Today is the final installment of the 2016 AATJ Top 25 Devils Under 25. This year's top 5 includes the Devils new star player, a top forward prospect ready to make an impact as a professional, the top young defenseman on the NHL roster, and two young forwards that saw their stock rise last season. Before we reveal the top 5, here is a reminder that you can see all the posts in this series right here. Now, let's take a look at which players rose to the top of this year's ranking.
#5 - Joseph Blandisi - C - Age: 22 - 2015-16 Team: New Jersey (NHL), Albany (AHL) - 2015 Rank: 16 - Elite Prospects Profile
Jumping up 11 spots on this year's list is Joseph Blandisi. Acquired as a free agent in January of 2015 after going unsigned by the Colorado Avalanche, the 6'0, 200 lbs. forward has been a nice boost to a rebuilding Devils system. Blandisi is an OHL product, having spent 2011-15 in the league playing for Owen Sound, Ottawa, and Barrie. A solid rookie campaign with Owen Sound in which he produced 17 goals and 14 assists in 68 games saw him get picked by the Avalanche in the 6th round of the 2012 draft. He seemed destined to be signed until a strange illness derailed the second half of his 2013-14 season - and nearly his career. He recovered well from both the illness and being left unsigned by putting up a monster 2014-15 season with Barrie that saw him notch 52 goals and 60 assists in 68 regular season games to go along with 14 points in 9 playoff games. He led the league in goals and won the Overage Player of the Year.
Blandisi spent most of the beginning of last season with Albany where he had 9 goals and 14 assists in 27 games. He would go back down at the end of New Jersey's season to participate in the AHL playoffs where he had 3 points in 11 games. Overall in 41 games with New Jersey last season he had 5 goals, 12 assists, with an average ice time of 15:36. That doesn't tell the story of how streaky he was though. He started slow with no points and 4 shots in his first 4 games. He then produced 5 goals, 9 assists, and 27 shots over his next 18 games. He would slump hard to end his NHL season with no goals, 3 assists, and 12 shots over his final 19 games. When he's on his game he's a physical player that can provide some secondary scoring due to his vision and playmaking skills. When he's off his game it almost can seem like he's lost out there, blowing his coverage defensively and trying to force plays offensively. He's still very much a work in progress but on a rebuilding team like the Devils could very well earn himself a role with the big club on a full time basis. Hopefully he can take the lessons and experience of his first year and use them to continue to develop into a solid NHL player.
#4 - Reid Boucher - LW - Age: 23 - 2015-16 Team: New Jersey (NHL), Albany (AHL) - 2015 Rank: 9 - Elite Prospects Profile
Reid Boucher finally found some success at the NHL level last season and now finds himself up 5 spots on this year's list. The 5'10, 195 lbs. winger was drafted in the 4th round of the 2011 draft out of the USNTDP. In his draft year of 2010-11 he put up 32 goals and 22 assists in 57 games for the U18 team as well as 14 goals and 6 assists in 24 games in USHL play. Boucher also had international success while at the USNTDP, representing the country at the U17 and U18 championships, producing over a point per game at each, and winning 2 Gold Medals. Following his draft, he opted to ply his trade with Sarnia of the OHL rather than Michigan State in the NCAA. He would spend 2011-13 with the Sting producing 90 goals and 55 assists in 135 regular season games. His strong 2012-13 season saw him put up the most goals in the OHL with 62 and earn First All-Star team honors.
The book on Boucher is that his shot has long been NHL ready, it is the rest of his game that has to catch up in order for him to carve out a career at the highest level. Over the past 3 plus seasons he's split his time between Albany and New Jersey. As is the case with most players, he's been far more productive at the AHL level with a 0.65 Pts/GP rate in 164 AHL regular season games compared to his 0.37 Pts/GP rate in 73 NHL games. The good news is that he finally started to produce at a more consistent level than before for the Devils in 2015-16. He finished with 8 goals, 11 assists, and an average ice time of 14:16 across 39 games. His defensive game is passable but he's still only valuable when he's finishing off chances offensively. I'd like to see him find himself in more dangerous positions on a consistent basis this year, improve his shot count, and really take the next step to becoming a full time NHL player.
#3 - Damon Severson - D - Age: 22 - 2015-16 Team: New Jersey (NHL) - 2015 Rank: 2 - Elite Prospects Profile
The 6'2, 205 lbs. Damon Severson comes in as the top ranked defensemen on our list this year. The Devils selected Severson in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft out of Kelowna of the WHL. Severson flew a bit under the radar early on in his junior career but his stock rose the longer he spent in a Kelowna system that has produced quality NHL defensemen over the years. Severson spent 2010-14 with Kelowna appearing in 260 regular season games registering 36 goals and 131 assists along with a +102 rating in 260 regular season games. He was also productive in crunch time with 9 goals and 23 assists in in 39 career playoff games. Severson's instincts, mobility, puck skills, and hard shot made him a two-way threat for the Rockets and earned him a ton of ice time over his final 2 WHL seasons.
