Free Agent Update #1: No Crickets Here!

We interrupt your Fourth of July weekend festivities to give you a recap of the first 3 days of the free agent signing period.

In the past, I would sit back and watch every other team load up or re-sign players like crazy during the first few days of July…and hear nothing out of New Jersey.  For days.  Or even weeks.

But not this year.  The new regime has come in and re-signed one big piece and picked up four others that do address needs for Albany.

Let’s start with Wednesday’s signings:

-First came the highly anticipated signing of forward Blake Coleman to an entry level deal.  A 3rd round draft choice in 2011, he just completed his collegiate career at Miami (OH), where in his senior season he appeared in 37 games and set a career high in both goals (20) and assists (17) while serving as assistant captain.  In 143 games over his four seasons, he scored 60 goals and assisted on 47 others.

-A few hours later, another expected signing: forward Paul Thompson (#21 on the AHL Big Board), coming off a career season, returns on a 2 year 2 way deal.  A late summer signing last year, all Thompson did was set a Albany/Lowell franchise record for goals in a season (33), was second in the league in power play goals (13), and represented Albany at the AHL All Star Classic in January.

-Then late Wednesday, a signing out of left field: forward Jim O’Brien (#11 on the Big Board) was signed to a 1 year, 2 way contract.  This may not sound like much to fans in New Jersey, but for the AHL level, this is a pretty big signing.  He split last season between Novokuznetsk Metallurg of the KHL and Hershey, scoring just twice in 22 games in Russia, but picking up 10 goals in 32 games with the Bears (and an additional 3 goals in 10 playoff games).  He does have some NHL experience, appearing in 63 games over parts of 3 seasons with Ottawa, and was also a member of Binghamton’s Calder Cup winning squad in 2010-11.

Friday saw two more players sign on the dotted line:

-The second goaltender/#3 on the depth chart hole has been filled, and it’s a familiar name to New Jersey fans: much like his new goaltending coach did last summer, Yann Danis (#56 on the Big Board) returns to the organization for his second tour of duty, signing a 1 year 2 way deal.  The journeyman netminder spent last season with Norfolk and Hartford, going 5-6-0 with a 2.72 GAA and .914 save percentage with the Admirals, and 12-7-4 with a 2.35 GAA and .921 save percentage with the Wolfpack.  He spent the 2009-10 season as Martin Brodeur’s backup, only seeing action in 12 games and going 3-2-1 with a 2.05 GAA.

-The second signing comes in the form of a 1 year 2 way contract for defenseman Marc Andre Gragnani, a name not familiar at all to New Jersey fans, but has a good AHL resume.  He spent last season with Bern in the Swiss-A league, putting up 37 points (8 G, 29 A) and a +13 in 49 games.  He has a bit of NHL experience, appearing in 74 games for Buffalo, Vancouver and Carolina, but most of his career has been in the AHL, playing in Rochester, Portland and Charlotte.  He won the AHL’s Eddie Shore Award (given to the top defenseman) in 2010-11 while with the Pirates.

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2015 Free Agent Tracker (as of 7/1/15)

One note to add: the first listing under the Moving On category came yesterday, but he’s not going far.  As noted last week, Scott Clemmensen officially retired as an active player to become New Jersey’s goaltending development coach.  Clemmensen closes out a 14 year pro career that started and ended in Albany, with stops in New Jersey, Lowell, Toronto, Florida, and San Antonio in between.

Signed for 2015-16:

Raman Hrabarenka

Reid Boucher

Graham Black

Ben Thomson

Ben Johnson

Reece Scarlett

Dan Kelly

Mike Sislo

Brandon Burlon

Matt Lorito

Rod Pelley

Scott Wedgewood

Entry Level Signings:

Joseph Blandisi

Ryan Kujawinski

Blake Pietila

Sergey Kalinin

Vojtech Mozik

Restricted Free Agents:

Stefan Matteau

Seth Helgeson

Unrestricted Free Agents:

Cam Janssen

Joe Whitney

Tim Sestito

Darcy Zajac

Scott Timmins

Corbin McPherson

Paul Thompson

Joe Faust

Chris McKelvie

David Wohlberg

Kelly Zajac

Maxime Clermont

Moving On:

Scott Clemmensen (retired 6/29)

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On The Market

Before the free agency frenzy begins on Wednesday, two last pieces of business to tend to:

-All teams had until 5 PM today to tender qualifying offers to any restricted free agents.  New Jersey did just that with Stefan Matteau and Seth Helgeson.  However, qualifying offers were not in the cards for Maxime Clermont or Corbin McPherson, making both of them unrestricted free agents.

