Devils Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By Jared Ramsden

Another strong draft for the Devils has talent to a prospect pool that is slowly on the rise. Players that were once considered "top prospects" are sliding down the list due to this infusion of talented players to the system, giving the Devils their deepest group of prospects in quite some time. Compared to three years ago, the overall quality of the prospects pool has vastly improved.

With Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson and Nicklas Bergfors at the top of the list, the Devils have a trifecta of talented Swedish forwards just oozing with potential. Josefson was one of three members of the Devils 2009 draft class to crack the list (Eric Gelinas and Alexander Urbom are the others). Goaltender Jeff Frazee has continued to see his stock in the organization soar, as he has moved up to 6th, from 11th in the Spring 2009 rankings. In the Fall 2008 rankings, he was just barely in the Top 20 at 19th.

Twelve of the prospects ranked in this edition of the Devils top 20 prospects are from the last three draft classes. There is also more star potential among the Devils top prospects, led by Tedenby and Josefson, than in recent years. Over the course of the next few years, expect to see plenty of these names find permanent homes in New Jersey.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Mattias Tedenby, LW
2. Jacob Josefson, C
3. Nicklas Bergfors, RW
4. Matt Corrente, D
5. Patrice Cormier, C
6. Jeff Frazee, G
7. Brandon Burlon, D
8. Matt Halischuk, RW
9. Tyler Eckford, D
10. Alexander Vasyunov, LW
11. Eric Gelinas, D
12. Nick Palmieri, RW
13. Alexander Urbom, D
14. Adam Henrique, C
15. Vladimir Zharkov, RW
16. T.J. Miller, D
17. Mike Hoeffel, LW
18. Mark Fayne, D
19. David Wohlberg, C
David McIntyre, C

Key: Rank (previous rank), name, position, (grade), age

1. (1) Mattias Tedenby, LW, (7.5 C), 19
Acquired: 1st round, 25th overall, 2008 NHL Draft

Tedenby strengthened his hold on top dog in the organization after an absolutely scintillating playoff run (six goals and three assists in 18 games) with his team in Sweden, HV71, and a splendid showing at the Devils prospect development camp earlier in the summer.

There is no doubt that Tedenby is by far and away the most exciting and offensively-gifted prospect the team has had in the organization since Zach Parise. With his competitiveness, lightning fast speed, stickhandling wizardry, and elite finishing skills in tight, Tedenby’s lack of size at 5’10 should not be a hindrance at the next level, as he has the potential to turn into a Martin St. Louis type of player. He will spend this up coming season in Sweden, but there is little doubt he will be in New Jersey by the 2010-11 season.

2. (NR) Jacob Josefson, C, (7.5 C), 18
Acquired: 1st round, 20th overall, 2009 NHL Draft

Another talented Swede was added to the organization in Josefson, when the Devils moved up to select him in the 2009 draft, 20th overall. He slipped in the minds of some scouts due to lackluster showings at international tournaments, but there is no doubting Josefson’s smarts and overall skill set. Having already played a full season in the Swedish Elite League at the age of 18, scoring a respectable 16 points in 50 games last season, he is already ahead of the development curve. His ice time was limited last year, but it’s expected that he will see a much more significant role with his team, Djurgardens, in 2009-10.

Josefson is the prototypical Devils prospect; a player who thrives at playing a cerebral, two-way game. While his finishing skills need some work, he is a fantastic playmaker who excels down below the hashmarks. The Devils have no plans to rush him, but there is a thought that he won’t need much more development time before being NHL ready. His contract with Djurgardens is up and the end of this season, and it would not be a surprise to see him signed and in North America, competing for a roster spot in New Jersey in 2010-11.

3. (2) Nicklas Bergfors, RW, (7.0 B), 22
Acquired: 1st round, 23rd overall, 2005 NHL Draft

Completing the Swedish domination at the top of the Devils prospect list is Bergfors, selected in the first round by New Jersey all the way back in 2005. While he now ranks as the third-best prospect, it should not be taken as a slight, as the organization is still high on the supremely talented Swede. Bergfors is coming off a very good season, scoring a career-best 22 goals and 29 assists in 66 games for Lowell.

Now at the age of 22 and with four full AHL seasons under his belt, the time appears to be now for Bergfors to finally make the jump full time to the next level. The loss of second line right winger Brian Gionta to free agency means that Bergfors has the best opportunity of his young career to become a full time NHL’er. There is no doubting his offensive tools, but he also has the defensive acumen to prosper under new Devils coach Jacques Lemaire. He has nothing left to prove in the AHL, and this should finally be the year that Bergfors sticks in New Jersey.

