The Devils you don’t know

Kenn Oliver
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How the Albany Devils match up against the St. John’s IceCaps

They haven’t faced each other yet this season, but the St. John’s IceCaps and Albany Devils, who will meet in a first-round American Hockey League beginning Friday in Albany, N.Y., have more than a few things in common, beginning with that both were well-fortified by their parent clubs at the conclusion of the 2013-14 National Hockey League regular season.

The IceCaps received six players — goalie Michael Hutchinson, defencemen Zach Redmond and Ben Chiarot; and forwards Eric O’Dell, Patrice Cormier and Carl Klingberg — from the Winnipeg Jets at season’s end, while Albany got forwards Mike Sislo and Tom Sestito, along with defencemen Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas and Adam Larsson, from the New Jersey Devils, who like the Jets, failed to earn a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs,

In all, Albany’s post-season roster features 11 players who appeared in a total of 242 NHL games in 2013-14, while eight separate IceCaps dressed for a total of 58 games, more than half off them by O’Dell (30).

The late-season roster additions means both the IceCaps and Devils enter the playoffs with very deep lineups.

There is plenty of skill and skating ability on the forward lines on both sides (although St. John’s features a bit more size up front) and goaltending has not been a concern for either club.

There is a somewhat of a contrast on defence, where St. John’s has featured a number of players who can be classified as offensive rearguards, while the Devils have been a team that has relied more on size and traditional stay-at-home style on the back end.

The comparison is probably best made by considering that St. John’s had three rearguards — rookie Brenden Kichton (48), Will O’Neill (37) and Redmond (24 in 40 games) — with 24 or more points, while Raman Hrabarenka led all Albany blueliners with 21 points. Nevertheless, the arrival of Merrill, Larsson and in particular, Gelinas, should add to the Devils’ ability to get some offence from the D.

The biggest difference is in Calder Cup playoff experience.

Albany hasn’t played a post-season game since the AHL Devils franchise transferred from Lowell, Mass., in 2010. That means Sestito (five games with Lowell in 2010) and centre Scott Timmins (10 games with the San Antonio Rampage in 2011) are the only Albany players to have appeared in an AHL playoff game.

Meanwhile, St. John’s has a dozen players with Calder Cup playoff experience, led by captain Jason Jaffray, with 75 AHL post-season games, this despite his missing the IceCaps’ 2012 playoff run because of a neck injury.

Jafrray’s linemate, Andrew Gordon, has played in 63 AHL playoff contests and has twice won the Calder Cup, both times with the Hershey Bears in 2009 and 2010.

The playoff experience difference also extend to the head coaches, with the IceCaps’ Keith McCambridge owning the benefit of St. John’s 15-game run in the 2012 post-season, while Rick Kowalksy has been the coach throughout the AHL Devils’ post-season drought, having taken over New Jersey’s farm team after being promoted from the Devils’ ECHL affiliate in Trenton.

Kowalksy, whom St. John’s fans might remember from his AHL playing days with the Cornwall Aces and Portland Pirates, did appear in 10 Calder Cup playoff games for Cornwall. McCambridge dressed for 28 AHL post-season games as a defenceman with the Saint John Flames and Providence Bruins.

Finally, the teams were similar in their home records, St. John’s going 23-10-5 at Mile One Centre and Albany posting a 24-9-5 record at the Times Union Center. However, it was a different story on the road, where the IceCaps were 23-13-2 and the Devils were just 16-14-8. That’s something to pay attention given the make-up of the best-of-five series, with the first two games in Albany and the last three, which provides the Icecaps with home-ice advantage, at Mile One.

 

bmcc@thetelegram

 

 

St. John's IceCaps

Forwards

   The IceCaps now possess one of the deepest group of forwards in the AHL.

   John Albert (team-leading 28 goals) centres Jaffray, who registered an IceCaps-record 59 points this season, and Gordon (23G-33A-56 Pts). Then, there is O’Dell (42 points in 42 GP with St. John’s) between Klingberg (22 goals) and Kael Mouillierat (60 GP, 20-33-53).

   JC Lipon (42 points and a team-leading 136 penalty minutes) joins fellow rookie Adam Lowry (17 goals) and veteran Jerome Samson (27 goals, 56 points), while Kyle MacKinnon, the winner of the team’s hardest-working player award, centres Cormier and Blair Riley (71 GP, 7-14-21) on what’s been called the IceCaps’ energy or checking unit. However some might also see this unit as a fourth line, which would mean St. John’s fourth line includes MacKinnon, whose 39 points would have put him a tie for fourth overall in scoring on Albany, and Cormier, who played nine NHL games for the Jets this season.

