Last week, I announced that we would have another Top 25 New Jersey Devils Under 25. Unlike the first one from 2012, this year's list would be decided by all of you readers. I put a survey online for you to rate all 39 players in the system under the age of 25 as of September 15, 2013. That survey concluded earlier this morning. I tallied all of the results and they're certainly interesting from the bottom going up. In total, 133 of you responded. Some of you were thoughtful about this. Some of you weren't as the list of prospects was in alphabetical order and so some prospects getting ranked way, way too high. Fortunately, enough people ranked players such that those anomalies didn't skew the final results all that much. I think that's a benefit of a crowd-sourced response.
With training camp starting next week, now is an appropriate time to discuss the young players in the system. There are only so many spots in New Jersey and Albany and this will be the time for many of them to make their case to the coaches as to where they should be. Of course, the organization has their own criteria and far more information on nearly all of these players. Who you all thought would be, say, the eleventh best under-25 player in the system may be higher or lower in the team's eyes. So this was an exercise in revealing how we perceive all of these prospects. I fully expect plenty of discussion as to where players ended up ranked starting with today's installment of the Top 25 Under 25.
These are the outsiders, those ranked #39 through #26. Some are prospects that just won't pan out. Some are prospects that play a hard-to-identify-without-watching role like a defensive defenseman or in a league that's not widely viewed. Some are prospects that are young enough that it's not quite clear what they'll become. Some will move up, but most will likely remain on the outside looking in to the top 25.
The Devils acquired Boychuk from Buffalo to dump Henrik Tallinder's salary. He played in the CHL last year. No, not the Canadian Hockey League, but the Central Hockey League. As in, a minor pro league below the level of the ECHL. An auspicious sign for someone who split time between the AHL and ECHL in his first pro season back in 2011-12. The Devils had to take a contract back and, well, he has one. Fully deserves to be at the bottom of the list.
Here's the first big surprise: Joe Faust was liked by most of you. It's not as if many people ranked him at #38 but the sheer amount of variation of his votes plus others put him on the outside. Had a few more of you put him closer to #25, he could be further up this list. In any case, Faust is a 5'11", 205 pound defensive defenseman. He only scored one goal out of 42 games, the most he's played in a single college year so far as a Badger. He was on the third pairing to start but he could be moved up to the top four as he enters his senior year. At least, if Andy Johnson's opinion at Bucky's 5th Quarter after the end of last season bears out this fall. I can understand not putting up highly, I'm just amazed he was as low as #38.
Young finishing up at 37th on the list doesn't surprise me at all. He finished here last year because he spent more time in the ECHL than in the AHL, which suggests he's not even establishing himself in the highest minor league. Last season, he really didn't. While Albany was crowded on defense, he only got into four games with the A-Devils and spent even more games down a level with Trenton (4 games) and Kalamazoo (33). He hasn't produced and he hasn't stuck in lineups. His current contract, which is a two-way deal with New Jersey, ends this season. If he gets another one, it'll likely be a minor-league deal - and possibly with another organization. It's just not working out for Young.
#36 Derek Rodwell - LW - Age: 23 - 2012 Rank: 32 - 2012-13 Team: North Dakota (WCHA) - Elite Prospects Profile
Rodwell had a trying time in 2011-12 as he missed most of the season with a shoulder injury. The good news is that the big left winger played throughout the year for North Dakota in 2012-13. The bad news is that he put up only two goals and one assist in 32 games, beating his injury-shortened 2011-12 scoring by one goal. The only basic stat he had a significant total last year was in penalty minutes; Rodwell finished fifth on the team with 34. This is not what you want to see after three years at the collegiate level. Short of a dynamite senior year, I don't think there's much to expect from Rodwell in the future. His low ranking is understandable in that regard.
#35 Raman Hrabarenka - D - Age: 21 - 2012 Rank: NR - 2012-13 Team: Albany (AHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
Albany picked up the Belarussian last season after he played out his junior elgibility and he had an interesting 2012-13 experience. He only appeared in 34 games due in part of injury or being a healthy scratch. However, he did play well enough to represent Belarus at the World Championships; put up a goal, four assists, and 46 shots; and earn an entry level contract with New Jersey. The latter is an important point; I doubt New Jersey would have offered him one if they didn't think he had no future in this organization. He did just turn 21 just a few weeks ago, so he does have some time to develop further. I think he's a long shot given the sheer number of defensemen in the system. I also think he's ranked too low for someone with an ELC, but it is what it is. The next step for him, either way, is the play as much as possible. No one gets better or higher up in an organization by being scratched.
The lowest ranked player on this year's list who made the top 25 last year is Mike Hoeffel. I will admit, it was a stretch for us to name him 24th last year and you, the readers, responded in kind. I can certainly understand it. He wasn't a big scorer in college and he's not even close to being a scorer in the AHL. Last season, he put up five goals, five assists, and 79 shots in 52 games. Even if you project him to be a bottom six, gritty winger, the Devils have plenty of other players who can do that and also not score. They re-signed Tim Sestito and brought back Rod Pelley, who can and have done both at the NHL and AHL level. Hoeffel will turn 25 next year so he won't be on future lists but the 2007 second round pick just didn't bloom like the scouts thought he would.
#33 Alexandre Carrier - RW - Age: 22 - 2012 Rank: NR - 2012-13 Team: Trenton (ECHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
I'm surprised he ended up ahead of Faust and Hrabarenka and he actually was in a tie with #32 on the list. I gave the advantage based on age. Albany signed him to a two-year deal out of EC Salzburg in Austria last summer. Carrier didn't play a single game in Albany, instead he was a banger for Trenton as he put up a few points (6) and many more penalty minutes (102) in 47 games. He picked up a lot of PIM as junior player and in his one season in Austria, so that he would do this in the minors shouldn't be a surprise. I don't think he has much of a future beyond being that kind of player. I don't know if Albany needs one in 2013-14 so it's entirely possible he could just play out his deal in the ECHL.