4. (3) Matt Corrente, D, (7.0 B), 21
Acquired: 1st round, 30th overall, 2006 NHL Draft

The top defense prospect in the organization, Corrente had hoped to be in New Jersey last season, but a poor showing at training camp resulted in him being sent to Lowell for the 2008-09 season. However, it may have been a blessing in disguise for Corrente, as he blossomed, playing major minutes resulting in fantastic pro debut. He flashed his all-around ability, scoring six goals and 12 assists in 67 games to go along with 161 PIM’s and a steady +1 rating.

Corrente plays a rugged and physical style, as evidenced by his high PIM totals throughout his career, but he also is a strong-skating rearguard, who has the puck-moving skills and offensive ability to contribute offensively at the next level. Barring another move, New Jersey will have the same group of blueliners they had to end last season, but that doesn’t mean that a guy like Corrente won’t challenge for a spot in camp this year. Another year in the AHL won’t hurt him, but he should be in fierce competition newly-signed Cory Murphy and Rob Davison to be the seventh defenseman for the Devils this season.

5. (7) Patrice Cormier, C, (7.5 C), 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 54th overall, 2008 NHL Draft

Cormier moves up two spots to round out the top five group of prospects for the Devils after a very productive and busy year of hockey for the centerman. Suiting up for Team Canada at the World Juniors, and leading the host Rimouski Oceanic into the Memorial Cup, Cormier got to experience hockey at the highest, and most intense levels this year. Overall, Cormier had a healthy, bounceback year, posting 51 points in 54 games for the Oceanic after struggling through an injury-plagued 2007-08 season.

It still is very early in his development, but it looks like the Devils may have gotten themselves a second-round steal in Cormier. While he may not be the most naturally gifted player, he’s about as well-rounded a prospect as the Devils have coming up right now, which is why he’s ranked so highly. He is at his best playing a robust, physical style, and possesses both the offensive skill set and defensive acumen to eventually be a two-way force at the next level. Having just signed his first pro contract this summer, Cormier will return to Rimouski for the 2009-10 season, with an eye towards turning pro in 2010-11.

6. (11) Jeff Frazee, G, (7.5 C), 22
Acquired: 2nd round, 38th overall, 2005 NHL Draft

It’s been a wild ride for Frazee thus far in his young career, and right now he is up after completing a spectacular pro debut in the AHL with Lowell after nearing flaming out at the University of Minnesota in 2007-08. He started last year in the ECHL, but with the injury to Martin Brodeur in New Jersey, he was promoted to Lowell, and once there, set numerous team records. He finished the year with 28 wins, a 2.62 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.

Frazee has always had the talent and athletic ability to succeed, it was just a matter of him putting things together mentally, which he appeared to finally achieve last season. The Devils do have an opening on the big club for a backup goaltender, and Frazee will battle with recently-signed Yann Danis for that spot, though it would be in the best interest for both Frazee and the Devils for him to get one more full season of pro hockey under his belt. However, with another year like he had last year, the Devils would likely not hesitate to promote Frazee to be Brodeur’s full time backup in 2010-11.

7. (5) Brandon Burlon, D, (7.0 C), 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2008 NHL Draft

Burlon slipped a couple spots in the rankings, but he still has high value. After Corrente, he probably possesses the most upside of any Devils blueline prospect. An ankle injury meant that he got a late start to his freshman season at the University of Michigan last year, however once he was back to full health, he looked like he hadn’t missed a game, showing off his top-notch mobility and puck-handling skills on a nightly basis. In 33 games for the Wolverines, he had five goals and 10 assists, and an outstanding +17 rating.

Burlon is steady in his own end, and as he matures, he should become even better. He will return to the Wolverines for sophomore season in 2010-11, looking to pick up right where he left off last year. He’ll probably spend two more years there before turning pro.

8. (4) Matt Halischuk, RW, (6.5 B), 21
Acquired: 4th round, 117th overall, 2007 NHL Draft

The same that was said about Burlon, also applies to Halishcuk. Despite missing nearly half his rookie pro season due to a sprained MCL, Halischuk had quite a splashy AHL debut. In 47 games, he finished with 14 goals and 15 assists, totals that undoubtedly would have been much higher if not for the injury he suffered.

