We continue our top 25 New Jersey Devils players under the age of 25 series today. This post will reveal the middle portion of our top 25 ranking. This includes two Albany Devils, a KHL veteran, and two prospects from the CHL. Three of these players were high draft picks of the Devils while the other two were undrafted free agents. Let's take a look at who they are.
#15 - Raman Hrabarenka - D - Age: 23 - 2014-15 Team: Albany Devils (AHL) - 2014 Rank: 27 - Elite Prospects Profile
Hrabarenka jumped up 12 spots on this year's rankings after an impressive third season with Albany. Hrabarenka finished 2nd in scoring among defensemen on the team and tied for 6th overall with 27 points. His 0.57 points per game was tops among Albany defensemen and 5th overall on the team. Hrabarenka also managed to put up 1.72 shots per game which led Albany's blue line. His production was also fairly split between even strength (14 points) and the power play (13 points), which proved he can contribute in both situations. All of this helped the 6'5, 235 lbs. native of Belarus earn his NHL debut on 4/9 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He would finish as a +1 with 16 shifts totalling 11:55 in ice time.
Hrabarenka is likely to play a big role for Albany again next year as New Jersey already has a fairly established group of defensemen on the roster. He could certainly challenge Seth Helgeson or Vojtech Mozik for the 7th spot in camp but it's unlikely he starts the year with the big club. Still, he should be among the first names called up if/when injuries occur. It's impressive that he has played his way into this position with an NHL organization. He came over to North America in 2009-10 and spent the season in the now defunct Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL) which isn't known for producing NHL talent. He was able to turn that season into a QMJHL oppurtunity, where he would spend two years before signing an AHL deal with the Devils, and then eventually a NHL contract. While he still needs to fine tune his defensive game, his offensive skills could help him land a 3rd pairing job in the NHL at some point.
It's not often that you see a 1st round pick go from being nearly a point per game player in his draft year to under it in his 1st post draft year, but that was the case with Quenneville. To be fair to the player, he did suffer from injuries throughout the season and was playing at less than 100% at times. That would also explain why he fell out of the top 6 on a deep Brandon team at times. Among the regular forwards for Brandon last year, he ranked 8th in points per game (0.82), 7th in age adjusted points per game (0.63), and 8th in estimated points per 60 (3.17) according to CHL Stats. When you put the even strength filter on, he moves slightly lower in those rankings and it is notable that he had the lowest even strength goals for (ESGF%) on the team at 54% - which is a testament to how deep Brandon was last season. If you browse through his 2013-14 stats, he ranks near the top among Brandon's regular forwards in the aforementioned rankings. I wouldn't be too alarmed about the drop off in production just yet - it seems that a combination of injuries and lack of puck luck took a toll on him last season.
The good news is that he gets a fresh start this fall. As long as he's healthy, I imagine he'll be able to cement a top 6 role and be productive for Brandon. He'll also have the opportunity to earn a spot on Canada's WJC team this winter. He's already represented Canada at the U17 and U18 levels so he has some international experience. He also has the work ethic, defensive understanding, and ability to win puck battles which coaches love. While he's far from guaranteed a spot, he may be able to carve out a role on one of the bottom lines for Canada. As I said before, hopefully he stays healthy and consistent to ease any doubts that fans may have after a disappointing 2014-15 campaign.
#13 - Josh Jacobs - D - Age: 19 - 2014-15 Team: Michigan State (Big Ten) - 2014 Rank: 20 - Elite Prospects Profile
Jacobs shot up the rankings after an impressive freshman season for a rebuilding Michigan State team that saw him eat a lot of minutes in all situations and mostly excel in doing so. He ended the season being tied for 2nd in defensemen scoring with 9 points in 35 games. He led MSU defensemen in shots per game with 1.77 which is very solid for a rookie. He also earned Big Ten All-Rookie Team honors for his effective two-way play. His strong season even earned him an invitation to the US National Junior Team Evaluation Camp this summer, however he was cut which makes his chances of earning a spot in December camp unlikely but not impossible. Still, to be invited to such a camp is a promising sign for a prospect.
