As the new NHL season rapidly approaches, there is a lot of speculation as to who will make the team as a rookie. There are many new players looking to grab a spot on the New Jersey Devils, but fans will also be seeing quite a few new faces on the team's AHL affiliate. The Albany Devils will look quite different with many exceptional prospects looking to play there if they cannot hold onto a full time spot in New Jersey. There is also going to be a new, yet recognizable face behind the bench in Albany along with a new captain. This post is going to look at the changes we will see with the Albany Devils next season and how they could affect the team that has failed to make the playoffs for the last three seasons.
Stefan Matteau (F) - Many Devils fans are quite familiar with Matteau - he was drafted 29th overall in the 2012 Entry Level Draft and played seventeen games in New Jersey during the lockout shortened season before he was sent back to the QMJHL for the playoffs. After a rough fall out with Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, Matteau was traded to Rimouski Oceanic, it is expected that Matteau will play for the Devils whether it be in New Jersey or Albany (Matteau is able to play in the AHL at just nineteen-years-old since he was drafted from the U.S. under-18 team).
While Matteau wasn't very impressive in New Jersey, he could be an important piece for the Albany Devils who have struggled to score (they were 23rd out of 30 with 193 goals scored in 2012-2013). He would get much more ice time in Albany than in New Jersey, and there isn't a clear spot for him to fill on the NHL team. I would expect to see Matteau start the season in Albany and be used to replaced injured players in New Jersey throughout the season.
Reid Boucher (F) - Boucher is another prospect many fans have gotten to know over the last year. After a record-breaking season with the Sarnia Sting, Boucher has quickly become a fan favorite. While he has only played in one NHL preseason game, it has become apparent that Boucher might not be as ready for an NHL spot as many fans had hoped. While one game doesn't prove much, I think the remainder of preseason will show that he is much more suited to take time developing in the AHL before he is thrown into a regular NHL role.
Boucher got the chance to show what he can do in the AHL for eleven games last season and scored three goals and two assists during this brief stint. He quickly impressed and I think he could continue to impress in Albany even more as he grows accustomed to the stronger faster pro game in the AHL.
Riley Boychuk (F) - As compensation for Henrik Tallinder, the Buffalo Sabres sent Riley Boychuk our way. Boychuk has no shot at any time with the New Jersey Devils, and may not even play much in Albany if the team chooses to send extra players to an ECHL team. In 2011-2012, he played just 26 games with the Rochester Americans in the AHL and put up two points. He split that season with the Gwinnett Gladiators in the ECHL and put up just five points there. In 2012-2013, Boychuk played for the Fort Worth Brahmas in the CHL and saw a bit more success with eight goals and nine assists in 41 games. I wouldn't expect much more than time in the penalty box from Boychuk if he plays for the Albany Devils.
Rod Pelley (F) - Remember him? He was a Devil from 2006 - 2011 then was traded to Anaheim in which he played 45 games for the Ducks and 60 games for the Norfolk Admirals, their AHL affiliate in 2012-2013 before returning to New Jersey this offseason. While he is currently at camp fighting for a spot on the roster, it seems most likely he will be an Albany Devil to start the season. He didn't do much of anything for the Admirals last season putting up just ten points and thirty-four penalty minutes in 60 games and has never put up many points at either the AHL or NHL level.
Rostislav Olesz (F) - He has been called an NHL player by coach DeBoer, but with the recent PTO given to Damien Brunner, the open spots on the roster seems to shrink daily, so Olesz may find himself starting the season in Albany. He's had a tough time sticking in the NHL after suffering knee injuries and attempting to break into an already full roster in Chicago, so he is looking for another chance with New Jersey with a familiar coach, DeBoer, from his days in Florida. If he does play in Albany, it will be to prove he deserves another shot at the NHL level.
Reece Scarlett (D) - Scarlett will get a shot to play in the AHL for the first time after a successful time in the WHL. While he is not one of the names brought up as a player with a shot of making the NHL, Scarlett has been solid for the Swift Current Broncos since the 2008-2009 season and acting as an Alternate Captain for the team since 2011. In each of the the last two seasons, Scarlett has put up 49 points (nine goals and fourty assists in both years) and helped the Broncos reach the playoffs last year for the first time since 2010. Scarlett was fourth on the Broncos in points, so his offensive ability will be useful in Albany if he can keep that going. While Scarlett could help the team, he is one of the lesser-known names on what is turning out to be an impressive blue line.
