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Devils hope for good things from youngsters

Monday, 07.28.2008 / 9:00 AM / Prospects

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor


Petr Vrana can play center or the wing, and could fill the skates of the departed Sergei Brylin in New Jersey.
Petr Vrana highlight video
When David Conte, the executive vice president of hockey operations and director of scouting for the New Jersey Devils, views the club's development pipeline, he likes what he sees.

"I like the prospect size and strength of our wings and the size and strength of our defense," Conte said. "We have some guys with mobility in the long view."

The team also addressed a hole at center by drafting four in June.

"Essentially we had a real void at center and I'm not uncomfortable with what we were able to do at the draft with two or three guys that are complete players," Conte said.

Here's a look at some of the players who could challenge for NHL jobs.

CENTERS

Petr Vrana -- In his third season with the organization, the 2003 second-round selection (No. 42) broke out with 20 goals and a team-best 61 points for Lowell.

Vrana can play center or the wing, and with his speed and growing responsibility at both ends of the ice, he could fill the skates of the departed Sergei Brylin with the big club.

Patrice Cormier —With the second-round pick (No. 54) they acquired from trading down with Washington in the first round of the 2008 Draft, the club selected plus-size center Patrice Cormier from the QMJHL's Rimouski Oceanic.

The 6-foot-2, 201-pounder had 18 goals and 41 points in 51 games for the Oceanic despite missing time with a concussion and shoulder injury. He led the team in scoring in the playoffs with four goals and nine points in nine games.

Cormier projects as a bigger, stronger John Madden, but with a bit more offensive upside.

"Patrice is at his best when he is using his speed and playing an aggressive game," NHL Central Scouting's Christian Bordeleau said. "He is a hard worker and is hard to knock off of the puck. At this point in his development, he projects to be a third line-type checker. He's the type of player who likes to play in traffic and likes to drive to the net."

Adam Henrique
-- Another two-way player, the Devils took the Windsor Spitfire center with their 2008 third-round pick (No. 82).

"I think (their defensive style) fits my style of play," Henrique told the Brantford Expositor. "I kind of play the same way as the whole team plays."

The 5-11, 183-pound center had 20 goals, 44 points and a plus-17 rating in 66 OHL games. He was second on the team in playoff scoring with two goals and five points in five games.

WINGS

Nicklas Bergfors -- New Jersey's first-round pick (No. 23 overall) in 2005 made the team out of training camp last fall, but a shoulder injury in his first game and a surplus of forwards in New Jersey saw him shipped to the Lowell Devils of the AHL by mid-October. Another shoulder injury limited him to just 66 games, during which he had 12 goals and 15 assists.

The Devils remain high on the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Swedish right wing, who is just 21 but already has four professional seasons under his belt.

"I think Nicklas needs to be productive at what he's good at," Conte said. "He's got a good shot and a good nose for the net, but you can't just be promise to have it, it's got to show itself."

Nick Palmieri -- When Conte talks about the size and skill of his prospect forwards, one of the players at the top of his list is the 6-2, 215-pound right wing taken in the third round (No. 79) in the 2007 Draft.

Playing for a last-place Erie Otters team in the Ontario Hockey League, Palmieri was second on the team with 28 goals and fourth with 46 points in just 50 games. He also had a goal in nine late-season games with Lowell.

The Devils signed Palmieri to a three-year, entry-level contract last summer, and hope he continues his development with another season in Erie.

Playing for a last-place Erie Otters team in the OHL, Nick Palmieri was second on the team with 28 goals and fourth with 46 points in just 50 games.
"He needs to do it with regularity," Conte said. "When he gets the puck on the wall, get it to the center, and then get open."

Alexander Vasyunov -- The Devils are high on the 5-11, 189-pound left wing, even though he played 39 just games with Yaroslavl in the Russian Super League over the last two seasons.