-Here’s another list to keep an eye on for organizational depth: the annual AHL Big Board is out.  With the original author moving on to greener pastures in Pittsburgh, our friends over at Chirps from Center Ice took over the project and enlisted several other bloggers, including myself, to help put the list together.  Unlike in past years where you had to nearly scroll all the way to the bottom to find any Devils, there are quite a few Albany UFAs in the top 100: Joe Whitney sits at 10, Paul Thompson at 21 (just behind former Devil Bobby Butler at 20), Scott Timmins at 47, Darcy Zajac at 68, and Scott Clemmensen at 72.  The Patriot News (who cover the Hershey Bears) did their own Top 100 list, complete with videos.

Unless anything earth shattering happens before Wednesday…the first Free Agent Tracker goes live at noon sharp on the 1st!

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2015 Draft Wrap

This weekend came the 2015 NHL Draft in Florida, and after some trading around (including landing Kyle Palmieri from Anaheim in a deal on Friday evening), New Jersey had a total of 5 draft selections.  With a new regime in place so to speak and with some clear needs to rebuild the depth in the organization, this is a good start: 1 goaltender, 1 defenseman and 3 forwards.  Time to meet the Class of 2015:

(Note: clicking on the name will take you to their In Lou We Trust profile)

1st Round, 6th Overall: Pavel Zacha, F, Sarnia (OHL)

In what appears to be somewhat of a gamble, New Jersey chooses Zacha, an 18 year old Czech forward who just completed his first North American season with Sarnia.  In 37 games with the Sting he put up 34 points (16 G, 18 A), and he also represented the Czech Republic in both the U18 and U20 World Junior Championships, scoring 6 goals in 10 games.  And…you have to get behind a guy who learned English by watching Dumb and Dumber.

2nd Round, 42nd Overall: Mackenzie Blackwood, G, Barrie (OHL)

Time to start rebuilding the goalie depth, and it begins with Blackwood, a 18-year-old Ontario native who has spent the last two seasons with Barrie of the OHL.  In 2014-15 he posted a 33-14-2 record in 51 games, with a 3.09 GAA and a .906 save percentage.  He also recently received an invite to Canada’s U20 World Jr. camp.

3rd Round, 67th overall: Blake Speers, C, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

Also in rebuild mode, the forward depth.  Adding to that is Speers, another 18 year old Ontario native who just finished his second season with the Greyhounds.  In 57 games in 2014-15, he put up 67 points (24 goals, 43 assists) and an additional 9 points in 14 playoff games.

4th Round, 97th Overall: Colton White, D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

What’s a New Jersey draft without a defenseman?  And the Devils start with White, another Ontario native who, in his second season with the Greyhounds, put up 22 points (6 G, 16 A) and a +38 in 67 games, and also appeared in 14 playoff games with 2 assists.

6th Round, 157th Overall: Brett Seney, LW, Merrimack (Hockey East)

With their final pick, the Devils chose Seney, a 19 year old native of Ontario (I’m detecting a pattern here with these draft choices) who just completed his freshman season at Merrimack.  He put up 26 points (11 G, 15 A) and a +3 rating in 34 games.  Not a big guy (he checks in at 5’9″ and just 159 pounds) but what he lacks in size he makes up for with his speed, as Mike from ILWT notes in his draft profile.

With the draft over with, the next focus is on free agency.  Monday afternoon is the deadline to tender offers to restricted free agents, and the fun begins Wednesday at noon, as the official signing period gets underway.  Also on Wednesday: the first Free Agent Tracker of the summer, so stay tuned.

