Welcome to the 2017 edition of the AAtJ Top 25 Devils Under 25. This ranking that combines NHL players, prospects, and draft picks has been going since 2012 on this blog. For the third year in a row, we decided to use a combination of rankings from the writers and community to see how we would rank all 45 players this year. I want to thank everyone who participated in this ranking. I realize trying to rank 45 players in different stages of their careers is no easy task and I appreciate everyone that took the time to do so. A big thanks to my fellow writers and the community!
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.
#45 - Brandon Baddock - LW - Age: 22 - 2016-17 Team: Adirondack (ECHL) - 2016 Rank: #42 - Elite Prospects Profile
Once again finishing last in our annual rankings is Brandon Baddock. The 6'4, 215 lbs. left wing was a 6th round pick of the Devils in 2014 out of Edmonton of the WHL. Though he had a successful WHL career from 2012-16 as a physical presence for the Oil Kings and team captain in his final season, his limited upside has restricted him to ECHL action as a pro. In his rookie season with Adirondack last year, he had no goals and 4 assists in 21 regular season games, missing a decent chunk of the season due to injury. He'll have a chance to carve out an energy role in the AHL with Binghamton next season but may see more ECHL time due to his limited offensive upside. I'd be very surprised to see him in the Devils longterm plans, even at the minor league level.
#44 - Matthew Hellickson - D - Age: 19 - 2016-17 Team: Sioux City (USHL) - 2016 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Finishing next to last in this year's ranking is defenseman Matthew Hellickson. Selected with the Devils third pick of the 7th round of the 2017 draft, the overager is 6'0, 187 lbs. and is coming off of a successful season with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL. Last year he put up 6 goals and 22 assists with a +19, 30 PIM, and 74 shots in 52 regular season games. In his two previous USHL seasons with the USNTDP Juniors team he had just 6 assists in 55 games. Though he was a regular on the U17 and U18 teams and won a U17 WHC Silver Medal and a U18 WJC Bronze Medal while with the program. He'll make his college debut for Notre Dame this fall and is more of a long term project for the Devils.
#43 - JD Dudek - RW - Age: 21 - 2016-17 Team: Boston College (NCAA) - 2016 Rank: #41 - Elite Prospects Profile
JD Dudek finishes towards the bottom of the list once again, but is coming off of a season where he showed some glimpses of his potential that led the Devils to drafting him in the 6th round of the 2014 draft. Back then he was coming off of an impressive season in prep hockey with Kimball Union Academy and was considered to be center with some playmaking ability. Unfortunately for him his 2014-15 season in the USHL with Dubuque and Chicago was largely disappointing with just 18 points in 54 games. He spent his freshman season with Boston College in 2015-16 as a fourth line forward with just 3 points in 34 games. Last year as a sophomore he found success on the right wing across the top 9 and provided secondary scoring to the tune of 13 goals and 9 assists in 40 games. While at age 21 that isn't too encouraging for his future NHL prospects, but at least it looks like he's turning the corner to becoming a solid college player. Hopefully he can build upon the success he had last season.
#42 - Ben Thomson - LW - Age: 24 - 2016-17 Team: Albany (AHL) - 2016 Rank: #31 - Elite Prospects Profile
Finishing near the back of the pack is Ben Thomson, a 6'3, 205 lbs. LW that was drafted by the Devils in the 4th round of the 2012 draft. The physical winger with limited upside has transitioned from a long OHL career from 2009-14 to stable AHL career from 2014-17. In 212 AHL regular season games he has put up 20 goals, 24 assists, and 296 PIM as a grinder. He did earn a 3 game look with New Jersey last season but with the quantity and quality of players added to the organization in recent years, along with his limited potential, it seems he is due to fall on the organizational depth chart going forward.
#41 - Evan Cormier - G - Age: 19 - 2016-17 Team: Saginaw (OHL) - 2016 Rank: #35 - Elite Prospects Profile
Finishing the lowest among the Devils goaltending prospects is 2016 4th round pick Evan Cormier. The 6'2, 200 lbs. netminder is currently developing with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. A veteran of 140 OHL regular season games with a .894 SV%, Cormier is coming off of his best OHL season. Last year, he appeared in 49 games for Saginaw and went 23-19-5-2 with a 3.23 GAA and .899 SV%. Due to the high scoring of the league, those numbers actually rank him around league average for a goaltender. Saginaw was a team in the middle of a rebuild last year and Cormier was a huge part of keeping the team in games that they shouldn't have always been in. With that said, he's still prone to making careless errors and will need to improve his consistency should he want to advance to the next level. This upcoming season will be huge for his development and hopefully he can prove to be one of the best goaltenders in the OHL as an overager as he turns 20 in November.
