The ILWT/AATJ Top 25 Devils Under 25 ranking has been going on since 2012. As always, this is a list that combines NHL players, NHL prospects, draft picks, and even AHL players. For the second year in a row, we decided to use a combination of rankings from the writers and the community to see how we would rank all 42 players this year. All of the rankings were weighted equally once again to produce this list. I want to thank everyone who participated in ranking these players. I know trying to rank 42 players that are at various stages of their careers can be a big task. So a big thank you to the community and my fellow writers!
Before we begin to reveal the Top 25 in several installments, we must first see which players found themselves on the outside looking in. These players have all sorts of backgrounds and varying levels of upside. Some of them are on the outside because they are still far away from turning pro, others have established themselves as AHL guys, while others are just a season away from breaking into the Top 25. Let's take a look to see who these players are.
#42 - Brandon Baddock - LW - Age: 21 - 2015-16 Team: Edmonton (WHL) - 2015 Rank: #36 - Elite Prospects Profile
Finishing last in this year's rankings is former 2014 6th round pick, Brandon Baddock. The 6'4, 225 lbs. forward moved from LW to C last season as he captained the Edmonton Oil Kings as an overager. It's no surprise to see Baddock at #42 given his lack of offensive upside but his toughness and leadership qualities were enough to earn him a contract with the Devils. He'll look to win a full time job with Albany next season and does seem like the type that could hang around the AHL/ECHL for a few years. With that said, I'd be shocked to ever see him play a part in NJ, even in a fourth line role, especially now that enforcers are becoming a thing of the past.
#41 - JD Dudek - C - Age: 20 - 2015-16 Team: Boston College (NCAA) - 2015 Rank: #37 - Elite Prospects Profile
Another 6th round pick from the 2014 draft, JD Dudek was selected out of Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire where he had a successful prep school career. Back then Dudek displayed solid skating, vision, and playmaking skills that made him an interesting "project" pick. However, a sub-par USHL season in 2014-15 took some of that prospect shine off the young forward as he eventually lost a starting spot on Dubuque before a late season trade to Chicago. He spent last season as a freshman 4th line wing and occasional healthy scratch for Boston College. Overall he managed 3 points in 34 games for BC. The last 2 seasons of disappointment justify his place down on our list. If their is a silver lining, it's that he still has 3 more years of college eligibility and with all of the roster turnover, he'll have a solid chance to earn more ice time as a sophomore. Hopefully playing with a great program at BC can help revive his career.
#40 - Kevin Rooney - C - Age: 23 - 2015-16 Team: Providence College (NCAA) - 2015 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Kevin Rooney is a new addition to the organization, having signed a try-out with Albany towards the end of last season which helped him earn an AHL deal for this upcoming season. The 6-2, 190 lbs. center spent 4 years at Providence College where he put up 17 goals and 19 assists in 144 games. Rooney served as captain last season which definitely suggests he has some leadership qualities which may be part of the reason Albany was attracted to him. Jeff Cox of SBN College Hockey wrote back in March that Rooney is "one of the most relentless fore checkers in Hockey East and plays the game the right way. He goes hard every shift and plays well away from the puck." His overall potential may be low but it seems like at the very least, Albany will be getting a player that will give his all for the team.
#39 - Ben Johnson - LW - Age: 22 - 2015-16 Team: Albany (AHL), Adirondack (ECHL) - 2015 Rank: #32 - Elite Prospects Profile
Ben Johnson continues to fall in our rankings, this year finishing in the bottom group of players. The speedy winger has played relatively sparingly over the past 2 seasons, often splitting time in a reduced role with Albany or a somewhat more prominent role in the ECHL. Johnson was never a big scorer in the OHL with Windsor but did produce a decent bit at even strength back then. So far as a professional, he hasn't been able to find his scoring touch and you have to wonder if he's not long for the origination. His speed and penalty killing abilities are assets but at this point, it seems that he's likely reached his level.
#38 - Jeremy Davies - D - Age: 19 - 2015-16 Team: Bloomington (USHL) - 2015 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
The Devils selected Jeremy Davies in his 2nd year of draft eligibility in the 7th round of the 2016 draft. The 5'11, 180 lbs. defenseman from Pointe-Claire, Quebec is coming off of a strong 2nd season in the USHL where he put up 13 goals and 36 assists in 60 games for Bloomington. That was good enough to lead the team in assists and finished tied for first in points. He also led all USHL defensemen in assists, points, and points per game. Davies has earned praise for his offensive instincts at even strength and on the power play and willingness to work just as hard in his own zone. He'll attend Northeastern University next season and I look forward to seeing if he can continue to round out his game and become an impact player in college. He's low on our list right now, but their certainly seems to be some potential for him to climb up in future rankings.
