As we get closer and closer to revealing who topped the 2013 In Lou We Trust Top 25 New Jersey Devils Under 25 list, the odd results seen at the bottom go away. I think more fans are familiar with the better prospects and so the votes weren't so extreme in range. Today, I reveal who made up the middle of the list and I think it's about here where things start making more sense. Or at least, more people will have an opinion on who finished where. It's a motley group of five that includes someone brand new to the list and someone who would have been on here for years had we done a Top 25 Under 25 list years ago.
Last year, Kinkaid came in at 15th on our inaugural Top 25 Devils Under 25. He remains in exactly the same spot this year. Kinkaid played the majority of games for Albany last season. When Brodeur got hurt last season, he was the first to be called up as a back up to Johan Hedberg. Kinkaid even made his NHL debut last season, filling in for Moose for the third period of a 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay. He's clearly the #3 goalie in the organization right now. However, it wasn't all good for the undrafted man from Union College. For some reason, Elite Prospects lists his save percentage as 91.6%. That's actually Jeff Frazee's save percentage accordng to the the AHL website, who has him at 90.5% from this past season. That isn't a very good save percentage. It's not much of an improvement over his first season with Albany in 2011-12, when he posted a 90.4% save percentage. Moreover, 90.5% was good for 34th out of 46 goalies who played at least 1,500 minutes last season. It's not like Kinkaid was close to AHL average. He just turned 24 but with Scott Wedgewood coming in the mix, he's going to have step up his game considerably in 2013-14 to stay as the #3 goalie or even Albany's starter.
With respect to where he is in the Top 25, I can sort of see why he would be in the middle. If or when Martin Brodeur gets hurt, he's likely to be brought up since that's what happened last season. With the amount of games the Devils play per week, it wouldn't be inconceivable that he'd get a start or two if or when that happens. Since he's close to the NHL in that sense, I can understand a mid-range position. However, I suspect he would have fallen further if more knew about his relatively low save percentage. It's somewhat moot since he'll be 25 for next year's list. (Also: shout out to the guy who gave him a first place vote. He's the second lowest who got one; Anthony Brodeur somehow got one from a really big fan of his. Don't worry, the next first place vote sighting is much higher on the list.)
The highest ranked 2013 draft pick on the Top 25 Under 25 ended up at the #14 position. The Devils traded their first round pick for Cory Schneider, they moved their second rounder down a few spots, and then they picked up defenseman Steve Santini. I'll be honest, I was a bit stunned since the system needed forwards, there were good forwards available, and the Devils went with someone who didn't even score a goal in all competitions last season. That said, the Devils got very good value at 42nd overall and most seemed to like the pick. Santini was an excellent defenseman at the World U-18s and he's quite mobile with his large frame. Santini definitely can lay out some big hits and he's shown good instincts at positioning himself. He's a defensive defenseman now, he'll likely be a defensive defenseman, and by the time he's done with Boston College, the Devils may not be so loaded with defenders. No word on whether he will #BeADude, but he could be a real player one day.
I'm somewhat heartened by his position in the Top 25. His most common spots among ballots were tenth, fourteenth, and last as Steve Santini was at the bottom of the list alphabetically. Far more votes were on the higher end, so I take this to mean that most of you think well enough of him now as a prospect. However, it's not so high that it leads to some unreasonable expectations. He isn't among the top defensemen prospects, which I think is correct. But he could be. He'll go to a good hockey school and I think the coming years will show whether he'll really blossom or not. If he does well as a freshman and at the WJCs (it could happen, he was in evaluation camp), then I could easily see him much higher next year. Further progression will only fuel the fire. Don't just be a dude, Santini; be a boss.
The 2012 World Junior Championships went very well for Blake Pietila and Team USA. The United States won their third-ever gold medal at Ufa and Pietila was part of a shutdown line throughout the tourney. He didn't put up much offense, but his role was to defend, kill penalties and time, and match-up opposing forwards. From what I saw of the tourney, I thought he played well. Stateside, Pietila completed his sophomore year for the Michigan Tech Huskies. He put up the same number of points as he did as a freshman, but he was a bit more fortunate in scoring. His 14 goals were good enough for second on the team (one behind the leader) and his 24 points put him tied for two others for third in scoring. Granted, Michigan Tech didn't have a very good year but Pietila has been a significant part of the team all the same. However, if he does make it to the next level, it's going to be as a defensive forward - just as we said last year. That's not a knock on him. If anything, that could be an asset as he could fill in a bottom six role that's more useful than an AHL retread or a journeyman player. Still, it falls on Pietila to really take it up a notch as a junior as Michigan Tech moves into the inaugural season of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
His movement up the list suggests I'm not the only one who liked what he did at the WJCs. I understand the importance of not reading much into a short tournament. However, Pietila wasn't playing against other college players. He was playing some of the best in the world at his age group. Even with his experience in the United States National Team Developmental Program, it's not like he was playing regularly with Cole Bardreau and Ryan Hartman in college to have some kind of connection with them. He was brought into a team of players from various places and skills with an expectation of success and he succeeded alongside them. That counts for something. Combined with other movement on the list, I think it makes sense he moved up a few spots for this year's Top 25 Under 25.
