We continue our top 25 New Jersey Devils players under the age of 25 series today. Two weeks ago we revealed the players that just missed out and last week we revealed the bottom five of this year's list. This post will reveal those players that were ranked in the bottom of the top 20. This group includes two players that split time between Albany and New Jersey last season, two defensemen that are new to the organization, and one of the Devils OHL prospects. Let's take a look at who they are.
#20 - Michael Kapla - D - Age: 23 - 2016-17 Team: UMass-Lowell (NCAA) - 2016 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Cracking the top 20 as a debutante is the 6'0, 200 lbs. defender Michael Kapla. The Devils signed Kapla as an undrafted free agent last spring out of UMass-Lowell where he captained the River Hawks in his junior and senior seasons. The soon to be 23 year old put up solid offensive numbers for a defenseman in college with 17 goals and 75 assists in 152 games for a 0.61 Pts/GP rate. Kapla earned a reputation for being a tough, two-way defenseman in college that can play in all situations and on both sides of the ice. His passing ability could make him an asset on the power play at the next level. Kapla managed to get into 5 games with the Devils last spring and will have an opportunity to earn a spot on the bottom pair out of training camp. With that said, I still think it's likely he ends up with Binghamton to start this upcoming season and that should be an ideal place for his development as he gets used to the the speed of the professional game.
#19 - Yaroslav Dyblenko - D - Age: 23 - 2016-17 Team: Spartak Moskva (KHL) - 2016 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Another new left handed defenseman making his debut in the top 20 is Yaroslav Dyblenko who was signed by the Devils last spring. The 6'2, 194 lbs. defender is known for his defense first, physical style of play. The 23 year old is a veteran of 180 regular season games in the KHL where he put up 12 goals, 27 assists, -2, 150 PIM, and averaged 16:52 in ice time. He rose into the professional ranks with Atlant Mytishchi where he split time between their KHL and MHL teams before settling into a full time KHL role in 2013-14. He made the move to Spartak Moskva where he played from 2015-17 appearing in 51 games each season. Dyblenko will also look to earn a spot on the third pair but I think it's more likely that he's an AHL player for the Devils.
#18 - Blake Pietila - LW - Age: 24 - 2016-17 Team: Albany/New Jersey (AHL/NHL) - 2016 Rank: #21 - Elite Prospects Profile
Rising 3 spots from last year's list is Blake Pietila. The 5'11, 200 lbs. forward has spent the majority of the past 2 seasons with Albany, appearing in 107 regular season games with 27 goals and 23 assists. He's also played in 17 NHL games with a goal and 2 assists in a checking role. The former USNTDP product was a standout player for Michigan Tech from 2011-15 where he put up 106 points in 153 games as a defensively responsible forward who had success in the faceoff circle. He'll turn 25 in February and will look to earn a full time role on the 4th line for New Jersey this season. He'll never be an offensive producer for the Devils but could be a solid 4th line and PK option for them going forward. However, he will face plenty of competition for a roster spot in New Jersey and this year could be critical for his future with the organization.
#17 - Nathan Bastian - RW - Age: 19 - 2016-17 Team: Mississauga (OHL) - 2016 Rank: #18 - Elite Prospects Profile
Nathan Bastian once again finds himself in the top 20 of our list despite having a rough season last year. The 6'4, 219 lbs. right wing was selected by the Devils in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft. At that time he was coming off of a promising season with Mississauga with 19 goals and 40 assists in 64 regular season games. He did a lot of that damage playing on a line with fellow Devils prospect Michael McLeod. Last season wasn't as kind to him as he didn't perform and was separated from McLeod, and even asked to play center for the Steelheads. He ended up with 16 goals and 29 assists in 58 regular season games. He did have a decent playoff campaign with 14 points in 20 games. Overall he saw his Pts/GP rate drop from 0.92 in 2015-16 to 0.78 in 2016-17. As Brock Otten noted in our interview with him in July, Bastian's disappointing season can be attributed to his skating not developing as hoped, his lack of a physical game, and his shot not improving. Bastian turns 20 in December and should be a regular player for Binghamton this season, though the possibility of an overage season with Mississauga does exist. Hopefully the Devils coaching staff in Binghamton will be able to work with the young forward to further develop his game as it seems he hit a wall in his OHL career. Bastian is still young and skilled enough that he has time to turn things around.
#16 - Nick Lappin - RW - Age: 24 - 2016-17 Team: New Jersey/Albany (NHL/AHL) - 2016 Rank: #19 - Elite Prospects Profile
Rising a few spots is Nick Lappin after spending half of the 2016-17 season with New Jersey. The 6'1, 174 lbs. right wing was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Brown University in March of 2016. From 2012-16 with Brown, Lappin put up 51 goals and 55 assists in 123 games for a 0.86 Pts/GP rate. He immediately impressed with Albany down the stretch in 2016 with 7 points in 12 regular season games and 7 points in 11 playoff games. Last year in 35 games with Albany he had 14 goals and 15 assists. In 43 games with New Jersey he had 4 goals and 3 assists in a checking role. Lappin turns 25 in November and like Pietila, will look to finally earn a full time NHL role as a bottom 6 player that can kill penalties. His offensive upside is limited but his work ethic and defensive game could help him carve out a career at the NHL level. This upcoming season will also be crucial for his future with the organization given the amount of players competing for spots.
As we do every season, we will continue to release these rankings in sets of five as we get close to the start of training camp. This group featured four players that could be contributors to the Devils this upcoming season and a talented prospect that will look to get back on track. What do you think of these players? Where did you have them ranked? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!