ILWT Audition 2014: New Jersey Devils Prospect Pool: Deeper than Meets the Eye

Writer D alleges the team is deeper at forward than Stefan Matteau (pictured, from 2013) and Reid Boucher. - USA TODAY Sports

The ILWT Audition for 2014 process continues with this post by Writer D tuomistoe, who argues that the New Jersey Devils are deeper in their prospect depth than one may think at first glance.

At the end of April, I put out another call looking for new writers for In Lou We Trust to write about the New Jersey Devils. I've opened up the audition to the community at large in order to get some new perspectives and additional voices on the front page with regularity. Since then, I've received eighteen entries that met the submission criteria. Regardless of how they're received, I thank the writers of each and every one of them - you know who you are - for stepping up and submitting an entry.  (One more instruction for those who made submissions and received letters, by the way.  Please do not comment on your submission or any of the other audition posts.  This will help allow others to freely judge the work and show that you can handle online reactions.  No drama is the best drama.)

Throughout the this week, I will post each one under an anonymous name so you can discuss and critique the post without regard to who actually wrote it. I can ensure you that I did not change any of the content outside of formatting it in to the SBN platform.  To that end, please note that I don't necessarily agree with what the posts actually say. I'm just letting them stand on their own. Please be constructive in any criticism and do offer your thoughts about whether you liked (or disliked) the post in addition to discussing it's content. Don't be mean, but be fair.

Now, I assigned a letter to each writer based on when I received it.  However, I decided to mix up the letters in terms of order of posting.  So this process continues with the submission of Writer D tuomistoe, who thinks the team's organizational depth in prospects is a bit deeper than it looks at first glance.

***

A common theme among New Jersey Devils fans and hockey pundits alike is that the Devils cupboard of prospects has been bare for years after several swings and misses in the draft.  Remnants of Niclas Bergfors, Matt Corrente, Mattias Tedenby and many more have seem to have clouded the perception of fans that the Devils have had weak drafts and no young talent coming up the pipeline.  After missing the playoffs for the 3rd time in 4 years, this can cause quite the unrest amongst the Devils faithful.  However, one has to realize that the men sitting in their cushy chairs in the front office do actually know a lick about hockey, and better yet, they know what types of players to draft that fit the "Devils way" of hockey.

The trade-off for having a less than average pool of prospects is making the playoffs year after year, which the Devils seemed to do for over a decade.  One may look to the Red Wings and see their impressive collection of young talent to argue that the Devils are in fact, doing something wrong.  However the Red Wings have had a paramount amount of good fortune in later rounds, pulling out guys like Gustav Nyquist, in the 4th round, Tomas Tatar at 60th overall and who can forget Datsyuk in the 6th round and Zetterberg in the 7th round.  The Devils have seen prospects in later rounds progress lately, albeit mostly in the defensive ranks. However a prospect flourishing is positive for the organization, regardless of position.

Defense:

Starting with the organizational strength, the devils currently have 3 players listed in HockeysFuture's top 50 ratings and they are all in fact, defensemen.   Jon Merrill (#22), Damon Severson (#44) and Eric Gelinas (#45), figure to be a major factor on the Devils blue line in the short and long term.  One thing to point out is that Adam Larsson is not on this list, as he's played enough games to effectively not be included in Hockey's Future.  However as most of you know, he really is more less a prospect at this point in his career.  That gives the Devils 4 potential stud defenseman to build upon.  Keep in mind these are four guys that absolutely every organization in the NHL would love to take off the Devils' hands.  Most of us saw what Merrill and Gelinas were able to accomplish in their freshman campaigns and are generally excited about it.  There seems to be a lot of frustration stemming from the Adam Larsson (mis)handling.  However it's important to note that Larsson has been legally able to drink beer for approximately 6 months now.  Defensemen are always a 4-5 year project, especially in a system that relies on it entirely.  I do believe Larsson will be given a bit more room to roam next year if you will.  So calm those worries down, I believe that he'll be making an impact sooner rather than later.  See Hedman, Victor as a comparable.  He had underwhelmed his first few seasons with Tampa Bay and is now bordering on elite after his 55 point breakout season.  I fully expect Larsson will be hitting 40 points with regularity, as does the coaching staff and management.

