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A Progress Report for the Devils Junior, Collegiate, and European Prospects

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Today’s post will take a look at each of the Devils non-AHL prospects. It will focus on their 2019-20 seasons while also looking towards the future.

NHL: SEP 25 Preseason - Devils at Bruins
Ty Smith once again dominated the WHL as the league’s top defenseman. With another successful season under his belt, we should see him in a Devils uniform when the Devils take the ice again.
Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With another season in the books and an extended offseason underway, the time has come to reflect on how the Devils non-AHL prospects performed during the 2019-20 season. In this progress report, I want to briefly touch on each prospect, focusing on what my expectations where of each heading into last season, how they performed during it, and what their future could hold. This group of players includes 9 forwards, 10 defensemen, and 2 goaltenders. It breaks down to 11 prospects playing junior hockey across North America and Russia, 6 playing in the NCAA, and 4 playing in European professional leagues. This post will look to provide a broad view of these 21 prospects.

I’m also going to include data from Hockey Prospecting, a site run by Byron Bader, which has a NHLe Player Comparison tool. This tool which has a database of over 5,000 players can give us an idea of the probability of a prospect reaching offensive star status (0.70+ career Pts/GP for a forward and 0.45+ career Pts/GP for a defenseman) or regular NHLer status (200+ games). Hockey Prospecting also has a great NHL Draft Tool so I find it’s well worth the $25 CAD subscription for a year. You can also follow Byron Bader on twitter to see him post a lot of information about prospects from his site.

With a long offseason ahead, I am planning on breaking down the prospect pool by position over the next few weeks with a more detailed view. I should also note that 2 of these prospects, Xavier Bernard and Mitchell Hoelscher, are now no longer affiliated with the Devils. As Corey Masisak reported yesterday, the Devils opted not to sign either 2018 draft pick to an Entry Level Contract before the deadline, so they will now go back into the draft. Now let’s take a look at how these prospects performed in 2019-20.

Forwards

The Devils non-AHL forward prospect group this past season consisted of 9 forwards, 2 of which played in the OHL, 1 in the WHL, 3 in the NCAA, 1 in the MHL, and 2 in European professional leagues. According to the data from Hockey Prospecting, the most likely NHLer’s to come out of this group are Nolan Foote (61%), Arseni Gritsyuk (55%), and Nikola Pasic (55%). Hockey Prospecting also puts Gritsyuk and Pasic (15% each) just ahead of Foote (14%) at reaching “star” status. I should also note that Tyce Thompson who was drafted as an overager has really continued to increase his stock going from a 16% chance of becoming a regular NHLer to a 26% chance after another strong season. Let’s take a look at each of these 9 forwards.

Mitchell Hoelscher was selected in the 6th round of the 2018 draft by the Devils and spent the past couple of seasons as a depth center for the very successful Ottawa 67’s. After I talked with OHL guru Brock Otten last offseason, where he noted Hoelscher needed to continue developing his shot, strength, and skating, expectations were high for Hoelscher. He put up 76 points over 62 games which sounds impressive but it should be noted that he was 6th on his team in scoring behind a couple of 2020 draft eligibles and did this on a stacked team as a 20 year old. While it seems like his defensive game and PK ability have developed nicely, the other areas of his game weren’t up to what the Devils wanted. They opted to not sign him before yesterday’s deadline and he will re-enter the draft. Hockey Prospecting sees him as having a 36% chance of becoming a NHL regular, though it seems the Devils would prefer not to use a contract spot on him.

Graeme Clarke was selected in the 3rd round of the 2019 draft by the Devils. The offensively gifted RW was expected to take on a larger role with a powerhouse Ottawa 67’s team and become one of the top scorers for the team. He started the season off well with 9 points over 9 games before tearing the labrum in his left shoulder. This injury would require surgery and cause him to miss the next 46 games. He came back in late February to gear up for what was supposed to be a long playoff run and push for the OHL Championship and Memorial Cup. As we all know the season ended up being cancelled but prior to that Clarke finished it off strong in his return with 8 points over 7 games. Clarke turned 19 in late April and the Devils have until June 1, 2021 to sign him to an Entry Level Contract. He should return to Ottawa next season and be one of their top players if he can stay healthy. Last offseason, Brock Otten told us that “Clarke truly is one of the OHL’s most creative and individually talented players with the puck. And his shot release and power are terrific.” Expectations should be high for him in 2020-21.

