torrid start to his collegiate career. He notched his first collegiate goal back on Oct. 14 versus Ohio State and then proceeded to string together a six-game goal-scoring streak. Perkovich currently has 15 points (ten goals, five assists) on the season through 25 games. His ten goals, which include six power-play goals, is second on the team. Perkovich has twice been named CCHA Rookie of the Week. With his most recent honor coming on Jan. 9 after tallying two goals to help the Lakers earn a tie and win over Nebraska-Omaha.
At 6’5, Perkovich is the tallest player on the Lakers roster. He has superb hands, is creative with the puck and possesses a terrific wrist-shot. He makes excellent use of his long reach when battling for loose pucks or getting passes that look to be going wide. Perkovich is still quite green in terms of his overall development and needs to bulk up and add some muscle to his wiry frame, but the Devils have to be thrilled with his rapid development in this his freshman season. Perkovich is one to keep an eye on in the coming years as he has the potential to shoot up the Devils prospect ladder.
Tony Romano, C
Freshman, Cornell University
At 5’11, 185 lbs., Romano is one of Cornell’s smaller players but he brings an element that Cornell has needed more of this season – speed. Romano is an instinctive, high-energy player who is also quick. He has also proven to be quite an offensive threat as well. In 16 games this season, Romano has posted 15 points (seven goals, eight assists). His 15 points rank second on the team and he co-leads the Big Red with seven goals. Of Romano’s seven goals, three have come on the power play. Romano posted his first two collegiate points (both assists) back on Oct. 28 versus RIT. His first collegiate goal came on Nov. 4 versus Yale.
Romano, who just recently sat out two games for some off ice matters, rounds out the Devils group of fab four freshman players this season. The Devils sixth-round draft pick in the 2006 NHL draft and former Atlantic Junior Hockey League scoring star was a bit of an unknown on draft day, but has quickly emerged as one of the Devils more offensively gifted prospects in the system. Romano has the hands of a sniper, and appears to have all the tools to be a point producing centerman. Like fellow freshman forward Perkovich, Romano is only going to get better and could rocket up the prospect ladder if he continues to develop like he has so far in his first season in the NCAA.
Jason Smith, G
Senior, Sacred Heart University
Jason Smith is probably one of the lesser-known Devils prospects, but what a year he is having to this point. Smith has backstopped Sacred Heart to the top of the Atlantic Hockey conference with a record of 11-5-3 in 19 starts this season. He also has a 2.90 goals against average and a .907 save percentage.
Smith’s best performance to date this season came on January 6th when he made 28 stops to guide the Pioneers to a 2-1 upset win over Cornell. The performance earned Smith his third (and second consecutive) Atlantic Hockey Goaltender of the Week honor on the season.
Smith is a butterfly style goaltender who possesses superb athleticism. Where he has been particularly good this season has been in his consistency. Prior to two games against RIT in which Smith allowed 10 goals in two losses, Smith had allowed two or more goals only once in the previous six games. That occurred back on Dec. 1 in Sacred Heart’s 3-3 tie with Air Force. His last loss prior to Friday came back on Nov. 25 at UConn.
Though Frazee is top dog in terms of goaltending prospects in the New Jersey’s system, Smith is not too far behind. He should join the pro ranks next fall.
Zach Tarkir, D
Senior, Northern Michigan University
Tarkir has been one of NMU’s most reliable defensemen this season, logging a ton of ice time. He serves as one of NMU’s assistant captains this season. His leadership has helped to provide some stability to the team, particularly on the blueline.
While Tarkir has steadily improved his offensive numbers, he has also developed into a more effective playmaker, particularly in power-play situations. He currently leads NMU’s defensemen in scoring with 12 points (four goals, eight assists), playing in all 26 games to date. He is tied for second on the team in plus/minus (+5). Tarkir’s best game to date this season saw him score a goal and add an assist in a January 19th game against Bowling Green that also saw him post a +2 rating.
Tarkir really seems to be putting everything together in his senior season. The Fresno, CA native is the type of defenseman that you don’t always notice, but that is a good thing because that usually means he’s doing his job. Should Tarkir finish his senior season with the Wildcats as strong as he started it, the 6’1, 189 lb. Tarkir should have no problem earning himself a pro contract with the Devils.
DJ Powers contributed to this article. Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.