Moving on up from last week’s reveal of the 2020 All About the Jersey Top 25 New Jersey Devils Under 25 list, this post will reveal who came in the twentieth through sixteenth spots on the list. If you have followed the New Jersey Devils closely in the last two seasons, then you have seen three of these players. The other two are college-based players who broke out in recent years to get this high on the list. This is a list of perception, so please be kind in discussing these players and where they ranked in the second group of five revealed for this year.
Remember, all ages are as of October 8, 2020. Also, Dan and I will be discussing this on the next Garden State of Hockey if you prefer to hear about these players instead of reading about them.
#20 - Tyce Thompson - Center/Left Winger - Age: 21 - 2020-21 Team: Providence (Hockey East, NCAA) - 2019 Rank: #44 - Elite Prospects (EP) Profile
Tyce Thompson was an absolute monster for the Providence Friars last season. Thompson led the team in goals with 19 and finished second on the team with 44 points in 34 games per College Hockey Stats. Those 44 points were also enough for Thompson to be tied for the third most in all of NCAA hockey in 2019-20. That deserves bold letters. Thompson was named to both the All-Hockey East second team and the All-USCHO second team for constantly being on the score sheet. A quick scan of the game-by-game summary at College Hockey News shows that Thompson was heavily involved with the NCAA leading scorer Jack Dugan (a Las Vegas prospect), Greg Printz (junior forward), Michael Callahan (sophomore defenseman), and Patrick Moynihan (Devils prospect, freshman forward). Per his profile page at Providence, Thompson was also a semifinalist for the Walter Brown Award (best American born hockey player in New England) and a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award (best collegiate player). Thompson’s 2019-20 was the kind of season that would make anyone pay attention from prospect people in the media (Corey Pronman at The Athletic($) ranked him seventh on his list of Devils prospects) and fans of the team (as evidenced by his high rank here). A series of highlights from the college shows Thompson is able to rip pucks from the circle, particularly on the power play similar to how Kyle Palmieri does it. You love to see it.
With Dugan now signed by the Golden Knights, my question is whether Thompson can sustain a similar level of production as a junior with the Friars without Dugan. If he can and assuming we have a full Hockey East season, then the hype levels will only increase for Thompson. As will the calls to have him signed after 2020-21. As it is, seeing him jump up 24 spots to 20th is a testament to how impressive he was with the Friars last season. Welcome to the actual Top 25, young Tyce.
#19 - Aarne Talvitie - Center/Left Winger - Age: 21 - 2020-21 Team: Penn State (Big Ten, NCAA) - 2019 Rank: #15 - EP Profile
Aarne Talvitie shot up the list in 2019 after an astounding 2018-19 season that saw Talvitie produce nearly a point per game at Penn State and captain the Finnish World Junior Championship team to a Gold Medal with three goals and four assists in the tourney. For any prospect, that is fantastic much less for a sixth round pick out of the Finnish junior league. Unfortunately, Talvitie tore his ACL in his right knee in that Gold Medal game and needed knee surgery that ended his 2018-19 campaign early in January. This season was essentially the comeback from the injury and the results were not as astounding. Per College Hockey News, the sophomore Talvitie finished tied for seventh on the team in points with 19 in 30 games. This is not to mean that he was not appreciated. As Corey Masisak found in this February article at The Atheltic ($) that followed Talvitie around for a weekend, the young Finnish forward demonstrated an all-around performance in Penn State’s games. The weekend was against Wisconsin and Talvitie won faceoffs when the centerman was thrown out, moved well enough without making bad decisions with the puck, and spent plenty of time killing penalties and keeping Cole Caufield, among other Badgers, quiet on the ice. Masisak likened his game to Blake Coleman. I think many like that and I think plenty of people see that as a potential future. That stated, the road to recovery has been rough as it usually is for a torn ACL. It is a real question as to how much he can recover to find the form he showed as a freshman.
