Friday, July 24, 2015

Taking A Rough Look Back at Pre-Season Predictions for the 2014/2015 Season

For those of you who remember, I did a few posts about what to statistically expect from some free agent signings for their teams. The posts can be found below:

Radim Vrbata - Vancouver Canucks
Mike Cammalleri - New Jersey Devils
Paul Stastny - St. Louis Blues

I'm going to take a quick look to see how my projections for them turned out this season:

Radim Vrbata -  Projected: 28 goals, 60 points / Reality: 31 goals, 63 points

Mike Cammalleri - Projected: potentially make Travis Zajac a 50-60 point center and significantly increase Jagr's production from playing on a same line as them / Reality: unfortunately, not even close to that. I don't know why I didn't put a specific point total production for Cammalleri, but he did score 27 goals, leading the Devils, despite having Zajac moved around lines and having Jagr traded near the end of the season.

Paul Stastny - Projected: 23 goals / Reality: 16 goals.

I know this is a really quick look, but it's also an attempt to see what I need to improve upon in my writing as well as what needs to be better clarified in terms of statistics. As the time goes by I think I will be able to write more about statistical evaluations of players, but for the moment, I'd like to try and focus very strongly on prospects.

But hey 1/3 isn't bad right?

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Better Know A Devils' Prospect: Josh Jacobs

To the dismay of almost the entire Devils fanbase, the team selected the 6'2" 192 lbs defenseman, Josh Jacobs with their second round pick (41st overall) in the 2014 Entry Draft. I too was surprised that we didn't go with a forward, but our track record with drafting defensemen the past few years had been very impressive, so I was hopeful. Josh Jacobs was drafted out of the Clark Cup-winning USHL team (Clark Cup is the USHL championship trophy), Indiana Ice...the same team that we drafted forward, Blake Coleman, from three years before. Many of us didn't know too much of what kind of a player we were getting since the USHL is a tough league to find streams to. (On another note, I might have to get a subscription to I'm not too happy about having to spend $23 a month for it...that's the only way I can think of to get streams for the USHL games.) So we just had to go with some initial scouting reports to see who Josh Jacobs was, and the term that kept popping up was "two-way defenseman".

His draft stock significantly improved in his draft-eligible season though, as he played a key role in helping the Indiana Ice win their USHL championship, scoring 5 points (3G 2A) in 12 playoff games.

This following report is based off of my viewings of Jacobs as he played for Michigan State in the NCAA as well as my live viewing of him when Michigan State came to play Princeton University (anybody near the Princeton area should really really go see a game there in Hobey Baker arena...even though the team is struggling they just hired a new coach and the arena is one of, if not, my favorite arenas to watch hockey in):

I will start off by saying that Josh Jacobs is absolutely a prospect with Top-4 potential. His skating is fantastic. He excels at it, and has very high top-end speed. His acceleration and long, fluid stride are key to his fantastic skating ability. His skating is in every since of the word, smooth. His agility helps him play better defense in terms of his positioning. He's also not afraid to hit, and make a big one as well. On that note, while he's not nearly as much of a hitter than Steve Santini, Jacobs is still able to lay down a big hit on an incoming attacker. When I saw him live, he didn't make any big or hard hits, but he was physical in his play along the boards and did a great job stopping opponents from entering the defensive zone.

It should be known at this point that Jacobs was playing on the top defensive pairing for Michigan State University, as a 19 year old true freshman. He was also named to the Big 10 (B10, B1G, or however it's supposedly spelled) all-freshman team, along with 4 other players, including notable NHL draft prospects, Zachary Werenski (drafted 8th overall in the 2015 draft by Columbus) and Dylan Larkin (drafted 15th overall in the 2014 draft by Detroit). Needless to say, this is extremely promising for everybody involved. Anyway, during this game I was at, Jacobs had a bad giveaway to start the game off (the opening face-off was won back to him, where he tried to gather in the puck so he could control it and ended up giving it right away to an opposing forward) but completely cleaned his game up after that. His initial scouting reports have said he tends to have some mental lapses and can go on cold streaks (rather streaky in general), I already saw a difference in his thinking and overall consistency (even if it was just for one game live). His ability to recover from his initial rather large mistake really stood out to me maturity-wise. Not only was Jacobs playing on the top defensive pairing for his NCAA team, but he also played (not only in the live game I saw of him, but the entire season) on key powerplay and penalty kill units, switching back and forth between the top and second units. However for the most part, he found himself more on the top units.