   That’s depth.

   The IceCaps have eight forwards who put up 40 or more points in the regular season, and four at 50-plus. There were eight centres or wingers on the team with 17 or more goals, with five at 20-plus.

   Josh Lunden, who scored six goals in his last 13 games after missing much of the season with a concussion, may have to be patient as the series with the Devils’ begins. Other St. John’s forwards are Ryan Schnell (120 PIMs in 39 games), rookie Austen Brassard and Brandon MacLean, brought in at the end of the season and who has yet to play a game for the IceCaps.

    Albert led all AHL players with six shorthanded goals in 2013-14, while Samson (11) and Gordon (10) were 1-2 in power-play scoring for St. John’s.

 

Defence

   Lots of depth here, too. If McCambridge dresses six defencemen for Game 1, there could be at least two rearguards who could be classified as IceCaps’ regulars watching from the press box at the Times Union Centre Friday night.

   The most interesting decision for Game 1 involved Josh Morrissey, who has transitioned pretty smoothly from the junior ranks to the pros through his first eight AHL contests. Morrissey will play on Friday. The Jets’ 2013 first-round draft pick already may be the best skater on an IceCaps team full of players with swift feet and that’s a desirable quality when dealing with a Devils forward group that has its own share of speedy players.

  Kichton led all AHL rookie rearguards with 48 points (76 GP, 10 goals, 38 assists). His production slowed down in the second-half of the season — he hasn’t scored a goal since Feb. 18 —  but picked things up a little towards the end, with three assists in the IceCaps’ last four games.

     Redmond also experienced a bit of a lull after being returned from the second of three recalls to Winnipeg, when he didn’t play a single game in nearly four weeks, but he did have a goal and 10 assists, with a plus-16 rating, over his last 20 games with St. John’s, with another, more active, call-up to the Jets in between.

    Chiarot had 20 points en route to being named St. John’s top defenceman this season. A contributing factor certainly was his plus-29 rating, which led the IceCaps and fifth among all AHL players.

   Julian Melchiori (50 GP 1-10-11), who like Chiarot, made his NHL debut with a single game in Winnipeg this season, was second on St. John’s at plus-19, but missed the last three games of the regular season because of an injury. McCambridge has listed him as day-to-day this week.

   O’Neil had a remarkable in-season turnaround, going from minus-11 in mid-November, to plus-six by season’s end. He had nine goals (seven coming on the power play) and 26 assists, giving him 35 points, putting him in the top 20 of scoring by AHL defencemen.

   There’s nothing spectacular about the games of off-season pickups Kris Fredheim (1-4-5) or Jordan Hill (0-12-12) … unless you get excited by dependable defensive play. Fredheim missed nearly 30 games with injury, but was a reliable minutes-eater when he played. Hill didn’t score a goal, but probably prevented a dozen as a shot-blocking machine.

Goaltending

    The IceCaps finished the season with two goalies who had started in the ECHL in October, but there was definitely no fall-off from Eddie Pasquale, who was lost to season-ending hip surgery in early February.

    Michael Hutchinson’s 2.30 goals-against average and .923 save percentage would have been in the official top five in the AHL at season’s end if he had played in one more game for St. John’s; Hutchinson, who had a 17-5-1 record, with three shutouts, for the IceCaps, appeared in 24 contests and the cutoff for official ranking is 25 GP.

    Hutchinson is coming off a confidence-building stint with Winnipeg, seeing his first NHL action and going 2-1 in three games.

    Tyler Beskorowany, who arrived in St. John’s after the San Francisco Bulls of the ECHL went kaput mid-season, actually had better than numbers than Hutchinson, with a 2.20 GAA and .930 save percentage for the IceCaps while posting a 7-2-2 record.

    18-year-old Eric Comrie, the Jets’ second-round draft pick last June, is also with the team.

•••

Albany Devils

Forwards

   The Devils don’t have any giants up front — its roster shows 10 forwards who are under six-feet and/or 200 pounds — but there is no shortage of speed and skill.

