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The Top of the Devils Prospect Pool is Weak

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After their first year of contention, and coming out of an offseason in which no moves were made, it’s surprising that the Devils lack a true top prospect.

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New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Devils can no longer lay claim to the label “rebuilding.” After going for it by giving up picks and prospects at the deadline for two players that are no longer on this team, the Devils are officially a team expected to contend. I wouldn’t call them a “win now” team, especially given their inaction this offseason, but they certainly can’t claim to be prioritizing the future significantly more than the present.

Before elaborating on this, I’d like to clarify that it is still fine that we did very little this offseason. The young guys already on the roster should be slated to improve with more experience and chemistry, many of the guys we lost may actually make way for better guys to replace them (Grabner and Moore come to mind), and 2019 offseason will be a big one for us. That said, a young team that is not making moves to improve, but not selling for the future either, sound like the profile of a franchise that has a very good prospect pool.

The Devils certainly feel like they have a deeper prospect pool. The annual top 25 under 25 project is getting harder and harder for me and I feel like we’re now approaching the point where decent prospects may get left off. But we do NOT have a top tier prospect in the system. The Devils had 8 players 23 years old or younger get significant time with the team. This prospect exodus hurt the Binghamton team who won 14 of their first 48 games before toying with .500 the rest of the way, and it has similarly dented the prospect pool. According to Scott Wheeler of The Athletic, the Devils are the only NHL team for have 0 prospects inside his top 50 (in the comments he said that Devils 2018 1st round pick, Ty Smith was the closest of the bunch to cracking the list). That’s a rather dubious honor for a team that is supposedly on the upswing.

From Wheeler’s Top 50

Let’s just take one more look at it using Manny Perry’s Prospect valuations. They are in units of salary value of a player based off multiple types of information including the NHLe you’ve seen Brian reference here and here. Below I have the past two years worth of valuations for every skater who has at least one of the two years in the dataset and appeared in our 25 under 25 voting list.

For some reference, here’s a distribution of the values for the 900+ players in Manny’s dataset this past year

Max: $3.18M
Top 31 (NHL team top prospect): $2.35M
Top 93 (NHL team top 3 prospect): $1.97M
Top 155 (NHL team top 5 prospect): $1.62M
Top 310 (NHL team top 10 prospect): $1.13M

From these markers you can see that the Devils, do have a legitimate top prospect for an NHL team. Ty Smith was worth $2.4M last year which would be just barely a top prospect, but for a team making no moves and banking on internal improvement to buoy their performance, “fringe top 30” is not a glowing appraisal of our top overall prospect. McLeod is a legitimate top 3 prospect and Jesper Boqvist actually just barely squeaks in as well, by an even tighter margin than Smith did. This is more evidence that the top end of the Devils prospect pool is below average.

Now, the Devils do have some depth in their prospect pool with 8 “Top 5” quality prospects and 12 “Top 10.” This is encouraging for the future — you never know when a 26-year-old Blake Coleman may turn out to be an impact player. But as far as the present is concerned, anyone expecting big things from the Joey Andersons and John Quennevilles for the 2019 season are more likely than not to be disappointed.

Your Thoughts

How do you guys feel about the Devils prospects? Do you agree that the pool is drying up and the top end talent is no longer there? Does the depth lessen the blow? Does this make you more angry about the inaction during free agency? Leave any and all thoughts in the comments below and thanks, as always, for reading!