The unfortunate thing is that Jacobs did not score a goal last season. I don't want this to change anybody's perception of his shooting abilities, because he has a bomb of a slapshot...not quite near Gelinas level, but getting towards Mozik's level. With his shot, he just needs to work on his accuracy. One time during the game, while play was still going on and MSU had a powerplay in Princeton's zone, I turned to speak to my father who was next to me about what I liked and didn't like from Jacobs that game and we heard a massive boom sound. It was a puck hitting the wall, but it was significantly louder than any other boom sound of pucks going into boards that game. It was Jacobs' shot. I know sound isn't the only measurement in shot velocity, but his shot's boom was consistent, as in he always hit the puck hard, but it usually missed the net.

When he's not shooting, Jacobs displays some very keen vision with the puck, and is able to make a fast break-out pass when he's in his own zone. In the offensive zone, you can see how well Jacobs sees the play around him, and how well he can pass through lanes and pick apart defenses. While he's not a pure offensive talent, there is still significant promise in that department.

A great player comparison (stylistically) would be Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers. A scout for the Indiana Ice describes him as a "hybrid of Jay Bouwmeester and Mike Green"...which is a very large compliment.

A little over two months ago, I may have been more, we got news that Josh Jacobs was leaving the Michigan State University ice hockey program to sign with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League (they owned his rights after drafting him in the 4th round of the OHL Priority Draft). This is a pretty big decision for him and while we don't necessarily know exactly why he left, we do know that Shero supports it and calls it "an absolutely, positively personal decision". On a fun note, there was once a defenseman who played at Michigan State University and left early on to play in the CHL...his name was Duncan Keith. While this is certainly not a real comparison between the two, it's fun to hope right?

Either way, we'll get to see Jacobs play for Sarnia next year in the OHL, which is a much easier league to watch games for me, despite not being able to view them live...I might have to drive up to Canada again like I did earlier this summer. Additionally I think it's fair to say that Jacobs will slot in on the top defensive pairing for Sarnia (I know he has to earn it, but it everything goes as planned he should) where he will be playing along top draft-eligible defenseman, Jakob Chychrun. This will be huge for Jacobs because he gets an extremely talented defensive pairing partner that he can learn from and can work to communicate well with. (If Zacha heads back to Sarnia to continue development, it will be all the more reason for me to watch and follow Sarnia.)

I don't believe Jacobs has top-pairing NHL potential, but he most definitely has top-4 potential. It will be wonderful to track his development in the OHL, but I think his stats will be padded a little by having Chychrun as a partner, so that's something to keep in mind. He's solidly built, plays a great all-around game, and has, in my opinion, already made some significant progress in his development, despite what the stats may say (MSU got off to a really slow start to the season, but was able to pick it up at the end).

In the end, though, I'm very happy with this selection, and while I was hoping we would have drafted a forward like Brayden Point or Christian Dvorak instead, I am actually very happy with Jacobs and I wish him all the best in his development in Sarnia.

I'm very happy to have seen Jacobs play live, and wish to do this with all of our prospects. I look forward to seeing Jacobs at development camp this year. I'm excited as to what he'll do if he plays in the 3-on-3 tournament. While he still needs to work on his hands and stickhandling, he should still be a good threat.

Follow me on Twitter @DTJ_AHockeyBlog for more updates, or so we can chat, or feel free to DM me! Sorry if I can't get to all of your comments or questions, I'm still working on my responsiveness, but I'd love to hear any questions, comments, or suggestions you may have.

Thank you so much for your support, and thank you for reading this. I hope you enjoyed it!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Better Know a Devils' Prospect: Ryan Kujawinski

Let's talk about Ryan Kujawinski.

Drafted 73rd overall in the 3rd round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Ryan Kujawinski is a big center, standing at 6'2" 207 lbs, who has a whole lot of promise. He's got all the pieces to be a strong NHL player and contributor: he's big, skates very well, is able to hold his own in terms of physical play, and has an outstanding shot. Back in his draft year, he was originally considered to be a potential first round pick, but his inconsistent play dropped him all the way to the third round. Interestingly enough, the Devils didn't originally have a third-round pick that year. When the devils traded down from 39th overall (after trading the 9th overall pick for Cory Schneider) to 42nd overall (to draft Steve Santini) we also picked up the 73rd overall pick as well, which we used to select Kujawinski.

Ryan Kujawinski has been developing his game in the Ontario Hockey League, playing roughly 3 seasons with the Kingston Frontenacs. Halfway through this last season, Kujawinski was traded to the North Bay Battalion with 34 games left in the season.

Up until this point, we had seen such potential with Kujawinski; his ability to just take over games and get into scoring areas  to release his great wrist shot. Over the years of his development, he definitely has struggled with consistency, and would sometimes go several games without scoring a point. The fact that he came very close to a point-per-game scoring pace each season despite his inconsistency issues and playing as the 2nd line center. He's always had the capability to eclipse a point-per-game, which is why it was frustrating to watch him struggle to reach it, and there's no doubt in my mind that there was a very high level of frustration in Ryan's mind. The raw skills are there and they have always been there.

