A look at the New Jersey Devils top 10 prospects heading into the 2015-16 season.
The Devils are a team entering a transition towards a rebuild era. Under Lou Lamoriello for so many years, the Devils won Stanley Cups and were a perennial contender. But those days are a distant memory now, Lamoriello has moved on and Ray Shero is the new GM and his task will be to restock the prospect cupboard to start the rebuild.
The current roster is in dire need of a youth injection on the forward ranks, but the defence has a bright future with plenty of young players such as Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill and Damon Severson.
With the departure of Jaromir Jagr, Dainius Zubrus, Steve Bernier, Scott Gomez, Martin Havlat and Michael Ryder to be replaced by only Kyle Palmieri, there will be plenty of opportunity for the Devils to start getting younger right away. The top two or three prospects are quality, beyond that there are interchangeable prospects with limited ceilings.
1. Pavel Zacha: Centre – 6’3” / 210 lbs
Drafted: sixth overall in the first round of the 2015 draft by New Jersey.
Pavel Zacha is an offensively dynamic center with the size, speed, and skill to make a significant impact on the game. He can play physical, but is at his best when using his high-end offensive abilities, such as his shot, stickhandling, and footspeed, to generate numbers in the opposition’s end of the ice. All-in-all, Zacha is a lethal weapon that can be depended upon to create, and finish, dangerous scoring chances whenever he is on the ice. – Elite Prospects
2. Steve Santini: Defence – 6’2” / 207 lbs
Drafted: 42nd overall in the second round of the 2013 draft by New Jersey.
Santini was limited to just 22 games due to injury in his sophomore year with Boston College. which also cost him an opportunity to play for the USA WJC team. The big defenceman will return for his junior year and will take on a bigger role as he will be an alternate captain. With Mike Matheson leaving BC, Santini has the chance to be the top pairing defender with Ian McCoshen. Santini has can’t miss potential as a shutdown defensive defenseman.
Big and physical, Santini is the prototypical defensive defenseman. He plays a positionaly sound game and displays sharp outlet passing. Smart and cagey, he will not be beaten one-on-one and is simply the kind of player you win with. – Todays Slap Shot
3. MacKenzie Blackwood: Goalie- 6’4” / 214 lbs
Drafted: 42nd overall in the second round of the 2015 draft by New Jersey.
Already at 6’4″ tall, MacKenzie Blackwood has the ideal size that teams look for in goaltenders now. He uses that size effectively and comes out to challenge shooters and take away the amount of net they have to look at. He skates extremely well and can back up quickly to close down the net on dekes. Blackwood is almost always square to the shooter, even on cross ice passes as he gets across very quickly due to a strong leg push. He stays in control and avoids oversliding. Blackwood plays a strong butterfly technique with strong legs that take away the bottom of the net, and an excellent glove hand. – Last Word On Sports
4. Joseph Blandisi: Right Wing – 5’11” / 182 lbs
Drafted: 162nd in the sixth round of the 2012 draft by Colorado
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2015.
Blandisi is not a blazer, but has enough juice in his legs to gain separation from the defense when he embarks on a rush. His maneuverability is more impressive is his pure speed. His vision, particularly in the offensive zone, is a selling feature in Blandisi’s game. He can see a few seconds ahead of what he is doing at any given moment, providing his team with extra incisiveness. Blandisi goes hard to the net. He also gets involved in tight forechecking coverage in the neutral zone. Not overly tall, he is nevertheless a broad body and can withstand the abuse of defenders and maintain possession. He does need to cut back on his physical style, though as his 126 penalty minutes ranked tenth in the OHL. It should be noted that not a single minute of the aforementioned total came from dropping the gloves. – Hockey Prospectus
5. Sergey Kalinin: Right Wing – 6’3” / 190 lbs
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2015.
Kalinin is exciting and dynamic on the ice. While he certainly doesn’t have the natural talent of, say, an Alexander Ovechkin, he possesses a similar style of play, lending itself to a North American-style game. Russians tend to favor a very “north-south” game with lots of passing and finesse; and Kalinin has no problem taking the puck end-to-end if he sees the opportunity. Highly aggressive, forechecking is one of his strengths and he often plays the point on the power play. – Hockey VIPs
6. Ryan Kujawinski: Centre – 6’2” / 200 lbs
Drafted: 73rd overall in the third round of the 2013 draft by New Jersey.
