Today is the final installment of the 2018 AATJ Top 25 Devils Under 25. This year’s top 5 includes two players from last year’s top 5 and three new additions. This group includes a player that looks like a future star, two talented defensemen, and two forwards that have broken through to make an impact for the NHL club recently. Before we reveal the top 5, here is a reminder that you can see all the posts in this series right here. Now, let’s take a look at which players rose to the top of this year’s ranking.
#5 - Miles Wood - LW - Age: 23 - 2017-18 Team: New Jersey (NHL) - 2017 Rank: #7 - Elite Prospects Profile
Starting off the top 5 is Miles Wood who recently signed a 4 year, $11 million contract with the Devils after a breakout season in 2017-18. Miles is the son of former NHLer Randy Wood and has steadily risen the ranks to get to the NHL. He was a 4th round pick in the 2013 draft out of the Noble & Greenough School, a premier prep school in Massachusetts. Wood excelled over the course of three seasons with Noble & Greenough from 2012-15 with 54 goals and 53 assists in 60 games. He even became the rare 19 year old prep school prospect to make the US 2015 WJC team. It was obvious then that he had the skill to be playing college hockey but he opted to finish his prep education first. In 2015-16 he would play his one and only season for Boston College with 10 goals, 25 assists, +13, and 76 PIM over the course of 37 games. The Devils would quickly sign him to an ELC and reward him with his NHL debut that spring. He even made the US team for the World Championships and had a goal in 10 games.
His rookie season in pro hockey would come in 2016-17 where he would split time between the NHL and AHL. In 60 games with New Jersey he had 8 goals and 9 assists in 60 games. In 15 games with Albany he had 4 goals and 4 assists. The 2017-18 season would be the breakout season for the speedy, strong forward as he put up 19 goals, 13 assists, with an average ice time of just 12:58 over 76 games. Wood seems poised to continue to develop over the next few seasons into a really solid secondary scoring asset that can play a physical game.
#4 - Jesper Bratt - RW - Age: 20 - 2017-18 Team: New Jersey (NHL) - 2017 Rank: #22 - Elite Prospects Profile
Rocketing up the rankings is Jesper Bratt after a surprisingly awesome breakthrough in the 2017-18 season. The Stockholm, Sweden native was the Devils 6th round pick in 2016 and has already proven himself to be a NHL player. Prior to coming to New Jersey, he came up through the Trångsunds IF youth system. In 2013-14 he joined the AIK junior system and was about a point per game player across the J18 Elit and J18 Allsvenskan leagues. He also represented the Swedish U16 team in international competition. He would further cement himself as a quality prospect for AIK in the 2014-15 season as he put up 17 goals and 23 assists in 39 games for the J20 team in SuperElit junior action. He even earned a one game call up to the senior team in the second tier Allsvenskan. Bratt would once again represent Sweden as a U17 player with 4 points in 6 U17 WHC games to earn a Bronze Medal. In 2015-16 he became a fixture on the AIK senior team as a 17 year old. In 48 Allsvenskan games he had 8 goals and 9 assists which is very strong production for a player his age. He also put up 4 points in 7 games as the Swedish U18 team won a Silver Medal at the U18 WJC. Earlier that season he helped Sweden capture Silver at the Hlinka Memorial Tournament. His final season in Sweden would come in 2016-17 as he put up 6 goals and 16 assists in 46 games for AIK in the Allsvenskan. He would once again see more international hockey, this time with the Swedish U19 team where he was a key player.
Bratt was going to spend the 2017-18 season with the London Knights of the OHL but had a great training camp to earn a spot on the Devils roster. Overall, he had a fine rookie season with 13 goals, 22 assists, 100 shots, and an average ice time of 15:15 per game over 74 regular season games. His season was really the tale of two, as his first half was extremely hot (30 points in 44 games) and his second half cold (5 points in 30 games). Because of his slow second half, he only managed to get into one playoff game. Still, there is a lot of optimism around Bratt heading into the 2018-19 season. He’s already had some success at the NHL level, gained a lot of great experience, and has the opportunity to play in the top 6 once again. I am really looking forward to another productive but more consistent season from the skilled winger.
#3 - Damon Severson - D - Age: 24 - 2017-18 Team: New Jersey (NHL) - 2017 Rank: #1 - Elite Prospects Profile
Damon Severson earns another top 5 spot but is no longer #1 as he has fallen to #3. Part of this is due to the strong debut seasons of the two players below. Some of this is due to his own play which has been up and down at various points based on his potential. Severson is a native of Melville, Saskatchewan and played his youth hockey for Melville MHA. He was a regular for the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL from 2010-14, appearing in 260 regular season games with 36 goals and 131 assists. In 39 playoff games he had 9 goals and 23 assists. Severson really broke out during the 2013-14 season when he put up 61 points in 64 regular season games earning WHL (West) Second All-Star Team honors. During his junior career he represented Canada Western U17 at the U17 championships and Canada U18 at the U18 WJC. He was among the final cuts for his last chance at the U20 WJC.
The mobile, two-way defenseman earned a spot on the New Jersey Devils in 2014-15 at the age of 20. As a rookie he appeared in 51 games with 5 goals, 12 assists, 93 shots, and 21:58 average ice time per game. He would follow that up in 2015-16 by appearing in 72 games with a goal, 20 assists, 94 shots, and 18:10 average per game. After what many felt was a step back in his second season, Severson did pick it up a bit in his 3rd season. In 2016-17, he played 80 games with 3 goals, 28 assists, 125 shots, and averaged 20:21. Last season, was another up and down one as he played in 76 games with 9 goals, 15 assists, 121 shots, and 19:41. Severson seems to be one of the more polarizing players on the Devils among the fan base. Some feel that he has another level to his game and could become a legitimate top 4 defenseman that could step in on the top pair if necessary. Others feel that he’s too inconsistent and not solid enough in his own end. About to enter his age 24 season, this could be a turning point in his career. Hopefully with a new defense partner now that John Moore is no longer a Devil, Severson will be in a better position to succeed. Regardless, it will be on him to prove his value to the Devils in 2018-19.
