A Prospective Future: A Comprehensive Look at New Jersey Devils Prospects
For the first post I’m writing for this new site, I’d like to just look over the prospects in the Devils system and what we can expect from them, what they need to improve on, and where I think we’ll likely see them in the upcoming seasons. This is going to be as comprehensive of a post as I can make for the subject. This is in no particular order either in terms of the “talent tiers” in the Devils prospect system. This post will not only act as an introduction to each of the players (as if they’ve never been discussed before), but will also include elements of their development for prospects taken before the most recent NHL Draft.
Pavel Zacha (C/LW – 6’3” 209 lbs):
The 6th Overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Pavel Zacha is without a doubt the best current prospect in the Devils system at this point. I will start off by saying that I don’t believe I or we, in general, have seen the best of Zacha. By that, I mean that I think there’s still another level to his game. There have been flashes of his excellence, and it’s going to be very interesting to see if the coaching staff can catch lightning in a bottle, because he has the potential to be one of the best forwards from his draft class (not named McDavid/Eichel – actually a few years ago before Eichel emerged on the scene, there was discussion about how Zacha could possibly challenge McDavid for the top spot at the draft). Zacha is everything you want in a forward: big, mean, skates like the wind, can pass the puck really well, has a bomb of a shot, and possesses excellent situational on-ice awareness. There was no question about his “toolbox” of skill when he was drafted. The question, rather, was if he would be able to put it all together.
In an interview, assistant GM mentioned how the coaching staff from the Devils development camp said to Zacha after last year’s camp that he should go back to the Sarnia Sting (OHL) and work on the penalty-killing aspect of his game. As a testament to not only Zacha’s skill, but also his work ethic, during the 2015-2016 season, he not only had a fantastic offensive season, but was also voted the best penalty killer in the OHL Western Conference in the annual OHL Coaches’ Poll. As mentioned above, I think there is still another level to Zacha’s game, and this is specifically in regards to his offensive production. Zacha was the best player on the ice in just about every Sarnia Sting game I watched this past season. Zacha clearly worked on his skating since he was first drafted because he has an explosive first step which makes him quite the handful for opposing defenders. Zacha is really tough to knock off the puck and has all the makings of a top-line center. I wouldn’t be opposed to having Zacha playing as a winger at the professional level. It might even make his transition to the NHL a little easier. However, I personally prefer him playing as a Center simply because of his vision, two-way play, and driving of the play. Zacha looked quite good in his NHL debut in the last game of the season for the Devils and looked really good in his stint with the Albany Devils in their regular season and during the AHL Playoffs.
I can’t stress how big of a season this was for Zacha. Travis Konecny (2015 PHI 1st round pick) was a huge addition to the Sarnia Sting team at the OHL Trade Deadline added a dynamic offensive boost to the Sting, but was injured near the end of the regular season and could only play 2 OHL playoff games. Zacha absolutely carried the offensive load for the Sting, scoring 13 points in 7 playoff games, and lead the team. In his NHL debut (I know, there isn’t much of a sample size to work with), Zacha looked like he fit right in. It’s very likely Zacha will be in the NHL full-time next season. He will likely play 3rd line center like he did not only for NJ, but for Albany during his AHL stint. Zacha reminds me a whole lot of a Ryan Getzlaf type center and his stats actually follow pretty closely to Getzlaf’s. It’s an exciting time for Devils fans. Zacha is the best forward prospect to advance through the Devils system since Zach Parise.
MacKenzie Blackwood (G – 6’4” 225 lbs):
Blackwood was selected in the 2nd Round (42nd Overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and has been playing for the Barrie Colts (OHL), including for the 2015-2016 season. Blackwood is such a tremendous combination of natural talent, size and athletic ability. Blackwood won the award for the OHL’s Best Goaltender of the year for the 2015-2016 season and was, in my eyes, the clear-cut best goalie in the entire league, so the award was well-deserved. Blackwood definitely has the potential to be a starting goalie in the NHL one day, and with Cory Schneider between the pipes for at least the next 6 years, there will be no need to rush Blackwood’s development. The biggest aspect for me that I think is holding Blackwood back from being an elite talent is his overall consistency. He made significant strides this past season, but there were still performances he could forget over the course of the season. (This isn’t quite a fair discussion point since no goaltender is perfect every single game they play…there is bound to be mistakes and off-nights).
Blackwood had a very rough World Junior Championship tournament this year, and while one shouldn’t be using a sample size of 3 games to determine where a player will fall, I think Blackwood took a huge step in his mental game when he returned to the Barrie Colts afterwards and continued chugging along. There’s a lot of pressure on young guys, especially in such a highly-touted international tournament, and the recover the way he did after a rough outing really speaks to his calm and low-panic demeanor between the pipes. However, that being said, Blackwood did get himself in some disciplinary trouble this season with the OHL. Blackwood was suspended on two occasions: once for a slash not unlike a lumberjack (sparking the nickname “Mac Black the Lumberjack”) and once for zipping the puck into the stands after giving up a goal, which carries an automatic suspension due to potential safety hazards. I’m not condoning these events, but I think it’s not only good to have a goalie with some zest, but if anything, to be able to get all that out of his system at the Juniors level.
The first thing you notice about Blackwood is just how big he is and how much of the net he covers. He’s a very athletic and positional goaltender who relies on his angles as well as his excellent lateral movement to make stops. He doesn’t panic when he handles the puck either, which is good news. I wouldn’t go far as saying he’s good at handling the puck, just that he isn’t a grenade-handler when it comes to the puck on his stick. In addition to the consistency, one thing I’d like to see Blackwood work on is better controlling his crease area when opponents are driving the net and also screening him. This is not a pressing concern for me simply because of how good Blackwood’s positioning is. I don’t think any changes to goaltender gear would affect him significantly because of his athletic playing style. The plan for Blackwood is to turn professional for next season. This could mean he will be playing in either the AHL or the ECHL depending entirely on where Scott Wedgewood and Ken Appleby end up playing. Personally I think we’ll see Blackwood playing in the ECHL
Nathan Bastian (RW – 6’4” 210 lbs):
Nathan Bastian was selected 41st Overall (2nd round) in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Bastian is a big power forward who can play any forward position and excel around the boards and down below the face-off circles (behind the net). To me Bastian is an excellent complimentary power forward – he won’t drive the play, exactly, but he’ll work hard in the “trenches” and gain possession of the puck to continue the cycle. His skating is good, but needs more work, especially in his agility to be agile. His straight-away is fast, however and he’s able to pass the puck and create plays at higher speeds. While he has a good, hard wrist shot and one-timer, he will need to work on his shot accuracy to help round out his all-around offensive game. I don’t expect him to be a goal-scorer at the next level, but he has the potential to be a contributing factor on a middle-6 scoring line. His type of game will carry over well if he continues to play his “heavy-lifting” style – essentially doing all the dirty work in the corners and may not be racking up points because of it. Additionally, Bastian is quite good on the forecheck and can be a thorn in opponent’s sides.
