The New Jersey Devils have a plethora of young players on their NHL roster and a prospect pool that has a fair bit of depth and quality. The 2021 NHL Draft in July will represent an opportunity for them to add to their organization. As of right now, the Devils have eight selections across the seven rounds of the draft. This includes two 1st rounders which will allow them to add some intriguing talent.
The Devils are currently in the 4th overall spot ahead of the lottery on June 2. They have a 10.3% chance of picking 1st, a 10.2% of picking 2nd, can’t pick 3rd due to Seattle entering the league, an 11.5% chance of picking 4th, a 43.9% chance of picking 5th, and a 24.2% chance of picking 6th. No matter how the lottery shakes out, the Devils will have a top 6 pick in this year’s draft and a late 1st round pick from the New York Islanders. In today’s post, I want to take a look at what type of prospects the Devils could use to further supplement their prospect pool. While my focus is going to be primarily on the prospect pool, I’d be remiss to not mention a few of the young players on the NHL roster since it could impact the opportunities available.
Please note that ages referenced in () are the age that the player was as of February 1, 2021. Also, I will be referencing the Hockey Prospecting model throughout the article. I highly recommend subscribing to support the work being done and to gain access to the 5,000+ prospects in the model. A reminder that the Hockey Prospecting offers a Star Probability (0.70+ career Pts/GP for a F and a 0.45+ career Pts/GP for a D) and a NHLer Probability (200+ NHL games).
Goal Scoring Wings
The Devils young core at the NHL level is already anchored by Jack Hughes (19) and Nico Hischier (22) as the top two centers. That duo hasn’t come close to reaching their peak but have already proven themselves as offensive weapons at the NHL level and have Devils fans excited for the future. Building out the top six from Hughes and Hischier sets the Devils up for success going forward. The Devils will have a great chance to select a prospect with plenty of goal scoring capability with either of the their 1st round picks.
Last season, saw LW Janne Kuokkanen (22) and RW Yegor Sharangovich (30) finish in the top five in scoring on the team while playing on a line with Hughes. Both Kuokkanen and Sharangovich have experience playing center or wing and out of the duo, it was Sharangovich that showed more of a goal scoring touch in 2020-21 across the KHL and NHL. The question will be if he can sustain this goal scoring long term but his rookie season was very encouraging. Hischier missed much of the season but his primary wingers were LW/RW Jesper Bratt (22) and LW/C Pavel Zacha (23). Both of those players were in the top three on the team in scoring. Bratt continues to be one of the more underrated players in the league in my opinion and a long term option in the top six on the wing for his playmaking ability. The move to wing seemed to improve Zacha’s goal scoring touch but he still doesn’t have the track record to suggests he could be a long term option in that spot just yet. The Devils have some other young players such as LW/C Jesper Boqvist (22), LW/C Mikhail Maltsev (22), and RW Nick Merkley (23) that have seen some NHL time on the wing in New Jersey but are still proving themselves. I certainly think they could be a part of the future but I wouldn’t classify them as potential top six wings that are goal scorers, more as wings that lean more towards the playmaking spectrum.
When it comes to the prospect pool, the only player that I see as having a chance to be an elite level goal scorer on the wing is last year’s top pick, RW Alexander Holtz (19). Out of everyone in the system, he’s the best “pure goal scorer” in my opinion. This past season was tough for Holtz based on the high standards he’s held to. He put up 7 goals and 11 assists for 18 points in 40 regular season games in his draft+1 season after putting up 9 goals and 7 assists for 16 points in 35 games in his draft year. It was a tough season for Djurgardens so there were a few factors at play I plan on exploring later this summer. Still, the Hockey Prospecting model rates him well with a 23% star probability (down from 32% in his draft year) and 65% NHLer probability (up from 62% in his draft year). At the end of the day, his shot is still one of the best for any prospect yet to play in the NHL and I think fans should still be excited for him despite how 2020-21 went.
Other prospects in the system that I think have a chance to become top six goal scoring wingers, though with less of a probability than Holtz include RW/C Dawson Mercer (19), LW Nolan Foote (20), and RW Graeme Clarke (19). Longer shots would include LW Arseni Gritsyuk (19) and LW Eetu Pakkila (21), however they still are trying to prove themselves at the professional level overseas.
