Welcome to the 2014 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2014 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2014 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2014-15 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoffs) or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
2013-14 The Easy Story: Last season didn’t start well when two of the Devils leading goal scorers in Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson were no longer with the team. This coming just one year after the loss of Zach Parise. Additions of Michael Ryder, Jaromir Jagr, Ryan Clowe, and Damien Brunner were supposed to fill those gaps, and while some produced, others didn’t quite work out. This lack of scoring cost the Devils a playoff spot.
2013-14 The Real Story: The Devils were a much better team than their record shows. A strong posssesion club, the Devils were short circuited by a combination of the worst shootout record ever, some bad luck with a high possession rate and number of shots just not leading to goals, and platooning goalies where one of the two was the clearly inferior player, but continued to get starts due to some well-earned team loyalty for a hall of fame career. Combine all that, and the Devils really deserved better at the end of the year.
In terms of off-season changes, the biggest is that the legend, Martin Brodeur, is gone. Brodeur rides off into the sunset as one of the greatest goalies of all-time, no doubt about that, but he was a shadow of his former self last season and this is Cory Schneider’s team now. Anton Volchenkov was bought out and Mark Fayne was also allowed to leave. Additions include Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat upfront; and Scott Clemmensen as the backup goalie.
Top New Jersey Devils Prospects
Top Prospect: Damon Severson, Defence
Born Aug 7 1994 — Melville, Saskatchewan
Height 6.02 — Weight 209 — Shoots Right
Drafted 60th overall by the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 NHL Draft
After being drafted late in the second round in 2012, Damon Severson took his game to another level over the last two years. Playing big minutes and in all situations for the Kelowna Rockets, he was a force at both ends of the ice. Offensively he scored 52 points in 71 games to finish 6th amongst WHL defencemen in scoring in 2012-13. He did even better this year with 61 points in 64 games though he finished 7th amongst WHL defencemen. He also was a force at the defensive end of the ice, killing penalties, playing against top lines, and helping lead the Rockets to the top of the Western Conference. Unfortunately, despite Severson’s 18 points in 14 playoff games, the Rockets fell in the conference finals in five games to Portland.
Severson has ideal NHL size (though he needs to add muscle to his frame), and is a solid two way defender in the WHL. Severson is a fluid skater. He has a great first step and very good acceleration. He reaches his top speed quickly, and this helps him to shake off forecheckers in the defensive zone. However, he is more quick than fast, as his top end skating speed is only slightly above average. He does have good mobility, as he is agile and makes good pivots and changes of direction. This allows him to cover a lot of ice despite the lack of top end speed.
Offensively Severson has improved leaps and bounds over the last two seasons. He has a great point shot, including a very hard one-timer and is used on the point in Power Play situations. His passing is good and crisp, especially in starting the breakout and transition game. Severson showed real improvement in his decision making. When a play wasn’t there, instead of forcing a dump into the corner or a safe pass to a non dangerous place, he showed poise with the puck, and his lateral mobility to open up passing and shooting lanes and make a more productive play. This has led to a lot more offensive opportunities, and you can see the effect on the stat sheet.
Severson’s biggest strength was once his defensive game. The revelation of an offensive game is a welcome addition and may have raised his ceiling as he truly is a two way defender now. However that doesn’t change the fact that his defensive game is superb. He is a great shot blocker, one of the best in the WHL. While not usually a big hitter, Severson is physical in battling hard along the boards and working to keep the front of the net clear. A big body, he does use his size to his advantage. His agility and mobility allows him to keep opposing forwards to the outside and keep most plays in front of him. His strong hockey sense allows him to diagnose plays and anticipate plays and shut them down before they get started.
Severson will likely spend the 2014-15 season in the AHL with perhaps the occasional call-up when injuries hit. With Jon Merrill, Adam Larsson, and Eric Gelinas already in the NHL the Devils have plenty of youngsters finding their way in the big leagues. There is an outside chance Severson could steal one of their spots with a great camp, but its more likely he is given plenty of responsibility in Albany before being eased into the NHL lineup.
#2 Prospect Stefan Matteau, Left Wing
Born Feb 23 1994 — Chicago, IL
Height 6.02 — Weight 216 – Shoots Left
Drafted by the Devils in the first round, 29th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft
After a much publicized dispute that ended his QMJHL career in 2013, Matteau spent this past season as one of the youngest players in the AHL, putting up 13 goals and 26 points for the Albany Devils. He also played with the US team at the World Juniors, putting up 3 goals and 4 points in 5 games. Overall though it was a year without any major incidents and Matteau was said to have matured as a player and person according to some reports.
When you watch young Stefan Matteau, you can definetely see the influence that his father has had on his son’s game. Like his father, Matteau is a gritty, hard working, winger who is capable in all three zones. Matteau seems to relish playing a physical game, is effective on the boards winning battles, and protecting the puck in the cycle game. He is more likely to bull through a defender than to go around them. Matteau has a hard, heavy wrist shot and a decent release. When Matteau doesn’t have the puck in the offensive zone, you can find him near the opponents crease. He gets to the front of the net and causes havoc when he’s there attempting to screen the goalie, tip in goals, and bang in rebounds. Matteau just loves initiating contact and is a very physical player. He’s also likely to be found right in the middle of any after the whistle scrums. His offensive game is a little limited by his average passing skills and vision, and his average hands making moves in tight to the goal, and around defenders.
