The New Class

It was a busy two days for New Jersey at the annual NHL draft in Buffalo.  A total of 9 players–7 forwards, 1 defenseman, and 1 goaltender–were picked, along with a trade on Saturday afternoon that provided the parent club with some depth.  Let’s meet the Class of 2016:

1st Round, 12th Overall: Michael McLeod, C, Mississauga (OHL)

After swapping places with Ottawa, giving the Senators the #11 slot and also picking up an additional third round selection, New Jersey chose McLeod, an 18 year old forward who just completed his second full season with the Steelheads, picking up 61 points (21 G, 40 A) in 57 games.  He also represented Canada in the World Junior Championships, scoring twice in 7 games.

2nd Round, 41st Overall: Nathan Bastian, RW, Mississauga (OHL)

New Jersey didn’t go very far for their second selection…they chose McLeod’s linemate (and self proclaimed social advisor).  Bastian also just completed his second full season with the Steelheads, scoring 19 goals and assisting on 40 others in 64 games.

3rd Round, 73rd Overall: Joseph Anderson, RW, USNTDP

With their first choice in round 3, the Devils chose Anderson, who just finished his third season with the US National Team Development Program.  In 25 games, he scored 10 goals and assisted on 10 others.  He will be starting his collegiate career with Minnesota-Duluth in 2016-17.

New Jersey would then trade the 77th pick to Pittsburgh for restricted free agent forward Beau Bennett.

3rd Round, 80th Overall: Brandon Gignac, C, Shawinigan (QMJHL)

Seven picks later, the Devils chose Gignac, who had a breakout third season with the Cataractes.  In 67 games, he scored a career high 24 goals and dished out 37 assists.  He also picked up 16 points in 20 playoff games (7 goals, 9 assists).

4th Round, 102nd Overall: Mikhail Maltsev, LW, Team Russia U18

Going outside North America for this one, the Devils chose Maltsev, who was on loan to Team Russia’s under 18 squad for the 2015-16 season.  In 29 games, the 18-year-old scored 11 goals and assisted on 12 others.

4th Round, 105th Overall: Evan Cormier, G, Saginaw (OHL)

Three picks after Maltsev, New Jersey picks a goaltender (cue groaning from the Devil fanbase).  Cormier just finished his second season with the Spirit, where he appeared in 58 games and went 21-27-7 with a 3.72 GAA and .890 save percentage.

5th Round, 132nd Overall: Yegor Rykov, D, SKA St. Petersburg 2

New Jersey’s first defense selection of the draft, Rykov is a 19 year old who split last season between three different SKA St. Petersburg teams.  He is slated to join the SKA KHL squad for 2016-17.

6th Round, 162nd Overall: Jesper Bratt, LW/RW, AIK (Sweden-2)

The third European of the day to be drafted by the Devils, Bratt (who won’t turn 18 until July 30th) picked up 8 goals in 48 games with AIK, playing in Sweden’s second tier.  He also represented the Swedes during the World Junior Championships, scoring twice in seven appearances.

7th Round, 192nd Overall: Jeremy Davies, D, Bloomington (USHL)

With the final selection, New Jersey chose Davies, a 19 year old Quebec native who just finished his second season with the Thunder.  In 60 games, he scored 13 goals and assisted on 36 others, leading all league defensemen in points.  He is committed to Northeastern University.

(Note: click on each name to check out full reports/reaction by All About the Jersey)

With the draft now completed, a few things to look forward to over the next week:

On Monday, qualifying offers are due to restricted free agents.  Then Friday at noon, free agency officially begins.  Stay tuned for my monthly trackers, and also for the annual AHL Big Board that will be out soon.

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Offseason Notebook #4

This week in the Notebook:

-The first hint of Albany’s preseason schedule was announced on Wednesday: they will travel to Wilkes-Barre on October 6th to face the Penguins.

And two new sets of birds have joined the AHL fold:

-On Wednesday, the Springfield Thunderbirds, formerly the Portland Pirates,  were introduced to the world.  The name (and in my opinion, the logo) comes from a combination of previous AHL franchises (the Indians, then the Falcons) and a tribute to two local Air National Guard bases.  The bird looks like a newer, more dressed up version of the Falcons previous mascot Screech (who may or may not be previous?  We shall see).