Halischuk wasn’t well-known when the Devils selected him halfway through the 2007 NHL draft, but it has not taken him long at all to make a name for himself in the organization, as he has rocketed through the system. Halischuk has all the qualities teams crave in their prospects, including the intangibles. His effort level, high-end speed and top notch two-way ability have him on the fast track to New Jersey. While it’s not a guarantee that he makes the team this season, there is not much doubt that he is very close to becoming an NHL regular and doesn’t need much more seasoning in the AHL. He should see at least a handful of games in New Jersey this year.

9. (9) Tyler Eckford, D, (7.0 C), 23
Acquired: 7th round, 217th overall, 2004 NHL Draft

The only prospect in the system whose ranking didn’t change was Eckford, who made a relatively smooth transition to the pro game after a stellar collegiate career at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Eckford was one of the top scoring blueliners among AHL rookies and was Lowell’s leading point getter among defensemen with 27 points in 72 games. He also thrived when called upon in the shootout. His -16 rating, which was the worst among Lowell players, shows that he still has work to do defensively. However, if he progresses like he did during his time at college, it’s only a matter of time before the 6’1, 205 lb blueliner’s defensive acumen catches up to his excellent offensive skill set.

His puck skills and mobility are fantastic, and at the Devils recent prospect camp, he displayed some strong leadership skills. Another season in the AHL is likely in the cards for Eckford this year, but he might get a look or two during the season in New Jersey, before being ready to challenge for a spot full time in 2010-11.

10. (8) Alexander Vasyunov, LW, (7.0 C), 21
Acquired: 2nd round, 58th overall, 2006 NHL Draft

Possessing perhaps the most pure overall skill of any prospect in the organization, Vasyunov’s decision to come over to North America from Russia early last season appears to have paid major dividends. He went through the peaks and valleys that are often associated with most first-year pros, however, when all was said and done, Vasyunov’s first year of professional hockey was a good one. In 69 games, the Russian sniper scored 15 goals (tied for third best on the club) and 13 assists. Had he been with the team to start the season, those numbers might have been even better.

Vasyunov knows how to put the puck in the net, and is one of the best natural goal scorers in the system. His defensive play leaves much to be desired, but he won’t earn his paycheck on his defensive play. He will likely benefit with another full season, and maybe half another year in the AHL, but now that he has turned pro, his development appears to be right where the Devils had hoped it would be at this point in his career.

11. (NR) Eric Gelinas, D, (7.0 C), 18
Acquired: 2nd round, 54th overall, 2009 NHL Draft

Gelinas, the Devils second-round draft pick at this past summer’s NHL draft, makes his debut in the rankings at 11th spot. On a young and rebuilding Lewiston Maineiacs squad, Gelinas played a very prominent role for the team, leading all team defensemen in scoring with 10 goals and 29 assists in 62 games. He saw loads of ice time in almost every situation, which will only help his long-term development.

Standing at 6’4, 185 lbs, and with family genes that seem to indicate he will get bigger, Gelinas will need lots of time to grow into his frame, something the Devils will be more than willing to give with the ultra talented blueliner. There is no doubting the offensive tool set Gelinas has, highlighted by splendid puck handling skills and mobility.  Being a converted forward, it’s obvious that he needs time to learn the nuances of playing defense, but he shows the aptitude to get better in that aspect of his game. He’s probably going to need three to four years of development time before he reaches his full potential, but the overall upside Gelinas has is high.

12. (6) Nick Palmieri, RW, (7.0 C), 20
Acquired: 3rd round, 79th overall, 2007 NHL Draft

No prospect dropped further than Palmieri in the rankings, but that’s due largely to the infusion of talent. He is still very highly thought of by Devils brass, especially after a solid OHL season split between Erie and Belleville, that saw him score 27 times in 61 games. The playoffs were where Palmieri particularly stood out, scoring at a point-per-game clip for the Bulls with 14 goals and three assists in 17 games.

Consistency aside, Palmieri appears to be ready for a promotion to the pro game after four full seasons of junior. The big, burly power winger has great hands in tight and a hard, accurate shot. Palmieri has a great future ahead of him, but will most likely need a couple of years of seasoning with Lowell before being deemed ready for a full-time promotion to the NHL.

13. (NR) Alexander Urbom, D, (6.5 C), 18
Acquired: 3rd round, 73rd overall, 2009 NHL Draft

The third and final 2009 draftee to crack the top 20, is Urbom, a third-round choice who played in Djurgardens in Sweden last season with Josefson. Urbom split time between the junior and senior men’s league team. In 28 games for the senior squad, he recorded 2 PIM’s and was held off the scoresheet.