#40 - Jocktan Chainey - D - Age: 18 - 2016-17 Team: Halifax (QMJHL) - 2016 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Another one of the defensemen that the Devils picked up in the 7th round of the 2017 draft, Jocktan Chainey is an interesting project. The 6'0, 201 lbs. defender turns 18 on September 8 and is already a veteran of 107 QMJHL games with 9 goals and 36 assists. Offseason shoulder surgery prior to last year caused him to get off to a slow start in the first half of the year. His game did take off a bit in the second half which led to him getting noticed by scouts for his vision, forward skating, and puck moving ability. While he still needs to improve his backward skating and become more of a producer offensively, he is one of those under the radar prospects to keep tabs on.
#39 - Yegor Zaitsev - D - Age: 19 - 2016-17 Team: Dynamo Balashikha/Dyanmo Moskva (VHL/KHL) - 2016 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Rounding out the trio of defensemen the Devils selected in the 7th round of the 2017 draft is Yegor Zaitsev. An overage prospect for the 2017 draft, the 6'0, 185 lbs. defender is a product of the Dynamo Moskva system where he has split time between the KHL, juniors, and minor league levels in recent years. Known for his two-way, physical game he'll look to earn a full time KHL spot this season along with a spot on Russia's U20 WJC team.
#38 - Kevin Rooney - C - Age: 24 - 2016-17 Team: Albany (AHL) - 2016 Rank: #40 - Elite Prospects Profile
Moving up slightly on this year's list is Kevin Rooney. The forward was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Providence College where he played from 2012-16. In his first full pro season last year he put up 13 goals and 8 assists in 71 games with Albany and even got into 4 games for New Jersey. He'll look to build upon that rookie season by carving out a bigger role with Binghamton this season and perhaps be an outside shot to earn another look with New Jersey as a bottom 6 forward that can kill penalties.
#37 - Viktor Loov - D - Age: 24 - 2016-17 Team: Toronto/Albany (AHL) - 2016 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
The Devils acquired the veteran AHL defenseman, Viktor Loov, from the Toronto Maple Leafs back in February for Sergey Kalinin. Loov who also has experience in the SHL and Allsvenskan has carved out an AHL career with 11 goals, 31 assists, 133 PIM, and +24 in 180 regular season games. However, he hasn't been able to take that next step with just 4 NHL games on his resume. While his game is more limited towards that as a defensive defenseman and he'll turn 25 in November, he could stand the outside chance to earn a spot on the Devils NHL blue line given the open competition for spots. Still, I wouldn't expect him to be any more than a Binghamton player this season.
#36 - Gilles Senn - G - Age: 21 - 2016-17 Team: HC Davos (NLA) - 2016 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
The Devils surprised almost everyone at the draft when they selected 21 year old Swiss netminder Gilles Senn. The 6'5, 192 lbs. goaltender has risen through the ranks at HC Davos to earn the starters role last season where he had a .911 SV% in 34 games in the NLA. His numbers were just below league average but he does have youth on his side. It will be interesting to see if he can take another step forward with HC Davos next season and if so, when would the Devils work to bring him into North American hockey?
#35 - Mikhail Maltsev - C - Age: 19 - 2016-17 Team: SKA-Neva St. Petersburg/SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (VHL/MHL) - 2016 Rank: #33 - Elite Prospects Profile
Falling slightly in this year's rankings is Mikhail Maltsev, a 4th round pick in the 2016 draft. The talented center know for his faceoff ability from the SKA St. Petersburg system is yet to make his KHL debut, but split his time between the junior and minor league team where he was a solid producer for both. Next season he's slated to play with SKA-Neva St. Petersburg in the VHL, but hopefully he'll start to knock on the door for a KHL opportunity.
#34 - Ryan Kujawinski - C - Age: 22 - 2016-17 Team: Albany (AHL) - 2016 Rank: #23 - Elite Prospects Profile
Slipping down this year's list and out of the top 25 is Ryan Kujawinski. The 6'2, 200 lbs. forward was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft but hasn't been able to develop into the powerful winger that many had hoped he would become. He had an underwhelming OHL career based on expectations with 184 points in 231 regular season games. Since going pro he has put up just 33 points in 91 regular season games with Albany over the past 2 seasons. This season could prove to be crucial for him with Binghamton as he looks to carve out a consistent top 6 spot and put up the production to match that role. Otherwise his career could be in danger of stalling out at the AHL level.
#33 - Aarne Talvitie - C - Age: 18 - 2016-17 Team: Blues U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga) - 2016 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Aarne Talvitie, the Devils most recent 6th round pick, finds himself outside of the top 25 on his debut. The Finnish center has developed his game in the Espoo Blues system, though has stayed at the junior level to keep his NCAA eligibility. He is set to attend Penn State in the 2018-19 season and will spend one more year with the Blues U20 team in the Jr. A. SM-liiga. Talvitie is known for his solid two-way game, competitive streak, and playmaking abilities. His offensive upside may be a bit limited, but his versatility could potentially help him make it to the NHL someday.