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News Between the Pipes

A couple of notes to pass along that will affect how the Devils will look in net next season:

-On Monday, restricted free agent Scott Wedgewood was signed to a new 2 year, 2 way contract (and note in the press release…actual salary figures!  I haven’t seen that since the Carolina Rat days).  In 36 appearances last season, he posted a 13-14-6 record with a 2.74 goals against average and a .903 save percentage.  He will be entering his third full AHL season with a chance to claim the #3 goaltender spot in the organization behind Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid.  As for who will join Wedgewood here?  That’s a good question because…

-Earlier today per Fire and Ice, there is a chance that Scott Clemmensen could stay in the organization, albeit in a different role.  New Jersey has decided to go in a different direction for a goaltending coach at the AHL level, instead using a roving goaltending instructor that will spend equal time between AHL/ECHL and junior prospects.  With Johan Hedberg exiting, Clemmensen could possibly step in.  In his third tour of duty with the Devils last season, he split time between Albany and New Jersey, appearing in 27 games with Albany going 12-11-2 with a 2.23 goals against average, and 3 games with New Jersey, posting one overtime loss and a 4.71 GAA.  He came up big down the stretch in April, winning 4 out of his last 5 starts, including a shutout of the Penguins in Wilkes-Barre in the next to last game of the season.

-Also announced earlier this week: the annual Developmental Camp will take place July 13-18th.  Once I see a roster I’ll have a post up about that.

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It’s Been Awhile…

…since I last updated this thing.  Before I jump head first into local baseball season (which begins on Friday…those that follow me on Twitter have all been duly warned), how about some updates?

-Congratulations go to the Manchester Monarchs, who in their final season as an AHL franchise captured their first Calder Cup on Saturday evening by defeating Western Conference (now new division rival) Utica in 5 games.  Since I wasn’t able to get to the Aud for a game (when there’s a line around the corner hours before the box office opens, attempting Ticketmaster is pretty much going to be a fail), I did take advantage of the free AHL Live feed and watched parts of 3 of the games…and I have to tip my cap to the Comets fanbase.  You will never find a louder, more loyal group than that in any arena, whether minor or major league.  I even saw it first hand during the All Star festivities (and I’ll confess to jumping in on a few UTICA chants).

-When the first edition of this year’s Free Agent Tracker comes out on July 1st, you will notice that I have added a new list to go with who’s signed and who is up for free agency: those that have signed to entry level deals.  Since my last post, two more names have been added, with both names coming from overseas:

-Back on May 29th, New Jersey signed Russian forward Sergey Kalinin (terms as always undisclosed), who comes to North America after spending the last 5 seasons with Avangard Omsk of the KHL.  In 58 games last season he scored 25 points (12 G, 13 A) while serving as the team captain.

-Earlier today, a signing completely out of left field, as Czech defenseman Vojtech Mozik was signed to an entry level deal.  He spent the last 3 seasons with HC Plzen in the Czech Extraliga, where last season he notched 29 points in 51 games.  His 10 goals (a career high) lead the league among defensemen.

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Joining the Ranks

It’s been a relatively quiet month of May after a new general manager in New Jersey took the reins and after a sixth Albany season became official.

But…things are starting to pick up a little bit, and today saw the first wave of draft pick signings.  New Jersey announced earlier this afternoon that forwards Ryan Kujawinski and Blake Pietila have been signed to entry level contracts.

Kujawinski was drafted in the 3rd round and 73rd overall in 2013 by the Devils, and split last season between Kingston and North Bay of the OHL, appearing in 61 games and posting 59 points (34 G, 25 A), while adding an additional 9 points (6 G, 3 A) in 15 playoff games with North Bay.

Pietila, a 2011 5th round draft selection (129th overall), just completed a four year collegiate career at Michigan Tech.  He tied a career high with 14 goals during his senior season in 40 games while serving as co-captain of the Huskies.

Meanwhile, in other league news:

-Manchester can finish off the Eastern Conference finals as early as tonight with a victory over Hartford, which would finish off a sweep of the Wolfpack.  In the West, Utica and Grand Rapids are tied at 1, with the series shifting to Michigan beginning on Thursday.

-The 2016 AHL All Star Classic is a go…with Syracuse hosting the event on January 31st and February 1st.  Tickets for both the Skills Competition and the game officially went on sale earlier today.  No, I did not order my ticket…yet.  But all signs point to me making the trip west for the second straight event.

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