Nolan Foote was drafted in the 1st round of the 2019 draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was acquired by the Devils in February as the key piece in the Blake Coleman trade. The LW immedieately became the Devils top forward prospect with his high end potential as a result of his hockey IQ, goal scoring ability, and power game that fits in well with his 6’4”, 200 lbs. frame. A lower body injury limited the Kelowna Rockets captain to just 27 games last season in the WHL. He was very productive when fit with 15 goals and 18 assists to go along with an average of 3.33 shots per game. He was a key part of Canada’s U20 WJC Gold Medal winning team with 3 goals and 2 assists in 7 games. The son of Adam Foote, Nolan is poised for big things in the future. He will turn 20 years old in late November and had already signed his Entry Level Contract while with the Lightning last June. He could return to Kelowna to play big minutes in what will hopefully be a full healthy season or he could end up playing for New Jersey at the NHL level or more likely Binghamton at the AHL level in 2020-21.

Aarne Talvitie was selected in the 6th round of the 2017 draft by the Devils. The two-way Finnish product that can play either center or left wing just completed his sophomore season at Penn State. Prior to that he had a prolific junior career with the Espoo Blues in his native Finland. His 2019-20 season was expected to build off of an abbreviated but successful 2018-19 that saw him put up 16 points in 17 games with Penn State and 7 points in 7 games with Finland at the U20 WJC where captained them to a Gold Medal. Unfortunately, in that WJC he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee that required surgery and it impacted him into his 2019-20 season as Penn State had to manage his load. Talvitie actually opened the season strong with 12 in his first 10 games before cooling off considerably with just 7 points over his last 20 games. He was recently named an Alternate Captain for Penn State as he will look to take on a bigger role as a junior in 2020-21. Hopefully he can discover some more consistency in his game and play at a point per game pace or better. The Devils hold his rights until August 15, 2022.

Tyce Thompson was drafted in the 4th round of the 2019 draft by the Devils as an overager. He was expected to be one of the top players for Providence as a 20 year old sophomore in 2019-20 and he accomplished that with 19 goals and 25 assists in 34 games while averaging 3.32 shots per game. That production was good enough for a tie of 3rd place in scoring in the NCAA last season. Hockey Prospecting seems to like Thompson as the late bloomer has increased his chances of becoming a regular NHL player from 16% in his true draft year to 26% through this past season. It is expected that he will be one of the top forwards in the NCAA in 2020-21. The Devils hold his rights until August 15, 2022.

Patrick Moynihan was drafted in the 6th round of the 2019 draft by the Devils. He was described as versatile forward who was an underrated role player for a very strong USNTDP program in 2018-19. He certainly carried that over to a successful freshman campaign with Providence in 2019-20. He split last season between center and wing, sometimes playing alongside Thompson, and put up a strong 13 goals and 8 assists in 34 games while averaging 2.91 shots per game. His points broke down between 7 at even strength and 14 on the PP as he was one of the top freshman PP producers in the country with 10 goals in PP situations. I’m expecting him to play a larger role for Providence in 2020-21 and spend more time at his natural center position. He seems like an under the radar prospect that has the chance to quietly develop into a legitimate NHL prospect. The Devils hold his rights until August 15, 2023.

Arseni Gritsyuk was drafted in the 5th round of the 2019 draft by the Devils. The highly skilled, offensive dynamo was one of the most exciting and top players in Russia’s junior league, the MHL, last season. He exploded for 28 goals and 35 assists in 59 games while averaging 4.12 shots per game for Omskie Yastreby. He even put up 3 points in 2 games as he made a quick professional debut for Izhstal Izhevsk in Russia’s 2nd highest league, the VHL. The forward will try to impress enough to earn some KHL action for Avangard Omsk in 2020-21 but it seems like he’ll probably see most of his time at the MHL or VHL levels as he won’t turn 20 years old until next March. He still needs to develop his defensive game and fill out his 5’10”, 157 lbs. frame so the Devils will be patient in monitoring his progress as they hold his rights indefinitely. His pure offensive skill does make him a real intriguing NHL prospect though.

Eetu Pakkila was selected by the Devils in the 7th round of the 2018 draft as one of the top Finnish junior products from the Kärpät system. He even made one appearance in Liiga, Finland’s highest level, for the club in his draft season. In 2018-19 he dominated at the junior level with 60 points in 52 games so ahead of the 2019-20 season, he moved to Ilves to continue on to play at the top level. His first pro season was full of ups and downs. He opened the Liiga season with just one point over his first 7 games and was sent out on loan to KOOVEE in Finland’s 2nd highest league, Mestis. He would get back on track there with 14 points in 18 games while averaging 3.06 shots per game. He returned to Ilves in December and initially had success with 8 points in 15 games. He would struggle down the stretch though with just 2 points over his last 17 games. He was just 20 years old last season so these struggles in a high quality league like Liiga are not unexpected. He is signed with Ilves through next season with an option year. Hopefully he can build upon the experience he gained in 2019-20 and solidify his role for Ilves as one of their top LW’s. The Devils hold his rights until June 1, 2022.

