About the Author: Father, Husband, Fantasy Sports junkie, Section 3 season ticket holder - NJ Devils, New Jersey Devils Writer - HockeyIndependent.com
Thank you to Jared Ramsden from Hockey’s Future (www.hockeysfuture.com) for taking out the time to answer some questions for me on the future prospects of the New Jersey Devils. Jared is a great resource on the up and comers for the Devils. Be sure to check out his upcoming column (expected to be available in mid-February) on the top 20 New Jersey Devils prospects. Now, time to get to the ten questions I gave Jared about topics I thought everyone would find relevant. (my comments are normal print, while Jared’s replies are below them bolded).
1. What can you say about Adam Henrique? Did you have any idea he would be capable of playing at this level and does he have the potential to maintain his near All-Star level he’s been playing at?
While I’m not surprised that Henrique has cracked the NHL full-time this season, his offensive production caught me slightly off-guard. Obviously playing with two elite players in Kovalchuk and Parise, the points will come, but what’s been most impressive about him is that he’s isn’t riding the coat-tails of those two stars. Coach DeBoer has relied upon him heavily and used him in all situations and he has not looked out of place. I originally had him pegged as a 2nd-3rd line tweener type, but I think he’s already exceeded those expectations with how he’s played so far this year. I think he’ll be a steady 50-60 point producer throughout his career.
2. What current prospect do you think has the best chance to become a breakout candidate like Henrique (if any)?
If you’re looking for a next season breakout, my pick would probably be Alexander Urbom. It might not be a breakout on the scoreboard, but he’s on the cusp of becoming an NHL regular. He’s been deployed mostly in a defensive role in Albany, but he has a great sense of when to integrate himself into the attack and has a powerful shot from the point. He’s a stalwart on the penalty kill and has made strides in his defensive play and positioning. While he’s likely not a future top-pairing defenseman, he’s should settle in nicely on the second-pairing in the not-too-distant future.
3. Is there a guy in the system (or college/junior) that may be a bit off the radar that you think is overlooked by many people?
Two collegiate defenseman come to mind for me. University of Minnesota Junior defenseman Seth Helgeson is never going to wow people with his numbers, but he has all the tools to eventually develop into a mean and physical shut-down defenseman. Standing at a towering 6’5, 220 lbs, he’s an intimidating presence and he actually skates very well for man of his size. He’s still a few years away, but I like the way he’s been developing. Another guy who’s just starting to make a name for himself is Ohio State sophomore Curtis Gedig. He doesn’t have a lot of flash to his game but he is a very well-rounded blueliner with good puck-skills.
4. Do you think the recent demotion of Mattias Tedenby is a major step backwards or do you still think he can reach a high level in the NHL? Any idea as to why it took so long for the Devils to send him to the AHL?
I wouldn’t say it’s a major step back, but it is disappointing to see him not be able to build off such a solid rookie season last year. The way I look at it right now, the AHL is probably the best place for him to be as his confidence was shot and he just wasn’t getting put into the right situation to maximize his skills, which is no fault of his own. Petr Sykora essentially came along and took the top-six spot away from him and obviously the injuries to Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson took away the Devils center depth and left him without a top centerman to play with. I’m not sure why it took so long for him to get sent down, but I think maybe the team was just hoping he’d work himself out of his funk. I still think he has future with the club, and given the age of some of the other forwards on the team, they’re going to need him.
5. Is there an explanation you can think of for why Vladmir Zharkov hasn’t gotten more of a chance at the NHL level? Do you think the Devils are concerned he would have to clear waivers again if he got demoted? I really think he could help in the bottom six even after the acquisition of Ponikarovsky.
It’s been slightly puzzling to me why he hasn’t gotten more of an extended look with the big club, but the waivers concern is definitely something that has probably come into play. Given the problems that the team has had finding the right fits for the 3rd and 4th lines, I completely agree with you and think he’d be just the guy to fit the bill. He’s one of the best skaters in the organization and is a great-forechecker. I think he’s got the perfect qualities to be a good foot-soldier type of player. Whether he gets another look this season though, it’s tough to say.
6. Five years from now, the best NHL player who currently is in the Devils system will be…
To me, it’s a pretty easy choice. Despite the character issues that have dogged him (and came to the forefront this year) causing him to miss half his sophomore season with the University of Michigan, Jon Merrill is the most talented prospect in the organization. He plays with such poise and is so calm and cool on the blueline that it almost looks like he’s not even trying sometimes. He has the skating, puck distribution skills and shot to be a power-play quarterback, something that the Devils have lacked in the organization for a very long time. I still think there is a good chance he will turn pro after this season, but it also wouldn’t surprise me to see him return for his junior season given all the development time he’s missed this season. Regardless, it won’t be long before he’s contributing in New Jersey.
7. Goaltending will definitely be an issue the Devils will have to address in the next season or two. Is Martin Brodeur’s immediate successor in the organization or do you think they will need a stop gap option to get to the likes of Kinkaid/Wedgewood? Are Clermont and/or Frazee truly potential answers at all?
I think Brodeur’s successor is in the organization, but immediate successor, that’s a different story. I’m not sold on Frazee having a long-term future with organization and the other three goaltenders you mentioned, in my opinion, won’t be ready right when Brodeur’s time with the Devils comes to a close. A stop-gap option is a scenario that is very likely to unfold. Kinkaid I think is the closest to being at least ready to be an NHL back-up, but I think Scott Wedgewood is the future between the pipes in New Jersey. He made Team Canada’s World Junior team, and after a sluggish start, is putting up some fantastic numbers back in the OHL with Plymouth. He’s a guy that has the capability to put a team on his shoulders for stretches and is a big game goalie. He’s still a few years away, but I’m very high on his potential.
8. Will the Devils miss Joe Sova after trading him to Carolina in the recent Ponikarovsky deal?
Sova was an intriguing signing by the Devils last spring, but given the depth of the Devils defensive prospect pool, it shouldn’t hurt the team too much. In my opinion, that deal was great asset management by Lamoriello. He used an extra draft pick plus a prospect that was signed as a free-agent for some immediate help. Sova could eventually develop into a NHL’er, but the reality was that he was going to have a hard time working his way up the depth chart.
9. Rank these three Albany D in terms of their long-term potential at the NHL level. (a) Brandon Burlon (b) Eric Gelinas (c) Alexander Urbom
Long-term, I like Urbom. The Gelinas and Burlon. Urbom’s ceiling may not be as high, but he’s much less of a risk than the other two. Gelinas is still very raw, but he’s showing great signs of progression as an AHL freshman after a bit of a slow start. Burlon doesn’t really have a standout skill or trait, but he’s a pretty well rounded defenseman with good mobility. I do eventually expect all three of these players to be key contributors for the Devils in the not-too distant future.
10. Grade Adam Larsson’s rookie season in terms of what he’s done so far. I gave it a B, do you agree/disagree?
There have obviously been some rough patches, especially early on in the season. However, I think ever since he was taken off the power-play unit, there has been a vast improvement in his all-around game. I think he’ll eventually be a guy who contributes on the power-play, but it seems like being free of that duty for the time being has really helped him develop. He’s shown great poise with the puck all-season long and has made some unbelievable passes. I think a B is a pretty fair grade to give him at this point, and I expect by the end of the year, it will be even higher.
I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions and look forward to your future installments on Hockey’s Future. Thank you.
You’re welcome, glad to answer the questions, I’d love to do it again sometime.
If you’d like to discuss this article, the Devils and/or their prospects, please feel free to follow either Jared (@CalDevil3219) or myself (@levinakl) on Twitter.