Bastian is an all-situational type player, getting time on the Powerplay, Penalty Kill, crucial last minute defensive zone draws, etc. Bastian found himself playing RW on the top line for the Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) last season – playing on the same line as Alexander Nylander (2016 BUF 1st Rounder) and Michael McLeod (2016 1st Rounder – later on this list). Bastian will return to Mississauga for next season in works to continue his development; I would assume to work on the issues listed above. It’s also possible Bastian plays second line center for the Steelheads next season. A non-playing factor about Bastian’s game that stands out to me (pun not intended) is that when Bastian was drafted by the Steelheads in the 2013 OHL Priority Draft, he was only 5’11”. It’s not out of the question for Bastian to grow another inch or two.
Blake Speers (RW/C – 5’11” 181 lbs):
Blake Speers was selected in the 3rd Round (67th Overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Speers was playing RW on a very impressive Sault St. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) team and was buried in the forward depth chart at the time. With the exodus of talent leaving the team (mainly due to graduation to the NHL/AHL), Speers found himself not only with more ice-time, but with the role of an offensive leader for the team. In the 2015-2016 season, Speers played top-line Center for the Greyhounds and lead the team in points. Speers is a very speedy and mobile forward with a slick pair of hands that can dish the puck well. Over the course of the season, his two-way game definitely improved (mainly play in his defensive zone), but the elements to his game that stick out to me that need improvement would be his play along the boards and the issue of holding onto the puck for too long before making a decision with it. It’s not the he is a slow decision-maker, he thinks the game at a very high and fast level, but sometimes he tries to do too much. Sometimes Speers can over-handle the puck or get too fancy, but it seemed like he really worked on this issue over the course of the season, as this was significantly less of an issue this season than in his draft-eligible season.
Speers plays a strong transition game and is excellent at handling the puck through traffic. The aspect of Speers’ game that impressed me the most was while I would consider him to be a play-maker first, he has an incredible and deceptive shot release. I think that’s a good word to describe Speers’ game: deceptive. He’ll be back in Sault St. Marie for next season to finish up his development and continue to polish up his game. I think after this next season he’ll make a real strong push for the big league roster. It’s most likely he’ll have a full season in the AHL before becoming a full-time NHLer. (The Adam Henrique path – 2 full seasons in Juniors after being drafted then 1 full season in the AHL and push for the NHL)
Brett Seney (LW – 5’9” 170 lbs):
Brett Seney was selected in the 6th round (157th Overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Seney is an undersized, but incredibly speedy forward playing for Merrimack College in the NCAA. In addition to his fantastic footspeed, Seney thinks the game at a very fast level. Seney’s biggest asset is his speed, and if he’s going to graduate to the professional leagues, he’s going to have to continue using his speed. From my viewings of Seney, he’s the clear-cut fastest skater on the ice in just about every game he plays. The other elements of Seney’s game are coming along. He made a step in the right direction this past season, but in my opinion still has more work to do, especially in play along the boards. Defensively, Seney is able to stay in position and use his stick to try and pry a break-away. For the upcoming season, one thing I’d like to see Seney improve on is his sometimes frantic nature with the puck. Not that being frantic is an inherently good or bad thing, but rather it leads to sloppy play with the puck from Seney. If Seney were to make it to the big show, he would have to be in a top-6 scoring role. He’s the definition of boom or bust in this case. The encouraging aspect of his numbers is that he has either tied or led his team in goals and points over his first two seasons playing for Merrimack College, and while Merrimack is a pretty weak offensive program at this point, to me, that’s a testament of Seney’s offensive potential. His speed really does cause chaos out on the ice and I can’t wait to see what he does next season back at Merrimack.
Jesper Bratt (LW/RW – 5’10” 172 lbs):
Drafted in the 6th round (162nd Overall) from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Jesper Bratt is a dynamic offensive talent with high-end skating and great puck-handling abilities. Bratt is currently playing for AIK of the Allsvenskan league (2nd highest professional league in Sweden) and will play there for the 2016-2017 season. Allsvenskan is a very good developmental league and Bratt will have a lot of development to do if he wants to make an impact at the professional North American level. Bratt’s play away from the puck, especially in the defensive zone will need work. A big way to help this is by adding more lower-body muscle to his frame so he can be more stable and sturdy on the puck in the corners. Bratt isn’t unwilling to go into the dirty areas of the ice, which is good for a North American style of play, but he will need to work on his consistency. Bratt will need to continue working on his speed because that (along with his puck-handling) is the biggest source for his skill and offensive game. Sometimes Bratt holds onto the puck for too long to make a play, so an area of improvement for him in that regard would be to try and play a simpler game without as much flash. Bratt is a very flashy prospect, and as mentioned earlier there are some consistency issues with bringing the substance with the flash. It’s interesting because it looks like he’s still trying to figure out what type of game he will want to play so next season will be an important one for him to try and figure that out. That being said, Bratt’s shot is outstanding – heavy and a quick release (with both wrist and one-timers). That combined with his elusive skating, and his ability to read a defensive scheme and make great passes through the seams make Bratt a very intriguing prospect. His high-end potential would be a second-line scoring winger.
Colton White (RHD – 6’1” 185 lbs):
White was selected in the 4th round (97th Overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He’s been playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) and is a highly intriguing prospect in my eyes. White is a fantastic skater and has incredible IQ on the ice. Very rarely does he make a mistake or panic with the puck; he’s almost always calm and composed. It’s hard to gauge his offensive potential because he is playing on a somewhat weak offensive team this season (Soo Greyhounds had a big exodus of talent to professional leagues), and while this meant more ice-time and a more prominent role for White, it also served as a big step in responsibility for him. White ended up being the second highest scoring defenseman on the team, which is promising. At this point I’d say that White is a defensive defenseman. His play in his own end is stellar and was forced to break up a lot of odd-man rushes over the course of the season. White has a very subtle impact on games as well in terms of doing things that may not immediately be noticed. By this I mean things like positioning, or subtle moves with the puck, or helping to break out of the defensive zone. I do believe White has some untapped offensive potential, and it will rely on his ability to skate and see the ice. There was a goal White scored during the OHL Playoffs this season where he got a rebound in the offensive zone along the boards and kept skating deeper down in the offensive zone. Suddenly, with a burst of speed he skated around behind the opposing net, angled his skates (excellent edgework) and instead of a conventional wraparound goal, he picked the top corner with his shot. White’s game strongly consists of simple, but effective play. White doesn’t play a strong physical game, and doesn’t quite engage in that sort of play. Not everybody has to be a crease-clearer, but I’d like to see White add just a bit of snarl to his game. I’m also really looking forward to seeing how his offensive game develops in relation to his shutdown game. There’s a good amount to his game that reminds me of Andy Greene, and that’s mainly how he maintains his composure and relaxing approach to the game, even in times where he does get beaten along with the underlying offensive potential and throwing the occasional hit along the boards that really comes out of nowhere and rocks an opposing forward. White will have to add on size so he doesn’t get beaten along the boards, physically, but his sense of calmness is not something you can really teach a young defenseman. There is a whole lot of potential in Colton White, but he will be a project and will take a few years to work out. The next step for him is going back next season to Soo in the OHL to play another season. This past year he served well as a defensive anchor for his pairing (his defensive partner was the team leader in defensive points scored), so this year I’d like to see White try and incorporate more of an offensive element to his game. Additionally the only time where White is not exactly calm is when he sometimes hesitates under strong forechecking presence. There was a lot of progress made on these two points of focus this past season, and I think the next season will be one where White shines. At this point, I would say his ceiling is a 2nd pairing shutdown defenseman.