Matteau is a smart defensive player. He has very good positioning and is active in the defensive zone. He uses his stick to effectively cut down on passing and shooting lanes, and uses his physical game as effectively in the defensive zone as he does in the offensive zone. He can however sometimes have issues with especially quick opponents. Matteau still needs to work on his discipline and while he was able to avoid major incidents (ie long suspensions) this year, he can still get overly emotional and take a bad penalty at a bad time. He must learn to be physical without crossing the line.
Matteau’s skating is good for a man his size. He has very good top end speed, and has really worked to get better in his first step and acceleration. Increased agility gives him the ability to make quick cuts and changes of direction. He is very strong on his skates and has great balance. Its very difficult to knock Matteau off the puck, and he has a powerful stride when he gets going which helps him to charge the net effectively and play that strong power game.
Matteau still needs a little more seasoning at the AHL level, and a little more maturity (he is just 20 years old, after all) and that should come with time. He has potential to be the type of power forward that every team craves, and could be seen in call-up duty this year.
#3 Prospect: Steven Santini, Defence
Born Mar 7 1995 — Mahopac, NY
Height 6.03 — Weight 207 — Shoots Right
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 2nd round, 42nd Overall at the 2013 Nhl Draft.
Santini spent his first year in the NCAA and put up 11 points for Boston University as a freshman. However, the contributions Santini brings are often things you don’t see on the score sheet. Santini’s true value is in his defensive game. He is extremely well developed in this aspect of his game, and a true shutdown defender. He has good size and at 6’3″ 207 lbs, has a well developed frame for an 18 year. Like nearly all prospects in this draft he could add some more muscle mass, but Santini is ahead of the game in this area. He plays a very strong physical game, clearing the front of the net, and working hard in battles along the boards. He maintains great gap control, always keeping himself between the puck and the net. Santini is a willing shotblocker. He’s also willing to lay a number of big hits if given the opportunity. Players need to keep their heads up if coming down Santini’s side of the ice, as he’s been known to throw some very punishing hits. Those who try to sneak by Santini along the boards have to be fearful as he is capable of making them pay the price.
Santini is a great skater. His straight line speed both forwards and backwards is excellent. He has a good first step and excellent acceleration based on compact, powerful stride. He has great edgework and pivots, and his strong agility allows him to quickly change direction and cover a ton of ice. The skating skill gives him the ability to be a top notch defender.
Santini’s offensive game is massively underdeveloped. He has a good first pass in his own end, but is not likely to lead or join the rush. He is also not much of a playmaker in the offensive zone as he is more likely to dump the puck into an open corner than to use the patience and poise required to make a play at the blueline. He does have a low and hard slap shot, but he really doesn’t utilize it enough.
He should be back at Boston University this fall to continue to develop at both ends of the ice.
#4 Ranked and Super Sleeper Prospect Reid Boucher, Left Wing
Born Sep 8 1993 — Lansing, MI
Height 5.11 — Weight 195 — Shoots Left
Selected by the New Jersey Devils in round 4, #99 overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Reid Boucher graduated to the AHL this year after a terrific junior career. He had a strong first year in the AHL and even earned himself a long look in the NHL. While he was only able to score 2 goals and 7 points in 23 NHL games, he is young and there is plenty of hope that he will find his offensive game in time.
Boucher is a natural sniper, pure and simple. He has an outstanding wrist shot and very quick release and combines that with a great one-timer. Boucher has soft hands and good stickhandling ability which also allows him to score goals in tight. At lower levels, whenever Boucher plays with a linemate who can get him the puck you can expect he’ll find a way to make it find the back of the net. He must now learn to translate that ability to the NHL. He is willing to work in the corners and in front of the net, but he’s more the type who is willing to take a hit to make a play than the type who will initiate contact.
Boucher’s skating is very hit and miss. He has good agility and a great first step. This helps him to pounce on loose pucks in the offensive zone in order to keep the play alive for a teammate, or to let go one of his fantastic array of shots. Boucher is a very elusive skater who can get away from defenders just long enough to be open for a scoring chance. However Boucher needs work on his overall speed and acceleration. They are merely average and he has trouble creating off the rush as a result. He might be able to get by a defender, but he doesn’t have the speed or acceleration necessary to pull away from defenders and drive the net effectively.
Expect Boucher to again start the year in the AHL and be used when injuries occur. He could be a secondary scoring option for the Devils down the road.
The Devils system is very, very strong in defence. While they aren’t prospects anymore Merrill and Gelinas are having an NHL impact, and there is still hope that Larsson can live up to his draft position. Add in Severson and Santini, along with Seth Helgeson and Reece Scarlett also looking good in the AHL, and the newly drafted Josh Jacobs and the Devils have a solid backbone for the future. In goal Keith Kincaid will battle with Clemmensen for the backup role in New Jersey; while Scott Wedgewood continues to develop. The depth isn’t quite as strong up front as it is on the blueline, but it isn’t lacking either. Quenneville and Chatham are good additions to the group. Graham Black has a great story as a kid who fought through Graves disease and put up 97 points in the WHL last year, he moves to Albany this year. Blake Coleman continues to work at the NCAA level. Ryan Kujawinski and Ben Johnson are a pair of OHLers who had good, but not great OHL seasons after being drafted in 2013. In terms of projects there is former WHL defenceman Myles Bell, who made the transition to forward and had a monster season in Kelowna. He could be an interesting player to watch in Albany this year. Overall the biggest criticism of the Devils system is that it lacks a true blue chip prospect, or franchise defining player going forward.
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