Devils defense, anchored by Kinkaid, made strides
Keith Kinkaid gets better every season.
The Union College product finished his third year as a pro with a record of 24-13-5, four shutouts, a 2.29 goals-against average and .912 save percentage for the Albany Devils.
He and rookie Scott Wedgewood (16-14-3, four shutouts, 2.39 GAA, .899 save percentage) helped get the Devils to the postseason for the first time since they moved to Albany in the summer of 2010.
Kinkaid wanted this playoff experience. He wanted to show he could be a consistent backstop in a high-pressure situation, hopefully increasing his chances of securing a spot on the parent club’s roster.
He went 1-3 in the first-round loss to St. John’s, but his 2.26 GAA and .932 save percentage provide a more accurate picture of his contribution.
“It was a tough ending,” Kinkaid said. “I think we had a great team to go pretty far with, we could have surprised a lot of people, but things didn’t go our way. We didn’t get the bounces when we needed them. But it’s definitely a learning experience, and a good experience going forward.
“There’s just little things here and there you notice. Playoff experience, you have to bring your game up a little notch.”
Kinkaid is a restricted free agent now, and he said he is hopeful he made a strong enough case for himself to be considered for a job in New Jersey in the fall.
“Obviously, you want to be up with the big club, but nobody knows their plans, right now,” he said. “I did all I can to try to make an impression on the organization.”
Kinkaid made that impression despite having a host of young players in front of him. He and the Devils had the fourth-stingiest defense in the Eastern Conference with an average 2.54 goals against.
In fact, the youngest of those players formed the most reliable defensive pairing on the team. Rookie Seth Helgeson and second-year pro Corbin McPherson combined for a plus-28 rating. McPherson led the team with a plus-16.
As deep as the Devils were at defenseman, the “veteran” among the D corps was fourth-year man Dan Kelly. Kelly was one of three Devils who split time wearing an ‘A’ on his sweater. He finished with a plus-13, second best on the team, and is the franchise’s all-time (meaning for the last eight seasons) plus-minus leader with a four-year cumulative plus-36 through 233 regular-season games.
“These guys really matured, matured into defensemen,” Kelly said of the D corps. “They’re learning the speed and the physicality of this league. You’re not playing against young men anymore in college and junior. You’re playing against actual men, guys who could be 30 years old and have been doing this for a while. I think, as a group, they’ve grown physically and mentally.”
Reece Scarlett and Jon Merrill also were rookies, though Merrill has spent a bit of time with New Jersey. Scarlett turned in six goals, 14 assists and a plus-11 in 48 games, and Merrill provided another point threat on the power play.
Raman Hrabarenka improved on the blue line this season, turning in six goals and 15 assists, many of those points coming during the second half of the season when he seemed to find his rhythm.
Brandon Burlon was playing some of his best hockey near the end of the season, only being pegged as a healthy scratch because of the depth gained by Merill and Eric Gelinas coming down as New Jersey’s season was ending.
Adam Larsson (3-16-19) and Alexander Urbom (1-10-11) both spent half the season with Albany.
“We came in, and in the beginning part of the year, we didn’t really know what to expect with a young group,” Kelly said. “We knew we had a good group, and we knew we were fast. Then when we started winning games, you’re 20 games in, and you’re like, ‘Wow, we’re a team [not to be messed] with. Now teams are really taking us seriously.’ It really changes that. Bringing in a guy like Rod Pelley, who’s a great leader, really turned this team around.”
Kelly said having Pelley as captain helped him better wear his letter.
“Anytime you’re not learning is a time maybe you should get out of the game,” he said. “Having a guy like Pells with his poise and his maturity around really helps out everyone, including some of the younger leaders. It’s a good example for all.”
Kelly, already a physical player who relishes having one of his plays thrown on the video board as the collision of the game, said he will concentrate this offseason on becoming MORE physical.
“You’re still trying to get stronger, and you’re trying to get faster to make that jump to the next level, because it’s a big jump. You need to refocus, and you have to work on things that you need to work on specifically.
“I want to gain an extra 10 pounds of lean muscle so I can come back in and be a physical force on the back end.”
When he returns, he said he hopes the Devils can build on the foundation they laid this season.
“I’ve been playing in Albany for four years now, and every year, we’ve gotten better,” he said. “Every year, we’ve taken a step and gotten better. To make the playoffs this year, it’s a big growth process for everyone to get that experience, and hopefully next year, we can go a little further or win the whole thing.”