Joey Anderson (RW – 5’11” 192 lbs):
Anderson was selected in the 3rd round (73rd Overall) of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Anderson was the third member of the top-line for the USNDP that featured Clayton Keller and Kieffer Bellows. Anderson is a fast and relentless skater that can sneak around the ice and has an excellent shot. His shot is heavy but also has a quick release. While Anderson is a great skater, he will need to work on improving his high-end speed. Anderson has a non-stop motor and does everything he can to help a team win a game in the crease area, along the boards, or in the corners. Anderson does have a high floor based on his characteristics, so even if his offensive abilities don’t transfer to the next level, Anderson will still be an effective player. Anderson’s game reminds me a lot of Ryan Callahan’s. Anderson will be playing for University of Minnesota-Duluth next season and will need to work on his defensive zone positioning as well as his overall playmaking too, but the potential to be a middle-6 winger and Powerplay specialist at the NHL level is certainly there for Anderson.
Yegor Rykov was selected in the 5th Round (132nd Overall) in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Rykov is a really intriguing prospect to me as he has all the tools to be a quality middle-pairing NHL defenseman: size, skating, shooting, offensive awareness, general ability to move and distribute the puck and a budding defensive game. Rykov was passed over for the 2015 NHL Draft and, instead, was selected as an overager prospect (19 year old in the draft). While Rykov still has a long path to the NHL, he will be developing in the Russian leagues for the next few years until he is ready to make the push for an NHL roster spot.
It’s tough to gauge where Rykov will play next season in terms of what level of the Russian Development levels he will find himself in. I think he will make a strong push for the SKA St. Petersburg roster with the KHL. I wouldn’t say Rykov is an offensive defenseman or anything like a volume shooter, but his shot statistics this past season in the various Russian leagues were very promising. His other underlying advanced statistics were very promising as well. In his time with SKA-1946 in the MHL, Rykov played a key role on the Powerplay and absolutely controlled the ice. It’s important to note that in addition to just about any other 2016 draft class selection, Rykov excels at both defensive zone exits and offensive zone entries. While Rykov was likely sheltered at the KHL level, considering he’s still only 19 years old, he still put up impressive advanced and shot statistics.
Rykov was passed over in his first draft-eligible season, 2015. While he could have and by all intents and purposes should have been selected in 2015, he took significant strides in his overall development, but mainly in his defensive play. It’s substantially better today than where it was last year, which is a promising testament to the rest of his ability and potential development. I don’t like using style comparisons of fellow nationalities, but Rykov reminds me quite a bit of Slava Voynov from the LA Kings (now playing for SKA St. Petersburg). As mentioned earlier, Rykov has all the tools to be a successful, contributing defenseman at the NHL level. I think his ceiling is a 2nd pairing puck-moving defenseman at that level.
John Quenneville (LW/C – 6’1” 205 lbs):
Quenneville was selected in the first round (30th Overall) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, Quenneville is a fantastic all-around player who can excel in whatever role is needed. His game reminds me a lot of Adam Henrique’s, with the main differences coming in stronger defensive play as well as being more of a play-maker than a goal-scorer. However, that being said, Quenneville did lead the entire Western Hockey League in playoff goals scored and was 3rd Overall in total WHL playoff points. Quenneville will not be the primary scoring forward on a contending team, but will add a significant piece of depth to the line-up. A great way to describe Quenneville’s game is “Industrial” (thanks TheHockeyWriters), just in all the little things he’ll do that may not have flash, but will keep the play alive. Quenneville is also very willing to throw the body around and make it much more difficult for opponents. The biggest elements of Quenneville’s game that stand out to me are his IQ on the ice and his work ethic. His game will translate very well to the professional leagues and he will push really hard for a line-up spot on the NHL team. He was one of the last players cut from training camp last season, so he’s going to be even hungrier to start out the year. I think he will ultimately end up playing in Albany for the season with the occasional call-up to the big leagues. (The Adam Henrique path – 2 full seasons in Juniors after being drafted then 1 full season in the AHL and push for the NHL) Quenneville’s shot is very deceptive on both the back-hand and forehand sides, and he has significantly improved his defensive play over his development. I’ve made a lot of comparisons to Adam Henrique, but Quenneville, himself, compares his game to Anze Kopitar from the LA Kings. I’m not sure where Quenneville ultimately ends up in terms of Center or Left Wing, but he has all the makings of a second line player when all is said and done. Quenneville at this point is a real gem in the making and could contribute in the NHL as early as this upcoming season.
Michael McLeod (C – 6’2” 187 lbs):
The 12th Overall selection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Michael McLeod is the player I think who embodies the direction the Devils franchise is trying to build to. McLeod was the fastest/best skater available in the 2016 Draft Class and plays a heavy, very high-paced game. McLeod also boasts a very strong two-way game, is able to gain the offensive zone easily, and is strong in the face-off department. His game is the embodiment of the “fast, attacking, supportive” vision that GM, Ray Shero, has for the team moving forward. McLeod was a consensus top-5 for the 2016 NHL Draft before this past season, but fell due to a few reasons, mainly surrounding his ability to “finish” or score goals. There is definite legitimacy for concern with his offensive game, but I think it’s been a bit over-exaggerated. McLeod uses his world-class speed to create space and make plays. McLeod had a great start to the season but suffered a knee injury mid-season. His knee injury bothered him so much to the point where McLeod actually ended up getting mid-season surgery. In addition to his speed, McLeod’s work ethic is through the roof. There is no doubt in my mind that McLeod will be an NHLer. The only question is how high he’ll go. I think having the full off-season to recover and train some more, McLeod will have a big season in Mississauga. There are definitely spots for improvement in McLeod’s game, though, despite being NHL-ready at this point. A key improvement for McLeod will be adjusting his speed and different “gears”. He’ll have to learn and improve on not skating at top gear the whole time. McLeod’s speed already generates space and allows the creation of offense, but improving the ability to switch speeds will prove paramount to McLeod’s development as an offensive threat. One other key improvement for McLeod would be to use his size a little better in all aspects of the game. This doesn’t necessarily mean playing a power forward game, but rather using his size in battles along the boards and in one-on-one scenarios. McLeod will also need to improve the velocity of his shot as well, but has the soft hands to score goals. For me, it’s not so much of his “finishing” ability on offensive plays; it’s rather the question of whether or not his hands will catch up to his feet. McLeod’s already been named the captain of the Steelheads for next season, so it will be a major year for him. McLeod’s potential at this point is a low-end 1C or a very good all-around 2C. With a 1-2 punch of Zacha and McLeod down the middle, the Devils are building a big team that can skate like the wind, score and play with a whole lot of sand paper.
