The Top 25 Devils Under 25 series continues with one more post before the beginning of the actual top 25 actually is revealed. The first post looked at the outsiders, those who ranked from #39 to #31. They included players who likely don't have a future in pro hockey in North America to players who could climb up the list by next year's ranking.
Before I get into those five players, I have to apologize to my fellow writers and you, the reader. I have stated that there are 39 Devils in the system under the age of 25. This is not true. I was mistaken. I was wrong. I have forgot all about three more players who have signed AHL contracts with the Albany Devils, including one player who actually was a Devils draft pick. In the interest of fairness of the final list, they will not be voted on this list but I will mention all three in this post to make up for the oversight. I personally don't think either would have cracked the top 25, but we'll see.
The first player I missed was Alexandre Carrier. User Statsguy first mentioned him in the comments to the first post of this series, which led me to dig into who else I missed. Carrier is 21 and has signed from HC Salzburg (a.k.a. Red Bull Salzburg) of the Austrian National League. According to his counting numbers at Elite Prospects, I wouldn't get too excited for the guy. He produced well with the U-20 Red Bulls and appeared in 10 games with the senior team; however, he wasn't productive at all with Val d'Or in the QMJHL. 21 points and 130 PIM in his overage season suggest he's a banger, not a scorer. I wonder if Carrier's slated to be a "tough guy" after quickly scanning through Albany training camp roster. Either way, I wouldn't get too pumped for this guy until he does something in the A.
The second player I foolishly missed is Kelly Zajac, the third Zajac in the Devils' system. Kelly Zajac enjoyed a successful college career with Union in the ECAC. Per his profile at Elite Prospects, he was a point-per-game player in his junior and senior seasons and he was named the best defensive forward in the league. Tom interviewed Ken Schott of the Daily Gazette about Zajac and there's quite a lot to like about the player. Zajac was used in all situations, he played big minutes, and he's been an effective playmaker for the Dutchmen - enough to finish second on his team in scoring. He is 24, so his time on this list would be short. Speaking of, Kelly's not a big man at 5'10" and 174 pounds. Curiously, he was only signed to an AHL contract, so he's got to prove himself in camp and on the roster before we can entertain any thoughts of two Zajacs in New Jersey.
The third player I'm kicking myself for leaving off the ballot is another ECAC alum: defenseman Corbin McPherson. McPherson is massive at 6'4" and 220 pounds per his profile at Elite Prospects. He captained Colgate in his senior year and he's regarded as a defensive defenseman. Tom did a good interview with the Colgate Red Raiders play-by-play announcer John McGraw that highlights what McPherson has done over the years with the team. He's strong along the boards, he's more aware of his physical play, he's not that bad of a skater, and he's been used in all situations at Colgate. He's also only on an AHL contract and playing a very crowded position in Albany, so it's going to be a challenge for him to make the team. Like Kelly Zajac, McPherson is 24, so he's not going to appear on next year's list unless we move up the ballot date before September 7. I'd keep an eye on how he's doing anyway among all three. It's hard to miss a large defensive defenseman by eyesight.
Now that I have got those oversights of the way, here's who we voted to be just outside the top 25. Given that all of the rankings are decided by averages of where each writer ranked them, it's worth noting that all five guys were close to each other. There was a three-way tie among this group and Curtis Gedig was in a tie with #30. The tiebreaker of how many writers ranked them above the average made the difference in these next five rankings. After discussing three under-25 players on AHL contracts, it's almost fitting that #30 is in the same situation.
#30 Joe Whitney - LW/RW - Age: 24 - 2012-13 Team: Albany (AHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
Joe Whitney tried out with the Albany Devils last season, made the team, and actually led them in points and shots in his first season of professional hockey. That's rather impressive. Sure, he's on an AHL contract, but that's worth something, right? However, the impressiveness loses it's luster when one realizes that Whitney led the A-Devs in scoring with 15 goals and 29 assists and in shots with 177. Leading a team with 44 points speaks more to the lack of offense on the team than the player. Anyway, this may be as far as Whitney goes. He's rather small at 5'6" and 165 pounds, he's already 24 so he's not long for this list, and averaging less than 2.5 shots per game doesn't suggest much progress. Still, this area of the list seems appropriate for this year.
Mike Sislo was a productive player in college like Whitney. Unlike Whitney, the production didn't translate to the next level as Sislo racked up only 9 goals and 18 assists in 59 games. Sislo is a natural right winger with a right-handed shot (Whitney was only listed as a RW on this year's training camp roster), so he is an older prospect at a thin position for the Devils. Interestingly, New Jersey did sign Sislo to an ELC out of New Hampshire, so maybe they saw something in the not-big Sislo (5'9", 165 pounds) that isn't on the scoresheet? Either way, he's not going to end up on next year's list and I doubt he'll make a jump unless he blooms with Albany in 2012-13.
Graham Black was an overage draft pick by the Devils in the 2012 Entry Draft. The recent interview David Sarch did with Shawn Mullin, a play-by-play caller for Swift Current, on Talking Red enlightened us as to why Black didn't initially stick in the WHL. He certainly did in 2011-12, he had a pretty good season on a bad team, and it was enough to get him drafted. Based on some opinions on Black I found after he was picked, Black appears to be a solid two-way junior player with speed. Since he is a year older than most draft picks, he should do well at Swift Current. How well he actually does will determine whether he breaks into the Top 25 next year - and how high he'll go.
Alex Kerfoot is another member of the Devils' 2012 Draft Class. He's the only one who can and will play in college, as Kerfoot committed to Harvard for the 2013-14 season. This means he's back in Canadian Junior A, where he dominated the competition in 2011-12 and will likely do so again in 2012-13. Kerfoot needs to bulk up as he was a mere 153 pounds when drafted; but he's got desirable strengths in terms of skating and hockey sense. Incidentally, he was tied with Sislo and Black in average rankings, but I think what made Kerfoot stand out to most of the voters is his potential. He's younger than both, he was sought after by Boston College so it's not like Harvard of the ECAC was his only offer, and he's got some offensive skills to go with that potential. Like Gedig was years ago, he's an interesting project of a prospect.
Joe Faust just misses the Top 25 this year. As you'll see by the rankings, I was the most down on him; ranking him below Gedig. Still, there's plenty of reason as to why the other writers thought well of the defenseman. Faust isn't terribly small at 5'11" and 205 pounds and he's been a regular on Wisconsin's blueline as a sophomore. Tom talked about Faust with Chuck Schwartz of Bucky's Fifth Quarter back in December which highlights what Faust brings to the table. While Schwartz noted that Faust has been a third pairing defenseman, he is playing in a tough WCHA conference and he's been behind some talented defenders on the roster. Schwartz also pointed out that Faust has a good shot and can pass the puck well; but it didn't lead to many points in 2011-12. He only got five in 37 games, and 7 total in his college career. Either he's really unlucky or his offensive skills need more work. It's additionally concerning that he may still be on the third pairing as a junior; but if he can breakout in production or get more minutes, then it would be a big boost for him and for how others see his future in this game.
Faust is the last guy outside of the Top 25 from our ballot of 39 Devils. From here on out, there will be one post dedicated to each player on the list. Tomorrow, you'll see who we collectively voted on as #25 on the list. Until then, let us know what you think of these rankings. Do they make sense for these players? Who do you think should be higher or lower, and why? Which one of these players do you think will move up the list for next year? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about these five young Devils in the system (and the three others that weren't ranked) in the comments. Thanks for reading.