What’s more, 10 Albany forwards have NHL experience, including eight who played in New Jersey this season, including tough Cam Janssen (24 GP with New Jersey) and sophomore pro Reid Boucher (23 NHL games in 2013-14)

    Leading the way offensively for the AHL Devils is five-foot-six Joe Whitney, who has topped Albany in scoring the last two seasons, including 22-31-53 numbers in 73 games in 2013-14. Whitney also made his NHL debut this season, appearing in a single game for Jersey.

    Rookie centre Kelly Zajac (67 GP,12-32-44) and Sislo (59 GP, 23-18-41) were second and third in Albany scoring. Sislo also saw his first NHL action, dressing in 14 games for the big Devils.

    Boucher had 22 goals in 56 games with Albany after having started season in New Jersey (2-5-7). Former Florida Panther Timmins (61 GP, 13-26-39), Harri Pesonen (4 GP in New Jersey; 71 GP, 15-21-36 in Albany), AHL veteran Sestito (16 GP, 0-3-3 in New Jersey; 51 GP, 13-14-27 in Albany); 2012 first-rounder Stefan Matteau (17 GP, 1-2-3 in New Jersey; 67 GP, 13-13-26 in Albany); 2008 New Jersey first-rounder Mattias Tedenby (15 GP, one goal in NHL; 42 GP, 9-13-22 in Albany) and Chris McKelvie (57 GP, 9-12-21) round out Albany’s top 10 in scoring.

    Other Albany centres and wingers include team captain Rod Pelley, a veteran of 256 NHL games; Darcy Zajac, Kelly’s older brother; University of Michigan product David Wohlberg; Mike Hoeffel, who at 6-3 joins Matteau as the biggest Albany forwards.

 

Defence

    Albany’s top four defenceman are players who spent almost as much, if not more, time in the NHL this season. The other thing they have in common is that they are all big.

    Third-year pro Gelinas played 60 games with the parent Devils in New Jersey, scoring seven goals and 22 assists. Five of his NHL goals and 17 of his big-league points came on the power play, so the 6-4, 205-pounder is expected to provide a boost to an Albany PP which ranked 21st in the AHL this season.

    Larsson, the fourth overall pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, is still just 21, but has already played 128 games with New Jersey, including 26 this season. The 6-3 Swede had three goals and 19 points in 33 games with Albany in 2013-14.

    Merrill, another former Michigan Wolverine, suited up in 52 games with New Jersey, registering two goals and 11 points. In just 15 games with Albany, the 6-3 Merrill had a couple of goals and eight assists and did not record a penalty minute.

     At 6-5, Swede Alexander Urbon is the tallest player on the Albany roster. He has played for Albany the last four seasons, but started the 2013-14 campaign with the NHL’s Washington Capitals after having been acquired on waivers. Urbon payed 20 games with the Capitals (one goal, one assist), but was reacquired on waivers by the Devils and assigned to Albany, where he played 35 games, recording a goal and 11 points.

    Others on the Albany defence includes 6-4 Corbin MacPherson (69 GP, 0-10-10), who topped the team with a plus-16 rating; sophomore pro Hrabarenka, a 6-3 Belarussian who had six goals and 14 assists in 48 games; rookie Reece Scarlett (6-14-20, +11 in 48 games); fourth-year AHL Devil Dan Kelly (71GP, 3-14-17), former second-round New Jersey draft pick Brandon Burlon (54 GP, 5-6-11) and 6-4 Seth Helgeson (75GP, 1-9-10), a University of Minnesota alumnus who led Albany with 100 penalty minutes this season.

 

Goaltending

    The AHL Devils’ No. 1 netminder is Scott Kinkaid, a Long Island native who played NCAA hockey at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., just a few miles from Albany. KInkaid went 24-13-5 in 43 games, with a 2.29 GAA, third-best in the AL this season. His backup is Scott Wedgewood (36 GP, 16-4-3, 2.43 GAA).

    Interesting to note that neither’s save percentage (.912 for Kinkaid, .899 for Wedgewood) is phenomenal, at least compared to other AHL netminders\. That may be an indication of Albany’s solid team defence as the Devils allowed 1,932 shots, second-fewest in the AHL after Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

 

 

Organizations: IceCaps, New Jersey Devils, NHL Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. Winnipeg Jets Hershey Bears Times Union Center Times Union Centre Washington Capitals Florida Panther Timmins University of Michigan University of Minnesota NCAA Wedgewood

Geographic location: Albany, New Jersey, Lowell, Mass. Winnipeg Jordan Hill Long Island Wilkes-Barre

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