-Yesterday, the former tenants of the Mass Mutual Center, the Falcons, were re-introduced as the Tucson Roadrunners.  Personally I’m a fan of the new logo, reminiscent of former Roadrunner teams that played in Arizona since the mid 1960s, through the old Western Hockey League, the WHA, the Pacific Hockey League, the IHL, and the ECHL.  Then there are the many Looney Tunes puns that could come out of this (Acme sponsorship, anyone?)…

The notebook may be closed for the next two weeks, as I plan on a separate draft entry (which I hope to have out by next Sunday afternoon/evening), followed up by the first Free Agent Tracker of the summer July 1st.

 

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Offseason Notebook #3

This week in the Notebook:

-On Tuesday, the full New Jersey preseason schedule was announced, and…again no game in Albany.  (Yes, four years later I’m still waiting for the make up from the lockout.)  The schedule begins on September 26th with a doubleheader of sorts…one squad will take on the Flyers in Newark, while the rest will travel to Montreal to face the Canadiens.  They play two at neutral sites…September 28th in Allentown against Philadelphia, and October 8th in West Point against Florida.  Two other matchups are at The Rock: October 1st against the Rangers and October 5th against the Islanders.  Full schedule can be found here.

-On Friday night, a trade with Florida went through that affected New Jersey’s cap hit and shook up the Albany roster.  The Devils acquired Marc Savard and a 2018 2nd round selection from the Panthers for Paul Thompson and Graham Black.  So why acquire a player who hasn’t been on ice since 2011?  Savard’s contract puts the Devils over the cap floor, and another draft selection for the future (between this year and 2018, New Jersey now has a total of 26 draft picks).  But it comes at a cost to Albany’s roster, which has seen four forwards leave before free agency has even begun.  It is most likely you will see both Thompson and Black in Springfield next year…and they will be coached by another familiar name in the Capital Region…

Segway to the latest news around the league…

-On Tuesday, former River Rats captain and assistant coach Geordie Kinnear was named head coach of the new Springfield franchise.  After spending a majority of his playing career with the River Rats, including the Calder Cup team in 1995, he retired as a player in 2001 due to injury and joined the coaching ranks, working as an assistant with the Rats during the last three years of the Carolina affiliation, then moving with the team to Charlotte, where he has remained behind the Checkers bench.

-And finally, break out the black spray paint can.  Congratulations to the Lake Erie Monsters, who finished off an amazing playoff run on Saturday night with their third sweep of the postseason, defeating Hershey 1-0 in overtime at home.  The Monsters, in their first season as a Columbus affiliate, won 15 of 17 playoff games, including sweeps of Ontario and the Bears, and finished the postseason on a 10 game winning streak.  Rookie Oliver Bjorkstrand was named MVP after scoring 10 goals in 17 games, including six game winners and three overtime winners, including the Cup clincher with just 1.9 seconds left in the first overtime of Game 4.

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Offseason Notebook #2

Welcome to the month of June!  And the signings keep coming…

-Per RDS, the Devils signed center Jan Mandat to an AHL contract.  The 20-year-old native of the Czech Republic just completed his second season with Val d’Or (QMJHL), where he picked up 64 points (20 goals, 44 assists) in 62 games.  He added two goals in 6 playoff appearances.

-Also on Tuesday, New Jersey came to terms on a 3 year, 2 way contract with 2014 6th round draft pick Brandon Baddock, just getting in under the deadline to sign ’14 draft selections.  Baddock just finished his fourth season with Edmonton of the WHL, where this year he served as team captain and scored a career high 22 goals in 68 games, along with 13 assists and 143 penalty minutes.  He actually signed an ATO with Albany late in the 2014-15 season, but never appeared in a game.

Now to check on the Calder Cup Finals:

Hershey, after finishing off the Marlies in 5 games, find themselves in a 2-0 hole against Lake Erie as the series shifts to Cleveland on Monday night.   The Monsters have picked the right time to be on a hot streak, winning 13 of 15 postseason games (both losses to Grand Rapids in the second round), including their last seven in a row.  They can wrap up their first Cup as early as next Saturday.  Why so long in between games?  There’s another event called the NBA Finals taking over the Monsters home building this week, as the Cavaliers host Golden State in Game 3 Wednesday, Game 4 on Friday.

 

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Offseason Notebook #1

Welcome to the newest feature, the Offseason Notebook!

Since news sometimes during this time of year tend to be few and far between, what I plan to do is collect pertinent stories from around the Devils and the AHL.  It’s a basic roundup, if you will.

First, the latest from the Devil department:

Brian O’Neill became the first A-Devil to officially move on, signing a contract with Jokerit in the KHL.  Acquired in a trade with the Kings just before the start of the season, the 2014-15 AHL MVP with Manchester started the year on New Jersey’s roster, appearing in 22 games and picking up 2 assists.  He would spend a majority of the season with Albany, picking up 13 goals and 19 assists in 42 games and an additional 5 points in 9 playoff games.  As a result of O’Neill leaving, New Jersey will get back the seventh round pick they gave Los Angeles as part of the deal.