One prospect that has a lot of scouts excited is Damon Severson.  Currently with the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL, Severson has taken huge strides and is following in the footsteps of Kelowna alumni such as Shea Weber and Duncan Keith.  In 2013-14 he put up 61 points in 64 regular season games while posting a staggering +47 rating.  He's been equally impressive in the playoffs with 18 points in just 14 games.   Scouts rave about his two-way ability and some of you may remember he was competing for a spot in training camp this past September, as a 19 year old.  Rounding out the D, there still is plenty of promise outside of the CHL.  Albany has seen success this season and in large part to the emergence of multiple defensemen who have progressed in their development.  Reece Scarlett has taken strides defensively after being labeled as a puck-moving defenseman who might not be able to handle the physical aspects of the pro's.  However in 48 games this season, Scarlett registered 6 goals and 20 points in 48 games to go along with a +11, good for 2nd on the team.  He's added to his once-wiry frame and is most likely soon to be on the list of injury call-ups.  Keep in mind he was a 6th round pick and is turning out to be quite the value for that pick, should his progression keep trending positively.  Brandon Burlon and Roman Hrabarenka, while not household names, have certainly been stalwarts on the back end for Albany as well.  Hrabarenka has certainly come out of nowhere to provide some surprising offense and solid defense as well.  With 6 goals and 21 points in 48 games, the 22-year old, undrafted free agent could possibly be a feel-good story such as Dan Boyle was as an undrafted defenseman.  Burlon, while being a 2nd round pick, could be the victim of a numbers game.  He's drawn comparisons to Andy Greene with his two-way play but with the others in front of him, he may be trade bait in the coming months.  Alex Urbom still is a work in progress but he too was a 2nd round pick and management was willing to give him another shot after the Capitals excursion.  The final D prospect of note is Steve Santini, a hard-hitting defensive style player currently attending Boston College.  He represented team USA in the world juniors and was a fixture during every crucial juncture of the game.  He's the kind of hard-nosed player the Devils have been missing since the days #4 patrolled the ice.  Defense was and always will be the Devils focal point as long Lou is giving his guidance and whether the Devils decide to move some assets for some scoring or continue grooming what could be a terrifying blue line for years to come, remains to be seen.

Forwards:

Going from a strength of defense brings one to a (perceived?) weakness.  When one thinks of the Devils forward prospects, terrifying visions of Mattias Tedenby -  and barring a breakout year next season -Jacob Josefson may come to mind.  Some have not given up on Josefson, which I truly believe is fair, Tedenby seems destined to be packing his bags for Sweden rather soon.  Josefson was utilized in a much larger role when Jacques Lemaire took over the helm from J-Mac in that perplexing 2010-11 season.  Josefson showed his flashes of speed and smart two-way abilities and had fans thinking he may be close to a breakthrough.  However injuries (surprise) turned out to be his downfall.  He has yet to really piece together an entire season whether it is injuries or being scratched.  With Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier up for UFA this summer, this year could be when Josefson may have one crack at the everyday lineup before ties are cut. However, a prospect with bottom 6 potential is only so rousing to a fan base.  The current darling of the forward ranks is winger Reid Boucher.  Known for breaking Steven Stamkos' single-season goal scoring record with the OHL's Sarnia Sting last season, the future of the franchise may be on the 20-year old's shoulders, whether he knows it or not.  As a fifth-round pick, Boucher is the kind of prospect you want to be excited about but it may be hard to simply based on what is said about him.  One-dimensional, needs work on his skating, doesn't have the size... a number of things.  But the one thing that hasn't and won't likely change is his shot.  Boucher had a cup of coffee this year with the parent club and while only potting 2 goals and 5 assists in 23 games, didn't look completely lost for the majority of the time.  Sure there were times he was invisible and some would have liked to have seen him shoot more, but there aren't many who can step in and be an immediate success as a 20-year old.  He was the answer to a lot of trivia questions for a while, as he was the only Devil to actually score a shootout goal for quite some time, until they broke out the game they lit up Buffalo with 2 in 10 rounds.... But I digress.  Boucher may be the Devils best prospect or he could fade into a career AHLer.  Only time will tell.

