Admittedly, one of my weaker points of hockey knowledge is the prospect pool. With so many players in several countries, I haven’t had the time to catch up on the big names and the late-round steals.
Thankfully, Jared Ramsden does this all the time. Ramsden writes for Hockey’s Future, specifically covering the New Jersey Devils. He found some time to answer a few questions I sent him about the Devils’ prospects and this year’s draft. Here is the interview:
Nick Palmieri has three goals in nine games this season. Photo Credit: Julio Cortez/AP Photo
1. We’ve seen players like Nick Palmieri, Mattias Tedenby, and Mark Fayne have an impact this season. What can we expect to see from these rookies as they continue their development?
Tedenby has obviously shown flashes of what he can bring to the table, and now that Lemaire seems to be satisfied with his understanding of his system and the defensive zone, it’s going to be pretty hard to keep him out of the line-up. He’s supremely skilled and very confident with the puck on his stick, What also stands out for me is that for a guy of his stature, he is very strong on the puck. He has the makings of a 25-30 goal scorer.
It’s a little harder to get a read on Palmieri, but I think the team has high hopes for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a little more time in the AHL this year. However, he’s really close to breaking through and sticking. He brings a different dimension than a lot of the other prospects do, in that he has power-forward potential. It might take a little longer for his development to reach full bloom, but he’s on the right path.
Fayne obviously has been somewhat of a surprise this year given that it is his first year as a pro. While he hasn’t been a stand-out and had some up’s and down’s, he’s played quite well for a guy that was playing in the NCAA last year. His upside isn’t that of a Jon Merrill or Alexander Urbom
, but he’s a big kid who can skate well and he might be a prefect fit to have on the third pairing. He still has a little bit of learning to do, but he’s a guy that is likely going to get more and more confident each and every game.
After sitting for nine straight games, Tedenby has found himself back in the lineup. Photo Credit: Seth Wenig/AP Photo
2. How do you project Tedenby to develop? Could he become the next Zach Parise?
I’m not sure if he’s going to reach the status of Parise (35-40 goals, 80-90 points), but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the team and fans alike to see him scoring 25-30 goals, 60-65 points on a fairly regular basis once he’s fully developed. He is blessed with so much natural skill, and what’s he’s shown briefly this season, is only going to magnify once he matures and gets more confident.
3. The Devils have replenished the system a bit in the past few years, but how is the overall health of the Devils’ system. Where is the organization weakest/strongest?
The health of the Devils system is vastly improved from years past, and what we are seeing now is the first wave of prospects coming from the AHL. More than half of the prospects in the system are either in their first or second years of pro hockey, and are getting to the point where the team knows what they have in certain players and if they are going to be part of the future or not. Guys like Tedenby, Vladimir Zharkov
, Palmieri, Fayne and Corrente are getting chances to strut their stuff right now, and guys like Adam Henrique
, Jacob Josefson
, David McIntyre
, Alexander Vasyunov
and Urbom are right behind them.
The team could definitely use a little more top end talent at any position, and they may just get a chance to address that this year if they end up drafting in the top 5, which at this point is very likely. The goaltending depth is defintiely a weak point, but with the addition of Scott Wedgewood
and Maxime Clermont
last draft, this is an area that is starting to be addressed and will be continued to be addressed over the course of the next two-three years.
Who else is excited to yell "Ur-BOMBED" when Urbom scores goals? Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
4. Reading through your analysis of the prospects, it seems like the Devils have several role players in the minors. Do you expect any top-six forwards or top pair defensemen to emerge from the system?
That is a very accurate assesment. There are a bunch of players in the system that will fill out the third and fourth lines mid-bottom pairing defense spots in the near future, but there are a handful of players that offer some hope to become more than that.
Upfront, Tedenby, who has been talked about in great detail is definitely one to watch. Josefson likely won’t ever be a number one center, but he has the makings of a perfect second line guy. Had he not injured his hand earlier this season, he might still be up in New Jersey. Henrique is the interesting one. He probably fits better on the third line, but he has the ability and tools to become more than that.
On the blueline, there is Merrill, who has been great as a freshman at the University of Michigan has outstanding potential, and very well may emerge as a #2 or #3 guy. Urbom was probably pushed a little faster than he needed to be earlier this year, but he’s been a rock down in Albany and is back on track. One guy who doesn’t get too much talk is Eric Gelinas
. He’s in likely his last year of junior, and is now on a team that could be contending for the Memorial Cup. He’s very raw, but he’s starting to mature and show the skills that made him a second round draft pick.
5. Just how good can Merrill be?
I’ve been able to watch him play a few games for the University of Michigan and at the World Juniors, and in my opinion, this is the best Devils defense prospect the team has had in quite sometime. His character concerns obviously caused him to slip a touch in the draft, but right now he is looking like a steal. The poise he is playing with as a freshman at a big-time University program is quite impressive, as is most importantly, he is the focal point of the Michigan power-play. I don’t know if he will be a #1, franchise type defenseman, but he has tremendous upside and I think he could very well end up being a #2 or #3 guy for the team in the very near future.
6. Can Clermont and Wedgewood develop into solid NHL goalies, or will it be another Jeff Frazee situation?
Projecting, drafting and developing goaltenders is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do in hockey. You can just as easily draft a number 1 goaltender in the first round as you can find one in the 7th round or sign as an un-drafted free-agent. What we’ve seen from both Wedgewood and Clermont early on in their tenure in the organization has been quite promising, but it’s still too early to know if they will be able to develop into number one goaltenders. They both appear to be on the right path though. I haven’t completely given up on Frazee just yet, but obviously, he is spinning his wheels a little bit in terms of his overall development.
Ramsden believes Larsson could become a rock on the Devils' blueline. Photo Credit: Rick Stewart/Getty Images
For the 2011 Draft:
1. Who, in your opinion, would best fit the Devils’ needs?
While it would be mighty tempting to take a forward like Sean Couterier, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Gabriel Landeskog, what this team desperately needs is a franchise defenseman. And the prospect that fits the bill, and this is going on the basis that the team will be picking in the top four or five picks, is Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson. It is much easier to go out and acquire a forward to help offensively, than it is for a team to go out and deal for a elite defenseman. They don’t grow on trees and teams don’t give them up easily. The best thing for the Devils to do, would be to draft Larsson, and let him develop into the #1 defenseman that many are projecting him to become. Imagine a future defense-core containing Larsson, Urbom, Gelinas and Merrill as your top four defenseman. That is a very tantilizing thought.
2. In other pro sports, we see draft picks make almost immediate impact (Sam Bradford, John Wall are examples of this.) What timetable can we expect for a recently-drafted NHL prospect?
That’s a great question. I think a lot of it has to do with opportunity, and if the team that drafted a particular player has an immediate need at a certain position. A great example of that is Cam Fowler
of the Anaheim Ducks this year. While he fell all the way to #10, he landed in a perfect spot in Anaheim. Scott Niedermayer recently retired and they needed someone to step in on the blueline. He has fit in perfectly there, and he might not have been afforeded that opportunity if he was drafted to another team. The expectation now-a-days of a good number of NHL prospects drafted early in the first round is to step right into the line-up. But a team won’t rush a player if he’s not ready and if they don’t feel that they have a spot for him right away.