Last week I revealed the players that just missed out on the 2017 AATJ Top 25 Devils Under 25. This post will focus on the bottom 5 players in this year's rankings. Three of these players are draft picks from the 2017 class while two of them are from the 2016 class. Let's take a look at who they are.
#25 - Fabian Zetterlund - RW - Age: 18 - 2016-17 Team: Farjestad BK (SHL) - 2016 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Just making the cut for the top 25 list is winger Fabian Zetterlund who just turned 18 a few days ago. The 5'11, 196 lbs. product of the Farjestads BK system was selected by the Devils in the 3rd round at 63rd overall in the 2017 draft. He's excelled at the junior level for Farjestad BK at the club level and for Sweden in international play. He spent the bulk of last season with J20 team in the SuperElit league where he had 16 goals and 20 assists in 40 games which was good for 2nd in scoring on the team. Those totals were also good for 4th in scoring among the players under the age of 18 in the SuperElit. He even made it into 14 SHL games with the senior team which was an encouraging sign. Zetterlund also continued to see success at the international level as he had 3 goals and 2 assists in 7 games for Sweden's U18 team in the World U18 Championship. In terms of playing style, Zetterlund fits in to the mold of the type of player that Ray Shero has been trying to acquire - he is a powerful skater that can absolutely fly up and down the ice. He loves to start or jump into the rush or chase down pucks that were dumped into the zone. He's not afraid to drive to the net and get into the dirty areas. Zetterlund will also work hard defensively to force turnovers. His puck skills and shot are solid but still have a ways to go before you can consider them assets for him. Hopefully he'll continue to round out his hockey IQ and skills to become a more complete player. It will be interesting to see how much time he spends between the SuperElite and SHL this upcoming season.
#24 - Reilly Walsh - D - Age: 18 - 2016-17 Team: Proctor Academy/Chicago (USHS/USHL) - 2016 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Reilly Walsh was selected a few picks after Zetterlund, at 81st overall, and was the first defenseman the Devils drafted in the 2017 draft. The 6'0, 181 lbs. defender from New Hampshire split last season between prep hockey with Proctor Academy and junior hockey with the Chicago Steel of the USHL. He also laced up his skates for the USA U18 entry at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament prior to the season. He dominated on the prep scene with 30 goals and 39 assists in 30 games. He managed 2 goals and 8 assists in 24 games with Chicago while putting up 1.46 shots per game. He didn't turn 18 until late April and will be entering his freshman season for Harvard in the fall. Walsh is known as a smooth skating defenseman with good mobility when defending against attacking forwards. He's able to produce offensively due to his skating on the rush and shot from the point. He's still filling out his frame and needs to tighten up his defensive game but college hockey should be a great place for him to develop. I'm cautiously optimistic about the type of player he can become should he reach his potential as a two-way threat.
#23 - Brandon Gignac - C - Age: 19 - 2016-17 Team: Shawinigan (QMJHL) - 2016 Rank: #27 - Elite Prospects Profile
Climbing 4 spots in the rankings is playmaking center Brandon Gignac. The Devils selected him in the 3rd round at 80th overall in 2016. At the time, Gignac was coming off of a season that saw him put up 24 goals and 37 assists in 67 regular season games as well as 7 goals and 9 assists in 20 playoff games. That was his third season of QMJHL action, all with Shawinigan. Last season he had more responsibility and was able to put up 23 goals and 39 assists in 59 regular season games. He had 4 assists in the Cataractes short 6 game playoff run. The 5'11, 180 lbs. Gignac is able to use his speed to blow past defenders and move the puck through all three zones. He's earned the reputation for being defensively responsible in his own end and has plenty of experience on the penalty kill. He hasn't developed his offensive game as much as some would've hoped in the QMJHL but his speed, defense, and vision makes him an interesting complimentary player. I look forward to seeing how he makes the transition to the professional game with Binghamton this season.
#22 - Jesper Bratt - LW - Age: 19 - 2016-17 Team: AIK (Allsvenskan) - 2016 Rank: #37 - Elite Prospects Profile
Jumping up 15 spots is exciting left wing Jesper Bratt. The speedy 5'10, 179 lbs. prospect was taken by the Devils in the 6th round of the 2016 draft. At that time he was coming off of a successful rookie season with AIK in the Allsvenskan, the second tier of Swedish hockey. He had 8 goals and 9 assists in 48 games, making him one of the top young players at that level. Last season he took another step forward with 6 goals and 16 assists in 46 games, which was good for 3rd in scoring among players under the age of 19 in the Allsvenskan. Bratt turned 19 at the end of July and will be coming over to North America to further test himself. He'll spend this upcoming season with the London Knights of the OHL which will be a great opportunity for him to get used to the game on this continent. He should also likely feature for Sweden at the upcoming WJC. Bratt's vision and great skating allow him to play an up-tempo game that should suit him fine in the OHL. Despite playing on the wing his passing is a stronger asset to his game than his shot right now, so I hope he can improve that shot going forward. The OHL should be a good place for him to fine tune his defensive game and continue to get more muscle on his frame. I look forward to seeing how he performs for London and how this will help prepare him for the AHL and/or the NHL further down the road.
#21 - Nikita Popugayev - RW - Age: 18 - 2016-17 Team: Moose Jaw/Prince George (WHL) - 2016 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Just missing out on the top 20 is 2017 4th round draft pick Nikita Popugayev. The large winger is listed at 6'5.5, 202 lbs. on his WHL page but has been listed up to 6'6, 217 lbs. elsewhere. Either way the hulking winger is an attractive prospect as he has the potential to be a power forward that can impose his will on the opposition while adding in some offense. Popugayev came up through the youth ranks with Dynamo Moskva before spending some time with the CSKA Moskva U17 team in 2014-15. The following year he made his WHL debut with a strong 16 goals and 31 assists in 70 games for Moose Jaw. Last season he got off to a great start with 22 goals and 29 assists in 40 games for Moose Jaw but a mid-season trade to Prince George greatly affected his production. He managed just 7 goals and 11 assists in 31 games with Prince George despite still playing a regular shift and getting power play time. Popugayev is known for taking on defenders one on one, using his size and puck skills to create chances for himself. When he's on he can be a decent playmaker but has struggled to perform up to his potential on a consistent basis. He still needs to improve his skating, learn to utilize his teammates better, and make quicker decisions at even strength. The WHL is a good league for him to try to develop those tools in and I am interested in seeing how he does now that he has had time to adjust to Prince George. Hopefully this upcoming season can be a break out year for him.
We will continue to release these rankings in sets of five on a weekly basis. As we reveal more, you'll probably be able to guess where some players finished as the list narrows. It was interesting to see who finished were after another busy year of rebuilding by Ray Shero. As you wait for the next set of five, tell me what you think about the players ranked in this post. Do you agree or disagree with their rankings? Which of these players can you see being NHL players someday? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!