Brandon Gignac (C – 5’11” 172 lbs):
Gignac was selected in the 3rd Round (80th Overall) in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. On a personal note, this selection might have been my favorite pick from the 2016 Draft for the Devils. There are many similarities between Gignac and Blake Speers when Speers was drafted last year. Gignac is arguably the fastest skater in the entire QMJHL and was stuck playing on the 2nd or 3rd line because he was buried in the depth chart of a very deep and talented Shawinigan Cataractes team. I think Gignac is a prime candidate for a breakout season in 2016-2017. When the World Juniors Championship occurred this past season, Anthony Beauvillier (NYI 2015 1st Rounder) played for Team Canada. This opened up the 1C spot on Shawinigan for Gignac. In 9 games playing the top-line center for Shawinigan, Gignac scored 14 points.
Gignac’s explosive skillset of high-end speed, very good hands, and solid situational awareness gives him a tremendous amount of potential. Gignac is not a natural goal-scorer, but is able to drive the puck wherever he likes because of his quickness. At times, Gignac tends to stick too much to the perimeter of the ice. He is smart when he chooses to use his speed and drive to the net – this is usually after gaining speed through the neutral zone to gain the offensive zone (easily) and continuing to drive to the net. In aspects of continued possession in the offensive zone, Gignac is a fantastic playmaker and is willing to play in the harder zones of the ice to keep possession. Gignac is not the biggest guy, but positions his body well to protect the puck. Sometimes there will be a lapse of thought when he’s back-checking if the puck is along the boards in his team’s defensive zone, however his overall defensive game is excellent. His game is based on speed, and his defensive game predominantly consists of stripping the puck from attackers and trying to spring himself on a breakaway. Gignac’s great hands allow him to not only deke opponents but also allow him to take away the puck while playing defense rather well. I think Gignac has higher offensive potential playing on the wing, but I like his all-around game better when he’s playing as center. He will have to get stronger in order to have a shot at ever making the NHL, but there is a tremendous amount of potential with him.
Mikhail Maltsev (C/LW – 6’3” 200 lbs):
Maltsev was drafted in the 4th round (102nd Overall) in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Maltsev is a big power forward who played for the Team Russia U18 program in the MHL for the 2015-2016 season. For most of the season, Maltsev was the 2nd line center and was a remarkable 63.1% in the face-off circle. Unfortunately, Maltsev did have an issue with injuries during last season (his draft-eligible season) and only played 29 games. I think this did affect his draft stock because he is an impressive prospect nonetheless. Maltsev’s game consists of great lower-body strength, good vision in the offensive zone, a high top-end skating speed, good puck possession and strong two-way play. While Maltsev has soft hands, his scoring acumen is questioned a bit at this point. Maltsev was not quite designated as the “go-to” offensive player for his team very often, and the results were mixed from it. He is still a raw prospect, mainly in terms of polishing that offensive game to see if it will translate to the higher levels. However, Maltsev was able to produce well even when matched up the top competition of opposing teams. I think we’ll see Maltsev stay in Russia to develop in their developmental leagues (and eventually playing in the KHL) for the next 3 years or so for before he looks to make the journey to North America to play. He does have a distinct skating and playing style though, and from my viewings of him he’s always seemed to be a bit “tense” while moving the puck and making plays. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just a bit strange that he can skate so well. There have been flashes of his offensive capabilities and strong puck-handling skills to open up passing lanes. Maltsev is more of a play-maker than a goal-scorer in my eyes, and if everything comes together I can see him as a middle-6 center (or left winger) at the NHL level, but that’s a ways away. There’s a good amount of potential in this prospect, and while he has things to work on, like adding muscle to his upper-body frame, playing with more physicality, and figuring out how to consistently be an offensive force, Maltsev is a very promising addition to the organizational prospect depth chart.
Evan Cormier (G – 6’3” 201 lbs):
Cormier was selected in the 4th round (105th Overall) in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Playing for the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL, Cormier was in the line of fire a whole lot in terms of shots faced and odd-man rushes/breakaways faced. While goaltenders are a bit of a toss-up, especially after the 2nd round (or just about any round, really), Cormier is the type of goaltender where the numbers don’t tell the story. Cormier played 58 games this past season for Saginaw, which is a ridiculous number of games considering there are only 68 games in the OHL Regular Season. Cormier uses his big frame well in playing aggressively. Cormier is flexible, never gives up on a puck, and has excellent lateral movement within post to post. Unfortunately the biggest obstacle he must face (and the reason why he fell to the 4th round) is his issue of consistency. Potential-wise, Cormier has one of the highest ceilings out of any goaltender taken in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. It just depends on which Cormier is going to show up each night. That being said, there were some issues with MacKenzie Blackwood’s consistency when he was first drafted in 2015 and he made some remarkable progress, so I don’t doubt Cormier’s work ethic to try and hammer out the inconsistencies in his play. That being said, Saginaw is a very tough destination to play as a young, developing goaltender since the defensive game isn’t quite strong (Cormier faced the 2nd most shots against of any OHL goalie). Cormier reminds me a bit of Matt Murray (from the Pittsburgh Penguins) in his playing style. Cormier is definitely an interesting player to keep an eye on, especially with an NHL expansion draft looming – it’s imperative now to have strong goaltending depth throughout an organization.
Jan Mandat (C/LW – 6’0” 203 lbs):
Mandat was signed to an AHL contract as an overager (20 year old) undrafted free agent from the Val-d’Or Foreurs of the QMJHL. Mandat will likely be used in an offensive depth role in Albany with the departure of a significant number of the top-6 forwards for the team. Mandat has represented his home country of the Czech Republic in international play too, such as the 2014/2015 World Junior Championships. Mandat does have good size and solid potential, but I don’t believe he has NHL potential at this point.
Blake Coleman (C/LW – 5’11” 201 lbs):
Coleman was drafted in the 3rd Round (75th Overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Coleman’s skillset, physical play, and strong work ethic give him the potential to be a solid bottom-6 scoring/physical winger at the NHL level. Unfortunately, Coleman’s 2015-2016 season (his first season of professional hockey) was cut short after 14 games due to a shoulder surgery after being hit from behind into the boards. The surgery was successful and Coleman will continue to progress in Albany next season – most likely in a top-6 role. I like Coleman’s game more when he’s on the wing since he has more offensive potential there, but Coleman is fantastic on face-offs and has a budding physical two-way game. Coleman has a good slapshot and plays bigger than his size suggests. He’s tenacious on the forecheck and plays a havoc-centered game. Coleman will really need to make an impact in Albany next season but I think he’ll be able to do that. Coleman has had issues with his collarbone before injuring it last season…he did break it in the 2014 season and missed over two months of play. However when he returned, it looked as if he was never injured at all. Hopefully Coleman can pull that off again, because his in-your-face style of play leads me to think he could very well be a 3rd line winger in the NHL one day. All the pieces will have to come together for that though.
