I’ve covered the immediate future for Jon Merrill and a draft preview, my thoughts on a Lou Lamoriello succession plan and the future of Bryce Salvador, which brings us to question #7 and which prospects we should expect to see get the best chance to make contributions in 2012-13 season. Having added the likes of Stefan Matteau Damon Severson in this past weekend’s draft certainly has given the Devils some nice value to their list of prospects, but it isn’t very likely that any of these players will add value to the NHL roster for the 2012-13 season similar to Adam Larsson last year. That is not a knock on any of those guys either, it’s just being realistic.
If you take a look at the Albany Devils roster at the AHL level from last season, the names that jump out having a chance to make the NHL roster are forwards Mattias Tedenby and Vladmir Zharkov as well as defenseman Matt Corrente, Eric Gelinas, Alexander Urbom and Matt Taormina. If you want to go beyond just the minor leagues, the name Jon Merrill comes to the forefront. Let’s take a look at these seven players and rate their chances of contributing with the Devils next season.
Matt Corrente: The former 1st round pick in 2006 has almost become an afterthought to an extent, as injuries have derailed thus far what was once thought to be a promising future. At this point, you wonder if a fresh start with a new organization might be best for Corrente, but that won’t happen through free agency, as the Devils gave him a qualifying offer. His experience at the NHL level could leave a spot open for the 7th defenseman role potentially, or even as an injury fill-in.
Eric Gelinas: Gelinas is a converted forward who turned into a defenseman, who was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft by the Devils (54th overall). Listed at 6’4″ 205 lbs, the 21-year old Ontario native appears to have a bright future ahead of him. Coming off a season that saw Gelinas score 16 goals and added 21 assists in his first professional season in 75 games, leaves you wondering what kind of offensive potential Gelinas might add to the team. However, with just one professional season under his belt and at least six NHL defenseman under contract for next season (including the qualified Mark Fayne), there doesn’t appear to be a place for Gelinas next season as a regular.
Jon Merrill: I’ve covered the future of Jon Merrill earlier, and I don’t think even if he decides to turn pro (which isn’t expected), it would be an awful lot to ask of Merrill to jump right in at the NHL level for two major reasons. The first is, similar to stated above, there doesn’t appear to be a roster spot in the regular lineup open for him. More importantly, with the troubles he had this past year, you would think he needs some more playing time to hone his skills before making a real push to join the National Hockey League.
Matt Taormina: Taormina has had his share of experience for the Devils thus far, playing in 47 games over the last two seasons. Injuries cost Taormina a lot of time during the 2010-11 season, but his 5’9″ 190 lb size seems to be the biggest thing holding him back at this point, as he was moved off the puck a little at times this past season. His future is probably of a NHL tweener, and it shows with him being named an AHL All-Star last season. It will be curious to see what kind of interest he garners on the free agency market this summer, but if he returns to New Jersey, I expect him to be in the mix for that seventh defenseman spot and a possible injury fill-in as well.
Mattias Tedenby: It is a story of two vastly different seasons for Tedenby, who showed such promise during the 2010-11 second half surge, but he could not carry that over to last season. Part of the problem was opportunity this past year, but most of it was the fact Tedenby couldn’t finish the offensive chances he helped to generate, and also getting manhandled defensively, leading to a disastrous plus/minus of -15 in 43 NHL games. It was overdue in my opinion for Tedenby to be given the opportunity to work out his problems in the AHL, but even that didn’t work out as well as one might have hoped, as Tedenby continued some struggles down there (although he did pick up his game a bit towards the end of the season). This will be a key campaign for Tedenby, as he will need to take that next step, even if that is showing he can dominate the AHL level. If the NHL opportunity is not there, the Devils should consider leaving him in Albany to get first-line minutes. However, if the NHL opportunity is there, Tedenby needs to grab control of it and not allow himself to lose it by playing a strong offensive game and not being a defensive liability.
Alexander Urbom: Another player the Devils seem to be high on for the long-term, Urbom has 13 NHL games of experience and has scored two goals, giving a glimpse of his offensive skill. It’s the overall game of the 6’4″ 215 lb Swedish native that gives the Devils such hope for the 21-year old Swedish native. Urbom replaced Taormina as an AHL All-Star last season, and had a solid year, posting 2 goals and 21 assists in 72 AHL games, while posting a -9 plus/minus on a non-playoff team. A lot of Urbom’s future will hinge on openings at the NHL level and as potential trade bait, but I think another year at the AHL level is in the cards for him, unless an injury creates a need for Urbom with the Devils. I’d rather bring up a guy like him a little late than to bring him up too early, especially since he has a pretty high ceiling.
Vladmir Zharkov: Recently qualified with an offer by the Devils to keep his restricted free agency status, Zharkov has played in 82 games over the last three seasons for New Jersey, posting 2 goals and 12 assists, but showing a lot of promise in his all around game. I had thought he should’ve been recalled when Jacob Josefson was injured last April. However, the Devils chose to go with Stephen Gionta, and I’d say that worked out pretty well for the playoff run. As per the Newark Star-Ledger‘s Rich Chere, there is a chance Zharkov could play in Russia next season, which could give Zharkov a great opportunity to help his offensive confidence, because it’s hard to find much fault with the rest of his game. At worst, I would think he could play a defensive, fourth line type of role to help build momentum, with a third line ceiling if he’s able to pick up his scoring. At 6’1″ 205 lbs, size isn’t really an issue, and his speed is certainly NHL-caliber. If he stays in North America, this will be a key training camp for Zharkov as he tries to break through at the NHL level.
As you can see above, while the Devils have some good high end prospects, most of them aren’t really considered ready to step in at the NHL level next season, at least not right off the bat. You never know what kind of timetable players will need, its certainly possible a player can force the Devils to create a spot, and if so, that would be a good problem to have. However, as it stands now, the most likely players to be counted on for contributions with the NHL team next season are Mattias Tedenby and/or Vladmir Zharkov up front, and Matt Corrente or Matt Taormina on defense. None of those guys will be counted on as core guys, with Tedenby likely to have the highest ceiling and level of talent.
Guys like Eric Gelinas, Alexander Urbom, Jon Merrill, Stefan Matteau, Scott Wedgewood, Keith Kinkaid and Damon Severson will get their opportunities in the NHL, it just isn’t likely to begin next season in my opinion. Obviously, how these guys train over the summer and come into training camp could accelerate the development clock, but we can re-evaluate that come training camp in September.
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