In a system devoid of high upside forward prospects, Kujawinski at least stands out as one who will play at the next level. He has some offensive ability, but without having increased his offensive output in four years in the OHL, it is fair to question if he has peaked. His well game will allow him to play in the AHL, but he will need at least two full seasons there to get an NHL opportunity and he in unlikely to ever be more than a bottom six forward. His versatility will help him achieve that upside, and there is good value in having a cost controlled player with some physical tools in the bottom six, but it’s hard to see him scoring more than 10-12 goals per season. – Hockey Prospectus
7. Stefan Matteau: Left Wing – 6’2” / 220 lbs
Drafted: 29th overall in the first round of the 2012 draft by New Jersey.
When you watch young Stefan Matteau, you can definitely see the influence that his father has had on his son’s game. Like his father, Matteau is a gritty, hard working, winger who is capable in all three zones. Matteau seems to relish playing a physical game, is effective on the boards winning battles, and protecting the puck in the cycle game. He is more likely to bull through a defender than to go around them. Matteau has a hard, heavy wrist shot and a decent release. When Matteau doesn’t have the puck in the offensive zone, you can find him near the opponents crease. He gets to the front of the net and causes havoc when he’s there attempting to screen the goalie, tip in goals, and bang in rebounds. Matteau just loves initiating contact and is a very physical player. He’s also likely to be found right in the middle of any after the whistle scrums. His offensive game is a little limited by his average passing skills and vision, and his average hands making moves in tight to the goal, and around defenders. – Last Word On Sports
8. John Quenneville: Centre – 6’1” / 182 lbs
Drafted: 30th overall in the first round of the 2014 draft by New Jersey.
Offensively, Quenneville is at his best controlling the puck down low on the cycle game and setting up teammates with good vision, and very high hockey IQ. He can drive the net when given the opportunity and while he can show good finish in close, must become more consistent at it. Quenneville is strong on the puck and his long reach and good puck skills really help him to protect the puck down low. He’s not afraid to battle in the corners and in front of the net, and should only get better at this as he adds some bulk to what is currently a somewhat slender frame. Quenneville also has a strong and accurate shot, allowing him to score from further out. – Last Word On Sports
9. Seth Helgeson: Defence – 6’4” / 215 lbs
Drafted: 114th overall in the fourth round of the 2009 draft by New Jersey.
Helgeson is a plus plus physical player with a big frame who regularly throws his weight around at opposing players. Scouts rave about the physical prescience he provides on a regular basis and on top of being a big hitter, he wins a good majority of his board battles. Helgeson is a hard worker who will do all the little things well in regards to giving it his all in one-on-one battles and in sacrificing his body on the penalty kill. When he’s on, he can be a notable shutdown player and there is some fair defensive value to his projection. – Hockey Prospectus
10. Raman Hrabarenka: Defence – 6’5” / 236 lbs
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2013.
We see Hrabarenka as a big and strong defender, capable of winning battles on the boards, and clearing the crease. He is willing to throw a big hit, and is especially good at closing the gap when a forward tries to take him outside near the boards. Hrabarenka is also good at getting himself into shooting and passing lanes, and does not hesitate to block shots.
He’s not purely a defensive defender though, as there is some offence in his game. He has a good first pass out of the zone, and can get the transition game started. Hrabarenka shows poise with the puck, and the ability to make plays from the blue line. He has decent agility and can walk the line allowing him to get his hard slap shot on the net. He may not be a first unit power play guy, but he could develop into a competent part of a second unit going forward. – Last Word On Sports
Recent Roster Graduates:
Reid Boucher, Eric Gelinas, Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill, John Moore, Damon Severson
Honorable Mention: Vojtech Mozik, Connor Chatham, Reece Scarlett, Scott Wedgewood, Blake Coleman, Alex Kerfoot, Josh Jacobs, Blake Speers
Players under 25 years old and with less than 25 career NHL games played qualify as a prospect for purpose of this list.
Written by Peter Harling, who can be found on twitter @pharling