This has been a rough year for the New Jersey Devils. The team is at the bottom of the league in standings, has cap problems, and with a number of devastating injuries it has made us all too familiar with the top prospects in June's draft. More importantly the proverbial rock and face of the franchise, Martin Brodeur, hasn't bailed out the team as he has many times before.
Even more troubling is the succession planning for the goalie position. Johan Hedberg is 37 and clearly not the answer. Prospect Jeff Frazee lost his job while playing for Minnesota in the WCHA and hasn't distinguished himself yet at the AHL level. While Frazee may still yet show why he was drafted in the second round in 2005, the Devils gave themselves some additional options when they drafted two goaltenders in last year's draft, Scott Wedgewood in the third round and Maxime Clermont in the sixth.
Looking back at the comments on Tom Gulitti's Fire and Ice blog and our own site, Wedgewood wasn't an overly popular choice. Reaction was lukewarm at best. His limited experience and low Central Scouting ranking (compared to other goaltenders still available) made him a head scratcher for many. Me included.
Playing for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, he was the primary backup to Matt Hackett (third round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2009 and was called up by the Wild recently). There wasn't much information on him, but one item everyone referenced was his 70 save performance against the Windsor Spitfires. At the time John had as thorough a write-up on him as you could, which you should re-read before continuing on.
Since we are at the halfway point of the OHL season, I thought it was a good time to check in with the Plymouth Whalers' Director of Communications and Radio Play-By-Play announcer Pete Krupsky who has been gracious enough to answer some questions for InLouWeTrust about Wedgewood.
You can catch all Whaler games which are broadcast online on www.plymouthwhalers.com. They are also on the radio locally on 88.1FM WSDP The Escape. Their home games are televised by the Schoolcraft College Sports Network and distributed locally. Be sure to check out http://www.plymouthwhalers.com/video/index for some archived video.
Also, if you are so inclined you can pay for live/archived games at the OHL site here.
After the jump, Pete answers my questions about Wedgewood and his progress, goaltending style and more!
Tom Stivali: First, let me ask you about the 70 save performance that Wedgewood had against Windsor last year: As a radio play-by-play announcer was that one of the top goaltender performances you have seen? What were you thinking as you called the game? (Note, you can read more on the ‘Wedgewood Game' via article on MLive.com that Pete did here and SBNation's Chris Dilks reviewed the game here.)
Pete Krupsky: The Whalers were trailing, 3-games-to-none, to a very good Windsor team, going into Game 4. At the start, I think it's fair to say to if Plymouth could win one game and extend the series, that maybe we could turn it around a little more with each passing game. But you have to win one game first. Wedge was in for game 4 because our lead goaltender - Matt Hackett - was suspended. Still, there was plenty of confidence in him going into the game. It was obvious from the start that Scott was on his game. Plymouth led, 1-0 into the second period and there was a stretch of about two minutes at the 15-minute mark where Windsor simply dominated in the Plymouth offensive zone. Zack Kassian hit the cross-bar and Robbie Czarnik of the Whalers found Joe Gaynor with a pass in neutral territory and he scored on a breakaway. In spite of being outshot by a wide margin (39-14), Plymouth led, 2-0, after forty minutes.
But the Spits mounted a comeback. Typically, it wasn't Taylor Hall who beat the Whalers over the last three years, it was guys like Scott Timmins, Adam Henrique, Dale Mitchell and Eric Wellwood who made the difference. Sure enough, Henrique cut the Plymouth lead to 2-1 early in the third period with a well-placed shot (top shelf) from the right hashmark. The Whalers nursed the lead until the final minute of regulation when (with Windsor having the extra attacker) Greg Nemisz tied the game at 19:21.
Windsor kept coming in the overtime, outshooting Plymouth, 7-4 and Timmins banged home a rebound to win it. I think everyone who watched the game felt like they saw something very special that evening. Still, when the season is officially over, there is a definite feeling of loss.
Tom: Has Wedgewood exceeded the expectations of the Whalers' staff this year, or was he expected to be the #1 goalie at this point in his junior career? Since the Whalers drafted him what areas have the coaches focused on in improving Wedgewood's game? Rebound control?
Pete: I don't think Scott has exceeded anyone expectations this year. He watched Matt Hackett play much of the time over the last two seasons and has learned from that experience. He played only 15 games last year and is nearing the 40-game mark towards the end of January. I think he is learning how to deal with playing a lot of games - how to prepare every night, not matter what the opposition.
Tom: Recently coach Mike Vellucci said: "Wedgewood's been phenomenal. I think he's the best goalie in the league right now." That's quite the statement with Jack Campbell, JP Anderson and Mark Visentin also in the league. I know Velucci is the team's coach, but this is very high praise isnt't it?
Pete: Scott Wedgewood deserves high praise. He could have easily been selected by Team Canada to try out for the World Junior Championships this year. I think Scott is definitely in the mix for next season.
Tom: When he was drafted by the Devils in June, the Devils website published a short interview with him and asked him what type of style he played. In his answer Wedgewood described his style as: "I'm considered a hybrid. I like to make a save in a lot of different ways, I like to play the puck and I like to read and anticipate situations." Would you agree that he is more of a hybrid than a butterfly goalie? Does his hybrid style compare to -dare I say it- Martin Brodeur? How does his style affect his net coverage?
Pete: When Scott is on his game, he is square to the shooter and quick, no matter if in the butterfly or standing straight up.
Tom: One thing goalies will experience-at multiple times in their career-is adversity. You can argue that Wedgewood has already had his fair share. First he was playing the backup role and seeing little time in net before this season. Then once he earned the starting job he wasn't invited to the World Junior Championship training camp in December, despite having similar numbers as other goalies from the OHL invited into camp. How has Wedgewood reacted to these situations? In the long run will those situations help his career?
Pete: Scott Wedgewood is going through the maturation process that will eventually make him a successful goaltender in the professional ranks. It's often said adversity makes you stronger. He's doing well in his first year as the Whalers lead goaltender. I think he'll be even better next season.
Thanks for reading and sound off below! Do you think Wedgewood is the heir apparent for the Devils? Or is it Frazee or Clermont?