We continue our top 25 New Jersey Devils players under the age of 25 series today. This post will reveal the bottom half of the top 10. This group includes 2 young forwards that should help the NHL team this upcoming season, 2 prospects ready to make the jump to professional hockey, and the Devils most recent 1st round draft pick. Let's take a look at who they are.
#10 - Michael McLeod - C - Age: 18 - 2015-16 Team: Mississauga (OHL) - 2015 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
The Devils most recent 1st round draft pick, Michael McLeod, makes his Top 25 Under 25 debut at the tail end of the top 10. The right handed center stands at 6'2, 195 lbs. and has impressed scouts throughout the years for his offensive talent, skating, and playmaking ability. McLeod was a 1st round selection of Mississauga in 2014 and immediately made an impact with 12 goals and 17 assists in 63 regular season games in 2014-15. Last season he was one of the prominent weapons for the Steelhead's offense as he finished with 21 goals and 40 assists in 57 regular season games. He was 2nd goals and assist on the team behind the highly touted Alexander Nylander. McLeod even averaged 3 shots per game and had a 58.02 FO%. McLeod is also no stranger to international competition having represented Canada at the U17 level two years ago and at the U18 level last season.
The biggest asset of McLeod's game is his high-end skating ability which allows him to seamlessly flow through the defense as he attacks up the ice through all 3 zones. His playmaking ability allows for him to set up plenty of opportunities for his teammates as well as himself to a lesser degree. While his passing ability is already strong and I would like to see his shot continue to improve and for him to choose to utilize it more often. Still, a center that can carry an attack up ice and make tape to tape passes into dangerous zones is an exciting prospect in my opinion. As mentioned above, McLeod has a decent frame and I wouldn't be surprised if he packs on a bit more muscle over the next couple of years. He doesn't shy away from contact and has been incorporating more physical elements into his game over the course of his short OHL career. Though known for his offensive ability, it's been mentioned by scouts that his defensive game has been progressing nicely. Reading over various scouting reports, it seems one common criticism is his lack of awareness at times when rushing the puck offensively. Some scouts feel that he ends up skating into defenders due to his speed and that he needs to learn when to change his pace to create better angles for himself. I look forward to seeing what he does with fellow Devils prospect and linemate, Nathan Bastian, in the upcoming season.
#9 - Beau Bennett - RW - Age: 24 - 2015-16 Team: Pittsburgh (NHL) - 2015 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Another new member to the Devils organization is former Penguin forward, Beau Bennett. The right winger is listed at 6'2, 195 lbs. and has shown flashes of offensive ability in-between injuries in his short NHL career. The former 1st round selection in 2010 was drafted out of Penticton of the BCHL where he put up 120 points in 56 regular season games in 2009-10 which earned him Rookie of the Year and Top Scorer honors. He would spend the next 2 seasons after that at the University of Denver where he appeared in just 47 games but did manage to put up a respectable 13 goals and 25 assists during that time. Since turning pro for the 2012-13 season he has put up 7 goals and 27 assists in 44 AHL games and 16 goals and 29 assists in 129 NHL regular season games, notably winning the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh last season. As John mentioned in his post on the trade to acquire him from the draft, Bennett could be a good low risk move as he is still relatively young, has decent per game stats, and positive possession stats. Bennett should get a solid look on a scoring line with New Jersey due to their lack of depth and his potential quality. Hopefully he can stay healthy and make the most of his opportunity. If the Devils can get production out of a player one a 1 year, $725K contract that would be a great value. Plus, if he plays well he'll be able to work himself into the Devils future plans as they continue to transition through this rebuild.
#8 - John Quenneville - C - Age: 20 - 2015-16 Team: Brandon (WHL) - 2015 Rank: #14 - Elite Prospects Profile
Jumping up 6 spots in the rankings is former Devils 2014 1st round pick John Quenneville. The 6'1, 205 lbs. center is set to make his professional debut with the ADevils this season after a solid WHL career with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Quenneville finished his WHL career with 81 goals and 116 assists in 222 regular season games for an average of 0.89 points per game. Last season was his best as he put up 31 goals and 42 assists in 57 games which left him as the 3rd best scorer on the team. He put up 16 goals and 11 assists in 21 WHL playoff games to help the Wheat Kings claim the title. Quenneville has represented Canada at the U17, U18, and U20 levels often playing in a more defensive role to serve the team.