Blake Pietila (LW/RW – 5’11” 190 lbs):
Pietila was drafted in the 5th Round (129th Overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. The 2015-2016 season was Pietila’s first season of professional hockey where he played 58 games for Albany and 7 games for New Jersey. Pietila was essentially playing the role in Albany of a bottom-6 defensive winger. Pietila plays a strong, gritty, and fast two-way game that’s perfect for a bottom-6 role at the NHL level. Pietila is sturdy on his skates and is hard to knock off the puck due to his fire-hydrant like build. Pietila’s strong hockey IQ helps him in his defensive game as well. Pietila looked very promising in his stint with New Jersey and I think Pietila will be a good bottom-6 winger at the NHL in the future. For the next season, Pietila will be in Albany again – this is another reason why the Fiddler signing was good, because it gives Pietila another year to develop his game. Pietila is also versatile enough to play the Center position if need be, but I think he’ll be better on the wing moving forward. Pietila did have an excellent stint in the AHL playoffs, scoring almost a point per game (6 points in 8 games) of tough, defensive playoff hockey. Pietila’s offensive potential slots him nicely into a bottom-6 energy possession winger that will be able to pitch in the occasional goal here and there.
Max Novak (RW – 6’0” 190 lbs):
Novak was recently signed to an AHL contract to play with the Albany Devils after playing a full season with them in 2015-2016. Novak was initially signed as an unrestricted free agent out of Union College. Novak was buried on a deep Albany forward roster and was only able to appear in 3 playoff games this season – mostly at the end of the Toronto-Albany series due to all of the injuries sustained by the forwards for Albany. So Novak played on a line with Joseph Blandisi and Ben Thomson. Novak played pretty well as a 4th liner, mainly issuing hits on the forecheck and to ensure the cycle continued. Novak could be a bit quicker and has some work to do on his situational zone awareness in the defensive zone, but isn’t necessarily lacking in any real department. Novak was more of a scorer at Union College so we’ll see where he ends up in the lineup in Albany next season. Unfortunately I think Novak’s potential is not that of an NHLer, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on him in Albany next season.
Ryan Kujawinski (C/RW – 6’2” 201 lbs):
Kujawinski was drafted in the 3rd round (73rd Overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Kujawinski is a big forward who played 4 seasons in the OHL (playing for 3 different teams). Kujawinski was the youngest player on the Albany Devils roster this season and, while he was relegated to bottom-6 minutes because of the deep forward roster on the team, performed really well, especially near the end of the season. While Kujawinski had a quiet AHL playoff performance, his performance at the end of the AHL regular season, his skillset, and the departure of a lot of the forward talent of the Albany Devils all suggest to me that Kujawinski will have a breakout season next year (if he’s able to earn the top-6 minutes). Kujawinski has all the raw tools to be a solid NHLer, perhaps even in a top-6 minute role, but the two biggest issues facing him are health and consistency. Kujawinski suffered a lower-body injury in March of this past season, but for the most part was healthy. When he is on his game he is a big, physical, offensive threat. Kujawinski has been getting accustomed to the higher-paced play of the professional (AHL) game compared to juniors and will compete for a top-6 spot in the Albany roster next season, but will need to continue working on his overall foot speed. His skating is very good and dynamic, but the first few steps need improvement. The word “potential” has been thrown around ever since Kujawinski got drafted, but if everything were to come together, I’d say his absolute high-end potential would be a physical, scoring, second line center. However with that being said, at this point, unless he were to have a remarkable season, I would say his high-end potential would be a third line NHL center, if he were to make it. His physicality will certainly help in this regard, but the question here is his offensive development and consistency in all three zones. He’s still young, so there’s plenty of time to take the long developmental path. There are just plenty of risks to go along with it.
Jeremy Davies (LHD – 5’11” 181 lbs):
Davies was drafted in the 7th round (192nd Overall) in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Davies was an overager (19 year old) who led all of USHL defensemen in scoring. Davies is headed to Northeastern University for next season. Davies brings skill and intelligence to the ice. He is good at starting the breakout from the defensive zone and plays a good two-way game. Other than that it’s tough to find information and I’ll get a better idea of the details of his play after some viewings at Northeastern University next season. That being said, it’s very difficult to have or set expectations for a 7th round selection.
Kevin Rooney (C – 6’2” 190 lbs):
Rooney was recently signed to an AHL contract this year after finishing an ATO stint with Albany coming out of Providence College last season. Rooney is not on the ice to score goals, as his offensive potential is rather limited. Rather, it’s the other elements to his game that earned him a professional contract. His relentlessness on each play, strong work ethic, face-off ability, good play away from the puck, and seemingly never-ending forechecking, and other intangibles (named Providence College co-captain for the 2015-2016 season) are all why he’ll be in Albany next season. Rooney’s potential is not in the NHL at this point, but he will provide necessary and sound offensive depth for the Albany Devils next season.
Joshua Jacobs (RHD – 6’2” 192 lbs):
Drafted in the 2nd round (41st Overall) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Joshua Jacobs is a very promising defensive prospect who played an excellent season for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL this year. Jacobs was tasked with top-4 minutes, oftentimes top pairing minutes for Sarnia this past year, and was often placed in a defensive role. His offensive potential is very prevalent and his skating is excellent. He’s a big body and will bring some a good amount of sandpaper to the ice as well. Jacobs isn’t necessarily a physical player in his own end, but he makes you fight for every possible bit of space in the zone. Jacobs has a strong and powerful slap shot. Jacobs has some really underrated potential in my eyes. The development path for Jacobs includes improving his decision-making skills and consistency and to be a bit more forceful with his offensive skills, because the passing and shooting abilities are there, but Jacobs needs to be more forceful with them. That being said, it was rather difficult to do for him last year in Sarnia since most of the time Jacobs was paired with top 2016 defensive prospect, Jakob Chychrun. Jacobs played a very stabilizing role. During one of the Sting broadcasts last season, the color commentator made a comment how he felt Jacobs was the most consistent Sting defenseman for the second half of the season. Jacobs will play in Albany this upcoming season (Jacobs was drafted out of the USHL so the NHL-CHL Transfer Agreement doesn’t apply). There is definite top-4 potential to Jacobs’ game and his two-way ability compliments his ability to play in any in-game scenario.
Steve Santini (RHD – 6’2” 207 lbs):
Steve Santini was selected in the 2nd round (42nd Overall) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Santini signed an entry level contract with the Devils in April, 2016. Santini spent 3 seasons developing at Boston College in the NCAA. Santini was voted as one of the most NHL-ready prospects playing in the NCAA and was voted one of the best shutdown defensemen in the Hockey East Conference. Santini plays a very heavy game strongly consisting of shutting down opponents’ top players and bringing a real, physical snarl to the blueline. While Santini had career highs in his offensive output last season (19 points – 1G 18 A – in 41 games), Santini’s game is not that of strong offensive importance. That being said, he isn’t a grenade-handler when it comes to having the puck on his stick. Actually, Santini has a rather good outlet pass and is good at starting the break-out. What Santini brings to the ice is a combination of size, good skating, a strong outlet pass, and a fierce physicality in the defensive zone not seen since the Devils of old.
