A week ago I revealed the 22 players that found themselves on the outside of this year’s Top 25 Under 25 ranking. As we have in previous years, we will reveal which players made our Top 25 in sets of 5, beginning with this post on spots #25 to #21. This group includes two players that spent last season with the Binghamton Devils, a Russian prospect that is about to start his first season with Binghamton, a proven OHL goal scorer, and a persistent goaltending prospect. Let’s take a look at who they are.
#25 - Akira Schmid - G - Age: 19 - 2018-19 Teams: Omaha Lancers (USHL), Corpus Christi IceRays (NAHL), Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL) - 2018 Rank: #34 - Elite Prospects Profile
Akira Schmid is a 6’5, 205 lbs. goaltender from Switzerland that the Devils selected in the 5th round of the 2018 draft. He is a product of the SCL Tigers system in his native country and in 2017-18 worked his way into a full-time starting role with their U20 team and managed to feature in 4 senior games while on loan to EHC Thun in the SRL. Schmid has featured for Switzerland at the international level for the U16, U17, U18, and U20 teams as his career has progressed. A solid draft season at the junior level in Switzerland saw him finish as an outsider at the 34th spot on last year’s list as he had a lot of potential but was still a relatively unknown. That would all change this past season as he would overcome an extremely rocky start to his North American career to thrive.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL drafted Schmid in the 1st round of the 2018 CHL Import Draft and both parties were eager to bring the netminder over from Europe. Schmid would end up making just one disastrous appearance for Lethbridge before they gave up on him and left him without a team for about a month. Fortunately, an opportunity to play for Corpus Christi in the NAHL (tier 2 junior hockey in the US) opened up and Schmid excelled in his 2 games with the team. He quickly earned a call up to the Omaha Lancers of the USHL (tier 1) and would end up leading the league with a .926 SV% in 37 games with the team. He also got the chance to play in 3 U20 WJC games for Switzerland though the team as a whole didn’t perform well. Schmid deserves a lot of credit for overcoming such a tough start to his North American career and I think that’s a reason why he ended up in our top 25 this year. He is set to return to the Lancers for the 2019-20 season which I think should be beneficial for him. He won’t turn 20 until next May and needs to get as much playing time against a strong level of competition as possible. I think the stability of his situation will be key for his development and allow us a better idea of what type of prospect he is.
#24 - Blake Speers - C/RW - Age: 22 - 2018-19 Team: Binghamton Devils (AHL) - 2018 Rank: #18 - Elite Prospects Profile
Blake Speers has maintained a top 25 spot despite falling down the rankings for a 3rd year in a row. The former 3rd round pick of the Devils from the 2015 draft has seen his stock fall since turning pro for the 2017-18 season. Speers was known as a tenacious, two-way player with leadership skills which obviously caught the Devils’ attention after his draft season of 2014-15 where he wore an “A” for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL and put up 67 points in 57 regular season games as well as 9 points 14 playoff games. The following season saw him wear the “C” for the Soo Greyhounds and he continued to produce with 74 points in 68 regular season games and 10 points in 12 playoff games. The 2016-17 season would start very promising for Speers as he made the New Jersey Devils out of camp but it would quickly turn after a broken wrist would cut his stint with the team short to just 3 NHL games. He would return to the OHL and put up a respectable, if slightly underwhelming, 34 points in 30 regular season games and 8 points in 11 playoff games. He even managed to get into 2 playoff games for the Albany Devils to add a little bit of pro experience. Speers also represented Canada at the U20 WJC with 3 points in 7 games as they captured a Silver Medal. That season would see him earn a 9th place ranking on our 2017 top 25 under 25 list.
Unfortunately, his first full pro season would see him not come close to making the Devils in camp or at any point in the season due to a lack of production, ice time, and trust from the coaching staff in a limited role with Binghamton. He managed just 12 goals and 7 assists in 62 regular season games and would see his ranking fall to 18th on last year’s list. Last season didn’t go any better for him as he once again saw himself in a 4th line role and produced 3 goals and 5 assists in 43 regular season games. Jeff’s grades across the 4 quarters of Binghamton Devils’ season see Speers earn grades of a C, D, D, and Inc. which don’t inspire a lot of confidence in Speers turning things around. Speers doesn’t turn 23 until January and is still in the final year of his ELC, though it seems like his time with the organization could be on thin ice as he has really struggled to get his development back on track. Speers was one of my favorite prospects back in his junior days and one that I really though was going to make an impact in New Jersey. While I know it would be premature to completely write him off, I have lost a lot of faith in him as a prospect for this organization. It could very much be a make or break year for him and I would love for nothing more than him to prove me wrong for doubting him and getting back on track. It will be very interesting to see what he can accomplish in the 2019-20 season.