Quenneville may not have the high end talent that we always desire from our prospects as fans but the value in his skill-set lies in how well rounded his game is. Offensively he's able to utilize his size and work ethic to win puck battles, find open space, and move the puck to keep the attack alive. He rarely panics when on the puck and has solid passing skills and vision which help him set up his teammates to get quality chances on goal. His defensive game has continued to improve on a year to year basis in large part to his tireless work-rate. I wouldn't be surprised to see him have a quick and effective transition to the pro game due to how well rounded his game is and his desire to do whatever is asked of him to help the team. I'm excited to see what 2016-17 has in store for him and if he can eventually secure a spot in New Jersey. Regardless, he certainly figures to be in the Devils plans over the next few years.
#7 - Steve Santini - D - Age: 21 - 2015-16 Team: Boston College (NCAA) - 2015 Rank: #10 - Elite Prospects Profile
Another riser and player ready to play his first full pro season is Steve Santini. The Devils took defender in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft out of the USNTDP. He would go on to play for 3 seasons at one of the top college programs, Boston College, totaling 98 games, 35 points, +48, 122 PIM, and a ton of ice time. While he can pass and move the puck out his own end just fine, Santini's game is based on his excellent defense and physical play so I wouldn't look into his basic numbers all that much. In 2013-14 he picked up Hockey East All-Rookie honors. In 2015-16 he added Hockey East Best Defensive Defenseman honors which is no surprise as numerous scouts and writers have pointed out that he was already playing a "pro ready" game. Santini is also no stranger to international competition as he's represented the US at the U17, U18, U20, and senior levels. He won a Silver Medal with the U17 team in 2011-12. The following season he won Silver Medal with the U18 team and was named the U18 WJC Best Defenseman and a Top 3 Player on the Team. He was on the U20 WJC team in 2014 but like most of the team didn't have a strong tournament and walked away with not much to show for his efforts. He even managed to get into 10 games at the World Championships with the senior squad last spring.
When it comes to his style of play, you can know what to expect from the 6'2, 208 lbs. defenseman. Santini will take care of business defensively first, whether that's shutting down attacks in transition with his solid positioning and quick instincts, or bullying opposing forwards in his own zone by using his physical strength. He'll even look for the highlight reel open ice hit from time to time, something that earned him suspensions in college hockey though they do tend to call the game much tighter, so I don't anticipate this being a problem in the NHL. Though he doesn't have much offensive talent he's more than capable of being poised with control of the puck, finding his outlets to help the transition, and making tape to tape passes. He's the type of defenseman I can see having low point totals but contributing in the possession aspect of the game. He made his NHL debut at the tail end of last season and I personally expect him to lock up a spot with the big club out of training camp on the right side of one of the pairs. Santini has the tools necessary to be a solid option on the Devils blue line for years to come in my opinion.
#6 - Devante Smith-Pelly - RW - Age: 24 - 2015-16 Team: Montreal (NHL), New Jersey (NHL) - 2015 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
The Devils acquired Devante Smith-Pelly in a trade for Stefan Matteau back in February. Expectations weren't high for Smith-Pelly after failing to impress and stick with the Ducks and Canadiens organizations. A move to New Jersey seemed to reinvigorate the 6'0, 214 lbs. right wing. With the Devils he was thrust into a more offensive role and given an average of 15:35 in ice time compared to the 11:00 he was receiving in Montreal. A strong start helped endear him to fans as he put up 7 goals and 4 assists in his first 10 games with the Devils. While that type of production is way to high to keep up, it did show that he is capable of adding some offense to go along with his physical game. He showcased his decent shot and ability to go to the dirty areas around the goal to punish teams when they couldn't clear the puck. I'd be surprised if the former Ducks 2nd round pick from the 2010 draft became a regular top 6 player in the NHL long term. However, he does seem to have a decent shot, physical play, and solid enough defensive game to contribute in a 3rd line role with the occasional fill in spot on the 2nd line in a pinch. The Devils didn't give up much to get him and will look to continue to get him to being close to the player many hoped he would be when he was drafted out of the OHL and spent parts of the past few years putting up decent numbers in part time AHL duty. It will be interesting to see how the addition of Bennett affects his ice time though.
Which of these players did you have in your top 10? What do you expect out of Smith-Pelly and Bennett this season? Do you think Santini and/or Quenneville will see a lot of time with New Jersey in 2016-17? What are your thoughts on McLeod as a prospect? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!