That's why I really think he turned a corner this year in the last half of his season while playing with the North Bay Battalion. In 34 regular season games, he scored 36 points (21G 15A). While it doesn't seem like too much numbers-wise, it seems like it was a different Kujawinski playing. He was poised, confident, and consistent with his efforts. This play carried over into the playoffs as well, when he scored some absolute key goals for the Battalion, including 2 overtime game-winning goals.

Kujawinski plays a very strong and physical game. He is not afraid to hit, and does so quite often without going overboard, but he is very strong along the boards and is able to stickhandle well through opposing players. As he works on improving his top-end speed, he is able to skate very well already. He describes himself as a "primarily offensive player...but can hold his own in his zone". I do very much agree with this statement. Kujawinski has such high-end potential, but is still very raw, but has been refining his game in the OHL. Defensively, he's not often caught out of position and can help out in board battles. He was used on the 2nd penalty kill unit, I think mainly as an offensive threat, but he is also able to make some good defensive plays.

One of the things I love about Kuja's offensive force is that he knows how to elevate the puck very well and, more importantly, he knows when to elevate it. He is absolutely lethal when he has the puck either between the face-off dots or closer to the opponent's net. While his main weapon is his wrist shot, he does also have a very solid one-timer. He is also able to "dangle" pretty well around defensemen and goaltenders with his very long reach. In terms of playing style comparison, I would compare Kuja to Ryan Getzlaf. I know that's a dangerous comparison to make because of how good Getzlaf is, but Kujawinski plays a very similar game style, with a little less high-end defensive skills that Getzlaf has.

Ryan Kujawinski was signed to a 3-year Entry Level Contract back in late May, and will most likely play in Albany next season, barring a huge performance at development camp. Kuja is an extremely intriguing prospect. Before this past draft, I believed Kujawinski to have the highest ceiling out of our forward prospects. His numbers are good, but I think his play is even better.

I don't expect Ryan Kujawinski to make the big team right out of development camp, but I do expect him to turn some heads, especially at the 3-vs.3 tournament...which I can't make it to because of work...but without getting too distracted, Kuja is a very big boom or bust type of player. We need to be as patient as possible with him in Albany, much like Boucher. If he does pan out, he will be a strong force to make and finish plays for us. He is able to play left winger as well, which adds to his versatility, but is better off suited as a center.

Follow me on Twitter @DTJ_AHockeyBlog so we can chat, or feel free to DM me! I'm more than willing to answer any questions you may have, but would also love to talk.

Thank you so much for reading this, and I hope you enjoyed this!

Friday, July 10, 2015

An Early Look at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft: My Initial Top-10 Ranking

Just tell me if this is too early for a 2016 draft post, since we haven't even started our own prospect development camp, but I wanted to put out my initial top 10 list before the season started. In all honesty, I think the Devils are most likely looking at another top-10 pick next season, which is why I'm only including 10 prospects to look at. As the season progresses, I will be keeping track of the new prospects as well as how ours are doing.

So without further ado, here is my current top-10 prospects for the 2016 draft and a quick bio about each one.

1)Auston Matthews C - This 6'2" 195 center is another franchise center. Born and raised in Arizona, a big part of me is hoping that he goes to the Coyotes (if the Devils don't win the draft lottery). Very much like Jack Eichel, Matthews is an American-born potential franchise centerman that is an all-around player with a 6'2" roughly 195 pound frame. With that being said, the similarities pretty much end there. While Eichel's game was around speed and his elite-level acceleration, Matthews' game focuses more on strength and practically better vision. It is still undetermined where Matthews will play next season, as he was trying to sign with ZSC Lions of the Swiss NLA (top-tier league in Switzerland), but had troubles with customs. I assume he's looking to play in another European professional league, but if he does not, he will be with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL. It's amazing to think that if Matthews was born 2 days earlier, he would have been eligible for the 2015 draft. But either way, Matthews is the clear-cut #1. His vision and passing is incredible, and his ability to finish plays makes him look like a pure goalscorer. He thinks the game well, he's a phenomenal skater, an all-around great player and is willing to be physical to get the job done. For those who don't remember, Matthews played for Team USA at the World Junior's championship as 2nd line center. As an underager that's impressive enough, not even including scoring 3 points in 5 games. Miles Wood also played a little bit on Matthews' line. One last bit on Matthews and then I'll move on: He broke the single season record for points scored for the USNDP, with 116 points (55G 61A) in 60 games. He's an incredible blend of offensive talent, all-around responsibility, speed and strength.