The good news is that Talvitie should have a good shot at doing so with the Nittany Lions in 2020-21. By my count, Penn State had seven forwards in their senior years last season, including team-leading scorer Nate Sucese, Brandon Biro, and Liam Folkes. There will be spots open for more minutes and a junior like Talvitie can certainly rise up to earn them. If he can do that, improve his skating, and use his shot more often (he had 43 in 17 games as a freshman, 57 in 30 as a sophomore), then I think we could see the Devils trying to sign him in 2021. A lot of fans believe in the talent; I think they’re hopeful he will fully recover.
#18 - Brett Seney - Left Winger/Center - Age: 24 - Likely 2020-21 Team: Binghamton - 2019 Rank: #14 - EP Profile
Seney was great for the Binghamton Devils last season. He played significant minutes. He was the leading scorer in Binghamton throughout the season with 19 goals and 25 assists in 61 games. He plays with an edge, which can be costly given his 66 PIM - second only to Brandon Baddock. However, he draws plenty of calls too. Jeff and the Panel named Seney as Binghamton’s top forward for last season and rated him among the best Binghamton Devils players throughout 2019-20. You could not ask for much more. So why did he fall four spots to 18th?
There are a couple of factors. First, Seney is 24. This is his last entry in the AAtJ Top 25 Devils Under 25 list. While there are some late bloomers, most players are not seen as developing at this age. What you see is what you get, and I think that applies to Seney. Second, if you like your smaller forwards to be sparkplugs, then look no further to Seney. He can be quick and provide that proverbial “energy” in the lineup. The issue is that is not a particularly desirable skillset. It may be nice to have, but it is not essential. Third, Seney’s great 2019-20 campaign in Binghamton led to little time with a bad New Jersey team. He was called up for just two games, did little of note, and then was sent back down. That suggests that management sees him as just that: a player to call up. That is further supported by Seney’s 2018-19 season where he spent most of it with New Jersey. In 51 games, he put up 13 points and opponents enjoyed their time against him in the run of play (a 41.85% CF% is bad). Management saw plenty of Seney in New Jersey when he was a year younger. He had plenty of opportunities to show he belonged and management did not feel it was enough, as suggested by only calling him up for two games while he was being relatively productive in the AHL. At this point in his career, Seney strikes me as someone who is good at the AHL level but nothing more than just a call-up at the New Jersey level. I think his very good AHL season was enough to give him a fairly high ranking in his final Top 25 Under 25 list. But that is where it ends.
#17 - Nathan Bastian - Right Winger - Age: 22 - Likely 2020-21 Team: Binghamton - 2019 Rank: #13 - EP Profile
Nathan Bastian is a player that I think fans want to see more of at the NHL level. Bastian had a fairly high ranking last year due to a seven-game call-up where he scored three goals and looked a lot more comfortable than some other Binghamton Devils called up 2018-19 that I can mention (e.g. Seney, the next guy on this list). Unfortunately, Bastian was hurt and so he did not get to show whether he was just hot in his limited minutes for those games or if he had more to offer. Last season, the Devils opted to keep Bastian in Binghamton. In 62 games, the big right winger put up 16 goals and 22 assists for 38 points. He finished behind Seney and Ben Street in overall points with Binghamton. He also dropped his penalty minutes a bit from 62 to 55, which is another nice point. Most notably, the Binghamton fans appreciate his efforts despite the fact he is not always in the top six. Jeff and the Panel named Bastian the team’s MVP for 2019-20 over Seney and Street, which speaks to how they regard his approach to the game.
With Joey Anderson traded to Toronto, Bastian could be in the running for a right wing spot with New Jersey if and when there is a NHL training camp. I think this may have also helped his ranking for this year. While he would need to still battle with others to get a spot, having one fewer player to compete with helps. So does the fact that his large frame, strength, and puck protection can help him carve out a role - even if it is on the fourth line. Bastian may not have the big numbers in the AHL that guarantees a significant contributor at the next level. But he has improved in his three seasons in Binghamton and he could very well end up in the NHL sooner rather than later. I think that is plenty enough reason for a ranking in this range.