#37 - Jesper Bratt - LW - Age: 18 - 2015-16 Team: AIK (Allsvenskan) - 2015 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Coming in at #37 is one of the prospects that I'm really excited to follow the next few years, Jesper Bratt. The 5'10, 171 lbs. winger from the AIK system in Sweden was one of the youngest players available for selection this past June, where the Devils picked him in the 6th round. While he certainly will have to bulk up and get used to the North American game, there is already a lot to like about him. Bratt plays and thinks the game at a high pace offensively and loves to attack the defense. He's a very dangerous player when he finds himself in space between the defense. Bratt led all U18 players in scoring in the Allsvenskan last season with 8 goals and 9 assists in 48 games. As this NHLNumbers article notes, his production at his age in the Swedish 2nd division suggests he has a relatively solid chance of reaching the NHL one day. Hopefully he'll be able to round his defensive game over the next few years while earning more playing time with AIK.
#36 - Jan Mandat - C - Age: 20 - 2015-16 Team: Val-d'Or (QMJHL) - 2015 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Jan Mandat is a player that signed an AHL deal with Albany this summer. The 6'0, 205 lbs. center from the Czech Republic just completed his 3rd QMJHL season, where he had a career best 20 goals and 44 assists in 62 games for Val-d'Or. As John noted when the ADevils signed him, Mandat has seen a steady increase in his shot counts and points during his QMJHL career. It will be interesting to see if he can carry over this progression over to the AHL and perhaps emerge as a dark horse prospect that could earn a contract with the NJ Devils after this upcoming season.
#35 - Evan Cormier - G - Age: 18 - 2015-16 Team: Saginaw (OHL) - 2015 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
The Devils opted to add another goaltender to the organization at the 2016 draft, selecting Saginaw Spirit netminder Evan Cormier in the 4th round. The 6'3, 202 lbs. goaltender seems to split opinion among scouts and fans. One one hand, he has a solid frame, ability to be a workhorse as justified by appearing in 58 of Saginaw's 68 games last season, and is able to cut down angles well. On the other hand, he's often been inconsistent throughout his OHL career and prone to having multiple nights of fighting the puck. This upcoming season in Saginaw could tell us a lot about what his true potential is as of right now it seems like his numbers don't match the talent that some scouts feel he has.
#34 - Artur Gavrus - LW - Age: 22 - 2015-16 Team: Dinamo Minsk (KHL) - 2015 Rank: #34 - Elite Prospects Profile
Artur Gavrus remained on the outside of this year's top 25 list after another frustrating year in the KHL with Dinamo Minsk. Gavrus is offensively capable of developing into a solid middle 6 winger but he just can't seem to stay healthy, something that has unfortunately plagued him since his OHL days with Owen Sound years ago. Last season started out well for the young forward as he was finally earning top 6 minutes with Dinamo and managed to put up 10 points in 19 games after putting up just 9 in 36 games the year before. However, he suffered what was likely his 3rd concussion of his career in October and never made it back to play again in the regular season. He did play for Belarus at the World Championships and has been participating in the preseason for Dinamo. I really hope he can stay healthy and lock down a top 6 role this season. He's expressed a desire in the past to only come back to North America for a NHL role so this season will be pivotal in shaping his career. With him often an afterthought in NJ Devils land, it's no surprise to see him ranked where he is.
#33 - Mikhail Maltsev - C - Age: 18 - 2015-16 Team: Russia U18 (MHL) - 2015 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Mikhail Maltsev was a 4th round pick of the Devils back in June. The Russian forward already has a solid frame to grow into at 6'3, 198 lbs. and is coming off of a solid junior season with the Russian U18 team in the MHL, on loan from SKA St. Petersburg. Maltsev split time last season at center and left wing for the Russian U18 team and 3rd on the team in scoring with 23 points in 29 games. Maltsev is still a bit raw but his speed and size suggests he can become a capable forechecker and force along the boards. It seems likely he'll play with SKA-Neva St. Petersburg in the VHL this season but that is not yet confirmed. He's definitely an interesting prospect that could climb up the rankings next year with a solid 2016-17 season.
#32 - Yegor Rykov - D - Age: 19 - 2015-16 Team: SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL), SKA-Neva St. Petersburg (VHL), SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) - 2015 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Yegor Rykov is another recent draftee of the Devils as they selected him in the 5th round back in June. The 6'2, 205 lbs. defender was actually a 2nd year eligible and impressed with a strong 2015-16 that saw him split time between SKA St. Petersburg's KHL, VHL, and MHL squads. He mostly played in juniors with the MHL team notching 10 points in 20 games. Rykov also represented Russia at the WJC where he had 3 points in 7 games as they would go on to win a Silver Medal. He's known to play in all situations and with a tenacious defensive style to make life difficult for opposing forwards entering the zone, along the boards, or in front of the net. He's been battling for a spot in the KHL during SKA's preseason and earning that spot would be a big step forward for the defender.