2) Jakob Chychrun D - I watched Chychrun's play while I was initially looking at Zacha while they were playing for Sarnia of the OHL. Chychrun already has the demeanor of a top-pairing defenseman. I don't want to take away from Chychrun's own personal abilities, but when you see him, think of Aaron Ekblad. That is a phenomenal professional style comparison. Skill-wise, some scouts think Chychrun is actually further along in his development than Ekblad was at that age. As another testament to his skill level, Chychrun was selected to Team Ontario U17 team in the World Hockey Championship U17 tournament during his 15-16 year old season. This was the first time that had happened in the history of the entire program. Really, Chychrun has everything one could want in a defenseman. He's active on both sides of the rink, has incredible vision, is incredibly mature both physically and mentally. (6'2" 194 lbs). His shot is fantastic as well. It's important to know that Sarnia was not a strong offensive team, and when Tampa Bay Lightning top defensive prospect, Anthony DeAngelo, was traded to Sault St. Marie in the middle of the season, Chychrun was able to step up big time to quarterback the powerplay. This is a bit of a cliche saying, but Chychrun would go 1st overall in just about any other draft, and he still has the potential to, but he will need to have a legendary season to surpass Matthews. Nonetheless, I think Chychrun is a fantastic young defenseman and will have a strong impact on whatever team selects him next year in Buffalo.

3) Jesse Puljujarvi RW/LW - One of my favorite prospects in the upcoming draft, plain and simple. I wish I could get the accents on his name right, but anyways, Puljujarvi is currently playing in the Finnish *Liiga*, the top-tier professional league in Finland. If you look at the stats on his EP page I linked right above, it says he put up 11 points (4G 7A) in 21 games, however he didn't get any ice-time at all in 2 of those games, which means he had (when he was playing, at least) 11 points in 19 games. He switched back and forth between the top and second-best professional leagues in Finland. While Karpat played in the playoffs and ultimately won the championship (from a goal scored by Carolina's 35th overall pick this last draft, Sebastian Aho...but that's a different story), Puljujarvi was playing in the playoffs for his loaner team in the second-highest league. There are rumors that Puljujarvi was not in good shape and therefore did not do as well in the later part of the season, but this is not a problem in my opinion. Yes physical fitness is incredibly important, but he's also playing against men much older than him, and all-in-all last season, with all the league play, playoffs, and international tournaments, Puljujarvi played about 96 games last season. While he's a big guy, 6'2" 185 lbs, that's still a lot on a yougn man. Where Puljujarvi intruiges me the most is his pure offensive might just be the best in the draft class. Defensively, he's okay..needs some work, but nothing good coaching and a good work ethic can't work on. Puljujarvi played for Team Finland in the most recent World Junior Championship and was (like Matthews) an underager. In 5 games, he didn't put up any points, which was really astounding considering how many shots he took and how many scoring chances he created. To me, he's like an Ovechkin/Kovalchuk hybrid in terms of pure goal-scoring potential. He's a great skater, but doesn't quite have that explosive stride that younger Kovy had. Puljujarvi played on the 2nd Powerplay unit for Karpat (in Liiga) and is an important key to the Powerplay. Much like Ovechkin, Puljujarvi's go-to spot (it seems) is staying around the top of the left face-off circle and unleashing bomb after bomb of shots. If he can refine his accuracy on his shot and work on his skating and defensive play, he might be the best Finnish prospect to come around in a very long time...and that's saying something with how good of a prospect Rantanen was/is.

4) Chad Krys D - Krys was the best defenseman on the Team USA U-18 team. I think he has the potential to be the second best defenseman of this draft. Had he announced an intention of going to the QMJHL, he would most likely have been drafted 1st overall in their Entry Draft, but was instead drafted in the 7th round. However, he is most likely to go play in the NCAA this upcoming season, as both of his parents are alumni of BU, and since he's from Connecticut, he is also considering BC as well. Krys is a high-end offensive defenseman. He needs to work a little on play in his own end, but from the neutral zone up, he's an explosive player. His major strengths include puckhandling, speed, and overall intelligence on the ice. Krys oftentimes joins the offensive rush as a 4th forward. Krys is extremely patient with the puck and has a pass-first mentality, and while his shot isn't great, his incredible vision allows him to view open passing lanes. His skating and agility is really superior. His combination of skating and puckhandling makes him terribly difficult to stop in 1-on-1 situations. Krys sometimes tends to get out-muscled along the boards and in front of his own net, but when he addresses his defensive work he will be a great offensive defenseman. I look forward to following his career wherever he may end up at this next level.

