On this hot and steamy week of July, there will be New Jersey Devils on the ice. Well, to put it more accurately, there will be New Jersey Devils prospects and other invited players on the ice. Today began the team's now annual prospect development camp. Peter DeBoer and the rest of the coaching staff (plus Sergei Brylin) will run drills and scrimmages while working closely with the young members of the organization and others. Most may not make it to the NHL. Some will stick only at the minor professional level. But this is an opportunity all the same to get some notice to the big club for the future.
Based on the roster at New Jersey Devils' official website, the team has 38 players in this year's camp, which they call Rookie Camp. It's technically true, though a handful of players have had some minutes in the NHL. Anyway, the roster consists of four goalies, eleven defensemen, and twenty-three forwards. Plenty of attention will be paid to the drafted prospects; the entirety of the 2012 and 2013 classes are here. However, the Devils invited thirteen players to bolster this year's camp, an increase over the nine from last year. Here's a graphical breakdown of the roster:
I like that the entire 2013 class is in camp. None of them will have to wait for first experiences with NHL-style coaching and drills. I'd like to know how well Steve Santini looks in comparison to the other defensive prospects in this camp, among others. The 2012 class being fully represented is a plus, too. Alex Kerfoot and Artur Gavrus were both not in camp last year so this is a first for them. The one that may draw the most attention from fans is the 2010-pick Reid Boucher. He had a massive year in Sarnia and already got some games in Albany after his junior season ended. My understanding is that the only thing that's "ready" about him is his shot; all else needs some work. This is a good place for the coaches to see how far he's come. How Damon Severson looks would be of interest too. I get the impression he may be too good for juniors but he's not eligible to go to the AHL yet. We'll see what happens with him, possibly in the fall? Stefan Matteau should look good if only because he actually played in several NHL games last season.
Surprisingly, Ben Johnson is also here. He actually came to Newark. Excuse my ignorance, but wouldn't being charged with two counts of sexual assault prevent one from travelling from across the border? Maybe it's been resolved? I haven't seen anything regarding an update about his legal situation. (Aside: Please do not use the comments to pontificate/speculate/argue about the charges. It's too serious for this site, but it cannot be ignored so leave it at this and stick to hockey as you should. Thanks.)
It's telling how far the number of drafted prospects really drop off after 2011. Incidentally, that entire class is also here except for Adam Larsson, who isn't a prospect, and Patrick Daly, who doesn't play hockey anymore. All those missed picks and lack of them really shows here. Not a lot of forwards then help realize why the Devils went so forward heavy in 2012 (and maybe could have gone more in 2013). That said, the pre-2011 group does include some notable players. Jonathon Merrill and Eric Gelinas could be playing for a larger spot in the fall. They certainly think that way based on their answers to Gulitti at Fire & Ice on Monday afternoon. Additionally, Scott Wedgewood remains a potential goalie of the possible future. Defenseman Seth Helgeson will be jockeying for position as he heads into his first season of pro hockey, while Brandon Burlon and David Wohlberg are likely trying to make good cases as their time runs out.
There are a few prospects notably not here. Raman Hrabanrenka was recently signed but he's not in camp. According to the end of this post by Rich Chere at NJ.com, Alexander Urbom isn't here because some European-based players weren't asked to come over in the summer. That's an odd reason since the Devils don't have all that many of those players. According to Tom Gulitti's post about the roster at Fire & Ice, Urbom doesn't have to attend this type of camp since he's been to at least three of them under the current CBA I think that's fine, there's not much he can do here that he can't do at training camp. Why Maxime Clermont, who also doesn't have to attend these camps for the same reason, isn't here, I don't know. It's not like Clermont was doing well in the ECHL. Harry Young is the other signed-but-not-here player, for what it's worth. The unsigned group speaks for itself as to why they're not here.
For me, the most interesting part of the closed-to-the-public camp are the invitees. In the past, this group usually consists of college and other players local to the area as well as those who could be looking for a spot in the organization at the minor level. This year, almost all of them are college players but there aren't any senior college players looking for a position. Most of the thirteen aren't from the area as far as I can tell. I'm not familiar with NCAA eligibilty requirements but it was my understanding that a player can only attend if they get nothing from the team that can be described as a benefit or payment (e.g. room, board, etc.). Maybe that got changed? Whatever the case, they're here and it's clear the Devils have been paying attention to the college ranks last season. Here's the 2012-13 stats for all of them, all from the college's site if available or USCHO, the USHL, or the OHL if not.
The two goalies invited are Brandon Hope of Owen Sound and Jake Hildebrand of Michigan State. Hope's 19 and he's got three years of experience in the Ontario Hockey League. He's mostly been a backup and his save percentages with Sarnia in the prior two seasons were ugly. But he did far better with Owen Sound in 2012-13. He also has a last name that has lended himself to plenty of puns. That's an intangible people understandably don't talk about.