Severson made New Jersey's roster as a 20 year old for the 2014-15 season and enjoyed a fine rookie season that limited him to 51 games due to injury. In those 51 games he had 5 goals, 12 assists, a 50.4 Corsi For% (5v5), a 2.22 Relative Corsi For% (5v5), and an average ice time of 21:58 according to Hockey Reference and Corsica. He came into training camp for the 2015-16 season with high expectations but struggled to earn Coach Hynes' full trust. He was an occasional scratch last year but still managed to appear in 72 games with a goal, 20 assists, a 48.99 CF%, a 3.5 RelCF%, and an average ice time of 18:10. He went from being a guy that seemed likely to anchor the top pair with Andy Greene for the foreseeable future to a player fighting to stay in the top 4. With Adam Larsson now an Oiler, I would expect Severson to have a chance to earn a spot on the top pair with Green once again. Entering a 2nd season under Coach Hynes should bring some familiarity with what is expected of him and I think he'll be able to showcase his skills more comfortably this year. Despite a rough 2nd year in the NHL, Severson still has the skills that make you excited about his future.
#2 - Pavel Zacha - C - Age: 19 - 2015-16 Team: Sarnia (OHL) - 2015 Rank: 5 - Elite Prospects Profile
Moving up to the #2 spot this season is the very talented and pro ready Pavel Zacha. The 6'3, 210 lbs. winger was selected 6th overall by the Devils in the 2015 draft. The young Czech forward has earned praise for his combination of size, strength, and skill that have made him a standout player at the junior level. He's quick, strong on the puck, and has a solid shot that should translate well to the next level.
Zacha has consistently produced since moving through the youth ranks of HC Liberec and Bili Tygri Liberec in his native Czech Republic. Last season he likely capped off of his OHL career with 28 goals, 36 assists, and 163 shots in 51 regular season games. His 1.25 Pts/GP rate was a nice jump up from his 0.92 rate in the 2014-15 season. In his OHL career, he has 98 points in 88 regular season games. He also continued to represent the Czech Republic at the U20 level with an assist at the last WJC. An apparent concussion did cause him to miss some time last February but he did manage to finish the season strong and have a productive playoff with Sarnia with 13 points in 7 games. He even appared in 8 total games for Albany after his OHL season with 6 points and put up 2 assists in his NHL debut.
Zacha will have a great chance to earn a spot with New Jersey in training camp. I think his game is ready and expect him to take advantage of this opportunity.
#1 - Taylor Hall - LW - Age: 24 - 2015-16 Team: Edmonton (NHL) - 2015 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
It comes as no surprise that Taylor Hall comes in as the unanimous #1 on this year's list. The 6’1, 201 lbs. Hall was acquired by the Devils for the very talented and promising Adam Larsson, whose game took a big step forward last season, back in June. You do have to give to get, and now the Devils have a star forward in Hall, who has put up 132 goals and 196 assists in 381 NHL games. Since coming into the league for the 2010-11 season, he has put up the 24th best points per game rate of 0.86 among all NHL players in that time frame.
Prior to the NHL, Hall established himself as a force with Windsor of the OHL from 2007-10. He put up 1.53 Pts/GP in 183 regular season games as well as a 1.73 Pts/GP in 44 playoff games. He won 2 Memorial Cups thanks in large part to his 7 goals and 10 assists in 10 games. He even spent a fair amount of time playing with some guy named Adam Henrique while with the Spitfires. As expected his OHL and CHL list of accolades is long with All-Rookie and numerous All-Star honors. During this span he would represent Canada at the U17, U18, and U20 levels, averaging over a point per game at each and winning Gold at the U17 and U18 levels and Silver at the U20 level.
Since being drafted 1st overall in the 2010 draft, Hall has been a NHL player with the exception of spending some time in the AHL during the 2012-13 lockout season, where he had 34 points in 26 games for the Oklahoma City Barons. Hall burst upon the scene in his rookie season with Edmonton in 2010-11 with 22 goals and 20 assists in 65 games while averaging 18:13 in ice time per game. His 0.65 Pts/GP was 3rd highest among U20 NHL players that season. The following season saw him take another step forward, notching 27 goals and 26 assists in 61 games with the same amount of ice time. The shortened season in 2012-13 saw him put up a dominant performance with 16 goals and 34 assists in 45 games as Edmonton's leading man. He once again was above a point per game player in the 2013-14 season with 27 goals and 53 assists in 75 games while playing over 20 minutes a night. A low shooting percentage in 2014-15 saw his goal production drop to 14 goals as he finished with 38 points in 53 games. Last season he rebounded with 26 goals and 39 assists in a full 82 games and was named to the All-Star team. As John mentioned in his post breaking down the trade, the Devils are getting a player that has been one of the most productive players from a individual points per sixty-minute rate in 5v5 play over the past 4 seasons, a player that can put up well over 3 shots per game, a solid possession player, and a player that has some of the best speed in the NHL. It's also worth noting that Hall has represented Canada at 3 World Championships, with a 0.86 Pts/GP in 28 games, on his way to 2 Gold Medals.
Like everyone else, I am really excited to see what Hall does for the New Jersey Devils going forward. He's established himself as a top tier player in the NHL and should certainly bring production and thrilling play to the ice as the Devils top offensive weapon. It will be interesting to see if he's reunited with Henrique and if they can find their chemistry again on the ice in Devils' red.
I want to thank everyone for contributing to the community portion of the ranking as well as my fellow AATJ writers for their rankings. How do you feel about this group of players for our AATJ top five? Where did you have these guys ranked? Which of these players are you most looking forward to following this upcoming season? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!