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Free Agency Update #2: RFAs and Enerģija

A few loose ends were tied up this week during the annual Devils Development Camp, while one said goodbye to North America.

-On Friday Stefan Matteau was signed to a 2 year, 1 way deal, with a chance to finally stick in New Jersey.  The former first rounder split last season between Albany and New Jersey, appearing in 61 games with Albany and making 7 appearances in New Jersey.

-Saturday the last of the Albany RFAs was signed, as Seth Helgeson also signed for 2 more years, with an 2 way contract next season and a 1 way deal for 2016-17.  The 3rd year pro made his NHL debut in November, getting an assist in his first game, then stuck around with the parent Devils for 20 more games.  He appeared in 49 games with Albany, scoring twice and adding 10 assists.

-Add a third Devil to the Moving On category, as 5 year A-Devil Tim Sestito has taken his talents overseas, signing on with the KHL’s Dinamo Riga in Latvia (and where the translation in the title comes in).  There are only 4 players remaining in the organization that played in Albany during the inaugural 2010-11 season.

-Now for some highlights from this week’s Development Camp:

First thing everyone (especially myself) noticed?  More open on social media.  Compared to the past regime, this is a wonderful change.  There was even a social media class for the rookies as part of the camp program, along with a cooking/nutrition class, fitness testing, visiting two different Jersey hospitals, and a trip to Yankee Stadium.

Want the theme to Gilligan’s Island stuck in your head for a week?  Watch this:

Highlights from Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, featuring a goal by Raman Hrabarenka:

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Camping, Rule Changes, Etc. Etc.

After having to read about several NHL teams’ rookie development camps this week…starting on Monday, it will finally be New Jersey’s turn.  A total of 42 players will be taking the ice from July 13th-18th, culminating in a Red-White scrimmage on Saturday:

GOALTENDERS (4): Anthony Brodeur, Mac Blackwood, Ken Appleby, Colton Phinney.

FORWARDS (26): Brandon Baddock, Graham Black, Joseph Blandisi, Reid Boucher, Connor Chatham, Blake Coleman, Patrick D’Amico, J.D. Dudek, Matt Gaudreau, Artur Gavrus, Alexandre Goulet, Sergey Kalinin, Tyler Kelleher, Alexander Kerfoot, Ryan Kujawinski, Matt Lorito, Darcy Murphy, Max Novak, Blake Pietila, John Quenneville, Brett Seney, Brandon Shea, Blake Speers, Ben Thomson, Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha.

DEFENSEMEN (12): Joe Faust, Casey Fitzgerald, Raman Hrabarenka, Joshua Jacobs, Vojtech Mozik, Ryan Rehill, Steven Santini, Reece Scarlett, Damon Severson, Jacob Sweeney, Colton White, Tyler Wood.

A few fun facts about this group:

-8 players appeared in at least one game for Albany in 2014-15.  It could have been 9 if Brandon Baddock had seen action.

-25 players are Devil draft picks, going as far back as 2010.

-Family ties: Martin Brodeur’s son Anthony (a 2013 draft selection who was not signed) leads the goaltending corps.  Matt Gaudreau is the younger brother of Johnny Gaudreau, who just finished a stellar rookie campaign in Calgary.  Tyler Wood is the older brother of 2013 draft selection Miles Wood.

Fire and Ice has more information on the undrafted invitees.

In league news, the AHL announced their annual rule changes and playoff format for 2015-16:

-All teams will still play 76 games.  Unless you’re Bakersfield, Stockton, San Jose, Ontario, or San Diego, who will only play 68 (WHY????  Dumb dumb dumb…sorry.  Getting off topic.) games.  With an uneven schedule, playoff standings will now be based on points percentage instead of the actual point total (Math. Yay.).  The top 4 teams in each division will qualify for a playoff spot…however, if the 5th place team in either the Atlantic or Central Division finishes with a higher percentage than the 4th place North or Pacific Division team, they can cross over and grab that spot.  The divisional set up remains for the first two rounds of the playoffs.

-Overtime will now be 3 on 3 for 5 minutes, just like in the NHL and the ECHL.  The shootout remains if a game is still tied after that.  And also staying around…DRY SCRAPE!

-New for 2015-16: the coach’s challenge.  If a coach still has a timeout remaining, they can use the challenge to initiate a video review, but only for rules that use replay.

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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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