5) Matthew Tkachuk LW - Tkachuk plays a game that's bigger than his size. He's improved his skating a lot in the past season. He's a pretty smart player, so he always finds his way around the puck. His positioning is very impressive as well. He is strong on the forecheck with his ability to intercept passes and read plays. He's one of the top American-born players this draft year. He plays well below the face-off circle in the offensive zone and has good vision and passing ability. I really like his shot too. All-around he's a good and effective scorer with top-6 potential. He needs to refine his game and improve his overall abilities. The next year in London of the OHL will be a big step for him, and I think he will transition well.

6) Max Jones LW - It's going to be an interesting course to watch over the next season who becomes the better LW, Max Jones or Matthew Tkachuk. They are both committed to playing in London of the OHL next season, and that will make it easier for me to watch. Max Jones is a very impressive power forward winger. He's got some soft hands and never seems to back down from opponents. He does possess a deceiving shot as well. He's extremely physical in his play and is extremely competitive in his physicality. He just plays a hard game overall. Sometime he can lose his cool, and needs to work on his discipline. I do like his quickness and shot. He's got one of the better shots in the draft class. It's going to be great to watch him develop his two-way game and his defensive play. However, he does have great potential. He is one heck of a hitter. He's lower on certain lists too, but I view him as the Lawson Crouse of this draft...big skilled guy that may get some flack because he's not necessarily as skilled as some of the others, but still has a lot of potential and skill to go along with his size.

7) Clayton Keller C - Keller plays a very fast and creative game. He is very patient and poised when he carries the puck. The concern about him is his size (5'9" 165 lbs), so it will be good to see how he overcomes that at BU next season and possibly the years after. He's got great hockey sense, which is one of his best attributes. Although I mentioned his size possibly being a holdback for him, I think he will do a good job adjusting to it, if he hasn't already...In a sense he doesn't have a choice. Offensively, he's a dynamic talent, and has the potential to be a true offensive force for BU. For what it's worth, he's a graduate of Shattuck St. Mary's, one of the best prep school hockey programs in the country. Keller was a real stand-out talent in the U-17 World Championship tournament. Additionally, I thought he played very well for Team USA at the World U-18s this year. I will mention his size one more time because it is important to understand the importance for him to build strength and size because sometimes he has trouble standing his ground against bigger opponents along the boards and whatnot. However, he has a great motor to drive to the slot and he scored a beauty of a backhand at this year's U-18 World Championships. He is a very intriguing prospect and I hope he is able to add some major strength to his frame.

8) Dmitry Sokolov C/LW - I put Sokolov this high because I really like the skills he brings to the table, but am worried about the organization he is going to play with. Born and raised in Russia, playing throughout their junior systems and whatnot, he was just drafted 3rd overall in the CHL Import Draft by the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL. I'm worried since there are questions about the structural organization as well as the structure make-up of the team, and if a team doesn't have a good overall structure, it can severely hamper a young player's development. That being said, there are some very promising skills from the young Russian. While not necessarily a skill, he's a beast of a man, standing at 6'2" 212 lbs. He's a shot generating machine but has fantastic vision and patience at the same time. I do think his game is better suited as a winger, but we will see where he is positioned in Sudbury next season. It's interesting because he most likely would have made it into some KHL games this next season had he stayed in Russia. Of the guys on this list so far, I think Sokolov has the chance to move around the most on draft lists. I don't think it will be nearly as much as Gurianov's all-over-the-place'ness (if that makes any sense at all), and especially since he will be most likely playing in North America next season so we'll all get a better look at him, but I think there is a high chance to not only rise, but for him to drop as well. I know his numbers aren't too impressive on EP, but just remember that he did that as a 16-17 year old kid playing in a league against guys up to 20 with significantly more experience. At the beginning of the season he scored his first goal of the season in his second career game, and then in his third career game, he scored a hat trick. I think we are sitting on a ticking time bomb of a player with Sokolov. There is just such raw intense skill that is waiting to be unlocked. He's #8 on my list because of the issue of whether or not he unlocks it. He's kind of like the Pavel Zacha of this draft. There's an immense amount of talent, we just need to give him the best conditions in which to have that flourish. I will be eagerly watching Sokolov because after Puljujarvi, Sokolov is my second favorite prospect for the 2016 NHL Draft.

