Yesterday's entry of the 2013 In Lou We Trust Top 25 New Jersey Devils Under 25 List included two players who made last year's top ten. Therefore, there are two new players who are in the upper echelon of the Top 25, all thanks to readers like yourself. You may expected both to have made it in, though one may have been a reach as far as how high was ranked. Still, these five represent nearly all of the best prospects in the system as of right now. If you don't know who they are, then now is a perfect time to get acquainted with them.
Back in 2012, the Devils used their second round draft pick on defenseman Damon Severson. He was the only non-forward taken in that draft. Given how New Jersey had plenty of defenders, one would think he had to be a solid prospect for the Devils to pick him. As it turned out, the selection was very shrewd. Severson was quite young but still had two WHL seasons under his proverbial belt when he was picked in 2012. In 2012-13, Severson really broke out and was one of the league's top defensemen. He improved his point totals from 37 to 52 and finished sixth in the league in scoring among defensemen. Severson wasn't just an offensive player, he was a player who did a bit of everything well as a defenseman from positioning to skating to hitting to decision making. In last year's ranking, I said he looked to be a solid defenseman. After this past season, he looks he could be a very good defenseman even if he doesn't have a superlative skill on way or another. Don't just take my word for it, Corey Pronman ranked him second in his own prospect rankings at Hockey Prospectus for his all-around game.
If it wasn't for the CHL-AHL deal plus the log jam of defenders in Albany, I would suggest he could be ready for the pro game. Since Severson was born in early August, he's only 19 and heading into his fourth junior season. With all due respect to all the Kelowna supporters, I'm not sure if Severson really has much more to prove at that level. He played in two games with Albany last season which could be seen as a tryout. He was at least productive with two assists. Alas, I don't think he can move over until he's 20. Nevertheless, he did break into the top ten thanks to those readers who voted. Only a handful of people voted him outside of the Top 25 and a vast majority put him into the Top 15. I think this makes sense as he's the best remaining non-professional defenseman. Once he's eligible and provided 2013-14 goes well for him, I suspect he'll move up even further.
Big Eric Gelinas had a very good first season of professional hockey with Albany in 2011-12. He put up 16 goals, which put him tied for the league lead among defensemen, and 37 points. He averaged over two shots per game as he showed that he skates well for a 6'4", 209 pound defender. For a New Jersey team that lacks offense from their blueline, this was a welcoming development. His 2012-13 season wasn't as good though. Gelinas did miss quite a bit of time due to his jaw getting broken by a puck. He only appeared in 57 games and as with most players returning from injury, it took some to get into form. Shooting percentage was decidedly not in his favor as he only scored six goals and 22 points. There were some positives. Despite missing time, Gelinas did improve his shooting rate from 2.1 to 2.4. Most of all, he did play in his first NHL game as New Jersey closed out their season. The organization wanted to see him get some time in the best league in the world, which usually is a sign that they are interested in the player. Should there be a spot for a defenseman in training camp, Gelinas' offensive mindset and his great shot could get him a leg up on the competition even if his defense and physical game could use some work. If not this year, then perhaps next year.
Gelinas fell a bit in the rankings from last year, where he came in seventh. This is understandable in that Gelinas didn't perform in his second pro season as he did in his first. The inclusion of a new U-25 player to the organization plus one other player that you all really liked also bumped him down. That said, I do think he's close to the next level in the system. It wouldn't surprise many fans if he got a few more games in New Jersey in this coming season. As such, he deserves a top-ten rank. A bounce-back, hopefully-full season in Albany could be enough to move him up on the Top 25 Devils Under 25 list if not get more notice from the NHL team.
The New Jersey Devils did not forfeit their first round pick in 2012 at 29th overall, a pick earned when they lost to the Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals. They had to forfeit one first rounder and this would likely be the latest they picked. Instead, they drafted Stefan Matteau. It was a move that leaves some a bit confused or to jeer the organization. Allow me to review the situation for those who have yet to figure out.
The Devils were then bare among forward prospects that had a legitimate future in the NHL. The Devils chose a 6'2", 216 pound winger who, based on how the coaches evaluated him, felt he was ready to play in the NHL and did so. I can't say I'm happy about his entry level contract being burnt, but he did resemble a NHL player at age 18 in his 17 games with the team. He was a perfect citizen as far as I could tell. A far cry from all of the penalty minutes, match penalties with the US WJC team in exhibition games, and the incident with Boisville-Boisbriand coaches that ended with him and his dad (also assistant coach of the Armada) riding home with fans on their bus and off the team. Matteau's discipline was an issue there, but in the NHL, he was just trying to do his thing. Yes, he was sheltered and didn't do a whole lot, but that's to be expected for an 18-year old player who wasn't a dominant forward in junior. Still, it's reasonable to conclude from watching him that the chances are really good that he will be a NHL player. That's something I can't say about any of the other forward prospects, Mattias Tedenby excepted. That's more than betting on a prospect that would be available in the bottom-third of the first round in 2014. A full season of AHL hockey - something he is eligible for as he was drafted out the USHL - plus good behavior could bring him back sooner rather than later.
I would say the collective thoughts of those who voted would agree with this sentiment. It also helps him that, again, the Devils don't have many forward prospects. Sure, there are a few ahead of Matteau on this list but almost all of them are established players. He's a safe bet to join them one day, even though it may be as a bottom-six winger. That's still a NHL player. If that sounds familiar, it's part of what I wrote when we ranked him tenth last year. I think it still holds today and getting those 17 games in the NHL where he didn't stink on ice opened up a few more eyes.