"I hope he's here sooner than later," Conte said. "He's very promising, strong, skilled, courageous. He's got unique dimensions of skill that we'd really like to see how they manifest themselves here. I'm excited about his prospects. We'd like to see him here sooner rather than later."

Taken in the second round (No. 58) of the 2006 Draft, Vasyunov had four goals in 22 games in the RSL last season. An injury kept the 19-year-old out of the 2008 World Junior Championships.

Vasyunov was born in Yaroslavl, so he has made little effort to come to North America before now.

"He plays for a team in the town he grew up and that means a lot," Conte said. "His logic isn't misplaced, but the practicality of it is it's the choice he's making. We want to respect that (but) the door is open, please come. He can make himself a nice career and do it sooner rather than later, but he has to feel that way."

Barry Tallackson -- The 2002 second-round pick (No. 53) had a strong season at Lowell, leading the AHL club with 22 goals and finishing second with 45 points.

At 6-5 and 215 pounds, the 25-year-old has the perfect build for a power forward, and finally has learned how to use his size to his advantage. It earned him a three-game stint with the Devils in the second half of the season.

"He's got enormous talent," Conte said. "I think he's improved every year as far as application of that talent."

Nathan Perkovich -- An eighth-round pick (No. 250) in 2004, Perkovich had another outstanding season at Lake Superior State University. After tying for the team lead with 15 goals in 2006-07, Perkovich scored a team-best 17 and finished third on the squad with 25 points this past season.

Perkovich skates well, but at 6-5, he needs to add some bulk to his 195-pound frame.

"I think he needs to get stronger, grow into his body," Conte said. "Nice shot, nice release, (he's) got some enthusiasm. I expect him to not have a good year, but to have a great year."

Brad Snetsinger -- Undrafted after three straight trips through the selection process, Snetsinger signed with the Devils in December 2007, and the club might have lucked into a future player.

The 6-foot, 175-pound left wing finished second on the Windsor Spitfires this past season with 37 goals, 52 assists and 89 points.

Snetsinger's playoff run with the Spitfires was cut short when he was suspended after a high-sticking incident, but he did practice with Lowell before the season ended. He'll get a chance to win a full-time job with the AHL club in training camp.

"He's got strength and maturity. Nothing wrong with his game. He's a productive goal scorer, great penalty killer, great speed, smart. He's been a very good pick for us." - David Conte on Matt Halischuk
Matt Halischuk -- A national hero for scoring the winning goal for Canada at the 2008 World Junior Championship, Halischuk could bring his game south of the border sooner rather than later.

The 2007 fourth-round pick (No. 117) had 59 points in just 40 games with the OHL's Kitchener Rangers last season, but his 13 goals were down from the 33 he posted in 2006-07.

"We expect things from him," Conte said of the 5-11, 177-pound right wing. "He's got strength and maturity. Nothing wrong with his game. He's a productive goal scorer, great penalty killer, great speed, smart. He's been a very good pick for us."

Mattias Tedenby
-- The Devils traded down in the first round to grab the Swedish left wing with the No. 24 overall selection in the 2008 Entry Draft.

Tedenby played most of last season in the Swedish junior league, but had three goals in 23 games with HV-71 in the Swedish Elite League. He also tied for the team lead with four goals and eight points at the Under-18 World Championships and made the tournament All-Star team

The only knock on Tedenby is his size, which is generously listed at 5-10 and 176 pounds.

"He's very confident," Conte said. "He thinks he's 6-2, and that's all that matters. He's a dynamic person and a dynamic player. He's fearless and gifted."

DEFENSEMEN

Matt Corrente -- The club couldn't be happier with the development of their 2006 first-round pick (No. 30).

"He's a gritty, tough kid, mobile, good defensively one-on-one, good feet," Conte said. "He's going to play against the best players in the (NHL); it's a question of experience. There's no hurry. There's a lot of urgency for him to push himself to be better every day. It's just, get better so that he's ready to be there 15 years."

