One of the New Jersey’s higher echelon prospects, Travis Zajac, a first round choice at the 2004 NHL Draft, is currently in the middle of his second year playing at North Dakota for the Fighting Sioux. Zajac started the year off slowly, only scoring one goal and four assists through the first 10 games of the season. However, after a mid-November series against at Minnesota-Duluth in which Zajac racked up two goals and three assists, he has since been averaging over a point per game and currently sits second on the team in scoring with 29 points. During that span, Zajac was named WCHA Offensive Player of the Week for the week of Jan. 9-15. Zajac’s 20 assists through 28 games leads the team and his +12 rating is fourth-best on the Fighting Sioux. An underrated and somewhat overlooked statistic of Zajac’s is his prowess in the face-off circle, which currently stands at 56.5 percent. Zajac’s slow start this season had some concerned, but he has alleviated those concerns by coming on strong and playing much like he did last season. Look for him to continue to put up some strong numbers the rest of the way.
The Devils have a pair of goalies playing in the collegiate ranks, one of whom is not very well known to most casual observers of the Devils. Third-year goaltender and 2003 sixth round draft choice Jason Smith is putting up some impressive numbers for the Sacred Heart Pioneers. Smith saw very limited action in his first two seasons for the Pioneers, but with the graduation of former starter and workhorse Kevin Lapointe, Smith was given the opportunity to take the reins as the starting netminder and up to this point, he has not disappointed. Smith’s record currently stands at 12-8-1, easily surpassing his four wins that he accumulated over his first two years at Sacred Heart. His goals against is a stellar 2.16 and his save percentage of .928 is good for eighth best in the nation. Smith has helped the Pioneers to a 14-9-1 record, which places them in a second place tie in the standings with Holy Cross in the Atlantic Hockey Conference. Smith was named Atlantic Hockey goaltender of the week for the week of Jan. 2-8, the third such time this season that Smith has claimed that award. Smith is opening the eyes of the Devils organization with his superb play up to this point and could very well shoot up the prospect ladder if he finishes the season just as strong as he started it.
The other goaltender suiting up for the Devils in the NCAA is 2005 second round choice Jeff Frazee, who is currently in his freshman season at the University of Minnesota where he is backing up junior starter Kellen Briggs. He has not seen much action up to this point, and when Frazee has played, he has been up and down, not surprising for a first-year goaltender. He made 34 saves and was named third star in a Golden Gophers 3-3 tie against the University of Alaska-Fairbanks in his first start of the season. In total, he has started nine games this season and sits at a respectable 4-2-2 with a 2.77 goals against average and a .903 save percentage. A highlight for Frazee this season is when he served as Team USA’s backup at the World Junior Championships over the holidays in Vancouver. Though he gave up five goals in his only start against Finland, he was able to record a 6-5 victory thanks to Team USA’s offensive outburst.
The Devils have a trio of defensemen playing college hockey this fall. The most notable of the three is freshman defender Tyler Eckford who is suiting up for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks after putting up outstanding numbers in his final season with South Surrey of the BCHL. Some were sceptical of how the offensively gifted Eckford would adjust to the NCAA, but up to this point, he has played very well for a first-year player. Through 19 games, Eckford has two goals and eight assists for 10 points, which is tied for fourth-best on the team. The Devils have to be pleased with the smooth adjustment Eckford seems to have made to a new level of hockey.
Zach Tarkir, in his third season with the Wildcats of Northern Michigan continues to slowly and steadily improve his all around play. He has two goals and six assists through 25 games and sits third on the team with 41 PIM’s. It has been a somewhat frustrating season for another third-year defenseman, Dan Glover at Cornell. He can’t seem to get into the Big Red line-up on a regular basis, as he has only played in 12 of 19 games. His best game thus far this season was at Quinnipiac on Jan. 13th in which he scored a goal and an assist and posted a +3 rating.
Devils 2005 draftee Mark Fayne, a defenseman currently playing for Nobles-Greenough High School has committed to Providence College where he will begin his NCAA career. Fayne is an offensively gifted blueliner who at this point is a long-term project for the Devils.
Another lesser known Devils prospect who will be suiting up for Lake Superior State next season is having an excellent offensive season up to this point for the Chicago Steel of the USHL. Nathan Perkovich, a 2004 eighth round draft pick has exploded in his third USHL season. After putting up modest totals of seven goals and nine assists during his first two seasons, Perkovich sits second in the league through 39 games with 21 goals and is 10th in league scoring with 37 points. He is tied for third with nine power play goals and even has racked up 82 PIM’s. Perkovich looks to have an impressive package of size, standing at 6’5, grit, and skill and the Devils hope he can carry over the success he is having this season over to the collegiate level next fall.
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