#16 - Michael McLeod - Center - Age: 22 - Likely 2020-21 Team: Binghamton - 2019 Rank: #16 - EP Profile
New Jersey’s first round pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, Michael McLeod, edged out their second round pick from the same draft in this year’s list. It is a bit contentious. Whereas Binghamton fans have plenty of good things to say about Bastian, it is a little harsher for McLeod. McLeod’s rookie season in pro hockey saw him put up 33 points in 55 games in the AHL in 2018-19. That is a rate of 0.6 points per game. In this past season, he put up 23 points in 47 games. That is a rate of roughly 0.49 points per game. That is a bit of a drop off and not something you want to see from someone in their second season of pro hockey. It does not help that in both seasons, McLeod did not even score ten goals (six and eight, respectively) or see a run of production in the 2020 portion of the season as we saw from Sharangovich (who outscored him), Maltsev (who finished right behind McLeod in points as a rookie), and Studenic (whose point per game rate was a bit below McLeod at 0.46). It is not something you want to see out of a forward with hopes of a NHL career.
To be fair to McLeod, he did have extended call-ups with New Jersey in each of his two seasons of hockey. He did play 21 games in 2018-19 and 12 games in 2019-20. That is a sign that management is interested in him and what he could do. That is something you would want to see out of a forward with hopes of a NHL career. Unfortunately, McLeod did not make a positive mark. He scored no goals in either call up with just three assists in 2018-19 and two assists in 2019-20. He primarily played in limited situations as a center in New Jersey. Per Natural Stat Trick, opponents greatly enjoyed that as they were often out-playing the Devils when McLeod was on the ice. If McLeod was good at defending, well, I am not sure what the evidence for that is even though he had to defend more often than not in New Jersey. I happen to think a move to the wing would probably help him out - and right wing is more open in NJ. I also happen to think that the Ruff coaching staff may be able to get something out of him that the previous regimes have not. But I also think McLeod is approaching the John Quenneville territory of, “OK, but show me something now.” His high ranking is largely driven by the fact that he keeps getting chances in New Jersey and there were signs of having NHL talent. People believe in it; McLeod was a Top 25 player in every list including the Community Survey. It is up to McLeod to take his game up a level. If not soon, then he may need to try to do somewhere else.
It is true that the first player on this list where every ranking placed the player in the Top 25 was McLeod. Bastian came close but one 28th ranking kept him from that bit of trivia. All the same, this group of five was not particularly close to the five prevented last week. There were gaps in the weighted average result between #21 Maltsev and #20 Thompson. Likewise, there was a similar gap between #16 McLeod and the fifteenth ranked player on this list. Within the group, it was a tight one between McLeod and Bastian. That was really the only close result among these five. There was enough separation to keep Thompson, Talvitie, Seney, and Bastian apart in their order.
The most notable person in this post from a voting perspective was Thompson. He shot up 24 spots compared to the 2019 list. It was the biggest gain out of all of the players in this year’s list and the largest shift in either direction too. I do not know if it is the biggest jump in the history of these Top 25 Under 25 lists, but it would surely have to be among them.
One other last voting note is that the community nearly nailed this one. Four of the five in this group finished 20th through 16th by the community. The community matched the final ranking for McLeod and Bastian. The only major disparity was with Talvitie. The survey takers placed him 25th and ended up in 19th. Still, even with Talvitie, the survey rankings from this grouping of five onward are all in the Top 25. As a tease, the community survey ended up being way more accurate than I would have expected. That is a credit to all of you among the People Who Matter who voted in this year’s survey.
Next week’s post will reveal who came in at 15th through 11th on this year’s list. The Top 15 within the Top 25 traditionally has some of the top prospects in the organization. This year is no different. What will be different is that most of them are new to the organization. I hope you will enjoy it as much as you enjoyed this week’s reveal of the Top 25 Devils Under 25 list.
In the meantime, I would like to know what your reaction is to this part of the list. Who are you pleased to see ranked 20th through 16th? Who in this post do you think is overrated or underrated? What do you think about Thompson, Talvitie, Seney, Bastian, and McLeod in general? Among the five, who do you think has the best chance of making New Jersey in the future? If some people spam about Seney in the comments, then I cannot guarantee it will stay up. Please leave your answers in the comments. Thank you for reading.