Saturday, July 26, 2014

30 Teams in 30 Days - New Jersey Devils

The New Jersey Devils are up next.

Ryan Kujawinski - Kingston Frontenacs
It was a tough year for Kujawinski as he missed nearly two dozen games with a hand and knee injury. As such, he was never really able to find a groove. When he returned late in the year, he was great (closing out the regular season with 12 points in 10 games) and his presence was felt noticeably in the Kingston line-up. He remains a project and a player who is still trying to play up to this potential. He's got great skill, size, and flashes intensity away from the puck, but the consistency still isn't there (mostly due to injuries). So...what's next? I think there a variety of things that need to be addressed (keep in mind I'm a fan of his dating back to his draft year). Firstly, he needs to stay healthy. Secondly, he needs to keep working on improving his skating. Thirdly, he needs to find a permanent position, having gone back and forth between center and the wing. Fourthly, he needs to utilize his size consistently, both with and without the puck. If all of those things can come to fruition this year (and they definitely can), he'll be in for a big year (think 35/35). The Fronts definitely need him to finally step up to take the load off of Sam Bennett. A lack of consistent secondary scoring was one of the main reasons that they were unable to escape the first round this past year.

Ben Johnson - Windsor Spitfires
Johnson had a pretty good year with Windsor, all things considered. He was consistently one of their better players and set career highs in every offensive category. His biggest weapon remains his speed and his ability to disrupt on the forecheck and on drives to the net. As he turns pro this season and suits up for Albany, it will be all about developing an identity as a pro player. He has decent hands, and obviously speed, but I don't think he's skilled enough to play a top 6 role. In order to become a competent 3rd/4th line player in the NHL, he's going to have to work hard to improve his two-way game, and become more of a consistent factor physically. With his speed he should focus on becoming a high energy guy who can help to create offence off of turnovers. And that's likely to be the precise role asked of him in Albany.

Ben Thomson - North Bay Battalion
Tale of two seasons for Thomson. In Kitchener he struggled, just like the rest of the team. After being acquired by North Bay, he took off, growing leaps and bounds as a player. Unlike Johnson, Thomson has a clear identity as a pro player. He is a checking line prospect who uses his size to win battles in the corners and in front of the net. Along with line mates Barclay Goodrow and Nick Paul, Thomson wrecked havoc on opposing defences in the second half of the year and in the playoffs. The three of them tired out the opposition by working the cycle game endlessly. They also did this, quite often, while matching up against the opposition's best, in order to keep play out of their end. Thomson will also be turning pro and heading to Albany this year. He needs to continue to work on his skating and will likely need time to get used to the speed of the pro game (decision making wise). That said, with his size, if utilized properly, he could be an effective role player next year with the potential to become more in the future.

Connor Chatham - Plymouth Whalers
I definitely like Chatham as a player and I look forward to his progression in Plymouth. He's a very interesting prospect because of the physical intangibles he brings, along with the growing confidence in his offensive abilities. This year with Plymouth, he had a pretty successful rookie season in the OHL, that saw his offensive game really improve from the start of the season to the end. By season's end, he was comfortable using his size to take the puck to the net and flashed decent skill with the puck and some finishing skills. Problem is, I found that he wasn't able to balance/blend his physical game with his offensive game. When he was on offensively, he wasn't a factor physically. When he was off offensively, it was because he was laying the body and really wrecking havoc. Finding the confidence to do both of these things consistently is something that takes time to develop in power forward/winger prospects. Hopefully Chatham can do this next year in Plymouth, where he'll have a great chance to play a top 6 role. I think he's definitely capable of a 25/25 year.

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