2015-16 New Jersey Devils Top 10 Prospects

2015-16 New Jersey Devils Top 10 Prospects


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.

Zacha will be given an opportunity to make the Devils roster out of training camp as they are desperate for some youth and skill up front. It is expected he will at least start the season on the Devils, but at 18 years old, he is too young to play in the AHL. It will be interesting to see where he would be assigned if he proves to not be ready for prime time.

Scouting Report:

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.

Scouting report:

 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.

Despite an ankle injury Blackwood started 51 games in his second season for Barrie and raised his game late in the season with a stellar performance against the Belleville Bulls in the playoffs. Blackwood has size and athleticism that projects him as a potential star starting goalie. He will likely play two more seasons in the OHL, then will likely  need some time in the AHL. With Corey Schneider signed through 2021/22, there is no need to rush the next starting goalie for the Devils.

Scouting report:

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.

After Colorado failed to secure his rights, the Devils scooped up the late blooming forward. Blandisi was returned to Barrie of the OHL for an over age season and he dominated, scoring 112 points in 68 games including 52 goals. Blandisi will turn pro and has a shot at jumping right to the NHL. One teams trash is another team’s treasure.

Scouting Report:

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 the second player out of the top five on this list acquired via free agency rather than the draft. At 24 years old, Kalinin is mature and has been playing against men in the KHL the past five years, and he should be able to secure a NHL roster spot to start the season. His size is NHL ready and can play any position upfront. He plays an aggressive, agitating game not unlike Leo Komarov of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Like Komarov, Kalinin has limited offensive upside. Several other prospects in the system have a higher ceiling, but Kalinin is more ready to go.

Scouting Report:

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.

After a mid-season trade to North Bay, Kujawinski came alive after offensively and finished the regular season with 59 points in 61 games. After four seasons in the OHL, Kujawinski will turn pro and start the season in Albany. Consistency has been a struggle for Kujawinski; he shows flashes of elite skill but leaves you wanting more. He will need some time in the AHL.

Scouting Report:

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.

After two seasons in the AHL, Matteau seems to have plateaued as his point totals are stagnant. His overall game has rounded out and he could be ready for a real audition in the NHL. He has played 24 career games in the NHL so far (one short of the cut off criteria for this list) with two goals and two assists. His offensive ceiling seems to be quite low. With a new two year one-way contract, it is time for Matteau to define his career.

Scouting Report:

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.

While in his third season with Brandon in the WHL, his offensive point’s totals dipped slightly which is a red flag, though he was still close to a point per game player with 47 points in 57 games. In the playoffs his offence increased to exactly a point per game, with 19 in 19. He has one more year of junior eligibility remaining before he turns pro. Brandon looks to be a legit contender for a run at the Memorial Cup and Quenneville will be a key part.

Scouting Report:

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 was re-signed to a two year deal in the offseason after having a 22 game audition in the NHL last season, and he did not look out of place. With only two assists in his 22 games, it is clear that he won’t be running the power play anytime soon; his forte is as a big, physical defensive defenseman. He likely will start his third season in pro back in the AHL.

Scouting Report:

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.

Hrabarenka and Helgeson are two very imposing physical defencemen. While Helgeson gets a slight edge in my rankings based on the fact he is two years older and has more NHL experience, Hrabarenka has a higher ceiling. In almost the same number of games in the AHL as Helgeson last year, Hrabarenka produced over double the offensive output with 27 points including nine goals in 47 games. The 23 year old will be hard pressed to crack the Devils defence out of training camp, but would be one of the first options for a call up given his size and offensive potential.

Scouting Report:

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

Catch up on any Top 10 Team Prospect list that you may have missed.

Pavel Zacha

Steve Santini

Mackenzie Blackwood

Joseph Blandisi

Sergey Kalinin

Ryan Kujawinski

Stefan Matteau

John Quenneville

Seth Helgeson

Raman Hrabarenka