#23 - Graeme Clarke - RW - Age: 18 - 2018-19 Team: Ottawa 67’s (OHL) - 2018 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Jumping right into the top 25 is the Devils 3rd round pick from the 2019 draft, highly skilled RW Graeme Clarke. The Ottawa native plays for the stacked Ottawa 67’s team in the OHL and was a part of their OHL best regular season this past year with 23 goals and 11 assists in 55 regular season games. He even had 7 goals and 7 assists in 18 playoff games before they were upset in the Championship. I had this post where I interviewed Brock Otten of OHL Prospects to learn more about Clarke’s game. It’s clear to see why so many had him in their top 25 rankings as Otten described Clarke as “one of the OHL’s most creative and individually talented players with the puck.” Otten also mentioned that Clarke has shown improvement in his play away from the puck which was one of the main concerns scouts had of him coming into his draft year.
Clarke figures to play an even larger role on a still stacked 67’s team that will look to earn the title that slipped away from them last year. I’m really excited to see how he does in what is really his age 18 season as he won’t turn 19 until late April. While he’ll need more than just a great shot and elite hands to succeed at the next level, he has the time and commitment to try to fully develop all areas of his game before turning pro in a couple of seasons. He is certainly a prospect that fans should keep an eye out for.
#22 - Colton White - D - Age: 22 - 2018-19 Teams: Binghamton Devils (AHL), New Jersey Devils (NHL) - 2018 Rank: #32 - Elite Prospects Profile
Colton White just missed out on the top 25 in 2017 by finishing 27th and then finished 32nd last year. A strong bounce back season that saw him make his NHL debut has him in this year’s top 25. White was drafted by the Devils in the 4th round of the 2015 draft and was a product of the Soo Greyhounds like Blake Speers. From 2013-17 he would play in 256 regular season games for the Greyhounds with 21 goals and 72 assists. In 46 playoff games he had a goal and 8 assists and served as an Alternate Captain in his final 2 seasons. His offensive game has always been a bit limited but he earned the reputation of being a reliable defender at the OHL level.
White turned pro for the 2017-18 season and put up 9 points in 47 regular season games for Binghamton as he struggled to earn a regular place in the line up. An 11 game stint with Adirondack in the ECHL that saw him put up 4 points seemed to help him get his game back on track. He even put up 11 points in 14 playoff games for Adirondack. Last season he was a key contributor on Binghamton’s blue line with 7 goals and 23 assists in 71 regular season games. He even earned the Top Defenseman Award in Jeff’s 4th quarter player evaluations, where it was noted that his defensive game as really taken a stride forward in his development. The Devils even took a 3 game look at him at the NHL level to see where he stands at the moment. White won’t turn 23 until next May and is in the final year of his ELC. Hopefully he can keep taking steps forward, especially defensively, so he can be a player for the Devils at the NHL level someday.
#21 - Mikhail Maltsev - LW/C - Age: 21 - 2018-19 Teams: SKA-Neva St. Petersburg (VHL), SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) - 2018 Rank: #26 - Elite Prospects Profile
Mikhail Maltsev has continued his steady climb up the rankings going from 35th in 2017 to 26th in 2018 and now is just outside the top 20 at the 21st position. The 6’3, 198lbs. two-way center with a solid all-around game was a 4th round pick of the Devils back in 2016. He came up through the SKA St. Petersburg system and has competed for Russia at the U17, U19, U20, and II levels. He was unable to crack SKA’s KHL line up which isn’t shocking given how stacked they are, appearing in just 31 regular season games with 7 points and 17 playoff games with 3 points. He’s spent most of his development at the second tier VHL with 49 points in 90 regular season games and 13 points in 31 playoff games. He has also seen extensive time at the junior MHL level with 39 points in 50 regular season games and 5 points in 7 playoff games. He notably represented Russia at the U20 WJC back in the 2017-18 season with 2 assist in 5 games. This past season saw him mainly feature for VHL team with 17 points in 31 games playing against much older competition.
A few weeks ago when I talked to Viktor Fomich of RUSProspects, he mentioned that perhaps Maltsev could develop into the next Sergei Brylin for the Devils as a reliable 3rd line center. I think that would be a great scenario and I look forward to Maltsev working with Brylin this upcoming season as he has signed his 3 year ELC and will play with the Binghamton Devils. Maltsev won’t be 22 until March and still has a lot of development ahead of him but remains one of the more intriguing prospects for the Devils down the middle.
Stay tuned as we continue to release these rankings in sets of 5 on a weekly basis. It was interesting to see Maltsev, White and Schmid crack the top 25 after being left on the outside last year. It was also intriguing to see Clarke make it on his debut. Speers has continued to see his stock fall but the hope of him regaining his form has him just barely in the top 25 for another season. Where did you have these players ranked? What do you think about these players and their chances of helping out New Jersey one day? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!