While Santini is just beginning his professional playing career, I can see him claiming a spot on the NHL roster this season. His game is already very polished for the professional level, and while he has to get used to the level of competition, I think Santini can make a positive impact at the NHL level as early as next season. Skating-wise, Santini is very mobile and can move in any direction he needs to go to. I think the best way to describe Santini’s game is “efficient”. Everything he does -from skating to angles to gap control to moving the puck through the zone is very polished and pro-level already. As mentioned earlier I think Santini will make the big team out of camp. He has the potential to be a pre-injury Brooks Orpik type player. Ideally Devils fans have been looking for “the next Scott Stevens” since the Iron Shoulder retired. We’ve looked through various different prospects through many years, but in my view, Santini plays the type of game closest in similarity to Stevens. Of course this isn’t quite fair to the young man, but Devils fans should be really excited for Santini. I’m interested to see if his offensive output improves at all because of his really high hockey IQ.
Alexander Kerfoot (C – 5’10” 152 lbs):
Kerfoot was drafted in the 5th round (150th Overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He’s been playing as top-line center for the Harvard Crimson of the NCAA (ECAC). Kerfoot has a good amount of offensive talent, and is a very impressive play-maker. The biggest concerns with Kerfoot are his shot velocity, size, and his problem with injuries. Last season was one of the first seasons where Kerfoot stayed healthy. Kerfoot is a fluid skater and will need to continue working on his first steps of skating. Still, he is elusive and a fast skater. Kerfoot is a small, project-type player who will need a big season next year at Harvard University. Kerfoot will have his work cut out for him considering he was playing on the same line as the Hobey Baker Award Winner (award for the best and most sportsman NCAA Hockey player on and off the ice), Jimmy Vesey. Vesey will be an unrestricted free agent in August and will be fielding a few offers for entry-level contracts from various NHL teams, so Kerfoot will need to step up and be the main cog on offense. Were Kerfoot’s numbers inflated by having Vesey as a linemate? Potentially. However that doesn’t take away from Kerfoot’s own individual offensive talent. Kerfoot is a top-6 or bust type player, and the combination of his size and injury history suggests to me that his future is not in the NHL, but rather in the AHL or a European professional league. Kerfoot battles around the ice and is willing to engage in physical battles, so he’s not a prospect that is lacking, per se, but the issues stated above are extremely difficult to overcome. I am very hopeful for Kerfoot to make a good impact playing for Albany in two years (after Kerfoot finishes his senior year season next year).
Ken Appleby (G – 6’4” 205 lbs):
Appleby was an unrestricted free agent signing in October of 2015. This was following the 2014-2015 season where Appleby not only played for the Oshawa Generals of the OHL, but he also had the 2nd best save percentage out of all goalies in the OHL and played a pivotal role in the Generals’ Memorial Cup win. Don’t get me wrong, that Oshawa team was incredibly deep and played a strong defensive game, but Appleby is a great goalie on his own. This season, Appleby played for the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL and was one of the top goalies in the league. Appleby is technically sound when moving across the crease is uses his body well to block shots. I think he’ll need to work on his athletic and acrobatic stopping ability since he mostly his body to block the puck. As a huge goaltender, he has had trouble leaving his five-hole open, so addressing that will mean remaining compact in the crease with his long limbs. One other potential issue with Appleby is his inconsistency with rebound control, but that will be hammered out as the next years progress. Appleby played 8 games for Albany during the 2015-2016 season and I would expect to see him playing the full season there as a back-up. At this point, I’m not quite sure of his NHL potential, if there is one, but Appleby provides strong depth to the Devils organization at this time and helps stabilize the goalie prospect pipeline.
Reece Scarlett (RHD – 6’1” 181 lbs):
Scarlett was drafted in the 6th Round (159th Overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and has played in Albany of the AHL for 3 full season. Scarlett is a two-way defenseman that is able to log a good number of minutes and contribute in all zones of the ice. Scarlett has been progressing nicely through the system and has proven to be a reliable presence on the blue line for the Albany Devils. Scarlett is a smooth skating defenseman who can lead the rush out of the defensive zone and can quarterback a Powerplay. Scarlett is definitely hot and cold in terms of consistency, but his biggest issue here is adding on weight in muscle mass. He is still thin and could stand to put on some more muscle to help him better in board battles and 1-on-1 situations. His skating, overall mobility and effective two-way play will help propel Scarlett through his development. His top-end potential in my eyes is a 2nd pairing two-way defenseman at the NHL level. However, with the strict competition Scarlett is facing with right-handed defenseman prospects in the organization, I don’t expect him to make the NHL roster except for the occasional call-up for injury. Scarlett will continue to stabilize the blue line for Albany though.
Vojtech Mozik (RHD – 6’2” 190 lbs):
Mozik is a 23 year-old right-handed defenseman who signed an entry-level contract with the Devils in June of 2015 and played a full season in the American Hockey League for the Albany Devils in 2015-2016. Mozik is a big, active defenseman with a very strong shot. While +/- isn’t a great statistic to go by, Mozik did lead the team (and was top-10 in the league) in +/- in addition to having top-pairing responsibilities. I think there’s a little more to come from Mozik’s game, especially offensively. While playing in the Czech professional leagues, Mozik was excellent at beginning the rush through the neutral zone as well as creating offense from the blue line. He will have to take that step if he wants to make it to the NHL for long-term. That being said, Mozik did do a very good job in his two-way role in Albany this year. I think he is the type of player where if you put him with a solid defensive partner and let him roam around the ice, he’ll be able to contribute more offensively. I’d also like to see him work on his Powerplay Quarterbacking too, because I think he could potentially be a third-pairing defenseman who specializes on the Powerplay at the NHL level. I like his mobility too. It’s really tough for Mozik because of the defensive depth in the organization (especially RHD), so I think we will see Mozik spend the next year in Albany again, except with a few more call-ups throughout the year.
Mozik was called up to play 7 games for New Jersey at the NHL level this past season, and while I don’t think he looked bad out there, I don’t believe he was ready. If my memory serves correctly, there was an injury to John Moore which opened up a spot on the blue line for Mozik to step in. I think when Mozik was signed to his two year entry-level contract last season, the hope was to have him push for a roster spot on the NHL team by 2016-2017 (this upcoming season) and I think he will make a good case for himself at training camp, but will ultimately start the season down in Albany.
Ben Thomson (LW – 6’4 220 lbs):
Thomson was selected in the 4th Round (96th Overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Thomson has played the past 2 seasons for the Albany Devils in the American Hockey League. Thomson is a person favorite of mine, simply because he’s a real, classic, throw-back 4th liner type guy. No, he’s not a goon (but he does put up a lot of PIM’s), however his specialty is his physicality and daunting physical stature. His skating could stand to improve, but I love Thomson’s cycle game and game along the boards. His defensive game has been really coming along as well. His offensive game is not quite present, but that’s not going to be his role. He’s a big pain on the forecheck and is fierce in his control of play at the boards.
It’s going to be interesting to see where Thomson ends up considering the changes in direction to the franchise under the Shero regime (and in general the direction the NHL is headed) in terms of his skating. However, I think Thomson would be able to contribute as a solid 4th liner at the NHL level. He’ll be a crash-and-bang, energy-type grinder if he does make it to the NHL level. This season, I can see Thomson competing for a 4th line role, but ultimately ending back up in Albany. I’m not sure if he’ll make the jump up, but his all-around play will not make him a detriment if he were to be called up.
