Since 2012, we've followed in the footsteps of other blogs on this very network to arbitrarily rank the top 25 players on the New Jersey Devils that are under the age of 25. This is always a mix of NHL players, NHL hopefuls, legit prospects, and draft picks with a long shot to make it. Yet, it's crucial to keep an eye on them as these young players will become the core of the team in years to come. What you see of the New Jersey Devils now is a function of that. For the re-build to ever become complete, they will need both quantity and quality of talented young players. Therefore, we will continue this series every summer.
Since 2013, I've made the decision of having an open survey for you, the reader, to rank the under-25 set in the organization. In 2013 and 2014, the ranking was entirely driven by the wisdom of the crowd to get a sense of how the fans rate the various players. This year, we've decided to do something different. The ranking is driven in part by the community - again through a survey - and driven in part by the rankings of the various writers who took part in ranking them. Each rating was weighted equally and from that, the final rankings for this year's list. Now, we can give you the results.
We begin with the under-25 Devils who didn't make the top 25. These are the outsiders. With Ray Shero adding a few players that qualify for this list and some others sticking around, some of last year's top 25 fell out of the top 25 entirely. They will join some other players who were rated this low before and remain low. Two picks from the 2015 draft and an undrafted free agent signing also get their start here. Here's hoping a few of these players break out in 2015-16 and can command something more at the pro level.
#38 - Ryan Rehill - D - Age: 19 - 2014-15 Team: Kamloops (WHL) - 2014 Rank: #35 - Elite Prospects Profile
Ryan Rehill was rated dead last in 2014, he once again was rated dead last this year. A physical defenseman that brings little offense to the table and plenty of penalty minutes in junior does not bode well for the future. In another era, he'd get a legitimate shot at the next level if only for his "toughness." Short of being absolutely amazing in his own end, there's very little reason for anyone to think much of Rehill's future in pro hockey. Even then, the growth of analytics and the general trend in hockey both conclude that a one-dimensional defenseman like this doesn't really help all that much. Rehill will go back to the WHL in 2015-16 where he'll likely be a big part of their team if only for being a veteran; but it's highly unlikely he does something that makes one think he has a future in the NHL. This ranking should surprise no one.
#37 - J.D. Dudek - C - Age: 19 - 2014-15 Team: Dubuque/Chicago (USHL) - 2014 Rank: #37 - Elite Prospects Profile
When Dudek was last ranked, he was outside of the top 25, but not anywhere near the bottom. I noted that he was going to the USHL to develop his game. In 2014-15, Dudek put up only six goals and twelve points in 41 games with the Fighting Saints before being dealt to the Steel in March. With Chicago, Dudek's rate of production was a bit better with four goals and six points in thirteen games. These aren't exactly numbers that jump off the page, much less get one to think he'll become a late round gem of a pick. It's unknown how he'll actually fit in at Boston College next season, but not really performing well in the USHL is red flag for the future. As such, he wasn't rated as highly as he was after he was drafted.
#36 - Brandon Baddock - LW/C - Age: 20 - 2014-15 Team: Edmonton (WHL) - 2014 Rank: #32 - Elite Prospects Profile
After Dudek, Brandon Baddock was the team's other sixth round draft pick in 2014. It was imemdiately apparent he was all about the rough stuff with 128 penalties in minutes in 56 WHL regular season games to go with a whopping seventeen points. His drafting was not well-received, and not much has happened to change many minds. In 2014-15, Baddock did manage to put up some more production with forty points in 71 WHL games. He also managed to top his penalty minute totals to 131; again, justifying the reputation that he's more about the beef. This sort of player is essentially being phased out of the NHL more quickly than the defensive defenseman. Therefore, I would agree with my fellow writers and the community that there's not much of a reason to think Baddock will make it to that next level.
