Today marks the beginning of the 2018 edition of the All About the Jersey Top 25 Devils Under 25. This ranking of NHL players, prospects, and draft picks has been a fixture on this blog since 2012. For the fourth year in a row, we decided to use a combination of rankings from the writers and community to see how we would rank all 40 players. I want to thank everyone who participated in this ranking. I realize trying to rank 40 players all in varying stages of their careers is no easy task. I appreciate everyone that took the time to do so. Once again, 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 come from different leagues and have varying levels of upside. Some of these players are guys that have spent a few years playing minor league hockey. Others come from European leagues where it can be harder to find up to date information and reports on them. Some of these players are prospects that could be a year away from breaking into the top 25. Let’s take a look to see what players are on the outside of this year’s list.
#40 - Brandon Baddock - LW - Age: 23 - 2017-18 Team: Binghamton Devils (AHL) - 2017 Rank: #45 - Elite Prospects Profile
As is becoming tradition, Baddock has once again finished last in our rankings for a third year in a row. The large, aggressive winger had a solid WHL career as a character guy for the Edmonton Oil Kings. He even captained the team in his final WHL season. He spent 21 ECHL games with Adirondack in 2016-17 but had just 4 points to show for it. Last season he made it into 53 games with Binghamton as an energy guy and put up 7 points. He’s entering the final season of his ELC and it’s hard to see him in the Devils long term plans, even at the minor league level.
#39 - Eetu Pakkila - LW - Age: 18 - 2017-18 Team: Kärpät U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga) - 2017 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
The Devils 7th round pick from the 2018 draft comes in at second to last on this year’s list. Pakkila will turn 19 in early October and is a bit of a wildcard at this point. He can skate and has decent hands but how will that translate to the pro level? He’s proven that he can start at the junior level with 40 points in 48 games in the Jr. A SM-liiga last season. He even made an appearance for the first team in the Liiga. It will be interesting to see how he does once again in the junior league and if more Liiga appearances come his way.
#38 - Mitchell Hoelscher - C - Age: 18 - 2017-18 Team: Ottawa 67’s (OHL) - 2017 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Making his debut is recent 6th round pick from the 2018 draft, Mitchell Hoelscher. A defensively responsible, two-way center that was able to utilize more of his offensive game in the second half of last season. He’s earned a reputation for understanding the game and what he needs to do both with the puck and away from it to help his team in all three zones. He may not have amazing skill but is a very well-rounded player. He’s a player that can be very effective on the PK. He figures to earn a bigger role with Ottawa this upcoming season and could be a breakout candidate in 2018-19.
#37 - Nikita Popugaev - RW - Age: 19 - 2017-18 Team: Prince George (WHL), CSKA Moscow (KHL) - 2017 Rank: #21 - Elite Prospects Profile
Falling 16 spots compared to last year is Nikita Popugaev. The Devils selected Popugaev in the 4th round of the 2017 draft due to his size (6’6, 216 lbs.), puck skills, and playmaking abilities. His WHL career got off to a fine start with Moose Jaw back in 2015 but a trade to Prince George in January of 2017 seemed to derail is confidence. He struggled to produce on a consistent basis for the Cougars and ended up leaving the team in October to go back to Russia. There he played in the KHL, VHL, and MHL (juniors). He had most of his success in the VHL (2nd tier) with 3 goals and 2 assists in 14 games. He managed to put up an assist in 12 KHL regular season games and a goal in 5 playoff games. He’ll look to break into the KHL squad in a full time basis but more time in the VHL could be beneficial for the soon to be 20 year old. While his 2017-18 season was disappointing, he can certainly get back on the map as a prospect with his rare blend of size and skill.
#36 - Gilles Senn - G - Age: 22 - 2017-18 Team: HC Davos (NLA) - 2017 Rank: #36 - Elite Prospects Profile
Finishing low in the rankings once again is 22 year old netminder Gilles Senn. He was drafted in the 5th round of the 2017 draft due to his large frame (6’5, 195 lbs.) and likely ability to be ready to test himself in North America within a couple of years. He’s been the #1 for HC Davos for the past 2 seasons and figures to once again find himself in that role this upcoming season. He’s posted a .911 SV% in 34 games in 2016-17 and .905 SV% in 30 games in 2017-18. He’s entering the final season of his contract in 2018-19 and I expect him to make the jump to North America after that. Hopefully he can improve upon his relatively average seasons and become one of the top goaltenders in the Swiss league.