9) Sam Steel C - Awesome name. Playing in his first full season (played 5 games the year before and looked great but put up no production) in the WHL, Steel registered nearly a point per game. He's a highly-intelligent, very quick player with a good shot. He's not the biggest guy on the ice, nor is he the smallest (5'11" 175 lbs), but his IQ level allows him to not have that be a problem for him. He's like a Sam Reinhart-type player with better skating and smaller size. Steel's best assets are his vision and passing abilities, and he is able to produce a lot of offense off the rush. He's a very hard worker too. He starts this season as a top-10 pick for me but he can easily slide up to as high as #7 in my book or as low as #18. We can only see as the season progresses. I wouldn't be surprised to see him eclipse 50 or even 55 points this upcoming season.

10) Logan Brown C - Logan Brown is another monster of a man in this top-10, right now he's up to 6'6" 216 lbs. In all joking aside, I think it brings up an interesting point of discussion in terms of his production. Is he able to put up points simply by bulling his way through smaller defenders his age? From what I've seen from him, I would say he does not, but sometimes he does (lame answer, I know). It's the times that he does that I'm okay with, but he needs to make sure he does not continue with it, because he may not be able to push around people at the NHL-level with significantly more training and strength training. That being said, Brown has a powerful stride and is able to move quickly across the ice. He is able to use his massive body to shield the puck and position himself during board battles. He's also able to use his really long reach to a great advantage, whether or not it be in board battles, or to protect the puck from a defenseman. His positioning and size combined to make his two-way game an excellent part of his game. He's also able to make offensive moves that kids his size don't really do, and I think there is a lot of potential here, but I view Brown as a sort of longer-term project. He needs to properly develop his offensive game and physical play separately, so he can become  a more solidified power-forward prospect. His shot is outstanding, almost elite, but he needs to be more physical in terms of a mean-streak. He's just starting to tap into his potential though, which is very exciting because not even including his massive frame and high-level skating ability, including elite-level speed, Brown has an incredibly high offensive ceiling.

I hope you don't mind that I posted about the 2016 draft even though the 2015 draft just happened less than a month ago. It's just the thought of possibly having one of these kids as a Devil gets me very excited, whoever it may be. There's a lot of talent in this upcoming 2016 draft as well, and while I don't know as much as I'd like about it, I've got all of next season to watch the kids, form my opinions, and write them down.

Give me a follow on Twitter @DTJ_AHockeyBlog so we can chat, or feel free to DM me. I'm more than happy to answer any questions you have, or just talk! Please let me know if I made a mistake in any of my brief bios as well!

Thank you so much for reading, and I really hope you enjoy this post!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Better Know a Devils' Prospect: Steve Santini

Today is going to be a shorter post, but I wanted to help give a better idea of who Steve Santini is, how his game is played, and what type of player he projects to be.
Basic Information:
Steve Santini is a 6'2" 208 pound right-defenseman (right-handed shot) from Mahopac, New York. He comes from a strongly supportive Rangers family that apparently quickly crossed the river, support-wise when the Devils drafted him 42nd overall (2nd round) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
As many of you may or may not know, Santini's game is almost purely defensive. If you look at his statline on his Elite Prospects page, you can see just that, but as many of us are aware, a player's value, especially a defenseman, is not limited to the basic statline they put up.
Before Santini was even drafted, he was heralded as the best defenseman for the USNDP all season and throughout international tournament play. This includes when he was named the best defenseman of the 2013 IIHF U18 World Championship. Since his drafting, his offensive game has steadily developed, but has not flourished yet. I don't think it really will ever come to "flourish" so to speak, but he is much more willing to join in the rush when transitioning through the neutral zone.
Santini's defensive game is second to none out of the entire 2013 draft class. I know that's saying a lot, especially considering Seth Jones was the first defenseman taken that year (4th overall), but Jones brought a stronger all-around game, while Santini is an absolute rock in his own zone.
So how does Santini play his game in his own zone? I'm sure those who know Santini's game are smiling as they get to this part, but I will address that a little later. Santini's defensive game is incredibly strong in terms of positional play. He's your typical stay-at-home defenseman that parks himself in front of the net and clears out forwards from the crease area.
However, that is not all the Santini is able to in his zone.
Yes, there's a lot of Scott Stevens' game in Santini, mainly the defensive excellent, bone-crunching hits, and all-around physical willingness. A modern player comparison (in stylistic terms only) would be Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers or Brooks Orpik of the Washington Capitals.
Santini has spent the past two seasons developing his game at Boston College of the NCAA. He will be returning for the 2015-2016 season, and he will be named "Alternate captain" as well. He spent some time on the top defensive pairing at BC, playing with top 2015 pick, Noah Hanifin, for some time, but was bumped down to second pairing, as Ian McCoshen stepped up with better offensive production. This is not necessarily a bad thing, moreso just a show to how Santini's offensive production will not be a part of what Santini brings to the NHL.
Santini ran into a bit of pretty bad luck this season, injuring his wrist, requiring surgical pins to be placed for repair. This caused him to miss 2-3 months of play. Unfortunately, this also caused him to miss the World Junior Championship in December. Santini, if he had not been injured, was not only a lock for making Team USA, but most likely would have been the captain of the squad, and in my opinion would have been one of, if not, the best defenseman of the entire tournament.
I see Santini making a strong push at development camp this year and will return to Boston College for another season. The big question will be whether or not he is able to step into the NHL after next season. Since we are in no rush to get Santini into the NHL because of our strong and young defensive core, Santini may need a year of development in the AHL. This will only help him, in my opinion.
I am comfortable in saying Steve Santini is our second-best prospect (after Zacha), and our best defensive prospect. Our future is extremely bright with Santini.
If there's anything I can request from us, the fans is this:
I know we have been searching for the next Scott Stevens ever since the Great Captain retired...we thought we had found it in Matt Corrente and some think we may have found it in Santini. Stevens' legacy stands out as much greater than his ability to hit, but that is a common thread we have found in Santini. I would only ask that, like Cory, we allow Santini to establish his own legacy on the blueline and not constantly compare him to one of our great players of the past.
If you liked what you read, follow me on Twitter @DTJ_AHockeyBlog so we can chat, or feel free to DM me! I'll be more than happy to talk.
Thank you so much for reading. I hope you enjoyed this!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Overall Pick-By-Pick Review of the New Jersey Devils' recent NHL Entry Draft

