The Devils AHL affiliate has returned to Albany after a brief four-year layover in Lowell. New Jersey and Albany shared a lengthy affiliation from 1993-2006, that saw the club win the AHL Championship way back in 1994. However the last few years of the affiliation left a sour taste in the mouth of Albany hockey fans as the last six years of the partnership saw the club miss the playoffs each of those seasons. Those playoff whiffs continued with Lowell until last year, when the Devils had their AHL squad make the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons.
Though they were eliminated quickly by the Worcester Sharks in the first round, it was a successful season for an organization that just missed out on the post-season the year before. Lead by one of the league’s best power-play units and a well-balanced offense, Lowell survived a rough stretch to the end the season and finished with a 39-31-4-6 record and 88 points.
With last season’s head coach John MacLean being promoted to be the head coach with the big club, there will be a new man leading the charge for New Jersey’s affiliate this year. Rick Kowalsky, who coached the Devils ECHL affiliate in Trenton for the previous four seasons, takes over the reins in Albany this year, and will be assisted by former New Jersey assistant coach Tommy Albelin.
While there will likely be a constant shuffle of players from Albany to New Jersey with the NHL club right up against the salary cap, Albany should be able to ice a fairly competitive team and be in the hunt for spot in the post-season. There is a large contingent of returning players from last years squad, and combined with the influx of talent from the likes of Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson and Adam Henrique, this team should be well balanced and capable of playing any type of style needed to win on any given night.
There are still and handful of players that will need to be shipped out to the ECHL, but this looks to be a very deep group of forwards, many of whom have at least one or two years of minor pro hockey under their belts already.
Swedish prospects Tedenby and Josefson highlight the new faces to the team. They are arguably the top prospects in the New Jersey organization, and both fared very well in training camp and will likely both see time in the NHL at various points throughout the season.
Other new faces up-front include two time Memorial Cup winner Henrique and two-way buzzsaw David McIntyre who had a fairly decorated four year run in the NCAA with Colgate and showed well in a brief AHL trial run late last season at the completion of his college eligibility.
Surprisingly, Vladimir Zharkov was sent down to Albany after spending the majority of the second half of the season last year in New Jersey. While it’s not set in stone that he will be there for an extended period of time, it definitely helps Albany’s cause for however long he does stay.
With Nick Palmeiri, who scored 21 goals as an AHL rookie, Alexander Vasyunov, Michael Swift and Nathan Perkovich all returning this year, this should help assure that Albany will be one of the higher scoring teams in the league. The addition of minor league vet Chad Wiseman will also help contribute his fair share of points. Other returning veteran forwards that should help chip in and also provide solid two-way play, grit and experience include Tim Sestito, Patrick Davis, Stephen Gionta, Brad Mills. Second year pro Kory Nagy is a player to watch as well.
Louis Robitaille and Myles Stoesz will be relied upon to provide the muscle.
There was a lot of competition amongst a handful of blue line hopefuls during training camp in New Jersey, and while it is definitely subject to change, first year pro Alexander Urbom appears to be the only that will stick for the start of the season.
Urbom, coming off a stellar North American debut with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, is one of the organizations most promising defense prospects. At the age of 19, he will be brought along slowly, and may eventually need some time in the AHL, but for now, he starts in New Jersey.
Matt Corrente and Matt Taormina both made really big pushes to stick in New Jersey, but salary cap issues, and two-way contracts both played a role in them starting the season in Albany. Corrente, who is tough as nails and Taormina, who was one of the top offensive defenseman in the AHL as a rookie last year both will undoubtedly get looks at the NHL level over the course of the season.
Tyler Eckford was somewhat surprisingly returned to Albany fairly early in camp, but that was more a result of him missing the start of training camp due to a death in the family. He provides offense and puck-moving ability and should he start the season off on the right foot, will also garner consideration to get some NHL games in.
Those three will be joined by AHL veteran Rob Davison, Olivier Magnan and Chris Murray, all of whom spent either parts of, or the whole season in the AHL last year. First year pros Mark Fayne, Dan Kelly and Harry Young will all vie for ice-time on what appears to be a very crowded blue line. One or two of those three players will likely see some time in the ECHL.
Jeff Frazee had a tough sophomore AHL term last year, which can be traced back to a freak pre-season injury to his neck after getting sliced by a skate. He was never able to find his groove, and gave way to AHL veteran Mike McKenna down the stretch as the team fought to keep their playoff spot.
Frazee will likely be given a clean slate to start the season, but he need to bounce back and show the form that he showed as a rookie in 2008-09. The team will likely split the load between the two early on, but ideally, New Jersey would like to see Frazee take the reins as the starter at some point during the season.
As noted earlier, Rick Kowalsky will be the man behind the bench in Albany after paying his dues in the ECHL for the past four seasons with Trenton. He was named the top coach in the ECHL in 2009. He will be assisted by Tommy Albelin.
The majority of the non-professional prospects in the Devils organization play in the NCAA, so they did not attend training camp.
Eric Gelinas is one junior-aged prospect who really stood out. He appears to be filling in his sizeable frame well, and looked much more comfortable in his second camp with the Devils. He stuck around deep into training camp and even got himself into a pre-season game. He will return to Chicoutimi (QMJHL) and look to take the confidence he gained from New Jersey and turn it into a great season in junior.
Two goaltenders selected by the Devils in the 2010 draft, Scott Wedgewood and Maxime Clermont, did not get into any pre-season games and were shipped off to their respective junior clubs mid-way through training camp. Both are a long ways away from reaching their full potential, but they both have good upside.