When Ilya Kovalchuk "retired" and the Devils eventually reclaimed their 2014 pick (guaranteed 30th overall for those who live under rocks), forward Stefan Matteau most likely felt like he had quite the weight lifted off his shoulders.  Most fans were filled with Angst when Lou Lamoriello decided to draft 29th in 2012 instead of forfeit the pick because of the Kovalchuk circumvention penalty.  Now, it looks like a stroke of genius, at least as far as drafting is concerned.  However Matteau himself could end up being a useful player as soon as next year.  He was used in a limited role his rookie year before being returned to the QMJHL and has NHL-ready size.  He was somewhat underwhelming in his first year in Albany, but he's expected to provide more than points and certainly seems to have done so.  Not afraid to get in your face and take the body, Matteau is a few pounds short and few bowls of nails eaten away from being a Milan Lucic-type player.  The Devils actually got him 29th overall and his pre-draft ranking was late 10's to early 20's, so there's something to say there.  He has offensive abilities and good two-way awareness and could morph into a power forward similar to David Clarkson.  Except he can actually skate, stick handle, pass, and play hockey.

While Boucher and Matteau provide for the somewhat larger names in the forward depths, there is another player that cannot and should not be overlooked.  That player is Myles BellMyles Bell has a 100 MPH slapshot.... I could almost end there and feel justified about it but I won't.  Bell had a somewhat troubled past in his OHL days.  He was involved in a tragic automobile accident, killing his girlfriend of the time and dealing with something no one, especially a 17-year old, should ever have to deal with in life.  He was a prospect that was getting looks in the 1st round of some preseason ranking but his first year of eligibility he was completely left out.  No one took a chance on troubled youth.  However Lou has some experience in drafting kids with troubled pasts (see Merrill, Jon), and was compelled to take Bell in the 6th round, which certainly is quite the value for a player with his caliber of shot.  A converted defenseman, Bell put up 77 points in 69 games this past season, while putting up 93 points in 69 games the year before.  With tragedy in the rearview mirror, Bell will finish up his career with the Kelowna Rockets and head to Albany next season to hopefully begin his promising professional career.

Another CHL player this time from the WHL's Swift Current Broncos, Graham Black recently signed a professional contract and joined Albany.  A 5th round pick in 2012 Graham Black has hovered around the 50 point mark for his first two seasons in the WHL, but was highly touted for his defensive responsibility, a la Travis Zajac. However in 2013-14, Black exploded for 97 points in 69 games while finishing +18.  This had to have given everyone in the organization quite the lift similarly to when Reid Boucher exploded for his 62-goal season the year before.  Black unfortunately suffers from Grave's Disease which is an autoimmune disease, effecting energy   and glands of the body.  However he was able to persevere this season and play his strongest season of hockey yet.  Health is obviously the most important thing, but we all hope Black is able to continue fighting while being a promising prospect.

The Devils have also taken fliers on forwards who have been deemed inconsistent but have potential. Last year's draft saw Ryan Kujawinski taken in the 3rd round.  Scouts compliment his high-end ability but his inconsistency can be baffling.  He had 41 points in 45 games this year in the OHL with the Kingston Frontenacs.  A slight improvement from the previous year on a point-per-game perspective, so it will be interesting to see any strides he takes next year.  Other talents in the forwards include Artur Gavrus, currently in the KHL, Alex Kerfoot playing for the University of Harvard and Miles Wood at Boston College.  Gavrus and Kerfoot both have supposed top 6 skill but have been injury prone.  Both are speedy wingers and are long-term projects.  Wood has also been tabbed as a skilled forward and is looking to begin his career at Boston College next fall.

