6 #NJDevils Thoughts – March 13, 2018

1) Over this past weekend, the NCAA career of Merrimack College forward and New Jersey Devils’ 2015 6th round pick Brett Seney came to an end, with a pair of 1-goal losses in the Hockey East Tournament Quarterfinals to #1 Boston College.  Off air, Dave and I recently discussed what’s ahead for Seney.  The Devils’ exclusive rights to him expire sometime in August.  This is not necessarily an Alexander Kerfoot situation, where there will be strong interest across the NHL.  Not to say Seney doesn’t have value to others and vice versa, but I imagine the Devils covet him more than most.

Don’t know much about Seney?  That’s OK.  Simply, he’s fast and produced points consistently on a top line (as a winger/center) in one of the tougher NCAA conferences.  A comparable NHL ceiling for Seney would be Conor Sheary of the Pittsburgh Penguins (formerly UMass), with the idea being that Nico Hischier serves in the Sidney Crosby role to Seney.  Sheary and Seney are from the same mold…undersized, fast and toolsy wingers from a lower-tier Hockey East program.  Their NCAA numbers are eerily similar:

If I had to try and project his future, he’ll be a Top-6 winger or a career AHL’r.  His skillset doesn’t really translate to an NHL 3rd or 4th line, in my opinion.  I was wondering if he would want to finish school before signing his first pro contract, since graduation is right around the corner.  If you’re look for an indicator or a sign, this happened yesterday on the Twitter Machine:

I’m intrigued to see if the Devils pen him to an ELC or an AHL-only contract.  In my head, it’s 50/50.  One more note…anyone know who signed Sheary to an AHL contract for the Penguins in March 2014?  Ray Shero.  He was also at the draft table when NJ picked Seney.

On a related note, sorry to see Merrimack HC Mark Dennehy relieved of his duties following the Quarterfinals loss.  He was kind enough to join us as a guest on #DevilsDaily over the summer to talk about Brett.  I wish him well and hope he catches on somewhere else.

2) Staying with college hockey for a moment, Corey Pronman of The Athletic recently wrote about the most attractive college players who are free agents once their NCAA season ends.  I would love to see Ray Shero continue to build up his crop of prospects by signing more undrafted NCAA talents.  We saw it already pay immediate dividends with Will Butcher and while we don’t really know much about Michael Kapla just yet, I’m curious to see how he comes along.  College UFAs don’t cost an asset, just money.  This idea as well; the more college players that get opportunities and seize them with the Devils, the more New Jersey could become a premier annual destination for undrafted college players.

One of the names mentioned is junior Robert Carpenter of Boston University, who attended the Devils 2017 Dev Camp.  Turning 22 this August, he was undoubtedly one of the better performers over the 2 days it was open to the public.  He also attended Penguins Dev Camp last summer so it may not be a clear path to NJ.  Another name of connection to the Devils is Princeton University’s Max Veronneau.  Veronneau led the nation in assists-per-game and finished 3rd in points-per-game during the regular season as a junior (though he turned 22 in December).  We’ve reported that the Devils have had scouts at several Princeton games this year.  His native city is Ottawa and he attended Dev Camps for Vegas and Calgary last summer.  Maybe he’s a guy who got a taste of the Garden State and just loves it?  Daniel Brickley of Minnesota State is this year’s prized version of Butcher as the top undrafted NCAA defenseman.  Michael Russo of The Athletic recently reported that 30 NHL teams have shown interest in Brickley, so I imagine by numbers alone that the Devils are one of those teams.  Connections?  His uncle Andy (current TV color analyst and former player for the Bruins) was a Devil in the late 80s, though his short tenure with the organization wasn’t the greatest.  I’d be surprised if the Devils landed him.

3) For me, questioning the power play is the NHL equivalent of fans riding an NFL offensive coordinator’s playcalling.  Execute and there’s no issue.  Were they awful for a month from January to February?  Absolutely.  Otherwise, Geoff Ward’s PP has been fine.  Here is the body of work of the assistant coaches who recently ran the PP for NJ during their tenure:

If you recall, midway through last year the Devils made structural changes to their power play.  And it’s worked.  Since January 13, 2017 when they made those tweaks, the Devils power play has clicked at 21.6%.  That’s good enough for 7th in the NHL in that timeframe.  Can’t give Ward all the blame and none of the credit.  You can nitpick little things about how the PP looks, whether they don’t pass or shoot enough, etc., but isn’t that most every NHL fanbase about their team’s power play?