Brandon Baddock (LW/C – 6’4 216 lbs):
Baddock was selected in the 6th round (161st Overall) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Baddock was recently signed to an entry-level contract after playing 4 full seasons for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League. I pretty much threw together the names of the prospects in the system with no particular thought in mind, so it’s interesting that Baddock and Thomson ended up next to each other. Baddock, to me, is a very similar mold to Thomson, albeit more of a penalty-machine. His numbers aren’t awful, offensively, in the WHL, and Baddock could turn out to be a solid 4th liner at the NHL level. He’s a physical beast and controls play along the boards really well. I like his effort on the forecheck as well. A few notes about his play this most recent season: he was an overager (meaning a year older than the majority of players) and served as the captain for the Oil Kings. Baddock was able to compile a point rate of about ~.5/game in his last two seasons which, as mentioned earlier, isn’t bad. What that suggests to me is that if he is able to make the jump to the NHL, he’ll be able to contribute a bit offensively all while being a pesky, enforcer who is able to stand up for teammates. I know enforcers aren’t quite in the game anymore, but I think that’s just part of Baddock’s game (a big part, but a part nonetheless). I’m not going to try and make the argument that Baddock is a goal-scorer or an offensive specimen, but in my viewings of him throughout the seasons since he was drafted, he was able to contribute with some more ice-time. Additionally, while he used his physicality to make offensive plays, it wasn’t simply pushing around kids that were smaller (and younger in the later years) than him. He’ll meet more difficult competition at the higher levels, and I think he’ll stay in Albany of the AHL for at least a full season, maybe 2, but Baddock does have the potential to be a role player down the line for the big club if he’s able to make the transition. However, for the time being, Baddock will be serving in a bottom-6 role and also a protectorate role for the other youth coming through Albany.
J.D. Dudek (Forward – 5’11” 181 lbs):
Dudek was drafted in the 6th Round (152nd Overall) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. He spent his 2015-2016 season playing for the Boston College Eagles of the NCAA (Hockey East Conference). Buried on the depth chart of a very deep BC team, Dudek was relegated to playing 4th line minutes for most of the season and didn’t produce many points because of it. Dudek is a very good skater and has shown flashes of offensive brilliance, but has yet to put everything together. He will likely be playing bottom-6 minutes at BC again this season, which does not quite bode well for his own development (he needs to earn that top-6 spot on the team). While initially drafted as a center, Dudek played both LW and RW for the Eagles last season and was certainly a project pick. This was not a great year for him at BC and while I think the skill is there, his potential is not at the NHL level.
Ben Johnson (C/LW – 6’0” 187 lbs):
Johnson was selected in the 3rd round (90th Overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Ben Johnson is currently facing criminal charges for actions he allegedly had done off the ice while a member of the Windsor Spitfires (OHL). This write-up is just a look at his play on the ice and not a look at the legal issues off the ice. The first thing one sees about Johnson’s game is his blazing speed around the ice. That’s really his biggest asset. Everything else at this point is still raw and a work in progress. However, he uses his speed to easily move around the rink and move past defenders. It is the source of his offensive game and prowess. Throughout the seasons he’s shown flashes of offensive brilliance but hasn’t quite seemed to put it together. Using his speed, aggression and his physicality he’s a great fore-checker. There’s still a long way to go in his development, but Johnson made a good first step this season scoring 7 points (5G 2A) in his 16 games with Albany of the American Hockey League. It’s getting later in his development (Johnson is 22 at this point), but the good thing about if Johnson’s offensive game doesn’t develop, he is still a very effective player away from the puck. It’s hard to gauge Johnson’s offensive ceiling. He earned his time playing top-6 minutes for the Windsor Spitfires and ran with the opportunity, so the possibility is there for Johnson to work his way into Albany’s top-6 next season but that’s assuming a lot. At this point, I’m not sure if Johnson will make it to the NHL, but if he does, it will be because of his speed. A few years ago, I would have said Johnson was the clear-cut fastest skater in the organization. However, today I’m not too sure. There will be a lot of competition for Johnson to climb the organizational depth charts, so it will be an uphill battle for him. His effort on the ice is good and his positional play has been improving, but there is still an unlikeliness for Johnson to make it to the NHL at this point. I hope I’m wrong however.
Artur Gavrus (C/LW – 5’10” 174 lbs):
Gavrus was selected in the 6th round (180th Overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Gavrus is a very highly skilled forward who plays a dynamic, and incredibly fast game. Playing for Dinamo Minsk of the KHL, Gavrus played a total of 19 games last season. While Gavrus is still technically a member of the organization, it is becoming less and less likely that he will see any NHL ice-time. This is not due to lack of skill or effort, but rather because of Gavrus’s unfortunate ability of getting injured. Last season a concussion knocked Gavrus out for the significant portion of the season. I was worried it would finally be the one that causes him to end his career, but he seems to be playing again for another season. When asked about coming over to North America (I believe he was asked this last year) Gavrus said something to the tune of him only wanting to come over when he felt he was ready to earn a top-6 spot in the line-up. Gavrus is fearless on the ice and plays with a lot of grit, which is great but also problematic because it’s what causes him to have such injury issues in the first place.
Joseph Blandisi (LW/C – 6’0” 201 lbs):
Blandisi was signed to an entry level contract as an unrestricted free agent near the end of the 2014-2015 season while he was playing for the Barrie Colts of the OHL. Blandisi is an interesting prospect because he made a strong impact when he first began playing in the NHL. He has since cooled down though, which is not out of the ordinary for a 22-year-old in their rookie season. Blandisi is a great skater and sees the ice well. He has some smooth hands and can score rather easily, but the thing about Blandisi that keeps catching my eye is his ability to distribute the puck and be creative with the puck. While he’s not too big of a player, he is still willing to engage physically and really try and get under the opponents’ skill to draw penalties and whatnot. Unfortunately this has led him to have a bit of an embellishment problem, which was very much focused on during the span of about 3 weeks or so. I don’t want him to get a reputation around the league, but he will need to learn to work past that and draw penalties in a less obvious manner (if that is to be his role). However I see his ceiling as a middle-6 playmaking agitator at the NHL level. After playing 41 games in the NHL, Blandisi went down and played 27 games in Albany of the AHL and scored 23 points, nearly a point-per-game pace. Despite having a somewhat disappointing playoff season (this also had a lot to do with Blandisi’s line placement and linemates – 4th line minutes with Ben Thomson and Max Novak as partners for the most part), I think Blandisi will make a strong push for the NHL line-up this summer. Ultimately, I believe Blandisi will start the next season down in Albany. Blandisi’s defensive game could use some work too, but there’s a lot of promise to his overall game.