Hildebrand is definitely someone you'll want to keep an eye on. Michigan State hockey wasn't very good last season, but this freshman goalie was far from being the problem. If anything, he helped them from being completely awful. He posted a great save percentage, earned two shutouts, and was not only named the team's most outstanding rookie but also team MVP - the second only Spartan to ever do so. It'll be interesting to see if the little goalie (5'11", 182 lbs.) can continue to be big in the net as Michigan State is a part of the inaugural Big Ten hockey conference. I'm confident Devils scouts and others will keep a close eye on what he does next.
The Devils invited three defensemen and one of them should be familiar to you. It's Delbarton alum, ILWT prospect profiled, and Yale sophomore Matt Killian. Killian had a rough go of it with only 22 games played last season. He did return in time to help Yale in their last two games, the last of which involved smacking down Quinnipiac for the National Championship. I suppose the scouts still like what he's doing since they brought him back. Joining him are Zach Tolkinen of Quinnipiac and Oleg Yevenko of UMass. Yevenko's a 22-year old about to enter his junior year and he's massive. The Belarussian stands at 6'7" and 250 pounds. He wasn't about putting up the points in 2012-13 but I suspect he wasn't asked to either. Tolkinen isn't as big but he's not small either at 6'3" and 190 pounds. He showed some offense to go with some meanness for the Bobcats. He'll be entering his senior year. Should he do well in this camp, I'm sure the scouts will keep watching him to see if he's worthy of a deal somewhere in the organization later.
The nine invited forwards are an interesting bunch in of itself. First, the one non-collegiate player is Frank DiChiara, who played with Dubuque in the USHL last season. He'll turn 19 this September and will attend Yale in the fall. DiChiara finished tied for fifteenth in the USHL in points, third on his team, and scored the game winning goal in overtime for Dubuque to win the Clark Cup. He had a good year, needless to say. It'll be fun to see how he does at Yale.
Second, Michael Ambrosia is like Matt Killian in that he's been here before. He attended last year's camp back when he just a Princeton commit. He finished his freshman year with modest results and missed several games due to injury early in the season. Nevertheless, he rebounded to be named the ECAC Rookie of the Month of January and led Princeton freshmen in scoring.
Third, Dmitry Antipin is the lone invitee from a D-III school: UMass-Dartmouth. His numbers at the college's site and USCHO differed and I couldn't find much from the Massachusets State Collegiate Athletic Conference either. Hence, he's the only one here without shots included. Based on this article at South Coast Today, he literally came a long way to UMD, from Siberia to Finlandia University and now where he's at. He finished tied for fourth on the team in scoring, but he could have a larger role as scorers ahead of him have graduated. Interesting find by the scouts, to say the least.
Fourth, there's a Providence guy here and it's Nick Saracino. Eleven goals and seven assists may not look great at first. However, he finished tied for fourth on the team in points with another freshman and he finished third in goals on the team. The two ahead of him scored 12 and 13, respectively. Saracino, like Ambrosia and plenty of the other forwards on this list, isn't big but if he's produced this much in his first year, who knows what he'll do in the future. I'm sure the Friars would appreciate any help up front.
Fifth, the juniors are the oldest forwards. Needless to say, I doubt these two will sacrifice their senior year to go play minor pro but they could be ones to watch for ATO's and contracts in 2014. Kyle Gibbons is definitely of interest as his 43 points last season was the twelfth highest in all of D-I hockey. His 21 goals tied him for eighth among goal scorers in the nation too. Gibbons just fired away and just kept on picking up points as helped Canisius to the Atlantic Hockey championship in 2013. Should he impress in this week and have a good senior year, then we may see him one day in the system. The other impending senior forward Conor Sheary didn't have a bad 2012-13 at all. While he wasn't as productive as he was in 2011-12, he finished second in UMass scoring in this past season. He's a small player, though, so a bounce-back season of sorts could be his best argument beyond this camp to play at the next level.
Sixth, the other two impending juniors were very productive in their own right. Cody Wydo's 21 goals also placed him eighth in the nation in goal scoring. He not only lit the lamp on the power play but contributed a few shorties as he was second on Robert Morris in points last season. He did enjoy a fairly potent shooting percentage, but he wasn't snakebitten for goals as a freshman as he scored 13. I do like that shooting rate, hopefully that'll continue. Moving on to another Atlantic Hockey product, Ryan Misiak certainly had a strong year for Mercyhurst. He finished second on his team in scoring and doubled his production as a freshman. I don't know enough about college hockey but a 20% shooting percentage does seem high. But even if that comes down, he can certainly keep setting others up to help out.
As a whole, I like the group the Devils invited to camp. They may not be competing for spots in Albany or elsewhere this year, but a good impression now can help them when they do in a year or two. So they'll have something to compete for. Plus, the Devils may find a diamond or two among this rough so it's in their interest to invite as many players as they did. The prospects themselves know what they need to do: work with the coaches, show off what they can do or how they improved over the last season, and make some mark so they can be considered more favorable in training camp or when they finish up their junior or college careers. I wish all 38 involved the best of luck in putting in work at Newark this week.