-Also in the Moving On category…forward Chris McKelvie has retired from playing, accepting a job at Army as an assistant coach, joining his twin brother Zach behind the bench.  He spent the last four seasons in a Devil uniform after starting his pro career with Hartford/Connecticut.  Last season, he appeared in 46 games, picking up a goal and 6 assists, and appeared in 3 playoff games going scoreless.  Good luck to Chris as he starts the next phase of his hockey life!

-The first free agent signing of the summer came on Friday, in the form of French defenseman Yohann Auvitu, who was given a one year entry level contract.  He has spent the last two seasons with HIFK Helsinki in the SM-liiga, where last season he was named the league’s best defenseman after picking up 21 points in 48 regular season games (6 goals, 15 assists), then appeared in 18 postseason contests with 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists).  He also appeared in 7 games for France in the World Championships in Russia.

Meanwhile, around the AHL and the Calder Cup playoffs…

-At the rate the Conference Finals are going…it’s going to be an unlikely matchup for the Calder Cup.  Lake Erie swept #1 seed Ontario in four games to take the Western Conference title (side note: you have to love their postseason countdown on the boards).  Hershey took the first three from Toronto in near convincing fashion, but the Marlies showed they’re not quite done yet, taking a 5-0 shutout win over the Bears in Game 4 on Friday.  Hershey can try again to finish off the league’s best team on Sunday afternoon in Game 5.  If necessary, Game 6 is Tuesday in Hershey, Game 7 in Toronto on Thursday.

-It appears another league realignment will be in order for next season.  To review: a few weeks ago, Arizona purchased their AHL affiliate in Springfield and moved the team west to Tucson, just a couple hours away from Phoenix.  Just as it appeared the home of the league headquarters was going to be without hockey for the first time in decades next season, a miracle happened: out of nowhere, a group in Springfield bought the Portland Pirates, moving that franchise to the Pioneer Valley.  Florida, who was Portland’s parent club, has agreed to keep the affiliation with the new Springfield franchise.  Tucson will be joining the California 5 with a shortened 68 game schedule.  The question now is, who will move over from the Western Conference to take Portland’s spot?  And how will that affect who goes in either the North or Atlantic?  We’ll just have to wait.

But a lesson can be learned from the Portland move: support your local minor league team.  Because one day, they could be gone in a flash.

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Season 6 Year in Review, Part 3: My Favorite Things

Welcome to the annual Year in Review Series.  As always, the year in review is broken down into three parts: final stats, fun with numbers, and my favorite things.

Here it is, the final part, My Favorite Things (formerly called What I Learned)…

Where to begin?  So many things…good, bad, scary, and otherwise…happened this year.  So, like last year, I’m breaking it down with some special superlative awards.  And away we go…

You’re Not Allowed to Leave. Ever.

Given to Nick Lappin, the first of the amateur tryouts to arrive on the scene in March.  All he did was come up big against Toronto in both the regular season and the playoffs.  And made a great linemate for his former college teammate Matt Lorito.  Good news is he’s already under contract!

Best Musical Performance by a Devil:

I’ve seen Graham Black on video play an amazing piano (and guitar).  But in early April…I got to experience it live.

Best Player Nickname:

Thanks to the A-Devils Podcast, Seth Helgeson revealed that Ben Thomson is called Groot, based on the character from Guardians of the Galaxy.  Of course I had to run with it…

Best Unintentional Yet Intentional Trolling:

On two different occasions (and a third on the road) at home, the Devils shut out Rochester.  Just before both shutout games ended, what does the DJ play?  Let Me Clear My Throat by DJ Kool.  Which is the Sabres goal song.  Rochester is Buffalo’s farm team.  Put it all together and…perfect.

Boy, That Escalated Quickly…

It was the last game of the regular season, with a potential first round opponent in house.  Everything went downhill from there…

Can We Keep Him?  Please?

In a rare preseason move, a loan was worked out with the Blackhawks, enabling Corey Tropp to join the Devils.  All he did was provide eleven goals, some grit, and was a steady presence on the top two lines.  It was a sad day when he was traded to Anaheim at the trade deadline and was reassigned to San Diego.  I do believe he is an unrestricted free agent this summer, so…come back?