Miles Wood (LW – 6’3” 210 lbs):
Miles Wood was drafted in the 4th round (100th Overall) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Wood was drafted out of Noble & Greenough School (USHS) and somewhat surprised the hockey community when he was selected to the United States National Team for the 2014-2015 World Junior Championship. Granted, Wood played mainly a 4th line role, but certainly surprised folks making the team while still in high school. This most recent season, Wood played for the Boston College Eagles of the NCAA (Hockey East Conference) and made an absolute splash. Playing mainly middle-six minutes, Wood still managed to catch the eyes of not only college hockey analysts, but amateur NHL scouts from all sorts of teams around the league. Wood scored 35 points (10G 25A) as a freshman in an incredibly difficult Hockey East Conference. There’s a lot to like about Miles Wood. He skates like the wind and hits just about everybody he can hit (while they have the puck). Thus he’s a beast on the forecheck. Wood’s playmaking ability continues to improve and his defensive play is solid (has some work to do, but is overall solid). I should probably note again that he is incredibly fast. One interesting thing of note is just how much he’s grown since he was drafted. When Wood was first drafted, he was listed around 6’1” 175 pounds. Just recently, the Boston College site had him registered near 6’3” 210 lbs, and if you see him, you’ll believe it. There’s a lot to Miles Wood’s game that reminds me of Chris Kreider (that guy who plays for the team across the river). Just the combination of speed, size, overall skating, Boston College play (yes that’s a lazy one), and offensive ceiling.
Miles Wood signed an entry-level contract at the end of this most recent season, and I’d like to see him play next season in a top-6 role in Albany. While I think Wood could step into the NHL next season and serve well in a bottom-6 role, I think that would be doing him a disservice because it would potentially stunt his offensive development. Miles Wood’s game has a lot of versatility to it – he can fit into a line-up wherever needed. This combined with the assets listed above leads me to believe him having a high floor. He’s not a guaranteed NHL player, but I do believe there is a significant chance we could see Wood in the NHL even as early as next season. Miles Wood is definitely one to keep an eye on for the future.
Seth Helgeson (LHD – 6’4” 209 lbs):
Helgeson was drafted in the 4th round (114th Overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and has been slowly progressing through the Devils system. Helgeson plays a big, mean game and keeps things simple in his own zone. Helgeson likes to hit as much as he can. His skating and mobility are a bit of an issue, however, and have prevented him from progressing faster than he has at this point. Helgeson doesn’t have a strong offensive game, but excels in the defensive side of things. Helgeson has played 41 games at the NHL level, but still has a ways to go. At this point I think his ceiling would be a bottom-pairing physical shutdown defenseman. I don’t expect Helgeson to make the NHL team this upcoming season unless it’s in a call-up capacity. It’s also hard to gauge roughly how well a player does when he first enters the NHL, but Helgeson is still working a bit on his consistency. When he’s on, he’s a notable big, mean defender who wins many of his board battles and 1-on-1 scenarios. When he’s off, he looks lost. I’m hoping Helgeson can continue to work on his footwork over the next season.
Nick Lappin (RW – 6’1” 174 lbs):
Lappin was signed as an unrestricted free agent out of the NCAA after his 2015-2016 season with Brown University. Lappin made a strong, immediate impact for the Albany Devils of the AHL in their last 12 games of the regular season – scoring 7 points – and additionally scoring 7 points in 11 playoff games for Albany. Lappin’s game is still raw at this point, but Lappin is a volume shooter and has a great shot to go with it. He is a smooth skater and brings a physical grinding element to the game. He’s defensively responsible and has a very fast release on his shot. He’s also a force on the forecheck because of this. His numbers with Brown University are promising because Brown only scored 75 goals this past season, so Lappin had a hand in about 44% of the team’s total goals. However, Lappin has a long ways to go in his development if he wants to make the NHL roster. There was a lot of excitement over his signing because he’s a young RW that has a penchant for scoring goals and contributing offense, which is what the Devils really need, but his game is still quite raw. His ceiling depends on whether or not his offensive game can transfer to the next level, so we’ll have to wait and see considering it was a relatively small sample size. In Albany’s playoff games, Lappin did look good on a line with Zacha. Lappin will need to work on his playmaking ability more. Lappin will be playing for Albany next season and will perhaps play the next two seasons there before attempting to make a push for the NHL line-up.
Scott Wedgewood (G – 6’2” 190 lbs):
Wedgewood was drafted in the 3rd round (84th Overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Wedgewood has been playing for the Albany Devils for the past 3 seasons and slowly chugging along. His development has been slow, but this season was a significant improvement for him. It even earned him a call-up to play in the NHL for 4 games, where he was spectacular. Goaltenders are very tough to predict or to evaluate/predict, so there will still need to be time to see whether or not this successful season was a step in the right direction or a statistical outlier. Wedgewood overall, though, is a very well-positioned goalie who plays a hybrid style of play and can move really well in the crease. One of his biggest assets is how well he plays the puck, not unlike another New Jersey Devils legendary goaltender (this probably played a lot into the Devils drafting Wedgewood in 2010). While Wedgewood is rather bouncing between the AHL and the NHL, I think his potential is to be a very solid backup goaltender at the NHL. Wedgewood will have stiff competition for the NHL back-up position this year, going against Keith Kinkaid, but after next year’s expansion draft, Wedgewood will likely find himself as an NHL back-up (likely with the Devils – and that’s assuming Kinkaid gets grabbed in the expansion draft, which is a completely different discussion). For now though, I believe Wedgewood will begin the year playing for Albany and improving upon his (hopefully) break-out season last year.
Reid Boucher (LW/RW – 5’10” 194 lbs):
Boucher was drafted in the 4th Round (99th Overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Boucher has played a total of 73 NHL games, so I was a bit hesitant putting him on this list, but regardless, he has played games with the Devils and the Albany Devils for the past 3 seasons. Boucher is a good-skating scoring winger. Boucher’s biggest asset, by far, is his shot. It is quick and accurate. Back in the 2011-2012 season, Boucher played for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL and broke their franchise goal scoring record by scoring 62 goals in 68 games that season. Boucher’s biggest struggles with translating that offense to the professional leagues have been finding space to take his shots. He doesn’t need much time to get a puck towards the net, whether it be a one-timer, wrist or snap shot. I’d like to see Boucher’s play-making improve, but he is most-importantly a trigger man to put the puck in the back of the net. I must say though that Boucher’s development has been interesting in his NHL time so far. Despite not getting many points in his early debuts, he was playing bottom-6 time – mainly 3rd line – and still getting a good number of shots per game. The difference in Boucher’s play this season compared to others, though, has been incredible. Scoring at about a .5 point/game pace at the NHL level is a remarkable step in the right direction for Boucher’s development. In his time with Albany, Boucher scored at nearly a point-per-game rate. The most important thing I noticed about Boucher’s play this season in Albany was that even when he wasn’t scoring goals, he was an effective, and at many points dominant, player. His defensive game still has a lot to go, but his positioning is much better than it first was. Another aspect that Boucher has significantly improved upon is his physical game. Granted, he won’t play a power forward game, but Boucher was particularly feisty during the AHL playoffs. I can’t emphasize how big of a step Boucher has taken in his development. Boucher looked like a completely different player in Albany this season than in New Jersey the past few NHL stints. He looks really confident with and without the puck. I fully expect Boucher to make the NHL team out of training camp (Boucher is the last RFA that needs to be re-signed this offseason however) and will compete for the 2nd line LW position. I think his ceiling is a high-end secondary scorer, mostly on the 2nd line. Boucher will need to improve his consistency of play, but I think this season will be another very successful step in the right direction – especially if he does end up playing on a line with Zajac and Palmieri for the entire season.