Albany Devils Set Tone For New Jersey’s Future

Perhaps the only disappointment with the Albany Devils season is that it ended too early. Yes, ultimately 29 teams endure this feeling at the end of the year but there’s one caveat which stands out. With all due respect to the Hershey Bears and their fine Atlantic Division winning campaign, the A-Devils and Toronto Marlies should have met in the Eastern Conference Finals and not the second round. Given the new American Hockey League playoff format, which like the NHL bizarrely doesn’t re-seed, the team with the second most points and third highest winning percentage in the league goes home after the second round.

Perhaps that would’ve only delayed the inevitable against a historically impressive Marlies squad but the Devils skated toe to toe with Toronto, losing by a goal on the road in Game 7 and have nothing to hang their heads about.

From here, the thoughts turn from the what-ifs to the big picture items. How does the future set up with the parent club in New Jersey? Which players raised their stock and which ones are ready for prime time at the next level? How much does winning at the AHL level foster a new bond and culture of winning with the NHL club, among these players who’ve done it together? Who will be back in Albany and how does the pipeline look next year? Will the excitement of new playoff rivalries and May hockey restore pride and boost attendance in Albany in the near and distant future?

On the current New Jersey roster, there’s seven forwards who are unrestricted free agents and five who are restricted free agents, while on defense there’s two unrestricted free agents and one restricted free agent. Hence there will be plenty of spots available and much competition come training camp in September.

In addition to those sent down for the Calder Cup playoffs (Damon Severson, Reid Boucher, Pavel Zacha, Joseph Blandisi, etc.), one would imagine the likes of Seth Helgeson and Vojtech Mozik would move up on the depth chart and wind up in New Jersey’s blue-line plans. At forward, the same could be said of players like Nick Lappin, Matt Lorito, Blake Pietila, Graham Black and Ben Thomson. That’s not even mentioning Miles Wood and Steven Santini.

Also intriguing is the goaltending situation, where the organization has a welcome problem of deciding to move up Scott Wedgewood or move one of their abundance of netminders for some scoring punch, with Ken Appleby and Mackenzie Blackwood moving up a notch.

As far as the Albany roster is concerned, goalie Yann Danis, forwards Jim O’Brien, Mike Sislo, Brian O’Neill, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond and defensemen Marc-Andre Gragnani, Dan Kelly and Brandon Burlon are all unrestricted free agents. In addition, blueliners Raman Hrabarenka and Reece Scarlett are restricted free agents.

Obviously October is a long way off, with trades, signings and New Jersey’s roster notwithstanding, players under contract or who could possible find themselves at Albany next season include John Quenneville, Ryan Kujawinski, Blake Coleman, Zacha, Wood, Blandisi, Santini, Blackwood, Appleby, Wedgewood, Black, Thomson, Paul Thompson, Rod Pelley, Lappin, Corbin McPherson and Josh Jacobs.

Needless to say, general manager Ray Shero and head coach John Hynes will have some interesting moves to make this summer. But thanks to a rebirth of the farm system, there is no shortage of options.