The more a player produces at the AHL level the more attention he garners from the parent club in the NHL. Once the inevitable call-up occurs, the rest of the team has to pull together to keep pace in the standings. New heroes must emerge and hopefully make up for the loss of the promoted player. Look no further than the 2013-14 Albany Devils. Since Opening Night at Hartford, Newark has stolen two of Albany’s best defensemen, Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill. For a brief stretch, Albany lost their top goaltender Keith Kinkaid to New Jersey. More recently, the last two games for Albany featured a lineup minus their standout rookie Reid Boucher and alternate captain Tim Sestito. Yet, the Albany Devils have not faltered. The depth of the Devils organization and a rewarding system has the Devils separating themselves from most of their division and has them within four points of the Northeast Division leading Springfield Falcons. These five players are the Devils early unsung heroes though the constant recalls to New Jersey:
1. Raman Hrabarenka
When Merrill was recalled to New Jersey the first time, Hrabarenka filled his spot on the Albany roster. Through his first eight games of the season, he put up two assists for Albany and was a -3. As it became apparent that Merrill (after being recalled the second time after a brief conditioning stint) and Gelinas were not returning to Albany any time soon, Hrabarenka has put together a four-game point streak from the back end. The hulking blue liner had a team high six shots on goal and scored his first goal of the season, a power play goal from the foot of the crease, in the 6-4 victory over the division leading Falcons last Wednesday night. He has also added has four assists during his streak. While his +/- has remained stagnant at -4, he has helped the Devils offense out muster their opponents in their recent trend of high scoring games.
Hrabarenka sneaks to the crease behind the play and buries his first of the season against the Falcons:
2. Dan Kelly
Dan Kelly is a team leading +8 since the end of October and the recent offensive surge has not been the reason although it did not hurt being on the ice for three of the Devils eight goals against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on November 30th. He has a goal and seven assists since the beginning of November but has been a steady presence defensively for Albany. In just 23 games this season, he has surpassed last season’s total of 8 points, which was a career high for him in the AHL. Along with Seth Helgeson, they are the only defensemen for Albany to have played in every game this season. With Merrill’s departure, Kelly now leads all Devils defensemen in points.
3. Harri Pesonen
After a long goal scoring drought, Pesonen is beginning to put pucks in the net. After scoring against the Adirondack Phantoms in the latest installment of the Time Warner Cable Cup series with a backhander, he redirected a Kelly Zajac shot to notch his second goal of the season in the Devils last game, a 3-2 shootout victory over the Binghamton Senators. He has put together a five-game point scoring streak after not going more than one game in a row with a point all season. He has two goals and three assists during the five games with a total of nine points this season.
4. Mike Sislo
Sislo is riding a four-game point scoring streak of his own as well. After his hat trick against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on November 8th, Sislo was held pointless in his next four games. Albany won three of those games but since then Sislo has picked up four goals and three assists. In the Devils 8-6 blasting of the Sound Tigers, Sislo opened the scoring for the Devils when he tied the game from the circle to the right of Bridgeport goaltender Kenny Reiter. He also scored the Devils fifth goal of the game as he rushed down the wing and scored from the opposite circle. Along with Tim Sestito, they led both teams with four points apiece. Sislo also scored an important game-tying goal in their latest victory over the Senators after a beautiful set of passes during the Devils two-man advantage power play.
Mike Sislo and the Devils lit the lamp eight times against the Sound Tigers:
5. Kelly Zajac
It has been a tale of two seasons for Kelly Zajac. One of Travis Zajac’s three younger brothers, the 25 year-old forward had just a goal and an assist and was -1 through his first ten games of the season. Dating back to his league debut during the 2011-12 season, Zajac had just three goals and three assists in his first 27 games. Since then, he has been on a team leading seven-game point scoring streak in which he has picked up another goal and a whopping nine assists. He is +3 during the streak and had three assists in the last two games since the recall of Boucher and Sestito. He has picked up an assist in five consecutive games and had the primary assist on both Albany goals against the Senators.
The Albany Devils have won three straight games and nine of their last twelve. They are set to begin a home and home battle with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Tuesday, December 10th. The opening faceoff will take place at 11:00AM, the earliest start time of the season for the Devils, at Bridgeport. They have won seven of their eleven road games this season. The Devils have defeated the Sound Tigers in both prior contests during this campaign; however, this will be their first meeting at the Webster Bank Arena.
Leo is in his second year with THW. He covers the 3-Time Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils and the Albany Devils of the American Hockey League. You can follow Leo on Twitter, @LeoScaglioneJr.