Nikola Pasic was a 7th round pick in the 2019 draft by the Devils. The offensively skilled Swede is capable of playing either center or left wing due to his vision, passing ability, and smooth hands. He impressed in his draft season as a top junior player for Linköping HC and even played in 15 games for them in Sweden’s top league the SHL. In 2019-20, he moved to BIK Karlskoga in the 2nd tier Allsvenskan and led all U20 players with 35 points in 45 games. He was a member of Sweden’s U20 WJC team but didn’t find his game in the tournament with just one assist in 7 games. Still, last season was a big success for him and it appears the Devils may have found another talented Swede in the late rounds. He’s set to return to Linköping HC and play in the SHL in 2020-21 according to Elite Prospects. The Devils, who hold his rights until June 1, 2023, will hope they have another Jesper Bratt on their hands.

Defensemen

The Devils non-AHL defensemen prospect group this past season consisted of 10 defenders. This group was diverse with 1 in the QMJHL, 3 in the OHL, 1 in the WHL, 3 in the NCAA, and 2 in the KHL. According to the data from Hockey Prospecting, Ty Smith (72%) and Reilly Walsh (68%) both have the most NHL potential out of this group. Smith’s star probability has fallen since his draft year but still remains at a very respectable 38% while Walsh is at 21%. In terms of the next tier, Hockey Prospecting sees Nikita Okhotyuk (32%), Kevin Bahl (30%), Michael Vukojevic (28%), Case McCarthy (28%), and Daniil Misyul (28%) as having chances to reach the NHL on a regular basis. Let’s take a look at each of these defensemen.

Xavier Bernard was drafted by the Devils in the 4th round of the 2018 draft. The large 6’3”, 203 lbs. defender with a hard shot and physical game seems to have seen his development stagnate in the QMJHL since being drafted by the Devils. He’s played for 3 different teams and was used more as a depth defensemen for each of Drummondville, Charlottetown, and Sherbrooke. The Devils opted not to use a contract slot on him and he will re-enter the draft.

Nikita Okhotyuk was drafted by the Devils in the 2nd round of the 2019 draft. The Russian defender has spent the past 3 seasons with Ottawa in the OHL. So far it’s safe to assume that the Devils are satisfied with his development as they signed him to an Entry Level Contract back in December. Okhotyuk took on a larger role this past season with Ottawa but was limited by injury to just 39 games. Still, he was productive as a defenseman with 3 goals and 16 assists. While that is solid offensive production, Okhotyuk is more known for his solid defensive game and projects as a mobile, stay at home defender at the NHL level. He turns 20 in December and could return to Ottawa though I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with Binghamton next season.

Kevin Bahl was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2018 draft by the Arizona Coyotes. The Devils acquired him in the Taylor Hall trade back in December. The 6’7”, 240 lbs. defenseman is known for his no-nonsense physical game, shot blocking, and PK abilities. What I like most about him is that he’s an above average skater considering his very large frame. He plays a solid two-way game and put up a strong 31 points in 54 games in the OHL last season. He even helped Canada capture a Gold Medal at the U20 WJC. The Coyotes liked him enough to sign him to an Entry Level Contract back in March of 2019. He turns 20 years old in a few weeks and should be with Binghamton next season. I’m certainly excited about a defenseman with his size and skill.

Michael Vukojevic was drafted by the Devils in the 3rd round of the 2019 draft. The 6’3”, 210 lbs. defender has been an absolute rock for the Kitchener Rangers over the past 2 seasons. This past season he was expected to anchor their defense and provide leadership as an Alternate Captain. The 18 year old rose to the challenge with 30 points in 63 games. Most importantly, his defensive play which revolves around his physical, mobile, shutdown game was on full display. For a second straight season, he was the team’s most important defender in 5v5 and PK situations. He turns 19 in a few days and figures to once again carry Kitchener’s defense for another season in 2020-21. The Devils hold his rights until June 1, 2021 so it will be important for him to show he deserves a contract.