Hi everybody, just wanted to give my opinion about how we did this year at the draft. While it's still too early to really give this a grade (since nobody's played an NHL game yet), I will be giving this as an initial overview for the draft.
Apologies on the tardiness of it. Let's get down to business:
1st round - 6th overall - Pavel Zacha (C):
Before I go into talking about Zacha, let me just say how surprised I am at how far Barzal fell. I know I was very high on him (and still am), but I was expecting him to go no higher than 10th or 11th overall. Drafts can be crazy though!
Alright, so let's talk about Zacha. For those interested, here is a link to my original write-up of Zacha.
So we've gone with the Czech power forward. Physically, Zacha has it all. His size, speed, and frame are really in league of their own here. Also if you look at some of his numbers before coming over to play in the OHL last season, he really shot through the Czech leagues. He was playing in the U20 league when he was only 15 years old, and still made quite the impact (for example: scoring 40 points, 14G 36A, in 39 games as a 15 year old in the U20 league). A user on HFBoards was nice enough to do a comparison between Zacha and some other recent top Czech prospects like Hertl, Pastrnak, Palat, and others. I won't take credit for this, so I'll instead post a link to that can decipher the numbers themselves (hint: it's a very good sign!).
So the big question now is: what do we do with him? Physically, he's very NHL-ready, but is that good enough? I say no, honestly. Personally I'd like to see him at Camp and how he competes with other NHL-ready prospects like Matteau and whatnot. In pre-season I would love to see Zacha on a line with Elias just so Zacha can have some experience under the wing of not only a great leader, but one of his personal idols. Perhaps we could see some kind of resurgence from Elias because of it! Unless Zacha blows the doors off the hinges at development camp and during pre-season, I'd like to see him return to Sarnia of the OHL to help further his offensive game development. After all, he's only played 37 games on the smaller North American ice. Give him is 9 games in the NHL, or whatever the number is of not burning a year of the ELC.
Needless to say I'm very happy with this pick, but would like to see us take our time with him. We are in no rush to compete right now and I ultimately think Shero will make the right decision when it comes to Zacha's development. If he DOES go back to Sarnia, then I will be following them a lot, since they'll have two high prospects for us in Zacha and defenseman Joshua Jacobs.
On one other note, I really do think Zacha will develop his game as a Center, and not as a winger.
2nd round - 42nd overall - MacKenzie Blackwood (G):
I know some of us were upset with taking a goalie at 42, especially after trading down and with other high-quality forwards still available on the board. And while I can certainly understand the frustration, we can't just ignore some organizational needs while addressing others. We haven't drafted a goalie in what, 5 years? And while we are set for a while with Schneider and hopefully Kinkaid, we don't have a top goalie prospect outside of Wedgewood. In fact, looking at this pick in a vacuum, it's amazing the top-ranked North American goaltender (and 2nd ranked goalie overall in the draft) fell to us at 42nd overall. I was able to watch Blackwood play for the Barrie Colts of the OHL while mostly watching Blandisi last season. Blackwood is going to be one of the top goaltenders at Team Canada's World Junior roster camp coming up (along with center John Quenneville invited!), and he's a huge guy at 6'4" with a little potential to grow more...but not by too much. If anything he gets 1 inch taller, but it's not like 6'4" is small at all.
This was a phenomenal selection for us, especially considering we originally had picks 36 and 41, then traded #41+ to Anaheim for Kyle Palmieri, a young RW with top-6 potential that's going to have an immediate impact...then trading the #36 for #42 and a 2016 third round pick, all while selecting Blackwood at #42. This was not a random throw at a dartboard. This was tremendous asset management by Shero. Blackwood is an incredibly promising young man, and I very much look forward to seeing him in Barrie next season.
3rd round - 67th overall - Blake Speers (RW):