The 5-11, 189-pounder had 15 points and 64 penalty minutes for the OHL's Niagara IceDogs, but was limited to just 21 games due to injuries and an eight-game suspension. He returned for the playoffs and had five assists in five games.

"He's tough, gritty, competitive to a fault sometimes," Conte said. "But it's better than to have to tone them down then fire them up."

Mark Fraser was second among Lowell defenseman with 18 points, and first with 17 assists.
Mark Fraser highlight video
Mark Fraser -- The 6-3, 195-pounder taken in the in the third round (No. 84) of the 2005 Draft continued to develop in his second professional season. He was second among Lowell defenseman with 18 points, and first with 17 assists.

With an abundance of veteran NHL defensemen, the team will let Fraser develop at his own pace and make him earn a spot with the big club.

T.J. Miller -- The 2006 fourth-round pick (No. 176), Miller is rounding into a solid all-around blueliner at Northern Michigan. He had two goals, nine points and a plus-2 rating in 42 games. A sophomore, he also served as one of the club's co-captains.

"He's moving up the ladder there," Conte said.

Mark Fayne -- Like Miller, Fayne, taken in the fifth round (No. 155) of the 2005 Draft, will be allowed to develop slowly in college.

While the 6-4, 220-pounder's offensive numbers were off from his freshman to his sophomore season, the Devils are happy with his development.

"Fayne had a great freshman year," Conte said. "He had a better sophomore year than he thinks. His expectations might not be in the right order. I think he could have a really nice career, he's 6-4 and mobile like he is."

Tyler Eckford -- A project pick, the Devils are ready to reap their reward for being patient with their 2004 seventh-round pick (No. 217).

A converted forward, the 6-3, 220-pounder was second at Alaska-Fairbanks with 31 points and tied for third with eight goals last season. He also led the team with 83 blocked shots, and was named a RBK West All-American, becoming the first player in the program's history to earn first-team All-American honors.

Signed in March, he'll have a shot to start his pro career in the AHL next season.

"He's mastered the last step (college hockey)," Conte said. "He's ready for the next step."

"He's not an overly big defenseman, but he has really good mobility and a good shot from the point." - Chris Edwards on Brandon Burlon
Brandon Burlon -- Taken in the second round (No. 52) of the 2008 Draft, Burlon had 23 points in 45 games with St. Michael's of the Junior A-level Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League.

The issue with taking players from a Junior A league is how they handle the step up in competition, and Burlon has signed on to play at the University of Michigan next season.

"He's not an overly big defenseman, but he has really good mobility and a good shot from the point," NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "He jumps up into the rush well, but needs to improve on his defensive reliability. He played in a really small rink this year and was still able to move the puck quickly and well. Puck-skill wise, he's good, and as he moves up, his decision-making will improve."
 
Matt Delahey -- Another big defenseman, the Devils tabbed the 6-1, 215-pounder from the Western Hockey League's Regina Pats in the fourth round (No. 112) in the 2008 Draft.

"He plays a steady game and when he is able to simplify his game and stay within his realm he is reliable on the point," NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan said. "He's not an overly physical defenseman; he moves the puck well and doesn't panic under pressure. In order to improve his game he needs to make quicker decisions with the puck."

Delahey had 19 points, 68 penalty minutes and a plus-7 rating in 68 games with the Pats last season.

GOALIES

Jeff Frazee -- With Martin Brodeur looking like his Hall of Fame career will extend forever, developing a netminder has been a difficult process for the club.

"It does pose a problem," Conte told the (Newark) Star-Ledger. "We've drafted goalies in the past and their developmental process has maybe been partially impeded, psychologically if not realistically, by the fact that we have Marty."

Frazee struggled mightily in his second season at the University of Minnesota, losing his starting job as he went 6-7-1 with a 2.93 goals-against average and an .890 save percentage in just 14 games. He signed with the Devils after the season ended and will begin his pro career in the fall.

"Jeff signed and he's made a really serious commitment physically," Conte said. "It's about confidence. I have a lot of faith in him."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.



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