4) On one of the recent home Devils telecasts, Steve Cangialosi mentioned how crucial a role AC Ryane Clowe has played in the 2nd year development of Miles Wood.  This is Clowe’s 2nd year as an AC, after he spent 2015-16 in an “advisor-type” role to John Hynes.  Clowe’s player contract expires at the end of the 2017-18 season and I imagine that also “serves” as his compensation/term as a coach, meaning the Devils have no attachment to him after their last game in 2017-18.  Obviously none of us are behind closed doors, but I wonder if Clowe has made enough progress/impact for Ray Shero and Hynes to retain him as a coach going forward.

5) MUSIC NERD THOUGHT WARNING: I noticed on Elias Night that the Devils came out to Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy” for the 3rd period.  Now, that was only my 2nd game of the season but I’m pretty alert to things when watching the telecasts and I know that hasn’t been the case all year long.  I LOVE that song.  Not only because it’s a badass tune, but to me…I always think Devils when I hear it.  The first year I was a season ticketholder in 2011-12, it was their walkout song before opening puck drop.  Stanley Cup Finals.  They also used it in 2002-03.  Stanley Cup Championship.  I was lucky enough to be in the building for this game and it still gives me chills watching it back:

So yeah…start using it again!  Also…quick postseason hockey fan giveaway math equation:

Pom-poms>Towels>>>Thundersticks

6) Some mini thoughts to close it out:

-I have no idea how I landed on “6 Thoughts” as the number for this platform.  6 players on the ice at once?  Andy Greene is the Captain?  6(66)?  I’m not sure exactly…maybe it’ll change, but until then expect #6 to always be a brain dump of whatever’s left in my head.  Not that there’s much there to begin with!

-Unsure when Ray Shero’s contract expires, but I’ll guess that he’s on the same three-year guaranteed, fourth-year option that John Hynes is on.  Before they announced on Elias Night that Hynes’ option was picked up, I figured both were in for at least semi-substantial extensions.  Is Ray going to have to grind out next year just like Hynes in order to receive such a pact?  I’m shocked if that ends up being the case considering the recent GM extensions that were given out to Ottawa’s Pierre Dorion and to a lesser extent Washington’s Brian McLellan and St. Louis’ Doug Armstrong.  Perhaps that’s just how the Harris/Blitzer group does business…no extensions during the year.  Obviously, I hope both guys are here for the long haul.

-Craig Custance of The Athletic recently composed a piece regarding the Top 10 Assistant GMs that are ready for a GM job.  NJ’s Tom Fitzgerald was listed at #3.  In fact…according to Darren Dreger, the Carolina Hurricanes have asked the Devils for permission to speak with Fitzgerald regarding their newly-open GM position with Ron Francis recently stripped of said title.  Shero’s understudies have a recent track record of being hired as GMs, as exhibited by Chuck Fletcher in Minnesota and Jason Botterill in Buffalo.  Regardless of their future success, that speaks well to Ray and the job he’s doing.

Candidate to replace Fitzgerald if he left?  Probably Dan MacKinnon…NJ’s Senior Director of Player Personnel.  He’s worked under Shero for every season except two since he became a front office executive in 2000-01.  He was a scout for Nashville in the early 2000s and jumped to Pittsburgh as Director of Pro Scouting (then Director of Player Personnel) when Shero was named GM in 2006.  After Shero was fired, MacKinnon stayed on another two years before coming to NJ before the 2016-17 season.  Side note…his son Will is eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft, currently a defenseman for Des Moines of the USHL and slated to join University of Denver in the fall.  In his January rankings, the Draft Analyst Steve Kournianos had him as his 388th ranked player for the 2018 NHL Draft, falling from spot no. 157 in September.

-In the February 7th edition of the 31 Thoughts Podcast, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman spoke about covering the Devils during the Lou Era:

“When Lou Lamoriello was in NJ, they had a reputation about being a certain way.  But the one thing I always liked was…everyone was there when the room opened.  They were a great team for a long time when I covered them and Brodeur talked on gamedays, all their great players from Stevens to Niedermayer to Bobby Holik…they were all there.  Now…you did it on their schedule…but they were there.  That was an organization that had a reputation of being one way and things were different.  I wasn’t there day to day…and maybe it was different for those who were…I will always concede that.  But for a team that had a reputation for being very difficult and in some ways they were, they didn’t promote players…from a pure media point of view, they were always phenomenal to deal with.”

Always nice to hear perceptions of the Devils debunked/defended/etc., especially by one of the top NHL reporters.  In fact, in 1994-95, the Devils were awarded the inaugural Dillman Award by the PHWA.  The Dillman award “recognizes public relation staffs which go to extra lengths to help promote and cover their teams as well as the NHL”.

Not quite sure if that counts as #GoodPartyTalk, though.  I’ll try better for next week!

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