There is no doubt that his experience with the Spartans helped him mature as a player and he will look to continue to his growth with Sarnia in the OHL this upcoming season. In two USHL seasons and a NCAA season, Jacobs has shown excellent mobility, especially for a player of his stature (6'2, 200 lbs.) that loves to get physical in open ice and along the boards. While he's still working on being more consistent with his positioning, he's been able to use his strong skating to recover and break up plays. I'm curious to see if he can continue to progress his offensive game this season in the OHL as he is playing with more talented players than he had at MSU and could get more PP time. His passing game is certainly more advanced than his shot which is hard and accurate, but not deceptive. Jacobs is another one of the quality defense prospects that the Devils have in their system. He has shown that he has the tools that could lead to him becoming a NHL player one day. I look forward to seeing if a year in the OHL can help continue that progression.
#12 - Sergey Kalinin - C/RW - Age: 24 - 2014-15 Team: Avangard Omsk (KHL) - 2014 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Kalinin was signed in late May as an undrafted free agent out of Russia. The young Russian had just finished his first season as captain of Avangard in the KHL where he came up through the youth ranks and would appear in 213 regular season games as well as 39 playoff games for the club. Last season he would break out with 12 goals and 13 assists in 58 games for Avangard after years of steady progression. According to Elite Prospects, that was good enough to tie him for 10th overall in points among players under the age of 24 in the KHL. As Quant Hockey points out, since becoming a regular KHL player at age 20, he's always put up a points per game above the league average and he managed to be above the 75th percentile last season. It's the same story with goals per game which so it's nice to see that he's been consistent and progressing. As his KHL page notes, his shots per game rate has progressed nicely from 1.6 in 2011-12 and 2012-13 to 2.0 in 2013-14 and then 2.3 last season.
The former MHL (junior) All-Star also has some international experience. He won the 2011 U20 World Junior Championship and then the 2014 World Hockey Championship. With success in the KHL and on the international stage, it makes sense for the 6'3, 190 lbs. forward to make the move to a New Jersey organization that can offer him a strong chance to earn regular playing time at the NHL level. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to the North American game and new teammates. We should find out this fall what type of player the Devils have on their hands but so far his resume looks pretty good for a young player.
#11 - Stefan Matteau - LW - Age: 21 - 2014-15 Team: Albany Devils (AHL) - 2014 Rank: 7 - Elite Prospects Profile
Matteau had been ranked in the top 10 for three straight years but just missed out on it this year. A lot of Devils fans will remember his tumultuous first season as a Devils prospect in 2012-13. That year saw him produce at a decent, but not spectacular rate for his junior club before appearing in 17 games with New Jersey in the lockout shortened season. Of course, it's well known that after being sent back to the Q, he eventually had a falling out with the coach and GM which resulted in his departure from the club. That season would also burn the first year on his ELC and would lead to why he is no long exempt from waivers. I have to imagine that a spot with New Jersey is his to lose going into camp partially because of this. The good thing is his defensive awareness, physicality, and strength in puck battles are well suited for a bottom 6 role.
We should remember that Matteau did have a solid rookie season with Albany in 2013-14 with 26 points in 67 games in his age 19 season. He also was on the US WJC team and had 4 points in 5 games with them. Last season, he wasn't able to improve on his numbers all that much as he had just 27 points in 61 games. A 27 game stretch from November to mid-January with just 5 assists played a large role into those mediocre numbers. Fortunately, he did pick it up from that point on with 18 points in his last 31 games. The former 1st round pick has appeared in 128 regular season games for the Albany Devils and has put up 25 goals and 28 assists in that time. He's still young but due to his waiver status, the time is now for him to start making the step into the NHL on a full-time basis.
Do you think Matteau will be able to stick with New Jersey all season? What about Kalinin? What do you expect out of Hrabarenka in camp and this season? How do you feel about Jacobs as a prospect? Do you think Quenneville will bounce back this season? Where did you have these players ranked? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!