Devils fans should be familiar with Alexander Urbom at this point. The 2009 third round draft pick made the jump to Canadian major junior hockey after being drafted out of Djurgardens. After one season, he progressed to professional hockey. He played mostly with Albany in 2010-11, put up two goals and 21 assists, and got in eight games with the Devils. Urbom is very large at 6'5" and 216 pounds. He uses his body well in checking opponents, he skates fairly well, and his skillset is suited a defensive defenseman. However, he's essentially been in a holding pattern since 2010-11. He's more experienced on defense, but the past two seasons saw a drop in production (23 points to 12 to 8 last season) and it's clear that he's not going to be an offensive player. He's played a lot for Albany and only got in a few games with New Jersey in each of the last two seasons. The organization was high on him at one point but one has to wonder whether he'll get that opportunity to stick around. Given that three of the seven defensemen on New Jersey are defensive-minded defensemen and two of them have awful deals that guarantee their spots, that opportunity may not be there. How much more time will he have? Unless he's brilliant in this year's camp, he's about to enter his fourth season in minor pro hockey. He'll turn 23, other defenseman prospects are up where he is in the depth chart, and his entry level contract is ending. Would he re-sign in the hopes of another chance elsewhere? Who knows. He remains on the cusp and this month's training camp and preseason could help determine if he's the first choice out of Albany as an injury replacement or performance reasons, or if he no longer is.
Since he is on the cusp, it's appropriate that he's still a high prospect in the system. His experience may give him an edge over Gelinas in some people's eyes, but if you were to ask me right now, then I'd say Gelinas may have an edge with what he brings to the table. Nevertheless, he's still "up there" among the Devils' many young defensemen in the system. Your voting agreed, though the range of most of his votes went as high as fifth (last year's ranking) and twelfth. We shall see how this month's camp and the next season goes for him. For his sake, the hope is that he gets more than a cup of coffee in the NHL. If only so a better decision about his future could be made.
Among all of the Devils prospects not in the pros (and perhaps including some of them), Reid Boucher undoubtedly had the best season out of all of them. Boucher lined up with Charles Sarault and the two crafted beautiful hockey magic for the Sarnia Sting. Alex Galchenyuk certainly helped out early, but when he was called up to Montreal and Nikolay Goldobin filled in, Sarault and Boucher just kept on producing. The overaged Sarault compiled 86 assists and finished second overall in points with 108. His linemate Boucher was the finished. He didn't just lead the OHL in goals, he smashed the franchise record for goals in a season that was previously held by goal machine Steven Stamkos. Boucher scored 62 goals in 68 games and finished with 98 points overall. To say that is impressive is a bit of an understatement.
However, it's easy to see that and get a bit carried away. My enthusiasm is dialed back a bit for Boucher. He certainly succeeded in a massive fashion in his situation but I wouldn't start penciling him in for a NHL spot just yet. First, he was 19 when he did this. As great as his goal scoring achievement was, he was a bit older than when Stamkos did it and he got plenty of help from an even older Sarault to make those plays happen. Second, we don't know how crazy high his shooting percentage was. The OHL, for some inexplicable reason, doesn't track shots on goal for players so we don't know whether Boucher just got ridiculously hot at shooting or if he just put up a ton of shots and was not-as-ridiculously hot at shooting. Third, the word on Boucher was that his shot was fantastic but everything else needs some work. Prior to the NHL Draft, I had a conversation with someone who covered Sarnia games about Boucher's year. In summary, he said Boucher was good but not as good as "Stammer" and still needs to work on other parts of his game. Corey Pronman would likely agree as he noted in his recent ranking of Devils prospects that the 5'10", 192 pound winger needs to work on his skating, defense, and physical play. The good news is that it appears Boucher will jump to the AHL for next season where he can work on those things and the organization can see whether his shot and on-the-puck skills can stand out at the minor pro level. He did appear in 11 games with Albany after Sarnia's season ended and put up three goals and two assists. Boucher will definitely get more minutes there. If he can do well there, then crank up the excitement. But I think it's too early, awesome junior season notwithstanding.
Let me be clearer, I think the readers who voted ranked him too high. It's easy to see why: he was a goal scoring machine for the Sting. The Devils don't have any prospects who were goal scoring machines anywhere. The Devils could certainly use one. Therefore, "whoo Boucher." He got a first place vote and 38 others within the top five. He actually got more votes for fifth place than sixth. Again, I get the reasoning, but I'm not on the bandwagon. I would agree he's a top ten player among those under the age of 25. I just didn't place him ahead of Urbom or Gelinas, who could be in the NHL next season; Matteau, who was in the NHL already for a bit; or even Severson, who had a great season and is a lot more well-rounded. I think Boucher will get a good look in camp if only because of his shot and his recent production; but again, I want to see him do well in the AHL before talking him up as this great "diamond in the rough" from the middle of the 2011 draft.
In any case, this the bottom half of your top ten of the ILWT Top 25 Devils Under 25, as chosen by you. Severson, Gelinas, Matteau, Urbom, and Boucher were the ones in that spot. You can probably guess now who's in the top five. What order they will be in, well, you'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out. In the meantime, let's discuss these five prospects. Who among these five were ranked too high or too low by the readers who voted? Which one of these five do you think will turn out to be the best? Will this year be Urbom's year? Will Gelinas take over? Who will do better in Albany, Matteau or Boucher? What will happen with Severson? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about these five in the comments. Thank you for reading.