Jon Merrill (D) - If he doesn't make the NHL club out of training camp, which is not something I expect of him, Jon Merrill will be huge in Albany. He had a rough time in college after being suspended for half of the season his sophomore year and injured for half of the season during his junior year, but he has still managed to stay atop the list of New Jersey Devil prospects. He is slated to get his first taste of the NHL in the preseason game tonight against the Islanders, and it will be exciting to see what he can do with the chance. After his junior season with the University of Michigan, Merrill decided to turn pro. During twelve games in Albany he scored one goal and seven assists. Merrill is one of the most exciting prospects to watch and I am expecting great things from him in Albany with the rest of the defensive corps. Merrill will join Gelinas and Urbom on the blue line in the AHL. While both Urbom and Gelinas were in Albany last season, adding Merrill will be another step up for the Devils defense.
Seth Helgeson (D) - After graduating as a Minnesota Gopher in 2013, Helgeson played four games for the Albany Devils last season and had a solid showing. He isn't the type of guy that puts up points regularly, but he is a big, strong, and reliable defenseman. While there isn't much of a shot of him making the NHL team, he will be vital to the Albany defense's success. Coming in at 6'5" without skates, he's big and physical and should not be forgotten after players like Merrill and Gelinas. He isn't a flashy defenseman but he has been impressive in camp and could help Albany quite a bit as he develops more for an NHL role.
Scott Wedgewood (G) - While Scott Wedgewood did play in a few games in Albany last season, he was not a regular and is expected to be one this year, so I've included him in the write up. After playing for a less than stellar team in Trenton last season, Wedgewood should be excited to play behind the defense in Albany next year. Some believe his is the top goalie prospect in the New Jersey system, and this season should give some indication on whether it is in fact Wedgewood or Kinkaid who deserves an NHL role when Brodeur decides to retire.
Wedgewood is expected to back up Brodeur in the preseason matchup against the Islanders tonight and should be in the crease for the third period. It is unknown whether Wedgewood or Kinkaid will be the number one goalie in the Albany, but their time could very well be split pretty evenly due to a high number of back-to-backs.
A New Coach:
Sergei Brylin - While head coach Rick Kowalsky will still be behind the bench in Albany, long time Devil Sergei Brylin will be joining the staff as an assistant coach. Brylin is one of the five Devils to be a member of all three Championship teams and played his entire NHL 13-year career with the Devils. Brylin has been working with the Devils as a special assignments coach will now get an opportunity behind the bench, something he's been interested in for quite some time.
What will they bring?
There are some big names that may join the Albany roster this coming season on both offense and defense. Some great things could come out of this group especially from Merrill, Helgeson, Wedgewood and Boucher. This is the first step for each player as a pro and I would expect the Albany Devils to improve with these guys on the team. After coming in 12th place in the Eastern Conference last season, six points out of the playoffs, I think they have a shot at pushing for a playoff spot in 2013-2014. They will have a defense that can help put the puck in the net while protecting their own end and a few new forwards who will have every opportunity to impress. The duo of Kinkaid and Wedgewood may not be the strongest in the league, but Wedgewood was known to win games for the Trenton Titans that they didn't deserve and Kinkaid has shown he can be solid between the pipes.
While I don't expect the Albany Devils to take their division, they should do better than last season and be pushing for a playoff spot as the regular season comes to a close with the help of this strong group of player coming in. Albany general manager Chris Lamoriello said,
"Knowing that we're going to have second- and third-year players with the organization with added experience is putting ourselves in good position and putting our players in good position for a very competitive camp."
A New Leader in Albany:
One other open spot in Albany this season is one left open by the departure of Jay Leach. He was never resigned this offseason, so there is a need for a new captain for the 2013-2014 season. It has been predicted that Tim Sestito will get the "C" with Leach's departure, and while that may not be a farfetched guess, he wouldn't be my first choice. While he may be called up from time to time, my first choice for the role would be Joe Whitney. Whitney, the leading scorer for the team in both 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, was resigned this offseason for three more years and has shown his ability as both a player and a leader. While his contract is an NHL contract, there will not be room for him in New Jersey right away and I wouldn't expect to see much of him in New Jersey during the 2013-2014 season. He will be fighting for NHL time along with Matteau, Tedenby, Josefson, and Pesonen among others, so most of his time will likely be spent in Albany.
What are your thoughts on the new faces with the Albany Devils? Which players do you expect to spend the entire season in the AHL and which do you think will split time between the NHL and AHL? Are you excited to see Brylin behind the bench in Albany? Who do you think should be the next captain? Please discuss your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!