#2 - Will Butcher - D - Age: 23 - 2017-18 Team: New Jersey (NHL) - 2017 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Making his debut in style on an AATJ Top 25 Under 25 list is Will Butcher, who finished just ahead of Severson for the #2 spot. While Devils fans are now very familiar with the offensively gifted defenseman, he is a newcomer to this list as he wasn’t signed until 8/28/17. The Sun Prairie, Wisconsin native played his midget hockey with the Madison Capitols 16U and 18U teams from 2009-11. He even earned a 2 game stint in the USHL for the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the 2010-11 season. For the 2011-12 season, Butcher joined the competitive US National Team Development Program where he put up 10 points in 31 USHL games, 31 points in 46 games for the U17 team in USDP play, and 2 points in 10 games for the U18 team in USDP action. He also represented the US at the U17 championship with 6 assists in 5 games and at the U18 WJC with 6 games. For those efforts he earned a U17 Silver Medal and U18 Gold Medal. In his final season of junior hockey in 2012-13, Butcher had 13 points in 26 games in USHL action and was a full time member of the U18 team in USDP play with 37 points in 67 games. He was an alternate captain on the US U18 team in the WJC with 4 points in 7 games as they earned a Silver Medal.
From 2013-17 Butcher would spend four seasons at the University of Denver where he would put up 28 goals and 75 assists in 158 games. He would also serve as an alternate captain in his junior season and captain in his senior season. He would help Denver to the NCAA Title in 2016-17 and would earn many individual honors. On the international level during his freshman and sophomore seasons he would earn a spot on the US U20 team in the WJC.
The Colorado Avalanche were unable to sign Butcher after his collegiate career, thus making him a free agent. The Devils jumped at the chance to sign a defender with his skillset and were rewarded by a strong rookie season. In 2017-18, Butcher appeared in 81 regular season games for the Devils with 5 goals, 39 assists, 88 shots, and an average ice time of 16:04 per game. Butcher produced in the playoffs with 4 points in 5 games. He would be named to the NHL All-Rookie Team for his efforts. Butcher even got to play for the US at the World Championships where he had 3 points in 10 games as the team won Bronze. He played in a sheltered role as a rookie but is poised for more responsibility this upcoming season. I’m intrigued to see how he responds to a tougher role and what he has in store for his second season.
#1 - Nico Hischier - C - Age: 19 - 2017-18 Team: New Jersey (NHL) - 2017 Rank: #2 - Elite Prospects Profile
It will come as no surprise that Nico Hischier was the unanimous #1 for this year’s list. The supremely talented center was the 1st overall pick of the 2017 draft. The native of Brig, Switzerland came up playing his youth and junior hockey with the EHC Visp program from 2009-14. He produced video game like numbers across the youth ranks, often playing against competition a couple of years older than his natural group. He made the move to the SC Bern system in in the 2013-14 season. In the 2014-15 season he would really start to get noticed by scouts when he put up 28 goals and 33 assists in 22 games for Bern’s U17 side in the Elite Novizen as a 16 year old. He excelled in the playoffs with 9 points in 3 games for the U17 team. That same season he made 11 appereances for the U20 team in the Elite Jr. A league and had a goal and an assist. He turned it up in the playoffs with 3 goals and 3 assists in 10 games for that team despite his age. That season would also see Hischier play for the U17 and U18 Swiss national teams where he was a key producer for the U17 team. In the following 2015-16 season, Hischier would dominate the Elite Jr. A league with 28 points in 18 games for Bern’s U20 team in regular season action and 9 points in 9 games in the playoffs. He would make his NLA debut for SC Bern and score once in 15 games. He went on loan to EHC Visp in the second tier NLB where he had 2 points in 7 regular season games and 2 goals in 6 playoff games. Hischier would continue to play international hockey for the Swiss U18 and U20 teams where he put up more impressive performances and earn more awards.
For his draft season, Hischier made the decision to challenge himself by moving to the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. Halifax was excited to secure his services after drafting him 6th overall in the 2016 CHL Import Draft. Hischier quickly repaid the Mooseheads by putting up 38 goals and 48 assists in 57 regular season games and 3 goals and 4 assists in 6 playoff games. He was named to the QMJHL All-Rookie Team, won the Mike Bossy Trophy for Best Professional Prospect, the Michel Bergeron Trophy for Offensive Rookie of the year after leading rookies in goals, assists, and points, and was also named QMJHL Rookie of the Year. He continued to impress for the Swiss U18 and U20 teams, earning more Top 3 Player on Team awards in WJC action.
As expected, Hischier earned a spot on the New Jersey Devils roster after being drafted 1st overall in the 2017 draft. He quickly won over fans with his wide range of offensive skills, poise on the puck, and great work ethic. As a rookie, he appeared in all 82 regular season games with 20 goals, 32 assists, 180 shots, and 16:19 average ice time per game. He quickly found chemistry with the Devils’ star player in Taylor Hall and entertained fans throughout the season. He continued to be a big part of the team in their playoff series with a goal, 6 shots, and average ice time of 16:33 over the 5 game series. Hischier has all the tools and potential to be a star for the Devils for years to come and I look forward to seeing what he does in his second season.
I want to thank everyone for contributing to the community portion of the ranking as well as my fellow AATJ writers for their rankings. Now that we have released the top 5, let us know what you think of these players. Where did you have these players ranked? What are you looking forward to seeing from these players in the 2018-19 season and beyond? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!