Thursday, July 25, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: New Jersey Devils

Get that fist pumping, the New Jersey Devils are up next.

Reid Boucher - Sarnia Sting
Hard to complain about the season Boucher had this year. He was the first OHL player to crack the 60 goal mark since Brett MacLean in 2007-08, and his 62 goals was the highest mark since John Tavares' 72 the year prior (06/07). Last year I wrote about his skating holding him back, in addition to his inability to create his own scoring chances and his lack of three zone presence. Well all three things improved this year. His skating still isn't above average or anything, but it's very clear that he's worked on his explosiveness and because of that he was able to hit openings more effectively and be more effective when carrying the puck off the rush. He was also more confident with the puck and more aggressive in trying to make things happen with it. He was more active in the corners and was willing to work hard away from the puck. Lastly, his defensive zone play improved, as he was more engaged on the backcheck and working hard to tie up forwards and win battles along the boards in his own end. His shot is 100% NHL ready and I think he's going to score his share of goals in the AHL next year. As long as he continues to improve the rest of his game, he should develop into a quality goal scoring winger at the NHL level.

Artur Gavrus - Owen Sound Attack
It was kind of a wasted season for Gavrus. He finally made it over to Owen Sound in January, but  it took him some time to really gain back the trust of his coaching staff. He started on the 4th line and saw limited ice time, but was up to a scoring line and the powerplay unit by March. I still like him as a prospect. When he's on his game, he brings a lot of offensive energy to the ice. He's aggressive as a puck carrier and plays a lot bigger than his size. Once he gets stronger, he'll be able to play that role even more effectively, as he can still get knocked off the puck rather easily. He's signed to play in the KHL next year and I'll be interested to see how he does. If he struggles, I can't imagine the Devils sign him.

Ben Johnson - Windsor Spitfires
It wasn't a great year for Johnson in a lot of ways. On the ice and off the ice. Off the ice, he's facing multiple sexual assault charges for incidents that happened near the end of the season. On the ice, his play wasn't great either. His offensive game didn't progress the way that I figured it would and I actually felt he was less effective as a forechecker and physical presence. He was rather invisible in several of my viewings of Windsor this year, which definitely wasn't the case in his draft year. When he wasn't scoring then, he was at least noticeable as a physical energy guy. Next year the Spits should be a better team and Johnson will be expected to take a step forward. They'll need him to return to form, and if he doesn't, he runs the risk of falling out of a top 6 role. Anything less than a 50 point season would be a disappointment and likely result in him going unsigned by New Jersey. 

Ben Thomson - Kitchener Rangers
I wasn't really a fan of the selection when it happened and I still don't see Thomson as an NHL player or prospect. He's obviously got great size and he can push people around, but his skating and ability to handle the puck aren't good enough (at least yet). He can be effective as a board player in the offensive end and isn't afraid of standing in front of the net, which are definite positives. I think he's a no brainer to send back to junior for his overage season. Quite often guys his size can put up some big offensive numbers as a 20 year old in the league. Sending him back to increase his confidence offensively would ultimately give him a better chance of developing into a useful NHL prospect and I do think he could have a decent year in 2013/2014. I could definitely see a 25-25 year.

Ryan Kujawinski - Kingston Frontenacs
I really liked the Kujawinski selection by the Devils. It's been no secret that I've been a fan of his. I think his inconsistencies this year were related to him trying to find an identity with the team and were confidence based. He's got a lot of potential as a complete, power forward. He can rifle the puck. He can create off the rush and off the wall. He can throw a big hit. He can win faceoffs and work hard on the backcheck. He just hasn't been able to do all of those things consistently at the same time. Kingston has a young, up and coming team. They'll be exciting to watch over the next few years. I fully expect Kujawinski to have a better season next year, and I'd be surprised if he's not a 60 point guy.

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