#35 - Max Novak - RW - Age: 24 - 2014-15 Team: Union (ECAC) - 2014 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Max Novak can claim something I don't think anyone else on this year's list can claim: a #1 highlight on Sportscenter. He's scored a goal that ended up being the one that was on the NCCA championship game for Union in 2014. Novak ended up being a pretty big deal at Union as he was a member of some successful teams. When he signed his amateur tryout contract with the Albany Devils earlier this year, Ryan Fay of the Union Hockey Blog noted the number of game winners he had with the Dutchmen. However, we know better than to rely on any "clutch" factor. As decent as Novak's production may look, he was never one of Union's top forwards. His advanced age means this will likely be his only appearance on this list. Still, the hope is that he provides some depth at Albany in a position of need in this organization. Beyond that, well, that would just be grand. He'll always have his time at Union, worse comes to worse.
#34 - Artur Gavrus - C/LW - Age: 21 - 2014-15 Team: Dinamo Minsk (KHL) - 2014 Rank: 25 - Elite Prospects Profile
It was a pleasant surprise to have seen Gavrus in this year's development camp. Given that he has played exclusively in Europe since the 2012-13 season, I figure he would become a lost prospect. But he's still in the system. As far as I know, it's expected he'll suit up for Dinamo Minsk in 2015-16. According to the KHL's website, he averaged just over twelve minutes per game last season. While he put up more shots, goals, and points than he did in his first KHL season, the ice time tells me he's not really commanding a spot. Whether that's because of his youth or his skill, I do not know. Perhaps he'll receive a little more next season. What I do know is that he was ranked fairly low across the board. I believe it's because he's not in North America, where his play would be more visible to the fans and to the organization. That drove my own low ranking.
#33 - Ben Thomson - LW - Age: 22 - 2014-15 Team: Albany (AHL) - 2014 Rank: 17 - Elite Prospects Profile
Thomson made the move to the minor pro ranks last season. He proceeded to put up eight goals, eight assists, and 80 shots in 67 games in his rookie season. Thomson was a mainstay of the team's bottom six and a regular in the penalty box. Thomson's 97 PIM was second only to Dan Kelly's team leading 130 PIM. That's not a good category to be a leader in, but it speaks to what he's about. He's a large-framed, big-hitting, physical winger who can chip in some points. I don't think he really has much of an upside beyond that and most of the voting respects that. Still, he's carved himself a spot in Albany for the time being. He'll keep on the grind as Albany hopes for more from him in his second season.
#32 - Ben Johnson - C/LW - Age: 21 - 2014-15 Team: Albany (AHL) / Orlando (ECHL) - 2014 Rank: 12 - Elite Prospects Profile
Johnson had a solid junior career in Windsor. While he wasn't remarkably productive, he displayed good speed, good hands, and good play in both ends of the rink as well as on the penalty kill. There was a lot of hope for Johnson, as he was ranked twelfth by the community last year. This year, he dropped further than any other prospect on the list. The ex-Spitfire crashed and burned in minor pro hockey. He managed to get into only 28 games in Albany, where he scored one (1) goal and put up one (1) assist. The only positive one could say is that he averaged a shot per game, but that's a dire debut for any forward. He ended up spending some time in the ECHL with Orlando. While that went well, if a prospect has a real shot at becoming somebody, then he's got to do much more than very little in his first season of professional hockey. Johnson only did a little, and so there's little reason to think highly of his future.
#31 - Brett Seney - LW - Age: 19 - 2014-15 Team: Merrimack (Hockey East) - 2014 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Brett Seney was the last pick of the draft for the Devils in 2015. Seney is rather small, quite fast, and had a good freshman year with Merrimack. In Mike's post about the pick, user The 'Ole 1-2-2 broke down his production, noting that Seney wasn't much of a shooter and may have struggled against tougher opponents. As Seney is in college, the Devils can afford him take all the time he needs to gain strength, gain some more strength, improve his game, and gain even some more strength. As he was a late pick of someone who's been passed over once already for the draft, I think a lower ranking is justified. I don't know about the others, but I will say that I have some higher hopes for him than some ranked below him. But that's also partially because he was just drafted and I don't want to be overly negative.
