Looking to Make a Mark at Rookie Camp

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.

The Future is Now: The Devils’ 2014 Draft Picks

The 2014 NHL Draft was held June 27 and 28 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and the New Jersey Devils were looking for two things according to Director of Scouting David Conte: character and strength. Their six picks in the annual Entry Draft gave them just that and a direct connection to the Devils’ early days to boot.

The first round was held in one day, Friday, June 27, and the team’s first pick, 30th overall, on that day was one that had to be fought for. Initially, the team was given the choice of forfeiting a first round pick in either 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014 as part of the penalty for circumventing the salary cap in the Ilya Kovalchuk signing in 2011 (the penalty also included a $3 million fine and the Devils giving up their third round pick in 2011). Upon appeal and review, the NHL reduced the fine to $1.5 million and gave the Devils their first round pick this year (they had chosen to keep the picks in 2011, 2012 and 2013 meaning that they would have had no choice but to give up their first round pick this year). The only caveat was that the Devils had to pick last in the first round, 30th overall. They turned that pick into John Quenneville, a center from the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. Quenneville already had family connections to the NHL: his brother Peter was taken by the Columbus Blue Jackets 195th overall in 2013. His uncle (through marriage) is Johnny Boychuk of the Boston Bruins and his second cousin is Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. His connection to the Chicago head man already gives him a connection to the Devils already, as Joel Quenneville was an original Devil in 1982-83, coming over from Colorado with the Rockies. A defenseman, he scored 5 goals with 12 assists in 74 games and was a -13 with 46 PIMs for the Devils that year. He was traded to Calgary on June 21, 1983 along with Steve Tambellini for Phil Russell and the man who would go on to become the second captain in team history: Mel Bridgman. As for John, according to NHL Central Scouting’s David Gregory (via devils.nhl.com): “He has the pro makeup and is a hard-worker. He makes good plays very quickly and is good at moving the puck. I’d like to see more consistency from him, but I like the way he finds open spaces and his ability to make any kind of pass.”

The second through seventh rounds were held the next day on Saturday, June 28. Taken in the second round, 41st overall was defenseman Josh Jacobs of the Indiana Ice of the USHL. While Jacobs does not have quite the pedigree that John Quenneville possesses, but he is a solid pick for the Devils. He had 5 goals and 18 assists and a plus-36 rating for the Ice, leading the team to the Clark Cup (the USHL championship) one year after they finished last in the league. He has committed to Michigan State for the 2014-15 season, so it will be a while before the Devils can sign him to a pro contract, but according to Greg Rajanen of Central Scouting through devils.nhl.com: “Josh is a solid two-way defender and is still growing into his body. He moves well in all directions and handles the puck well. He can one-time the puck with good pace on his shot and is good at stick defending.”

The Devils next pick was in the third round, 71st overall: Connor Chatham (Plymouth Whalers, Ontario Hockey League). Best comparing himself to St. Louis Blues captain David Backes, Chatham is a right wing that plays a strong two-way style according to devils.nhl.com. He grew up a fan of Brett Hull and the Blues and, at the 2014 NHL Scouting Combine, completed 18 bench press reps, tying for second overall. According to David Conte: “He made great improvement; his productivity was all in the second half [of the season], which lends us to believe it should be significantly better next year. He lends a physical presence, he’s got speed. He’s a big prototypical winger, where, if you ask the general manager, “What do you want to draft?”, they’re going to tell me: a big winger. Well, that’s Connor Chatham.”

The Devils’ fifth round pick, 131st overall was defenseman Ryan Rehill of the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. The Golden, British Columbia native was ranked 76th among North American skaters and put up four goals and sixteen assists in 72 games for Kamloops last year. David Conte’s assessment: “He’s a big, strong, tough defenseman, in-your-face, very difficult to play against. There’s players in the League like [Boston’s] Adam McQuaid that are somewhat similar profiles. … He has the willingness and he has the size and he has the grit. He needs to improve on the skillset in order to use that toughness, but we look forward to having that presence.”

The Devils secured two picks in the sixth round (their last two picks, as the team had traded their seventh round pick to the Arizona Coyotes – the Coyotes would pick left winger Jared Fiegi with that pick). The 152nd overall pick was Joey Dudek. Like many recent NHL draft picks, he comes from a family who has professional sports connections, but not in hockey. Dudek’s father played for the Denver Broncos of the NFL and was picked to win the 1985 Heisman Trophy by Sports Illustrated when he broke Walter Payton’s NCAA record for career touchdowns that year. His son, a Derry, New Hampshire native is a center who switched from winger two years ago, according to devils.nhl.com. He will play next season for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL and has committed to Boston College for the 2015-16 season. David Conte: “He has a significant ways to go, but he has a very high skill level as-is. … He does have pure, natural talent which deviates a little bit from the physical presence that dominated the early part of our draft. … No better program than Boston College.”

The Devils final pick in the Draft, 161st overall was winger Brandon Baddock of the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. Baddock helped lead the Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup (the Canadian Hockey League Championship) last year with six goals and eleven assists in 56 games. The 6 foot 3 inch, 200 pound Baddock also had 128 PIMs. As Conte stated: “A big, strong tough guy that’s evolving. Played on a Memorial Cup champion and got minimal ice time because he was on a team that (is) laden with so much pure talent and older players. His future’s yet ahead of him. He has a willingness and a dimension that when you need it, it’s impossible to find.

With that pick, the Devils wrapped up their 2014 NHL Draft. While the Philadelphia crowd may have given the Devils a rough reception (on TV you could hear the booing every time the Devils were mentioned, which is payback for last year, when the Flyers were booed at every instance at the Draft in Newark!), they certainly reaped a lot from this year’s draft. While ideally, all of the picks would pan out, most sports fans know that this is almost never the case. In some instances, even the top pick overall does not pan out, and lower round “diamonds in the rough” are not uncommon. The Devils are banking on at least their top two picks being NHL-ready within a season or two. If their lower round picks can come through and be NHL-caliber players, that would be great, but the team is looking towards Jacobs and, especially, Quenneville playing for the team in the future and, hopefully, becoming stars in the National Hockey League.