Very intriguing forward prospect playing RW for the SSM Greyhounds of the OHL. I must say that there is a reason why we cannot simply look at statistics as a measurement of a player's capability. That can sometimes be used to justify oftentimes poor stats in a season, but in this case it's used to be even more promising for Speers. Speers was able to put up very impressive numbers despite not playing a large role on an extremely deep SSM team. Speers is extremely fast and possessing a good set of hands. I've said the word before but I'd like to repeat it. Speers is extremely intriguing, and in a very good sense. I will be watching a lot of SSM next season to get a handle on his progression and how he develops his game. In terms of improvement he needs to work on his overall strength to help him in board battles. In everything I've seen and read, he seems more than willing to engage in physical battles along the boards against opponents and he is committed to a two-way game. I think the little blurb about him by Elite Prospects sums up his potential well though, "For Blake Speers, offense in the best defence." I think Speers has a very high offensive potential, and I look forward to seeing him hopefully unlock it as he take on a more important role.
I can't stress how much I like this pick. I think Speers has some incredible potential, but don't want to let all the horses out of the barn on this one. What I specifically like about it: young highly offensive RW with untapped potential and role on a deep team, and is committed to a complete game. He is very intelligent and knows what he must do to improve his play. (apparently he also put on about 20 pounds last year, which is promising.) He had the 4th highest PPG rate out of all 17 year-olds in the OHL last season. I mean look at some of those names!
Very happy with this pick.
4th round - 97th overall - Colton White (D):
I'll be honest, I don't know too much about White. All I know is that his situation is very similar to Speers' in that he is an incredibly promising prospect that is somewhat buried on a very deep team. White is a great skater and it seems like Shero has really placed an emphasis on speed and overall skating ability this draft. I do like this pick because White is a Left-Handed defenseman, which is what we rather lack in our pipeline...which is strange because many teams far too many LHD's. For a 4th round pick, he does seem extremely promising. There's no promise as to what will hold for White's future regarding NHL play or not, but with Nurse leaving SSM, White will certainly see his role increase as well as his playing time. I think we will get a better idea of what he is capable of when that happens. From what we have seen though, there is a lot to look forward to with the two-way defender. I'm very much looking forward to watching White progress with SSM next season.
6th round - 157th overall - Brett Seney (LW):
Our only selection of the draft that did not come from the OHL (sorry Don Cherry) is overage prospect Brett Seney (eligible for the 2014 draft but wasn't selected, mainly because he was playing in the OJHL - the league below the CHL). This left winger isincredibly fast, like my goodness did Shero just say to Conte "go draft me a track team"? Seney put the team on his back and was the leading point scorer for his Merrimack College team, despite missing a few games due to injury. While size may be a concern, since he's 5'9" 159lbs, he still has a lot of bulking up to do, and already practically plays with his head on a swivel. Seney's game mostly revolves around his speed and agility burning past defensemen and setting up plays.
Even though a pick in this round has an extremely unlikely chance of making the NHL, I very much like this selection as it's based on pure speed and skill, which is what I think all late-round selections should be based on. Some very good numbers for comparison for Seney is the PPG rate for true freshmen. In this case it is:
Eichel (BU) - 1.78
Larkin (U Michigan) - 1.34
Seney (Merrimack) - .76
Tuch (BC) - .76
What I also like about Seney is that despite his tremendous speed, not all of his offensive game is based off the rush. He's actually quite good in the cycle game. I also like how Seney was able to do this on an offensively-starved team like Merrimack. I think he's definitely a project pick, and will need 4 years of college for development, and even if he doesn't make it to the NHL (like statistics say), I think this is the right way to draft.
Overall, I think this was a fantastic draft for the Devils. Not only did we add 3 incredibly talented forwards, a promising defenseman, and the best North American (and 2nd best overall) goaltender in the draft, not to mention getting an immediate impact player in Palmieri...I think this was as close to as slam-dunk as possible for Shero, Conte, and all the Red and Black.
That's my overview, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Also follow me on Twitter @DTJ_AHockeyBlog for more write-ups and so we can chat.
Thanks for reading!