Fight of the Year, Non-Bridgeport Edition:

Who else but PL3?  From back in November vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton:

Best Opponent Attraction:

Three words: John Scott, MVP.  The unlikely hero of this year’s NHL All Star Game made three appearances in Albany while playing for St. John’s.  Then there was the time when Ben Thomson decided to take him on during a game in Newfoundland…

You Poor Unfortunate Soul.

It was not the best first year for rookie forward Blake Coleman.  First, in his pro debut, he gets accidentally high sticked in the mouth, losing both front teeth.  Then a month later, he gets boarded by former Devil Mark Fraser, leading to season ending shoulder surgery.  Here’s hoping the kid has better luck next year.

When Real Life Intrudes…

The day after Christmas, I was at a family holiday function, knowing that I was going to be late for the Devils matchup against Providence that afternoon.  So you can imagine what was going through my head as I was preparing to leave, only to receive messages from friends to stay put.  Why?  A mystery package found under a car in the box office parking lot prompted an evacuation of the building, just as warmups were about to start.  Luckily it was only a toy that was found and the TU Center was all clear to resume.  And I only ended up missing half the first period.

Quote of the Year:

“F—ing Binda.”–coach Kowalsky in Springfield in November after referee Geno Binda (again) called something ridiculous.

Now for the anti-Lou portion of this post…

Dat Hair Doe…

We have a tie, between Graham Black’s midseason manbun (a look approved by Starbucks baristas everywhere…long story) and Joe Blandisi’s playoff Magic Mullet (styled very well by Matt Lorito).

Best Movember Look:

Another tie…Raman Hrabarenka was shameless going for the Gomez Addams stache, then you had PL3 with the Super Mario Bros. impression.

Best Beard, Regular Season or Playoff:

I have to give it to Corbin McPherson…he was pulling off the hipster look quite well by the end of the playoff run.

Best Instagram Presence:

Another one I couldn’t break the tie on…this one is split between Joe Blandisi and Graham Black for a variety of reasons (Graham’s music, randomness with Blender).

 

Finally, a few stick taps:

To my fellow AHL and Devil tweeters/bloggers: thank you all (there’s too many to name!) for all the support in the regular season and in the postseason…

To the crew at home for all the help and support in keeping up with all the game day superstitions, seeing eye dog ratings, etc. etc.

To the Devil players themselves…you are a wonderful group of guys, thank you for making this season fun.  To those who move on to other teams next season…good luck wherever life and hockey take you.

And finally, thanks to you the reader for following along!

The countdown to Season 7 is on…

 

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Season 6 Year in Review, Part 2: Fun with Numbers

Welcome to the annual Year in Review Series.  As always, the year in review is broken down into three parts: final stats, fun with numbers, and my favorite things.

Now on to Part 2 and some random numbers from the season:

45: Players that made at least one appearance in an Albany uniform.

4: Goaltenders to get at least one win.

6: Most goals in one game (10/31 vs. Utica, 1/8 vs. Syracuse, 4/28 @ Utica).

1: Hat trick, by Ben Johnson April 2nd vs. Springfield.

6: Shots given up on November 27th vs. Binghamton.

0: Shots allowed to Utica in the second period on April 22nd.

8,124: Highest attendance, on February 6th vs. Hartford.

8: Players that appeared in at least one game for Albany and Adirondack.

15: Players that appeared in at least one game for Albany and New Jersey.

43: Saves by Scott Wedgewood in a 1-0 OT loss to Utica on January 16th.

122: Most penalty minutes in one game, on April 16th vs. Bridgeport.

6: Amateur tryouts that saw action during the season.

2: Shorthanded goals allowed all season by Devils special teams.

7: Number of Devils who made their NHL debut this season.

11: Consecutive home wins between November 25th and January 13th.

7: Consecutive wins from November 25th to December 11th.

5: Longest winless streak from January 15th to January 23rd.

8: Goal scoring streak for Mike Sislo from February 6th-February 24th.

10: Point scoring streak for Mike Sislo from February 6th-February 28th.

8: Shutouts for Yann Danis, a new franchise record.

7: Games remaining on Dan Kelly’s suspension after he missed Games 5-7 in the North Division Finals.

282:09: Current shutout streak against Rochester.

7: Buildings I saw at least one game (Albany, Binghamton, Hartford, Utica, Syracuse, Springfield, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton)

56: Games personally attended in 2015-16.  Add 7 for 2 Thunder games, 4 New Jersey games, and the AHL All-Star Challenge.

28: Wins by Yann Danis, tying a franchise record.

102: Regular season points, a new franchise record.

3: More seasons (at least) at the Times Union Center!

 

 

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