#35 - Cam Johnson - G - Age: 24 - 2017-18 Team: University of North Dakota (NCAA) - 2017 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Making his one and only debut on an AATJ U25 list is goaltender Cam Johnson. The recently turned 24 year old was signed after playing 4 seasons with the University of North Dakota where he won a NCAA title in 2015-16 as a sophomore. Overall he finished his NCAA career with 102 games played, a 56-26-12 record, and .914 SV%. He got a brief taste of AHL action at the end of last season and will look to battle for playing time with fellow prospect Mackenzie Blackwood and veteran Eddie Lack.
#34 - Akira Schmid - G - Age: 18 - 2017-18 Team: Langnau U20 (Elite Jr. A) - 2017 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Making his debut on the list is 2018 5th round draft pick, goaltender Akira Schmid. He recently turned 18 in May and after years of development in his native Switzerland, will be making the switch to WHL hockey with Lethbridge. He’s been a standout netminder in the junior ranks in Switzerland and has even earned a few professional appearances between the top 2 divisions. He’s had mixed results at the international level with a strong Hlinka Tournament being the highlight. Schmid is a large goaltender at 6’4, 179 lbs. but needs to fill out his frame and work on his mobility. He seems to understand what reads to make and how to angle himself, but sometimes isn’t able to move quickly enough to get the results he needs. Playing in the WHL should be a great opportunity for him to find another level to his game.
#33 - Matthew Hellickson - D - Age: 20 - 2017-18 Team: University of Notre Dame (NCAA) - 2017 Rank: #44 - Elite Prospects Profile
Matt Hellickson may not have made the top 25, but he did rise from second to last on last year’s list to 33rd on this year’s. The Devils selected him in the 7th round of the 2017 draft knowing that he’d likely need 3-4 seasons of college hockey with Notre Dame to develop. So far, so good as he had a fine freshman season. In 40 games he had 3 goals and 9 assists, earned consistent minutes, and played on special teams. He’s still very much a work in progress as he needs to improve all aspects of his game, but he seems to be on the right track right now.
#32 - Colton White - D - Age: 21 - 2017-18 Team: Binghamton Devils (AHL) - 2017 Rank: #27 - Elite Prospects Profile
Colton White was a top 25 player back in the 2016 rank and then just missed last year’s top 25. He’s fallen once again this year due to rough rookie season as a pro that saw him split time between Binghamton (AHL) and Adirondack (ECHL). In 47 AHL games he had 2 goals and 7 assists and was unable to lock down regular playing time. He took advantage of his minutes at the ECHL level with 2 goals and 2 assists in 11 regular season games and 3 goals and 8 assists in 14 playoff games. He won’t turn 22 until May so he still has plenty of time to figure out the game at this level. Hopefully he can build off of his ECHL stint and have a positive season for Binghamton in 2018-19. His upside is limited but his development would certainly be a welcome sight to the Devils.
#31 - Brandon Gignac - C - Age: 20 - 2017-18 Team: Binghamton Devils (AHL) - 2017 Rank: #23 - Elite Prospects Profile
Falling out of the top 25 after finishing 23rd last season is speedy center Brandon Gignac. A pick of the Devils in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft, Gignac had a solid QMJHL career with Shawinigan. He was set to play his first full pro season in 2017-18 but managed to just play 21 games with a 2 goals and an assist before a torn ACL in his right knee ended his season early in December. Speed has always been a large part of his game so it will be interesting to see how he recovers from the knee surgery. It will also be worth keeping an eye out for what type of role he can earn on Binghamton in 2018-19. Blake Coleman had a similar situation back in 2015-16 when his rookie AHL season was cut short due to a shoulder injury. Hopefully Giganc can have similar good fortune and get himself back on track with a healthy 2018-19 season. The good news for him is he’s still young and will turn 21 in November.
