It is hard to believe that New Jersey Devils rookie camp starts on Thursday. As the players get ready for their trip up to Buffalo, a few surprises may just be on the horizon. In total, 24 players are on the roster. This is comprised of two goalies, seven defensemen, and 15 forwards.
When you further break things down, seven players are unsigned draft choices (UDC’s) and three players happen to be on amateur tryouts (ATO’s). Two prospects happen to be on AHL contracts while the remaining are on NHL contracts of some form or another. Just the fact that the Devils will be in any kind of prospects challenge is quite significant. Think of the later days of the Lou Lamoriello regime and remember the lack of prospect continuity period. Development was never really tested this way. As a result, many argued that the last decade’s worth of draft classes definitely had some odds stacked against them.
Are there players that could really surprise other than the usual rookies in the class? The likelihood definitely exists. We break these down by position (goalie, defensemen, and forwards).
Rookie Devils Goalie Surprise
Ken Appleby (Oshawa — OHL)
The 20 year old goalie did definitely turn some heads in rookie camp in June. That was where he got some notice in a high paced second half of a scrimmage between the Devils prospects. People forget that Oshawa had probably an AHL level defense as Appleby piled up 38 wins in just 50 games played. Regardless of a system, a goalie that produces a 2.08 GAA in the OHL should definitely be noticed.
Yet no one really did. His fundamentals are rather polished and yet acrobatic enough to make some highlight reel saves. Just ask Pavel Zacha how many times he was stoned during the June rookie “orientation”. This save was what really got him some notice and not just the fact that he helped defeat Connor McDavid‘s team. What impressed me most in June was how composed and polished Appleby was when the pressure got too high. He handled it a good bit better than 2015 second round draft pick Mackenzie Blackwood. Both are 6 foot 4 inches tall and around the same weight yet Appleby was the much more fluid goaltender that week in June. This left a lasting impression and part of why Appleby was invited to this prospect round robin in Buffalo. There was also this piece of hardware called the Memorial Cup.
The Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins rookies may just get a taste of Appleby during the challenge. This could be quite interesting. New Jersey might just offer him a contract if things go well.
Surprise Rookie Devils Forward
Alexandre Goulet (Charlottetown — QMJHL)
Let’s go off the grid a little bit with another amateur tryout. The coaches definitely noticed him. That is a given.
The 35 goal standout from the QMJHL was a lot of fun to watch during the prospects scrimmage especially. He certainly did not look intimidated by the increased quality of competition. Just the fact that Goulet went undrafted (hey this has happened before) raised a few eyebrows. Draft experts thought at some point he would hear his name called and yet it never happened.
What became apparent from watching the June camp was that the 19 year old clearly possessed some wheels and an ability to shoot at will which is encouraging for most younger players in the current Devils system. Consider that the team itself has too many players that cannot hit the net. The very fact that Goulet showed a willingness to go to the net and fire the puck at it was a pleasant surprise. It is no wonder why he got an invite to this prospect round robin.
Team scouts saw enough to be impressed. This next step is what most will be watching even though it is not a defining point necessarily. The one knock in a sense for Goulet is that he does need to get a little stronger upper body wise but that will come soon enough. He could fill out to a 205 pound forward easily yet still have strength and speed to burn. Goulet will be one to watch closely in the next week.
Surprise Devils Rookie Defenseman
Ramen Hrabarenka — Albany (AHL)
People may chuckle a little here but the 23 year old defenseman has definitely experienced a ton of growing pains since coming over from Belarus. Last season was the first one in Albany where he really had a chance to start putting aspects of his game together. Combine the above average shot with the big frame and that makes Hrabarenka very dangerous.
This video reveals a lot about the defenseman and his slow development through the Devils organization. Remember the Belarus player is a 235 pound behemoth who has immense upper and lower body strength. Health issues and some bad luck really had dogged the defenseman but last year showed a lot of growth. He is the kind of physical clear the crease defender New Jersey needs and his power play potential does not hurt either.
A strong rookie and training camp may just give him a chance to actually make the Devils opening night roster. It will not be easy as lots of competition exists in the defensive corps but Hrabarenka has beaten the odds so many times that he cannot just be idly dismissed here. The one position New Jersey is stacked is defense and at the very worse we get to see just what he is developing into in the next week or two or three.