#30 - Connor Chatham - RW - Age: 19 - 2014-15 Team: Plymouth (OHL) - 2014 Rank: 26 - Elite Prospects Profile
Connor Chatham just missed out on the Top 25 last year and with new additions, he slipped a bit. It certainly didn't help that he had a difficult 2014-15 campaign with Plymouth. In his 30 Teams in 30 Days series, Brock Otten at OHL Prospects had a good of a summary of Chatham's season as any you'll find. Chatham suffered from a wrist injury, which ultimately cut his season short. His production only increased modestly, due in part to that injury. His style isn't necessarily one to get excited about as he's been a hard working winger, not necessarily a skilled one. Otten thinks it would be best if he goes back to OHL for his overage year. I would agree if only to set himself up better for a move to professional hockey. For now, there's just not much to get enthused about.
#29 - Colton White - D - Age: 18 - 2014-15 Team: Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) - 2014 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Colton White was picked int he fourth round in 2015, making him the only other pick from that draft class to not hit the top 25. Although, Mike and CJ would have him in theirs. As I added to Mike's post about the pick, I liked the selection. He's already a good skater, which is a plus for any prospect regardless of position. He just needs more ice time to develop as a player. He should get that with the Greyhounds in 2015-16. Should he make the most of his opportunities, then it should surprise no one when he gets a higher rating next year.
#28 - Alex Kerfoot - C/RW - Age: 21 - 2014-15 Team: Harvard (ECAC) - 2014 Rank: 23 - Elite Prospects Profile
Kerfoot was another victim of the new additions to the organization. I don't think Kerfoot really did much to hurt his ranking. He managed to improve his production by a good amount. He went from eight goals and fourteen points in 25 games as a freshman to eight goals and thirty points in 27 games. Kerfoot was a part of the Harvard team that won the ECAC last season, and he eventually moved up to one of their top lines. Again, he will stay where he belongs in Harvard. As a junior, the goal should be to keep his spot on the Crimson and to continue to progress on the ice. Whether that will be in line with a higher ranking or not will remain to be seen.
#27 - Scott Wedgewood - G - Age: 23 - 2014-15 Team: Albany (AHL) - 2014 Rank: 14 - Elite Prospects Profile
I was real surprised Scott Wedgewood was rated this low. I figured that the de facto #3 goalie in the organization would end up in the Top 25. He crashed out of it. Why? Well, I think it's that he really hasn't been all that impressive in Albany. While he played in more games than the rest of the goalies in Albany, he put up the worst save percentage. That save percentage was a mere 90.3%,which isn't very good at all. This was his second season with Albany, so there's fading hope that he'll get that much better. These rankings speak to that fading hope, his position on the proverbial depth chart notwithstanding.
#26 - Blake Pietila - LW - Age: 22 - 2014-15 Team: Michigan Tech (WCHA) - 2014 Rank: 17 - Elite Prospects Profile
Blake Pietila just missed out on the Top 25 list for the first time since being drafted by the Devils. Pietila was named the captain on Michigan Tech and he was named to the WCHA Third All-Star Team at the end of the season. His goalscoring returned to his levels as a sophomore (14) and provided a bit more in points than as a junior. That said, his upside is that of a defensive-minded winger. Given what we continue to learn about the game of hockey, are those players still valuable? I do not know. With not-so-massive numbers and international success now firmly in the past, I can understand the lack of excitement. What I also know is that how he will perform in Albany next season will tell us for sure whether he's got a real future at the next level. I think where he's rated is fair for moment.
Beyond Pietila, everyone under the age of 25 is in our Top 25 list. We'll be revealing the list proper in sets of five to give you a sense of where everyone is stacked. You can guess who's in it, but as far as where they were ranked, you'll just have to wait to find out. In the meantime, let me know what you think about those who did not make the list this year. Among those who fell out of the Top 25, which one of them surprised you the most? Who among this group has the best chance to make the Top 25 list next year? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the outsiders to the Top 25 list. Thanks to those who ranked the prospects this year; and thank you for reading.