Ray Shero and his staff have a made a point of it to rebuild the Devils prospect pool across all positions since taking over. Focusing on the defense over the past 2 years they've added prospects, both through the draft and and as undrafted free agents, in an effort to improve the organization going forward. These defensemen come from all over North America and Russia, and from a wide range of backgrounds. While prospects like Michael Kapla and Colton White are entering the professional ranks, there are still quite a few players that have developmental time left in the CHL, NCAA, and KHL. Today's post will focus on those players ahead of the 2017-18 season.
The Devils selected the left handed, 6'0, 201 lbs. Jocktan Chainey with the 191st overall selection in this past draft. Prior to the draft, Mike profiled the two-way defenseman which included scouting reports and video. Chainey was a teammate of Nico Hischier last season on the Halifax Mooseheads and won't turn 18 until September 8, thus making him young for this draft class. Injuries and an inconsistent first half limited him to 4 goals and 20 assists in 55 regular season games last season which ranked 2nd in defensmen scoring for the Mooseheads. He did manage to suit up for Canada's U18 team in the U18 WJC and had 4 assists in 5 games, so he's no stranger to the international level. According to Prospect-Stats, 14 of his 24 points were primary, he shot at 5.8% while averaging 1.25 SH/GP, and had an estimated time on ice per game around 19 minutes. His 42.06 Goals For% and -3.79 Relative Goals For% wasn't anything to write home about but he's still very much a work in progress. There seems to be some untapped offensive potential to his game so hopefully he can build off of his 2016-17 season to be even more productive next season. Right now he's regarded as a guy that can make reads in both ends of the ice, move the puck well, and hold his own physically in his own zone. Like with a lot of young players he struggles to bring his best game on a consistent basis. While he's a longshot to make it, I like that there is some potential there. Hopefully he develops nicely over the next couple of years in the QMJHL before going pro.
The Devils signed Sissons last October to an entry level deal after he went passed over in his first draft eligible year in 2016. He is a left handed, 6'2, 190 lbs. defenseman that was born on 1/15/98. Sissons at the time of his signing was a raw defensive prospect but has made steady improvements since the beginning of the 2015-16 season with Swift Current. He's filled out his frame since his draft year by almost 20 lbs. and has emerged as a strong secondary option at both ends of the rink for the Broncos. His vision, decision making, and skating have continued to get better, though his skating could use a bit of refinement. I'd like to see him take on top pairing roles at both even strength and the power play on a consistent basis this upcoming season. He now has 150 WHL games under his belt (regular season + playoffs) and should be able to be a difference maker for Swift Current.
The Devils selected Davies as an overage prospect in the 2016 draft at 192nd overall. The left handed, 5'11, 182 lbs. prospect was born on 12/4/96 and just wrapped up his freshman season at Northeastern. While he started college a bit late after some developmental time in the USHL from 2014-16, he made the most of it. As a freshman he put up 8 goals and 15 assists in 38 games while averaging around 20 minutes a night. He earned praise from SBN College Hockey for his "ability to push the pace, transition effectively, break the puck out of their own zone and enter the attacking." I'm expecting big things out of his upcoming sophomore season since he's already shown he can play at the collegiate level and even thrive.
Hellickson is yet another overage defenseman selected by Ray Shero in recent years. The Devils selected Hellickson this past draft at 214th overall. The left handed defenseman is 6'0, 187 lbs. and spent last season with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL, after being in the USNTDP for 2 seasons prior. Hellickson had 6 goals and 22 assists in 52 regular season games while being a +19 with 30 PIM. He shot at 8.11% and averaged 1.42 SH/GP. He is committed to Notre Dame for the upcoming season where he will have plenty of time to round out his game over the next couple of years. Hellickson is solid in his own end and has improved his strength since being passed over in the 2016 draft. He has a solid, but not flashy skillset, as he can read the play well and make accurate passes to move the puck effectively. Hopefully he earns a regular role with Notre Dame next season and adjust well to playing against even stronger, tougher competition.
The Devils selected the right handed, 6'0, 185 lbs. Walsh with the 81st overall pick in this year's draft. The offensively skilled blue liner seems to have already made a name for himself at last week's prospect camp with a strong showing. Walsh split last season with the Chicago Steel of the USHL (10 points in 24 games) and Proctor Academy of the New England Prep scene (69 points in 30 games). He is going to join Harvard this upcoming season and will hopefully earn a regular role and some powerplay time as a freshman. He's known for his plus mobility, strong skating, and shooting ability from all areas of the of the offensive zone. His defensive game is a big question mark at the moment but he will have plenty of time to iron out that area of his game over the next few years with Harvard. He's the type of prospect that I like to be cautiously optimistic about given his potential upside, though I do have to stress we should be patient with our expectations of him. He just turned 18 back in April and is still very much in development.
Rykov quickly became one of my favorite prospects last year due to his strong performance as a rookie for one of the KHL's powerhouse teams. The 6'2, 216 lbs. left handed defenseman was selected at 132nd overall by the Devils in the 2016 draft. He was an overager for that draft after being passed over in 2015. Rykov was born on 4/14/97 and has quickly moved up through the SKA St. Petersburg system to earn a full time place in the line up at age 19 last season. In 47 games he had 9 assists, 8 PIM, +9, 39 blocks, and averaged 12:24 per game. In 15 playoff games he was a -3, with 7 PIM, and 12 blocks while averaging 9:29 per game as SKA went on to win the Gagarin Cup. He won KHL Rookie of the Week honors three times (September 18, Gagarin Cup Quarterfinals, Gagarin Cup Finals) so he certainly made his presence known. While he played in a much more limited role, he got to display his offensive skills at the WJC where he put up a goal and 6 assists in 7 games as Russia earned Bronze. He led the tournament in assists by a defenseman and was named a top 3 player on his team. Rykov is a mobile defender that reads the game well, moves the puck efficiently, and isn't scared to engage his opponents as he positions himself well. I think he's in a great situation to further develop his game and I look forward to him taking on an even bigger role with SKA next season.
The Devils must like overage defensmen from Russia named Yegor as they selected Zaitsev at 205th overall in this past draft. The left handed, 6'0, 185 lbs. defender was born on 5/3/98 and will look to earn a full time place with Dynamo Moscow of the KHL next season. You may recognize Dynamo Moscow as the club has been in the news lately due to financial issues that put their 2017-18 season in jeopardy. It appears that some of those issues are behind them and that they have signed Zaitsev to a contract for the upcoming season (hat tip Russian Prospects on twitter). The word on Zaitsev is similar to what was out there on Rykov from last season. According to Dobber Prospects, he's a defender that can play physical and move the puck. He already has 19 KHL games under his belt on bottom pair minutes, though I'd have to imagine that Dynamo may not have the most depth and quality next season due to financial issues, so there should be an opportunity for him to play a much more increased role. It would be somewhat disappointing to see him back in the 2nd tier of Russian hockey, the VHL, with Dynamo Balashikha as you want to see the 19 year old challenged on a tougher stage.
Which of these prospects do you see having a possible NHL future? Which players are you excited to follow over the next few seasons? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!