Urbom is known as more of a stay-at-home defenseman, however, he possesses the requisite two-way skills to eventually develop into an effective mid-pairing defenseman. He has size, at 6’3, 196 lbs, plays physical, and is a strong skater. He is not a force offensively, but is a smooth puckhandler with good hockey sense. Urbom stood out with his strong play at the Devils prospect development camp in July, and appears to already be making a favorable impression in the organization. Where Urbom will play this year is a little up in the air at this point, but after being selected by Brandon in the CHL import draft, it appears likely that he will cross the pond to play in the WHL for the Wheat Kings.

14. (17) Adam Henrique, C, (6.0 C), 19
Acquired: 3rd round, 82nd overall, 2008 NHL Draft

Henrique had about as solid and steady a season as any Devils prospect in 2008-09. He played hockey all the way until the end of May for the eventual Memorial Cup Champion Windsor Spitfires. In the Memorial Cup, Henrique took his game to another level, finishing tied for the tournament lead in scoring. That was after a very productive 30-goal, 33-assist regular season (that included an eye catching +39 rating) and a playoff that saw him net 17 points in 20 games.

Henrique isn’t the type of player who is going to wow you on a game to game basis, but he’s solid in all facets of the game and just gets the job done. He has very good on-ice smarts, shines playing an assertive two-way game, and as an added bonus, he shows great leadership skills, which were very evident in helping the Spitifires to the Memorial Cup. Henrique is the type of unheralded prospect who often gets overlooked in an organization, but that’s not the case in New Jersey. He’ll return to Windsor for the 2009-10 season, with an eye towards possibly turning pro in 2010-11.

15. (19) Vladimir Zharkov, RW, (6.0 C), 21
Acquired: 3rd round, 77th overall, 2006 NHL Draft

Although not as flashy as his fellow countryman Vasyunov, Zharkov’s stock in the organization continues to rise as he made a seamless transition to the pro game with Lowell last year. He moves up four spots in the rankings. Across the board, Zharkov’s numbers were quite impressive for a first-year pro, most notably his +23 rating, best on the club and tops among AHL rookies. In 69 games, he recorded 11 goals and 23 assists, good enough for fourth on Lowell.

Arguably the best skater in the organization, Zharkov has an elite second gear, and is quickly transforming into one of the best two-way prospects in the system. His ceiling and long-range potential may not be as high as some of the more talented prospects the Devils currently have, but that does not mean he doesn’t have a future in New Jersey. In fact, that is far from the case. Should he put together another season this year like he had last year in Lowell, there’s a good chance he’ll be battling for a spot in New Jersey by 2010-11.  

16. (13) T.J. Miller, D, (6.5 C), 22
Acquired: 4th round, 176th overall, 2006 NHL Draft

Despite a season-ending hip injury that allowed Miller to only suit up in 16 games in his junior season at the University of Northern Michigan, his overall package of size and skills can’t be ignored and is a major reason why he still remains in the top 20. The 6’4, 200 plus lb California-born blueliner is strong on his skates, continues to improve physically, and is steady in his own end, and while it may not show in his numbers, he does possess a some untapped offensive upside. He has good puck skills and is the owner of a heavy and accurate point shot.

Miller attended the Devils prospect camp in July, but was unable to play at that time. He likely would have turned pro after his junior season, but after an injury marred 2008-09 season, Miller will return to the Wildcats for his senior season, looking to put last year behind him and earn himself a professional contract from the Devils at the commencement of the 2009-10 season.

17. (12) Mike Hoeffel, LW, (6.0 B), 20
Acquired: 2nd round, 57th overall, 2007 NHL Draft

Hoeffel is in the same boat as Palmieri, a victim of improved talent and depth into the organization that caused his star to fall somewhat, slipping five spots in the rankings to 17th. It was a tale of two seasons for Hoeffel, as he did not get off to a great start, but in the second half of the season for the Golden Gophers, after playing for Team USA at the World Junior Championships, he appeared to get his game back on track, piling up the points. In 35 games, he scored 12 goals (third best on the team and six of which were power-play goals) and eight assists to go along with 38 PIM’s. His -12 rating was somewhat disappointing, considering that he is supposed to be a sound defensive forward.

Hoeffel’s ceiling is that of a grinding, checking line winger, much like current Devil Jay Pandolfo in his prime. He is a fairly safe prospect, but has the ability to have a much better year than 2008-09 when he returns to the University of Minnesota for his junior season.

18. (14) Mark Fayne, D, (6.5 C), 22
Acquired: 5th round, 155th overall, 2005 NHL Draft

Another year, another what you see is what you get season from Fayne at Providence College. In 33 games in his junior season, he recorded four goals and five assists, to go along with 30 PIM’s. His -12 rating is more of a reflection of the team he played on than his overall play.

