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Written by: Jared Ramsden
on 08/19/2007

There are only two new additions to the New Jersey Devils Top 20 prospects list this time around, as 2007 draftees Mike Hoeffel and Nick Palmieri managed to crack a prospect group that is widely considered to be just average at best.

Top prospects Nicklas Bergfors and Matthew Corrente are coming off below average seasons, but remain No. 1 and 2 respectively due to the immense amount of upside both prospects possess. Russians Alexander Vasyunov and Vladimir Zharkov also both struggled last year, and as a result, dropped down the rankings.

It wasn’t all bad last season though as freshmen Tony Romano, Mark Fayne, Nathan Perkovich and T.J. Miller all had outstanding collegiate debuts.

The Devils have plenty of depth on defense, size through out the organization and a plethora of role playing forwards coming up the pipeline. A lack of potential star talent, too many boom or bust type prospects and a lack of depth in between the pipes constitute the major weaknesses currently in the system.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Nicklas Bergfors, RW
2. Matthew Corrente, D
3. Andy Greene, D
4. Jeff Frazee, G
5. Tony Romano, C
6. Petr Vrana, C
7. Barry Tallackson, LW
8. Alexander Vasyunov, LW
9. Mark Fraser, D
10. Kirill Tulupov, D
11. David Clarkson, RW
12. Mark Fayne, D
13. Nathan Perkovich, RW
14. Nick Palmieri, RW
15. T.J. Miller, D
16. Vladimir Zharkov, RW
17. Tyler Eckford, D
18. Patrick Davis, LW
19. Rod Pelley, C
20. Mike Hoeffel, LW

Key: Rank (Previous Rank), Name, Position, Grade

1. (1) Nicklas Bergfors, RW, 7.0 B
Acquired: 1st round, 23rd overall, 2005 NHL Draft

Bergfors had a disappointing 2006-07 season, but still remains the cream of the crop among the prospects that the Devils are developing. In a deeper system, it’s likely that Bergfors might have dropped a few spots, but since the Devils organization doesn’t have much in terms of top flight talent at this point in time, it’s not surprising to see Bergfors retain his ranking as the top prospect in the organization.

While his second season in the AHL was a bit of a struggle, the well-rounded, energetic Swedish winger started his pro career just at the ripe age of 18. He’s still developing, and he still has a tremendous amount of upside. Last year was likely just a blip on the radar screen. It shouldn’t be much of shock to see Bergfors have a bounce back year as he heads into his third season of pro hockey this fall.

NHL upside: Two way, second line scoring winger.

2. (2) Matthew Corrente, D, 7.0 C
Acquired: 1st round, 30th overall, 2006 NHL Draft

Corrente’s 2006-07 season was one that he would like to forget as he was plagued by inconsistency, injuries, and off-ice problems. Those problems derailed any chance of him getting his season back on track and were part of the reason he was dealt from Saginaw to Mississauga at mid-season. Much like Bergfors, Corrente likely would have dropped down a few notches in the prospect totem pole had he been in a different organization, but he remains the top defenseman in the Devils system.

While the Devils had to be disappointed in his sub-par performance last year, they know Corrente is still maturing and is still quite raw at this stage in his development. On a team with a plethora of defensemen, his overall potential far exceeds that of any other blueliner in the organization. Over the summer, the Devils showed their commitment to Corrente by signing the strong skating and mobile rearguard to his first professional contract. He will return to the OHL this fall, looking to move forward and forget his tumultuous 2006-07 season.

NHL upside: Well-rounded and physical top four blueliner.

3. (3) Andy Greene, D, 7.0 B
Acquired: Signed as free agent, April 2006

It was quite a professional debut for Greene as he started the season in the AHL with Lowell, and finished it as one of New Jersey’s more consistent defensemen after earning a full-time promotion three quarters of the way through the season. The AHL All-Star had a stellar trial run earlier in the year once a regular spot was available for the taking in the NHL, Greene grabbed it and ran with it. He sits just a notch below Corrente, but retains his standing as the third best prospect in the system.

With the free agent departure of top defenseman Brian Rafalski, there is a gapping hole on the Devils blueline, especially when you consider that Rafalski was the Devils top scoring defenseman the past two seasons. There is no better in-house candidate to fill that role than Greene, who has the offensive skills and vision to aptly take over that role. While it might be expecting a lot for Greene to fill Rafalski’s skates, if last season is any indication, he should be up for the challenge.

NHL upside: Two-way, top four defenseman, who may quarterback the Devils power play this year.

4. (6) Jeff Frazee, G, 7.0 C
Acquired: 2nd round, 38th overall, 2005 NHL Draft

Frazee has showed slow but steady progress in his second season at the University of Minnesota this past season, but it was his performance at the World Junior Championships that really was the defining moment for him. After starting the tournament as Team USA’s No. 2 goaltender, he took the reins from Jeff Zatkoff (LA) and helped earn the American squad a bronze medal. As a result, Frazee moved up two spots from sixth to fourth in this edition of the Devils Top 20 prospects re-ranking.

After sharing starting duties the past two years, Frazee will be given every opportunity to seize the No. 1 goaltending job for the Golden Gophers going into his junior season this fall. His confidence, improving consistency and commitment to getting himself into better shape has to have the Devils brass excited about his long-term upside. Though the Devils don’t have much in terms of goaltenders coming up the pipeline, Frazee’s continued development should make that a moot point. This coming season could be the breakout season both Frazee and the Devils have been waiting for.

NHL upside: Competent, but not spectacular starting goaltender.

5. (11) Tony Romano, C, 7.0 C
Acquired: 6th round, 178th overall, 2006 NHL Draft

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