While the Devils certainly don't have the cream of the crop as far as forward prospects, it is hardly the nightmare that most Devils fans assume it to be.  Another option for bolstering the depth is of course to trade from the strength of defense to acquire some young forwards.  The upcoming draft should see the Devils draft the best available forward, but as we saw with Adam Larsson in 2011 and Steve Santini in 2013, it is not always a given, as Lou will often go for the best available player regardless of position.

Goaltending:

With the acquisition of Cory Schneider in 2013, the goaltending picture has been settled for the near future... assuming Schneider doesn't bolt in UFA after playing second fiddle to a moping 42 year old, past-his-prime legend.  However that doesn't mean the Devils don't have some promising young tenders looking to challenge for a spot in the organization.  Keith Kinkaid saw the majority of the starts for Albany this year and had somewhat of a roller coaster season.  The Union College product made 43 appearances, going 24-13-5 while posting a somewhat average .912 save % and stellar 2.02 GAA.  He's the only Devils goalie prospect to play in the NHL as he made his debut last season against the Tampa Bay Lightning in relief of Johan Hedberg.  This year saw him improve upon his last 2 seasons after posting a .904 and .905 sv % prior to this season.  He's shown a fair amount of athleticism and raw talent and may compete for a backup role next year for the big squad, dependent upon Martin Brodeur's future of course.  Kinkaid shared the majority of his workload this year with Scott Wedgewood, a highly touted prospect who won a bronze medal with Canada in the world juniors in 2012.  He is also known as someone who enjoys pressure situations, has the makings of a workhorse starter and also has very high puck-handling skill, a welcomed side note to those who thought that was the reason Brodeur saw more goal support than Schneider this year.  Wedgewood saw less success in Albany this year with a .899 save % but with it being his first year in the professional ranks, some early struggles are to be expected.  Next up is Maxime Clermont who again is a touted prospect but has shown inconsistency.  This is commonplace for young goaltenders however.  Clermont did make two appearances for Albany this year, stopping 36 of 39 shots for a .923 save %.  However most of his time was spent in the ECHL where he was dwindling sub.900 for the majority of the season.  The verdict is out on Clermont but he is described as a technically sound goalie that just needs more seasoning.  Lastly is goaltending legend Martin Brodeur's son, Anthony Brodeur.  Anthony is currently the backup for this QMJHL team but will most likely see his workload increase next year.  He did have a remarkable shutout streak at one point during the season; besting his dad's longest such streak in the process, mind you at the CHL level.  Again, he has promise but goaltending can be such a volatile position as far as prospects go, it's hard to put a finger on his career outlook.

The goaltending situation will hopefully be settled with star netminder Cory Schneider being locked up long-term because the prospects behind him, while showing spurts of promise, aren't close to being able to step in similarly to young goalies like Jake Allen, Martin Jones, Cam Talbot, Frederik Andersson and others who have done so at the NHL this season.  They will continue to develop and hopefully pan out to being capable NHL netminders.

While the Devils certainly don't have the most touted or promising prospects, the ones highlighted certainly seem to all be taking steps forward in development.  The hope is that they will be able to soon make an impact so fans won't have to endure years of losing to restock the cupboard per say.  While it's not always easy to draft and develop after years of late picks and first-round flops, there is still some promise for the team to come.

***

Now that you read Writer D tuomistoe's post, I want to know what you think about it.  What do you think of the subject matter? What did you think about how Writer D tuomistoe wrote this post? Based on how it was written and what was it about, is this the kind of post you would want to see regularly at In Lou We Trust? Please leave your answers and other comments about this post in the comments. Thanks go to Writer D tuomistoe for the submission and thank you for reading.

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