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Zacha, Santini among Devils' top five prospects

by Mike G. Morreale /

New Jersey Devils coach John Hynes knows how difficult it is for young players to realize their dream of playing in the NHL.

Hynes spent the past five seasons mentoring many talented prospects as coach of Wilkes Barre/Scranton, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"It's more mental than physical for these young players hoping to get their shot and remain in the NHL," Hynes said. "It's about focus at practice or meetings and understanding that the rhythm of the season can catch up with you. Sure, these kids may have the speed, the talent and the ability, but the mental component of being able to do it consistently every day is what separates those who are ready and those who are not.

"With high-end prospects, the player will usually tell you just by watching him if he's ready or not."

Hynes is hoping to uncover a few of those players at training camp.

Here are the top five prospects in the Devils system, according to

1. Pavel Zacha, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 6), 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: Sarnia, OHL: 37 GP, 16-18-34

Hynes liked what he saw from the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Czech Republic native at development camp in July. The 18-year-old, who has been working out this offseason in Anaheim, Calif., roomed with defenseman Damon Severson during camp and was very impressive.

"He's a real character kid; he fits in with the group," Hynes said. "We're really proud of him just in the fact of his work ethic and who he is. He's very levelheaded and grounded, and he's taking it all in stride and now it's nice for him to be able to step back, get away from the limelight of hockey, and just really focus on his training and getting himself prepared for September."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

2. Steven Santini, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 42), 2013 NHL Draft

Last season: Boston College, H-East: 22 GP, 1-4-5

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound right-hander sustained a right wrist injury against the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in late October and missed 11 weeks recovering from surgery. The 20-year-old decided to return to Boston College for at least one more season but could be a prime candidate for a full-time role with the Devils very soon. He was named to the 2015 United States national junior team preliminary roster for the World Junior Championship in Montreal and Toronto but was unable to play because of his wrist injury.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

3. Stefan Matteau, LW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 29), 2012 NHL Draft

Last season: Devils: 7 GP, 1-0-1; Albany, AHL: 61 GP, 12-15-27

Hynes has a familiarity with Matteau since he coached against him in the AHL. The 21-year-old was signed to a two-year, one-way contract in July. Matteau has two goals and four points in 24 NHL games. He expects to be an impact player, using his big frame (6-foot-2, 216) going into the corners to win puck battles and create opportunities.

"And every once in a while put a puck in the net and put someone on his back," Matteau told

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

4. Seth Helgeson, D

How acquired: 4th round (No. 114), 2009 NHL Draft

Last season: Devils: 22 GP, 0-2-2; Albany, AHL: 48 GP, 2-11-13

Helgeson (6-foot-4, 215) has a lot going for him with his size and physicality along the blue line. He certainly wasn't a liability when given his chance in 22 games with New Jersey last season and would be the most capable replacement if unrestricted free agent defenseman Bryce Salvador opts not to return. The left-handed shot, who turns 25 in October, is very durable despite his physical approach to the game: He played in 121 straight games for the University of Minnesota dating to his freshman season in 2009-10.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

5. Raman Hrabarenka, D

How acquired: Signed as free agent, July 12, 2013

Last season: Devils: 1 GP, 0-0-0; Albany, AHL: 47 GP, 9-18-27

Entering his fourth pro season, the right-hander is on the cusp of earning a regular role in New Jersey. The native of Mogilev, Belarus, has great size (6-foot-5, 235), can skate well, and plays a physical game. He had career highs in goals, assists and points in Albany last season. Hynes wants to give Hrabarenka, who turns 23 on Aug. 24, a strong identity. In addition to having the strength, the skating, and physical presence, he's adept as making plays off the rush.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16


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