#30 - Yegor Zaitsev - D - Age: 20 - 2017-18 Team: Dynamo Moscow (KHL) - 2017 Rank: #39 - Elite Prospects Profile
Missing out on the top 25 once again but still jumping up is defenseman Yegor Zaitsev. The Devils selected him in the 7th round of the 2017 draft after he did well enough to spend most of the season on the VHL (2nd tier) team Dynamo Balashikha and earn 19 KHL appearances for Dynamo Moscow. Last season he played in 28 KHL games with 2 assists and an average ice time of 9:32. He even managed to captain the Russian team at the WJC where he had an assist in 5 games and was named a Top 3 Player for Russia. While his offensive game still seems to be a work in progress, it seems he’s doing well enough to hold his own at the KHL level defensively. A large part of that is due to his understanding of the game and physical attributes.
#29 - Xavier Bernard - D - Age: 18 - 2017-18 Team: Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL) - 2017 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Making his debut just outside of the top 25 is recent Devils 4th round pick from the 2018 draft, Xavier Bernard. The 6’3, 203 lbs. defenseman from Drummondville in the QMJHL is known for his mobility, ability to win puck battles, and hard shot. He put up a goal and 5 assists with 48 shots in his rookie season of 2016-17. This past season saw him take a step forward with 11 goals and 24 assists in 66 games with 112 shots. He figures to be a key part of the Drummondville top 4 this upcoming season and could be a real wildcard of a prospect due to his skating ability to go along with his large frame.
#28 - Josh Jacobs - D - Age: 22 - 2017-18 Team: Binghamton Devils (AHL) - 2017 Rank: #26 - Elite Prospects Profile
It hasn’t always been an easy road for Josh Jacobs since the Devils used a 2nd round selection on him in the 2014 draft. At the time he was coming off of an impressive 2013-14 season that saw him win a USHL Clark Cup Championship, be named a USHL All-Star, and win a World Junior A Challenge Gold Medal. He displayed the signs of a defenseman that could grow into a top 4 guy with a two-way game and some physical ability. He was able to show that a bit in spurts during his only season at Michigan State in 2014-15 as the program was having a tough time. He made the jump to Sarnia of the OHL for the 2015-16 season but didn’t produce to the levels that some expected. He’s been an AHL player for the past 2 seasons, appearing in 105 regular season games with a goal and 24 assists in a limited role. Jacobs doesn’t turn 23 until mid-February but the Devils will hope he can get off to a strong start for Binghamton and get himself back on the map as a prospect. This will be an absolutely critical year for Jacobs as a member of the Devils organization.
#27 - Jocktan Chainey - D - Age: 18 - 2017-18 Team: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) - 2017 Rank: #40 - Elite Prospects Profile
Jocktan Chainey saw his stock rise after finishing 40th (out of 45) last year. The left handed defenseman was selected by the Devils in the 7th round of the 2017 draft and due to a September birthday is still just 18 years old. He’s already the veteran of 167 regular season QMJHL games with 16 goals and 66 assists as well as 15 playoff games with 2 goals and 9 assists. Chainey played a larger role for Halifax this past season as a top 4 defender with PP duties. He increased his production from 4 goals and 20 assists in 55 games in 2016-17 to 7 goals and 33 assists in 66 games this past season. Chainey is still developing his defensive game but is poised for another solid year of development as Halifax is set to host the 2019 Memorial Cup. He should get to play in pressure situations along the way and I look forward to seeing how he deals with even more responsibility this upcoming season.
#26 - Mikhail Maltsev - C - Age: 20 - 2017-18 Team: SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) - 2017 Rank: #35 - Elite Prospects Profile
Just falling outside of this year’s top 25 is Mikhail Maltsev, a center from the SKA St. Petersburg system in Russia that the Devils drafted in the 4th round of the 2016 draft. His ranking this year represents a nice jump from last year where he ranked 35th and 2016 where he was 33rd. A large part of this jump is the fact he was finally able to crack into SKA St. Petersburg squad where he put up 5 assists in 18 KHL games while winning 55.9% of his faceoffs. Maltsev once again proved that he could compete at the VHL level (2nd tier) with SKA-Neva as he had 5 goals and 12 assists in 25 regular season games and 8 points in 20 playoff games. Known for being able to play a strong, two-way game with excellent faceoff skills, Maltsev should once again find himself splitting time between the KHL and VHL in 2018-19. Hopefully he can earn more ice time on the KHL squad and become a regular player, though that’s hard for any 20 year old on a team as deep as SKA.
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!