Within the last few weeks, the New Jersey Devils singed three players to entry-level contracts - Graham Black, Ben Thomson and Ben Johnson. All three will be looking to make the jump to their pro careers next season and help the Albany Devils make the post season for the second season in a row. This post is going to look at each of the three players and what they can bring to the team next season and where they may fit into the lineup.
Black had a breakthrough season with the Swift Current Broncos in 2013-2014. In 2012-2013, Black was third on the Broncos in scoring with 49 points (24g, 26a) in 68 games. He followed that season with an incredible 97 points (34g, 63a) in 69 games.
His 2012-2013 point total doesn't tell the whole story of the season, though. At just 19-years-old, Black was battling Graves' disease, but it got the best of him for a large part of the season. He couldn't keep his weight up, staying energized, and focusing on hockey (understandably). With that note, Black's season is much more impressive.
During February of last year, Black had surgery on his thyroid and hasn't looked back. He worked hard to earn his ELC and expects to do the same when he hits the AHL.
So what does Black have to offer the Albany Devils? He is a strong skater who sees the ice well. While he is a good passer, shooter, and playmaker, he also excels away from the puck. He is solid defensively and works hard to protect his own end. One major bonus to his game is he is strong in the face-off circle. I think he'll be a great asset to Albany next season, even if he doesn't produce as much as he did in 2013-2014 with Swift Current.
Here are some highlights of Black early last season:
Ben Thomson was another one who had a terrific 2013-2014 season. After being traded from the Kitchener Rangers to the North Bay Battalion midway through the season, Thomson changed. While he kept his feisty grit, he added leadership and a scoring tough to help lead the Battalion to the Ontario Hockey League Championship Series. He scored 27 goals and 18 assists in 55 regular season games (24 with North bay) and another 14 points (5g, 9a) in 21 playoff games. He also had 90 penalty minutes during the regular season and 64 in the playoffs. Those numbers are even more impressive in comparison to his 2012-2013 number in which he scored just 15 goals and 17 assists in 67 games.
When he joins Albany, he will be a very different player than Black. He is big and mean, strong in the corners and on the boards and is tough to knock off the puck. He doesn't have the strongest puck skills, but he is a good skater for his size and is responsible in his own end. He isn't going to be a scoring threat at the AHL level, but he isn't a waste of space. I don't know that he'll play the full season in Albany, but may spend some time in the ECHL. I wouldn't get overly excited about his potential.
Johnson is the only player of the three who I think may return to juniors next season as an overage player (both Black and Thomson have played an overage season). Johnson had 53 points (28g, 25a) in 59 games with the Windsor Spitfires last season and one assist in five games while playing for Albany on a PTO. That was a step up from his 37 points (20g, 17a) in 64 games in 2012-2013. While the team only played in four playoff games, he was great scoring six points in those four games (4g, 2a).
Johnson was charged with two counts of alleged sexual assault during the 2013 offseason. He is going to trial for one charge later this month and there is a preliminary hearing for the other next month. When asked about the incidents, he told the Windsor Star,
"I have no comment on that. I just want to focus on hockey. I'm just happy to be signed and move on. I'm a New Jersey Devil now and I'm happy to be there."
He was one of the most consistent players for the Spitfires last season, and the club isn't expecting him back for an overage year - he was said to be one of their most pro-ready players. He believes his time with Albany helped lock up his contract because they saw what he can bring to the team. He was one of the fastest players in the OHL and was used as a top penalty killer for Windsor. While he was on the checking line for the team, he also produced offensively when called upon. He understands how important it is to be responsible defensively, and he takes pride in being part of a team that puts defense first.
If he plays in Albany next season, I think he could bring something special to the team with his speed and special teams ability. I don't know that he will be needed next season depending on who is brought back from the upcoming UFAs and RFAs, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him go pro.
Who are you the most excited to see from the three players highlighted here? Are there any you don't want to see in the AHL? What roles do you see them playing for Albany? Please leave your thoughts and comments below. Thanks for reading!