The 2014 edition of the New Jersey Devils Rookie Camp closed up last week with a lot of decisions to be made by the team’s coaching staff. A talented group of rookies helped their cases to crack the opening night starting lineup and stick with the team throughout the 2014-15 NHL season. Who will ultimately join the big club and who will join the AHL’s Albany squad for more seasoning? Some players will return to college or their junior teams, having gained the experience of attending an NHL team’s camp. Most look promising and will be solid NHLers, if not for the Devils than elsewhere in the league. Overall, this was a learning experience for all involved and it will give the team and the players a better understanding of where they stand.
One of the most interesting developments at Devils Rookie Camp (which took place at the AmeriHealth Pavilion adjacent to the Prudential Center, which is used as the Devils practice facility) was having three Brodeur brothers on the ice at the same time: goaltenders Anthony and Jeremy and forward William. Although Marty may have left the organization for now, the Brodeur name was well represented. Anthony, the oldest at 19, drafted by the Devils in 2013 at the NHL Draft at Prudential Center, was 13-10-2 in his last campaign with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He also posted two shutouts and a 2.90 GAA. Jeremy just finished his high school career at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota. He had 22 wins in his 26 games played with four shutouts last season and will play next season for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League. William, the lone Brodeur brother skater had 10 goals and 22 assists in 46 games last year for Shattuck.
One of New Jersey’s main issues going into the Rookie Camp (as well as the team’s regular training camp which starts next month) was defense. As pointed out by Mike Morreale on NHL.com, both Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas had an impactful season as rookies last year. This was due to injuries causing holes in the lineup that needed to be filled. Merrill and Gelinas, along with Adam Larsson, are looking to make their mark on the team this year and will definitely compete for spots come training camp after the departures of defensemen Anton Volchenkov, who was a compliance buyout by the Devils and signed with the Nashville Predators, and Mark Fayne, who signed as a free agent with the Edmonton Oilers. But this shows the players who showed up at AmeriHealth Pavilion that they can make the team, and to be ready should the club need them. The injury bug will hit during a long NHL season and the youngsters know that they can be called up to fill roles at any time. In addition, the Devils know they need to get some younger legs on the blueline and are taking the necessary steps to make this happen. A good mix of youth and veteran leadership (everywhere on the ice, for that matter) should give the Devils the opportunity to compete in a tough Metropolitan Division. Other standouts on defense were Seth Helgeson (taken 114th overall in 2009) and Damon Severson (60th overall in 2012). Helgeson, a University of Minnesota product spent last year with Albany and had one goal and nine assists, 100 PIMs and a plus-12 rating for the A-Devils in 75 games played. The large (6-foot 4-inch, 215-pounds) physical defenseman has been training under Devils assistant coach and former Stanley Cup winning captain, Scott Stevens, a man also known for his physical presence. Severson just completed his fourth season with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League and had 15 goals and 46 assists for 61 points, good for being tied for sixth in scoring amongst defensemen in the WHL. Like Gelinas, he possesses a great shot from the point, according to Morreale. This is something that can help the Devils power play: having more than one defenseman with a hard, accurate shot to help anchor the power play units.
Up front, some of the main standouts are guys who already have NHL experience: forwards Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau. Boucher, selected 99th overall in 2011 had the most NHL games played of everyone at the camp, with 23. He had two goals and five assists last season. Matteau, 29th overall in 2012, had 17 games played back in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and had one goal and two helpers. Boucher has a scoring touch, as he converted a shootout attempt for the Devils last season, which is something that not many players could say in the first half of the campaign. He ended up fifth in scoring for the Albany Devils notching 38 points in 56 games. Matteau, meanwhile, played his first full pro season last year for Albany (he was sent back to his junior team after his brief time with the Devils in 2012-13). He had an even 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points in his debut season in the AHL. The Chicago native also played for Team USA in the 2014 World Junior Championship. He had three goals and an assist and 10 PIMs in five games. According to the Morreale article, coach Peter DeBoer wants to see Boucher bring a “workmanlike mentality” to his game. The coach invoked former team captain Zach Parise’s name when he said he told Boucher: “… Whether he’s playing on a first line or fourth line, he has to bring that workmanlike mentality. I told him that the beauty about Zach Parise was that he was a first-line player with a fourth-line work ethic. I think Reid can take some notes from that.”
In the net, the race is to see who will be Cory Schneider’s backup next year. The battle should come down to Scott Wedgewood (84th overall in the 2010 draft), Long Island-native Keith Kinkaid and Scott Clemmensen (who was signed to a two-way contract as a free agent from the Florida Panthers). Wedgewood played for Albany last year (his first full season with the club) and posted a 16-4-3 record, including four shutouts. He had a 2.39 GAA and a .899 save percentage. Morreale quoted Wedgewood as saying that he feels he might be able to use another year in Albany for seasoning. He said that both Kinkaid and Clemmensen were older goaltenders with experience. While he is right, injuries do happen and were Schneider or his eventual backup to go down with injury, the other two goaltenders left in Albany have to be an option to be ready. Obviously, there is a tendency to look at the goalie situation as being back to square one: with an established veteran (in past seasons Brodeur, now Schneider) in the number one position making it hard for a younger guy to crack the lineup. With the acquisition of Clemmensen, things might look even bleaker for the 25-year-old Kinkaid and the 21-year-old Wedgewood’s chances of making the NHL squad. But when everything shakes down at training camp in about a month, the best goalie at camp will end up being Schneider’s number two and the others will bide their time in Albany waiting to make their mark with the big club.
Things seem very promising for the Devils up and down the lineup going into training camp. Rookie Camp helped make things a little more clear and the standouts from that camp may very well be walking out of training camp as full-fledged NHLers, realizing their lifelong dream and making an impact for the New Jersey Devils. In the NHL, youth will be served and this year was and is no exception to that rule.