#12 Scott Wedgewood - G - Age: 21 - 2012 Rank: 8 - 2012-13 Teams: Trenton (ECHL), Albany (AHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
The first one from last year's top ten to fall out for this year is goaltender Scott Wedgewood. It's arguable he had a far better 2011-12 than in 2012-13. Then, he was coming off a successful season at Plymouth and even represented Team Canada for the 2011 WJCs. In this past season, Wedgewood went professional and the numbers didn't look good. He suited up for 48 games with Trenton and finished the season with a save percentage of only 90%. He got called up for five appearances with Albany and those must have not went well since he put up a save percentage of 88.6%. So why in the world would he be rated higher than Kinkaid and Maxime Clermont, who didn't make the Top 25 at all and finished a season with Elmira just below Wedgewood in save percentage? Why would a majority of readers like yourself rank him between ninth and fifteenth?
Those are fair questions. Two important factors must be taken into account. I didn't put Wedgewood at twelfth (I forget where exactly), but I did put him ahead of Kinkaid and Clermont. The first is youth. He just turned 21 last month and completed his very first pro season in hockey. Clermont and Kinkaid are both older and more experienced with two seasons of pro hockey under their proverbial belts. The experience is key in that we have a clearer idea of what they could become. That they didn't do so well in their first two seasons doesn't bode as well as Wedgewood's rookie season. The second has to do with their team. Trenton wasn't a very good team last season. Wedgewood had to beat out two other rookies for games and he didn't perform any worse than they did. In the eyes of Mike Ashmore, who covered the Trenton Titans, he ranked Wedgewood the best among the goalies. Ashmore noted that he was one of the most talented goalies in the franchise's history and his only real standout flaw was in back-to-back games. I'm not sure how valid that is, but I'll take his word for it. That puts him in a better position going forward than Clermont putting up a similarly low save percentage on a good Elmira team and Kinkaid putting up a worse percentage than Frazee. The organization may agree as Wedgewood got called up for more appearances than Clermont. With Trenton ceasing operations and Frazee gone, it'll be an interesting fight in camp between Clermont and Wedgewood. I think Wedgewood may have the edge as he's not nearly along his own path as Clermont's. Hopefully, that path means improvement for the 21-year old goalie.
There was once a lot of hope for the small, speedy winger. He was a first round draft pick in 2008. He did well enough at HV71 and representing Sweden at the junior international level. He came over in 2010-11 and showed some exciting flashes in 58 games with New Jersey. He put up eight goals and fourteen assists, which wasn't a lot but could be a base for The thought and hope would be that he would build on that rookie outing. Since then, he has not. He had plenty of chances in 43 games in 2011-12, but he was routinely benched for third periods and his icetime was limited. It wasn't hard to see why. He'd have one or two good looking shifts, do very little in the other ten or so, and not play much defense at all. When the Devils acquired Alexei Ponikarovsky, it was a night-and-day difference on the third line as a player who could put in the work at both ends of the rink made the team that much better. Tedenby made the roster for the 2013 season, but again, his minutes were limited, he didn't do anything to convince the coaches to get more, and he was sent back to Albany after four games.
It would be one thing if Tedenby went down to Albany and played really well. However, he hasn't been an offensive leader in the AHL. Sure, he's only played part of the season down in Albany but he's hovered around twenty points in each of the two seasons he's played in 35 games. His rate of shots dropped from about 2.3 to 1.7 from 2011-12 to 2012-13. He simply hasn't been a scorer at the AHL level, which suggests he may not really be ready for the next level. Given that he doesn't play defense and his game is built on speed and occasional flash, he needs to be a scorer at a lower level first before getting another look at the NHL level. Yes, he had some good moments in 2010-11 but that was a lost season. That team had nine wins by Christmas. You can afford giving a young guy plenty of ice time and opportunities then. When the team is expected to win, Tedenby simply hasn't proven to be more of a contributor than other non-goons who are on the roster. That all said, I think he's still well thought of because those moments do stand out, because he was a former first round pick, and because he's a winger with skill and the Devils don't have many in the system. Could he get a game or two in 2013-14? Possibly, if there are injuries. The Devils did re-sign him back in June and as I said then, I think it's a last chance deal for him to show up or sit down. So far, all indications are against him. His high rank here tells me that many of you think he can do it. He probably hopes you're right.
To recap, 15th through 11th were Kinkaid, Santini, Pietila, Wedgewood, and Tedenby. The fun will continue tomorrow when the first half of the top ten are revealed. You can probably guess as to who they are, though you may be a bit surprised as to where they are. In the meantime, let's talk about this group of five. Which of these five rankings do you think is too high or too low? Do you agree with Wedgewood being rated higher than Kinkaid by your fellow readers? Is fourteenth a good spot for Santini with respect to the other defenseman prospects? Does Tedenby have a real chance in camp this year? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on these five young Devils players in the comments. Thank you for reading.