The feel-good story of the Devils' 2013 draft comes in at 32nd overall. It was a heartwarming moment to see and hear Martin Brodeur announce his son as a Devils draft pick. That said, those coming out of high school without even a ranking from Central Scouting Services aren't touted for a reason. Then again, CSS is just one group's opinion and goalies are really hard to project anyway. Brodeur is very young so there's plenty of time for him to grow as a player at his own pace. He's going the junior route with Gatineau in the QMJHL. The goal for him is to do well at that level first. And we'll see what happens then.
Wood was drafted by the Devils earlier this year in the fourth round and he was one of the youngest to be drafted. His birthday is September 13, 1995 so he only made the draft cut-off by two days. He's essentially a project pick. Based on this preview of New England-based prospects, Kirk Luedeke noted Wood as a sleeper pick since he missed plenty of time last season due to injuries. Hopefully, he'll have a healthier 2013-14 campaign. I don't think there's much of a reason to get excited or down on the player until he gets to the college level. Wood has committed to Brown University and if he's one of their top players, then great. If not, then not so great. Like Anthony Brodeur, he's got a lot of time on his side. He'll be around this list for years to come.
Curiously, Kelly ended up higher in the rankings from last year. It's not like he had a great 2012-13 with Albany. If anything, it was similar to his first two seasons as a professional player. He stuck around in Albany, he played fairly regularly, and he chipped in a few shots (34 in 47 games) some points and far more penalties. He's been good enough to not get sent down to a lower level to play, but there's nothing to indicate he's going to get much better. I think the organization at large agrees since he was only offered an AHL deal from Albany. I suspect he'll provide more of the same with Albany in 2013-14 unless some of the newer defenders push him out.
The big, mean defender from the University of Minnesota finished his college career in the spring of 2013 and joined up with Albany for four games. Helgeson was inked to an entry level contract this summer and I expect him to make some noise in Albany. He's not at all afraid to use his body. If anything, his physical play was a bit of a detriment as he racked up at least 60 PIM in his last three years in college. He doesn't have much of an offensive game, but his skating and defensive skills must be good enough to warrant a deal. How he was ranked this low (and he got a lot of 37th and 38th place votes), I couldn't tell you since we ranked him 23rd last year. Like Hrabarenka, unless a defender jumps off the page or has a pedigree, judging them becomes difficult and so we may think he's far worse than he actually is. Helgeson will have a tough path trying to stick out in a system full of defensemen, but at least he has one.
#28 Curtis Gedig - D - Age: 22 - 2012 Rank: 31 - 2012-13 Team: Ohio State (CCHA) - Elite Prospects Profile
Gedig wrapped up his junior year as a Buckeye with the same amount of points in the same role. In 2013-14, the senior defenseman will have a new responsibility: leader. According to The Lantern, Gedig will be captain of Ohio State as the head into the inaugural season of the Big Ten hockey league. That's good for the big (6'3", 201 pounds) and well-disciplined (6 PIM!) defender, who was praised for his good skating during the season by Bill Rabinowitz at the Columbus Dispatch. It would be to his benefit to make his senior year the best so he can hit the ground running, so to speak, as a professional in 2014-15. He's going to have a lot of competition by then.
Clermont had a rough time of it in 2011-12, as he got shelled in Kalamazoo in the ECHL. Unfortunately, he wasn't much better with Elmira last season. Clermont suited up for 41 games with the Jackals and posted an 89.9% save percentage. While he was the starter, he had the worst save percentage among the four goalies who put on the pads for Elmira last season. Clermont finished 26th out of the 33 goalies who played 1,440 minutes for save percentage. Plus, Elmira was a good team; it's not like he was constantly shelled like, say, Trenton. As such, I'm not surprised that you all dropped him from 22nd in last year's ranking to outside of the top 25. Clermont did appear in one game for Albany and did well, but that's only one game. If he wants to continue to be a part of the organization's future at goaltender, then he needs to do well at the ECHL level first. I think this ranking makes sense in this regard.
I don't understand this ranking at all. I don't think it's by accident either. 64 out of 133 responses gave Thomson a ranking of 25th or better. With all due respect to the assistant captain of Kitchener, Thomson was an overage winger who put up ten less points than he did in his draft season (32 from 42). One would expect a player older than most of his peers in his league to be more productive and not less, but that didn't happen for Thomson. He did crack triple-digits in penalty minutes for the third straight season as he finished eighth in the league with 119. That's not a positive, mind you. He's definitely built for grit and those players will get a look or two. But usually those that make it were more successful in juniors when it came to things other than fights and fouls. I'm just baffled at the collective response that put him as high as 26th and very close to getting into the Top 25. Clermont and Gedig were right behind him but still, I don't see how anything he did last season would warrant an improvement in rank. But I did put the ranks in your collective hands and so I must respect them as they are.
Tomorrow will begin the actual Top 25 Devils Under 25, as selected by readers like yourself. As a tease, they are all forwards. Or at least, they all played forward last season. In the meantime, discuss the results so far in the comments. Who was ranked too low: Hrabarenka, Helgeson, or someone else? Who was ranked too high: Thomson, Thomson, or someone else? Thanks to all 133 responses - including whoever it was that gave first overall ranking to Anthony Brodeur - and thank you for reading.