From one end of the ice to the other, this season’s rookie crop has done all it can to help the Albany Devils stay in the playoff race.
The Devils enter this weekend in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, five points ahead of ninth-place Norfolk with eight games to play (though the Admirals have a game in hand). From the crease to the blue line and forward into the corners, players in their first full AHL season have made big contributions for Albany.
“You never know how these guys are going to translate, even a [Reid] Boucher,” Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. “We know he can score goals, but we talk about a complete game and playing in all three zones. [Stefan] Matteau is another one. A lot of these guys have come in and done a really good job and have played a lot of minutes for us and played in important situations.”
They will continue filling those important roles tonight at Syracuse, Saturday at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Sunday in Glens Falls against Adirondack.
Defensemen Reece Scarlett (4-13-17, plus-nine) and Seth Helgeson (1-7-8, plus-10) have been reliable in their own zone. Scarlett is coming back from an upper-body injury and may return to game action this weekend.
Helgeson is the only Devil to have played in all 68 of Albany’s games this season. He has been paired with second-year man Corbin McPherson (plus-15), and they have often been sent out against opposing teams’ top lines.
Rookie goalie Scott Wedgewood is 14-13-3 with a 2.46 goals-against average and save percentage of .897, and over the last few weeks he has had the hot hand. He is 5-2-0 in his last seven games with a save percentage of .922 and 13 goals allowed.
Tied for second among the team’s point scorers is rookie Kelly Zajac with 10 goals and 30 assists in 60 games.
“He’s been huge for us,” Kowalsky said. “For me, I was trying to figure out whether or not he could consistently play in this league, and he’s certainly proved that.”
He also has a plus-five rating and centers the line of Mattias Tedenby and fellow rookie Matteau.
Matteau has 13 goals, 11 assists and a plus-three through 59 games.
Zajac played three games at the end of the 2011-12 season after finishing his career with Union College. He played 14 games last season, registering two goals and two assists, while also playing 15 games with the Trenton Titans of the ECHL (6-10-16). Those 14 games weren’t enough to keep the 25-year-old from being considered a rookie again this season.
Boucher has 19 goals and 14 assists through 48 games with Albany. He also has played 23 games with New Jersey this season, posting two goals and five assists.
Matteau played 17 games with New Jersey last season after the lockout ended, recording a goal and two assists. He and Boucher entered the season with a bit of hype around them, while Zajac entered the season with more questions than hype.
A nagging lower-body injury hampered his efforts last season and kept him sidelined through the offseason, most of training camp and the first five games this season.
“I waited all summer to come back and prove myself again and show the coaching staff and everyone that I could play still, and that I was over the injuries,” Zajac said. “So obviously, it’s been a good year, so far. I’m just looking to keep it going and help the team any way I can and make the playoffs.”
The Devils’ final road game of the season has been changed from April 18 to April 16, against the Portland Pirates in Lewiston, Maine, at 7 p.m.