Coming in at #24 in the In Lou We Trust Top 25 Devils Under 25 list is winger Mike Hoeffel. You may remember him as the top pick of the Devils' 2007 draft. He served out his full NCAA eligibility with Minnesota, represented America in the 2009 WJCs, and he just finished his first professional season of hockey with Albany. Here's a summary of his basic numbers from Elite Prospects.
#24 - Mike Hoeffel - LW - Height: 6'3" - Weight: 194 lbs. - Age: 23 - 2012-13 Team: Albany (AHL)
Clearly, Hoeffel isn't a scorer. He didn't light it up with the USNTDP, he had decent numbers in the WCHA but nothing that says he dominated in that department, and 9 points in his first AHL action doesn't suggest he's going to become one. Clearly, Hoeffel could benefit from having a full season as he's missed a significant amount of action in 2011-12. Even if he didn't, it's not like he'd be that much more productive. Fortunately, Hoeffel is not expected to be a top-six forward. Unfortunately, it partially explains he wasn't ranked all that highly by the writers.
As the one who had the highest ranking for Hoeffel, allow me to talk him up for a bit. First, he's got good size. His frame is around 6'3" (Albany's site has him at 6'4") and he's got enough muscle to play physical. Second, he's a pretty good skater. He's got some wheels, which is always good to see from a big player. Third, he's shown a decent amount of discipline for a player of his size and style going by his PIM totals. These are all good attributes on some level.
That all said, he's projected to be a bottom-six forward. This isn't just my opinion. Tom thought so with his views and input from Ryan Cardinal of Gopher Puck Live stating that's his ceiling (and that he's got a good shot - if it's on target). Hockey's Future profile on Hoeffel stated that he's got the tools to be a checker. Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus slotted Hoeffel outside of his top 10 Devils prospects, noting his size, speed, and his limited skills. Not many players outside of the bottom six have limited skills. In fact, if I recall correctly, this projection was in place when he was drafted back in 2007.
Therein lies the rub. I think we can all agree that a bottom six forward is a pretty good return for a late second round pick. Such a player can be far more useful than a useless goon. But the low ceiling does hinders perception to a point. We'd like to think that younger players with a higher ceiling are better prospects, as well as those who are more likely to hit the NHL in some way or form. We didn't see Hoeffel as former and we question whether it's the latter. He has some desirable traits, but is it enough to get to the next level? Especially ahead of some other players in the system? He certainly wasn't seen as such by myself or the other writers at the time of voting.
I think we need to answer a more immediate question: Can Hoeffel show he's a quality AHL player? He didn't have the best of rookie season with 26 games missed last season, averaging only 1.5 shots per game, and not getting top-six time in Albany. That's not exactly a grand debut. It would be one thing if he did really well on Albany's third line, but if he did, then wouldn't he have been moved up at some point? It is only one season and he's 23, so he has some room to grow. With some pro experience under his belt, I don't think it's unreasonable to think he'll have a better season provided he doesn't get hurt.
The problem is that he pretty much has to be better right now. Thanks to the NHL lockout, Albany now has a few NHL players who will get prime minutes. That moves those top six forwards down in the line up, which makes the forward situation more crowded for Hoeffel's area in the lineup. If Hoeffel struggles, he may not immediately get the opportunities to show whether he improved as a player. That would hurt him both in the short-term and the long-term.
Of course, if Hoeffel does make his mark in camp and goes on to have a solid season, then there's reason to keep hope alive that he could crack into the NHL. He is not a flashy player, but making to the NHL is an accomplishment. Besides, a NHL-quality bottom six forward has it's own value. Please recall last season when non-NHL-ready players were among them and then please smile and nod. Of course, that hinges on Hoeffel stepping up sooner rather than later. Here's hoping that he does.
Now that you've seen our ranking and learned a little more about Mike Hoeffel, I want to know what you think. Do you think #24 overall is a fair ranking? How confident are you in Hoeffel performing well in Albany? How about his future; does he have one in New Jersey? What do you think he'll need to do to get there? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Hoeffel in the comments. Thank you for reading.