Standing at 6’3, and well over 200 lbs, Fayne’s size and strength obviously stand out. He skates well for a big man, plays physical, and also shows the ability to make crisp, tape to tape passes. His unspectacular play doesn’t get much fanfare, and while he’s never going to be a guy who stands out, he’s the type of defenseman teams need to succeed. He will return to Providence for his senior season this year, and should be able to earn himself a contract from the Devils and turn pro for the 2010-11 season.

19. (16) David Wohlberg, C, (6.0 C), 19
Acquired: 6th round, 172nd overall, 2008 NHL Draft

For a sixth-round pick in 2008, it hasn’t taken very long for Wohlberg to make a positive impression. As a freshman at the University of Michigan, Wohlberg posted fantastic overall numbers and displayed the steady two-way skills that endeared him to the Devils when they drafted him last year. After starting the season on the checking line, he was give a promotion to the top line to play a more offensive role, and was one of the top-scoring rookies in the CCHA. With 15 goals and 15 assists in 40 games, Wohlberg finished fourth overall in team scoring and quickly established himself as one of the top Wolverine forwards. He played a lot of wing this past season as well, adding a bit of versatility to his game.

It’s Wohlberg’s defensive aptitude and aggressive play that attracted him to the Devils, but he’s developed quickly offensively. He is only going to get better as he matures and gains experience. He will return to Michigan for his sophomore season this year, looking to take his game to an even higher level.

20. (NR) David McIntyre, C (6.5 D), 22
Acquired: Trade from Anaheim, March, 2009

A fairly new face to the organization, McIntyre was acquired from the Ducks in March for seldom-used blueliner Sheldon Brookbank. It was actually the second time McIntyre had been traded during the season, as the Ducks had acquired his services earlier in the year from the Dallas Stars, the team that had originally drafted him back in 2006. In his junior season at Colgate, McIntyre continued to his trend of improving on his totals from the previous season, and did so this year in spectacular fashion, leading the Red Raiders in scoring by a wide margin. He scored at over a point per game clip, putting up a team-best 21 goals and 22 assists in 37 games. He was tops on the club with a +19 rating and even led the team in PIM’s with 54.

It’s quite obvious by his numbers the McIntyre is a well-rounded forward, who plays with an edge to his game. It’s tough to say if his offense will translate to the next level, but he’s solid defensively, and combined with his feisty, abrasive play, he could make for an intriguing center for a checking line in the NHL. He will return to Colgate for his senior season, and should turn him pro once his season is complete.  

Missing the cut

Nathan Perkovich, RW, (6.0 C), 23 – At the end of his junior season at Lake Superior State, Perkovich and the Devils decided that he did not need another season of college hockey, and was signed to a pro contract. He wrapped up his career at LSSU, scoring 12 goals and 12 assists in 35 games. In his three years at the school, he scored an impressive 44 goals, showing his ability to put the puck in the net. He was able to get into a few games for Trenton during the ECHL playoffs, where he scored four points in six games. The lanky winger needs to get stronger to succeed at the next level.  

Corbin McPherson, D (6.0 C), 20  – McPherson made a strong impression in his freshman season at Colgate, as the 6’4, 210 lb blueliner suited up in all 37 games for the Red Raiders, recording five assists, 50 PIM’s and an even plus/minus rating. Even though he was only a freshman, he played major minutes and saw significant action in all situations. He skates exceptionally well for a man of his size and stature, and while it didn’t show up on the scoresheet, he has the puck-moving skills to eventually put up a few points, though he will never be confused for an offensive defenseman. He will return to Colgate to his sophomore season, with his stock in the system on the rise.

Seth Helgeson, D (6.0 C), 18 – At a towering 6’5, 220 lbs, Helgeson is already be the biggest defenseman in the system, at only 18 years old and still filling out his frame. That size obviously was a big reason why the Devils drafted Helgeson in the fourth round of the 2009 draft. Not surprisingly, Helgeson thrives playing a physical style of hockey, often manhandling his opponents in his own end. He definitely has a defensive slant to his game, but he skates well for his size and shows the raw ability to eventually develop a bit of offense to his game. Helgeson is scheduled to play in his freshman season at the University of Minnesota this year, where he will likely spend the next three to four years developing.

No longer eligible due to age:

Petr Vrana, Ivan Khomutov, Tom Sestito

No longer in organization (New team)

Anssi Salmela, D (Atlanta/Trade)

Tony Romano, C (New York Islanders/Trade)