Ty Smith was drafted by the Devils in the 1st round in the 2018 draft. The team and fanbase was ecstatic when he fell to them at 17th overall. He is not only the team’s top defensemen prospect but the top prospect overall. He came into last season as the reigning Top WHL Defenseman and then the CHL Defenseman of the Year. His season got off to a rough start as he was cut in training camp after being expected to make New Jersey’s roster. The first half of his season in the WHL didn’t match expectations: 21 GP 4-13-17, 6.56 SH%, 2.90 SH/GP, 0.81 Pts/GP. The World Junior Championship would begin to see Smith turn his season around. In 7 games at the WJC he had 3 assists while averaging 17:26 per game as he helped Canada capture a Gold Medal. He returned to Spokane and absolutely dominated to close out the season: 25 GP 15-27-42, 18.75 SH%, 3.20 SH/GP, 1.68 Pts/GP. He once again was named Top WHL Defenseman and is up for CHL Defenseman of the Year. The defender has served as the Spokane Chiefs captain for 2 seasons now and has showcased his vision, playmaking abilities, and terrific skating. It also came out recently that Smith had a lingering injury in the 2019 WHL Playoffs which affected him last summer. That could be a big reason why he didn’t do well in training camp and had a slow start to this past season by his standards. Overall, I think it’s encouraging that he was able to pick up his play and dominate the WHL once again. The big minutes in all situations he played should help him as he turns pro for the next season. He is already signed to his Entry Level Contract and has a great chance to make New Jersey’s roster next season as a 20 year old. Given the state of the team’s defense, he could make an immediate impact.

Reilly Walsh was drafted by the Devils in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft. Selected out of prep school hockey, not much was known about Walsh at the time besides his offensive game was a real asset. He’s spent the past 3 season at Harvard where he has showcased that high end offensive ability while developing his defensive game. He was expected to become Harvard’s top defenseman this past season. He didn’t quite live up to that as he did struggle at times to find consistency with his offensive game and his defensive game remains a work in progress. Still, he played the entire year in the top 4 and as the top PP option. He put up 27 points in 30 games and according to Hockey Prospecting remains the Devils defensive prospect with the most potential outside of Smith. Walsh is very much a legitimate NHL prospect and figures to finally take on Harvard’s #1 spot a senior in 2020-21. The Devils hold his rights until August 15, 2021 and there will be much talk about him not signing with the team as some college seniors (notably a few Harvard seniors) have decided to forego signing with their drafted team and go to free agency. I personally won’t spend too much time worrying about that as it is out of our control. Walsh will do what he feels his best for his future and I hope that the Devils keep in contact with him and convince him to sign after his senior season. We’ll see what happens but as a prospect Walsh has a bright future.

Matthew Hellickson was drafted by the Devils in the 7th round of the 2017 draft. He’s spent the past 3 seasons developing into a reliable defender for Notre Dame. Last season he often played on the top pair, PK unit, and 2nd PP unit. At the NCAA level, he plays a solid, if unspectacular, game. He’ll continue to play a large role for Notre Dame as a senior in 2020-21. The Devils hold his rights until August 15, 2021. He could play himself into a contract but I think a big deciding factor will be what the depth chart looks like for defensemen in the organization next spring or after the 2021 draft. Like Bernard at the QMJHL level, Hellickson has shown himself to be a fine defender at the NCAA level, but his potential seems to be limited to that of an AHL or ECHL defender.

Case McCarthy was drafted by the Devils in the 4th round of the 2019 draft. An unheralded product from the USNTDP, this defenseman uses his strong defensive instincts, vision, and passing abilities to play a solid two-way game. As a freshman with Boston University, he put up a respectable 2 goals and 10 assists in 32 games last season. He really found his offensive game late in the season with 8 points over his final 13 games. He plays a smart and responsible game in his own zone. He is one of the under the radar prospects to watch in my opinion over the next few seasons. The Devils hold his rights until August 15, 2023.

Yegor Zaitsev was drafted by the Devils in the 7th round of the 2017 draft. That season he started to break through into the Dynamo Moscow line up in the KHL. This past season he set career highs playing for Dynamo with 14 points in 58 games while averaging 15:52 per game as one of the team’s regular defenders. He even earned a few call ups to Russia’s “B” team for international competition. Zaitsev turned 22 years old a month ago and is signed with Dynamo through next season. The Devils hold his rights indefinitely so they can be patient with him. He’ll look to play an even larger role for Dynamo next season and continue to develop all areas of his game.