#31 - Ben Thomson - LW - Age: 23 - 2015-16 Team: Albany (AHL) - 2015 Rank: #33 - Elite Prospects Profile
Ben Thomson was drafted all the way back in 2012 as a 4th round pick. It's no surprise to see him on the outside of the top 25 once again as he's had a solid, but unspectacular minor league career so far. At 6'3, 215 lbs. the winger is known for his strong work ethic, physical presence, and ability to chip in the odd goal here and there. In 2 seasons with Albany he's secured a bottom 6 role. I'd be surprised to see him ever as a NHL regular though I suppose you could never count him out from getting the odd 4th line appearance a few times in his career. At this point it seems like he's just going to be a consistent role player in the AHL.
#30 - Joey Anderson - RW - Age: 18 - 2015-16 Team: USNTDP U18 (USHL/USDP) - 2015 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
The Devils selected Joey Anderson in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft. The 5'11, 192 lbs. Right Wing is coming off of a strong showing with the USNTDP where he was the 3rd member of a line with Clayton Keller and Kieffer Bellows. While not as highly regarded as those two prospects, he displayed solid offensive instincts as a complimentary player to help set up his teammates. Anderson has also shown that he's not afraid to go to the the front of the net or grind it out on the boards to help keep the play alive. He'll spend the next few seasons at the University of Minnesota Duluth where he can round out his overall game. I wouldn't be surprised to see him crack the top 25 next season as I expect him to have a decent freshman campaign.
#29 - Ken Appleby - G - Age: 21 - 2015-16 Team: Adirondack (ECHL), Albany (AHL) - 2015 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Though he's about to enter his 2nd season in the organization, Ken Appleby makes his debut to the AATJ rankings after being signed after last year's list came out. Appleby enjoyed a solid rookie campaign, spending most his time in the ECHL with Adirondack where he had a .924 SV% in 29 regular season games and a .920 SV% in 12 playoff games. He also made his Albany debut with a .904 SV% in 8 games. The Devils signed him back in October after a solid season and a half with Oshawa to close out his OHL career. While goaltenders can be hard to predict, I have to admit that I find the 6'4, 205 lbs. netminder and intriguing prospect with the potential to become a solid back up at the NHL level. He'll have his work cut out for him though as Mackenzie Blackwood and Scott Wedgewood will likely be the goaltending duo in Albany to start the season. Still, Appleby should earn a solid amount of time in the ECHL where he must continue to impress.
#28 - Brett Seney - LW - Age: 20 - 2015-16 Team: Merrimack College (NCAA) - 2015 Rank: #31 - Elite Prospects Profile
The Devils drafted the undersized Brett Seney as a 19 year old in the 6th round of the 2015 draft after a strong freshman season with Merrimack in 2014-15. That season he led the team in scoring with 26 points in 34 games. He followed that up last season by once again leading the team with 26 points in 32 games. Minor injuries over the past 2 seasons have caused him to miss a few games and have some extended slumps that have impacted his production. When he's healthy and on his game, Seney is a very fast, playmaking wing that loves to dart all over the ice to either create space for himself to get a shot on goal or to open up ice for a teammate so he can set them up to get a shot. His defensive game still needs to develop a bit more but he'll have plenty of time to do that with 2 years of college eligibility remaining before he turns pro. He's another guy that could very well crack next year's top 25 with a strong 2016-17 season.
#27 - Brandon Gignac - C - Age: 18 - 2015-16 Team: Shawinigan (QMJHL) - 2015 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
The Devils selected Brandon Gignac in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft this past June. Gignac is 5'11, 173 lbs. so he definitely has some room to fill out over the next few seasons. Like Seney, he is also a speedy forward who has earned plenty of praise for his skating ability. He put up 24 goals and 37 assists while averaging around 2.8 shots per game in 67 games for Shawinigan last season, playing in a 2nd/3rd line role. Defensively, he's able to use his speed on the backcheck and on the penalty kill. He's considered to have a solid two-way game but I'd like to see him take a step forward offensively this upcoming season.
#26 - Blake Coleman - C - Age: 24 - 2015-16 Team: Albany (AHL) - 2015 Rank: #24 - Elite Prospects Profile
Blake Coleman just falls outside of this year's top 25 after a bad hit by Mark Fraser ended his season after just 14 games as Coleman had to have shoulder surgery. He was off to a solid start in his debut pro season with 7 points in 14 games. The 5'11, 200 lbs. center plays a tenacious two-way game and was known for being a shot machine when he played his college hockey at Miami. He's at his best in a 3rd line role where he can use his physical presence to battle along the boards and cycle the puck in the offensive zone and chip in some secondary scoring. The injury was especially frustrating as it essentially wiped out all of Coleman's age 24 season. He'll turn 25 in late November and will really have to show what he can do quickly for Albany before he gets passed over by those younger prospects turning pro. I still believe he has the tools to turn into a bottom 6 NHL player but his window of opportunity could close quickly.
Next week we'll start to reveal the rest of the list in sets of five. Until then, what do you think of these players that were outside of the top 25? Are you surprised that any of these players didn't make the list? Is there are player or two that you expected to see here but are surprised not to? Among this group of players, which guys are you most looking forward to following next year? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!