#32 - Marian Studenic - RW - Age: 18 - 2016-17 Team: Hamilton (OHL) - 2016 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Another recent 2017 draft pick making his debut is Marian Studenic who was selected in the 5th round. The Slovakian winger is listed at 6'0, 165 lbs. and could use some more time to fill out his frame. Despite that, he plays a competitive game, not shying away from big hits when given the chance, and is regarded as having some untapped offensive potential. He's a good skater with puck skills which helped him to put up 18 goals and 12 assists in 58 games for Hamilton in his rookie OHL season last year. He could be a potential breakout candidate this season and is someone to keep an eye out for.
#31 - Brett Seney - LW - Age: 21 - 2016-17 Team: Merrimack (NCAA) - 2016 Rank: #28 - Elite Prospects Profile
Brett Seney once again finds himself just outside of the top 25. The Devils selected the undersized left wing in the 6th round of the 2015 draft after he was Merrimack's offensive leader as a freshman. Seney managed to repeat that feat the past two seasons and will once again be the go to guy on offense this upcoming season before turning pro. Seney has made a name for himself with his blazing speed and great mobility to cut through defenders to score some impressive goals. He's also improved his defense on a year to year basis and I think has the makings of a pro player.
#30 - Colby Sissons - D - Age: 19 - 2016-17 Team: Swift Current (WHL) - 2016 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
The Devils signed Colby Sissons last fall as an undrafted free agent out of Swift Current in the WHL. He was coming off a rookie WHL season that saw him put up 3 goals, 19 assists, 26 PIM, and a -13 rating in 71 games. Last year he put up 6 goals, 22 assists, 30 PIM, and a +11 rating in the regular season. He then added 4 goals and 2 assists in 14 playoff games as a key member of the Broncos blue line. Sissons is still very much a defender in development but is a strong skater with decent offensive instincts. He'll look to take on an increased role in all situations this upcoming season.
#29 - Ken Appleby - G - Age: 22 - 2016-17 Team: Albany (AHL) - 2016 Rank: #29 - Elite Prospects Profile
Ken Appleby reclaims his ranking from last year after an up and down season spent mainly with Albany. The Devils signed Appleby after he was a late bloomer in the OHL with Oshawa where he led the club to an OHL Championship and Memorial Cup. He spent most of 2015-16 with Adirondack in the ECHL with a .924 SV% in 29 games. Last season he was stronger in the 1st half of the year before dropping off in the 2nd half, though he still finished with a .903 SV% in 32 games. This upcoming season will be crucial for him as he'll battle Mackenzie Blackwood and Scott Wedgewood for playing time in the AHL. He's already proven that he can handle the ECHL and really needs to make his mark at the next level to prove that he's a legitimate prospect.
#28 - Jeremy Davies - D - Age: 20 - 2016-17 Team: Northeastern University (NCAA) - 2016 Rank: #38 - Elite Prospects Profile
Jumping up 10 spots from last year's list is Jeremy Davies. This is no surprise as he's coming off of a very solid freshman season with Northeastern where he put up 8 goals and 15 assists in 38 games as a top 4 defensemen that was also a power play contributor. The Devils selected Davies as an overage prospect in the 7th round of the 2016 draft due to his offensive upside after a strong performance in the USHL with Bloomington from 2014-16. He'll have plenty of time to continue to round out his overall game but so far it looks like they may get rewarded for taking a chance on him.
#27 - Colton White - D - Age: 20 - 2016-17 Team: Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) - 2016 Rank: #20 - Elite Prospects Profile
Colton White finds himself out of the top 25 on this year's ranking. The Devils selected White in the 4th round of the 2015 draft due to his two-way game and ability to play in all situations. While White's offensive game seems to have stagnated, he's still been an important defender for Sault Ste. Marie and will look to earn a consistent role on Binghamton's blue line this upcoming season.
#26 - Josh Jacobs - D - Age: 21 - 2016-17 Team: Albany (AHL) - 2016 Rank: #15 - Elite Prospects Profile
Josh Jacobs falls from a top 15 spot last year to outside of this year's top 25. The Devils selected Jacobs in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft for his two-way, physical game. He spent the 2014-15 season with Michigan State and had a decent showing, playing in all situations as a freshman, despite the team's struggles. He switched over to Sarnia in the OHL the following year which was a challenging situation. Last year he found himself in a diminished role for Albany, appearing in 49 games with no goals and 9 assists. Jacobs will look to get back on track this upcoming season by finding a full time role for Binghamton and hopefully showing the strong two-way game that drew the Devils to select him a few seasons ago.
Next week we'll begin the process of revealing the list in sets of five. Until then, what do you think of these players that are on the outside looking in? Are there any players that you are surprised to see in this group? Likewise, are there any players that you expected to see on the outside but made our top 25 list? Which of these players do you think could have a future with the Devils? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!