Daniil Misyul was drafted by the Devils in the 3rd round of the 2019 draft. In his draft season he was one of the top junior players for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and even played in 3 KHL games for the club. This past season he progressed to full time KHL status, playing in 35 games. He only put up 3 points and averaged 8:49 per game but that isn’t uncommon for 19 year old defender in the KHL. He was also a member of Russia’s Silver Medal winning team at the U20 WJC. The smooth skating defenseman seems to have some untapped potential and is signed for 2 more seasons with Lokomotiv. Like the other Russian prospects, the Devils hold his rights indefinitely. Considering he doesn’t turn 20 until late October, it will be a bit before we ever see him in North America. I look forward to seeing him taking on a larger role with Lokomotiv next season.

Goaltenders

Both of the Devils non-AHL goaltending prospects spent this past season in the USHL. 2018 5th round pick Akira Schmid split the season between the Omaha Lancers and Sioux City Musketeers when he wasn’t injured. 2019 5th round pick Cole Brady was a member of the Fargo Force. Let’s take a look at each of these goaltenders and how they performed last season.

Akira Schmid’s last 2 seasons have been a big roller coaster filled with ups and downs. The 2018-19 season saw him come over from Switzerland to be a member of the Lethbridge Hurricanes organization in the WHL. The team unceremoniously waived him after a single, albeit disastrous appearance. He was left in limbo for about a month before a spot opened up with the Corpus Christi IceRays in the tier 2 junior league, the NAHL. He put in 2 strong games there and then had the chance to join the Omaha Lancers in the top US junior league, the USHL. He seized that opportunity, putting up a .926 SV% in 37 games which led the league. He even made his U20 WJC debut for Switzerland that winter.

Coming into 2019-20, things were looking up for the 6’5”, 205 lbs. goaltender. Unfortunately, this season ended up being a disaster for Schmid. He played just 6 games before going down with a knee injury that would see him sidelined from late October to mid January. He did make the trip over to the U20 WJC but didn’t play in any games for Switzerland. When he did return to the USHL, he was traded Sioux City as Omaha had already moved on to another option in net. He played in 7 games for a struggling Sioux City Musketeers team. Overall, he played in just 13 games with a 5-6-0-1 record, posted a shutout, 3.22 GAA, and .889 SV%. His -1.30 Goals Saved Above Average was a far cry from his 2018-19 GSAA of 31.52. In 2020-21, Schmid needs to stay healthy and play a lot of minutes. This past season was essentially a lost year of development which was doubly disappointing after how strong he finished out the 2018-19 season. He recently turned 20 years old and isn’t eligible for the NCAA due to his WHL game and a previous pro appearance in Switzerland. He could return to the WHL but I have a hard time seeing a team using an import slot on him given his most recent season. The Devils hold his rights until June 1, 2022 so there isn’t a rush to get him into the ECHL or AHL. I think it’s likely that he spends another year in the USHL. Hopefully he stays healthy, plays a lot, and gets back on track.

Cole Brady had a successful season in my opinion. I wasn’t too sure where to place my expectations of the 6’5”, 174 lbs. goaltender ahead of the season due to the lack of information available on him after he was drafted and that he had never played higher than the NAHL level. What we did know was that he was a goaltender with a big frame and had a fair bit of success in the NAHL in 2018-19 posting a .912 SV% over 43 games for the Janesville Jets. On the surface, his stats may not jump off the page from his 2019-20 season with the Fargo Force as he played in 39 games, had a 21-12-3-2 record, posted 2 shutouts, along with a 2.79 GAA and .903 SV%. The USHL is a high scoring league with an average SV% .893 last season. Therefore, his 10.95 Goals Saved Above Average ranked 7th in the league out of 49 goaltenders. Brady led all qualified rookie goaltenders in the USHL in games played, wins, GAA, SV%, and shutouts. I find it impressive that he was able to solidify the #1 spot for the Fargo Force as an 18 year old rookie and help them to a 2nd place finish in the Western Conference.

Brady is set to play for Arizona State in 2020-21 where he should challenge JR Evan Debrouwer for the starting job. Brady is still a bit of an unknown with a lot to prove, but I think he’s heading into a great situation to develop his game and make an impact. The Devils hold his rights until August 15, 2024 so they can be patient with him. I’m looking forward to seeing how he performs at the NCAA level.

Your Take

As I said earlier, I do plan on going more in-depth on these prospects during the extended offseason. Which of these prospects met or exceeded your expectations this year? Which prospects were you hoping to see more from? Out of these players, which do you think are most likely to contribute to the Devils in the future? Do you agree or disagree with the decision to not sign Xavier Bernard or Mitchell Hoelscher? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!