Mercer is capable of playing center but it seems that right wing could be his better position at the NHL level. Though I could see him locking down the 3C spot eventually, further fortifying the Devils down the middle, a move to the wing could allow him to have more of an offensive impact at the NHL level. The Hockey Prospecting model gives him the same star and NHLer probabilities as Holtz despite their different skill-sets. With his all-around game and skills, I still wouldn’t classify him as a pure goal scorer but he does remain a potential option.
Foote may not be the best skater, but the power forward has shown the ability to score at the junior and AHL levels. He scored in nearly a third of his AHL games in his rookie season this past year. Hockey Prospecting likes Foote with his star probability at 6% (down from 11% in draft year) and his NHLer probability at 61% (up from 50% in draft year). Foote will turn 21 in November and could really start to make his mark at the NHL level then.
Clarke has proven himself to be a goal scoring threat at every level he’s played at in his career. He was one of the top U20 forwards in the AHL last season, finishing tied-7th in goals among his peers with 8 in 31 games. Clarke has shown enough to be on the Devils radar as a player that could win a spot on the NHL roster in training camp. The issue with Clarke is that he is far from a sure thing to develop into a top 6 right wing at the NHL level. He certainly has that potential but lacks the elite level shot that has so many high on a prospect like Holtz. Hockey Prospecting gives Clarke just a 1% star probability (down from 4% in his draft year) and a 26% NHLer probability (up from 19% in his draft year).
To conclude this section, I think Holtz and Foote have the best chance to join the Devils top six long term as goal scoring wingers. While the Devils do have some other prospects who could step up for these roles such as Clarke, the team could definitely use one or both of the 1st round picks to target high end wings that have a knack at putting the puck in the net. A few potential options based off of the current consolidated rankings from Elite Prospects and with reference to the Hockey Prospecting model include:
- #8 Dylan Guenther (Edmonton - WHL): 12 goals in 12 games last year, 41 goals in 78 career WHL games, 69% Star Probability, 77% NHLer Probability
- #16 Oskar Olausson (HV71 - SHL): 3 goals in 16 SHL games last year, 14 goals in 16 J20 Nationell games last year, 22% Star Probabilty, 53% NHLer Probability
- #29 Matthew Coronato (Chicago - USHL): 48 goals in 51 games last year, 32% Star Probability, 62% NHLer Probability
- #32 Sasha Pastujov (USNTDP - USDP): 30 goals in 41 USDP games last year, 10 goals in 18 USHL games last year, 40% Star Probability, 77% NHLer Probability
Potential Top Pairing Defenseman
It’s no secret that the Devils need a lot of help on the blue line and with a top six pick in this year’s draft, they are in a great position to draft some serious talent on the blue line. Right now at the NHL level, the Devils have Ty Smith coming off of an excellent rookie season where he looks to be a potential top pairing defenseman. At the AHL level, the Devils have quite a few intriguing defensemen but mainly players that profile most likely on to the 2nd pairing in their primes. There is Reilly Walsh who is a right handed defender with plenty of offensive upside. There is Kevin Bahl who brings size, defensive ability, and physicality with his 6’6”, 230 lbs. frame. Michael Vukjoevic had a promising rookie season with Binghamton but the left handed defenseman profiles as a solid top four defender at his best, not a top pairing guy.
Further down the depth chart, you have Shakir Mukhamadullin who depending on what scout you ask is either a great talent or a very flawed prospect. Personally, though a risky pick, I like Mukhamadullin’s projectionable upside. The Devils also have Ethan Edwards who had a nice season in the USHL and will be spending the next few seasons at the University of Michigan.
Essentially, outside of Smith, who is already a NHLer, and then perhaps Mukhamadullin, the Devils don’t have any high end defensive prospects. They have plenty of solid defensemen in their system with a variety of skill-sets but no true potential #1. In my opinion, there is a trio of defensemen who could all go in the top 5 of this year’s draft. Should the Devils win the lottery, stay at 4th overall, or only drop a spot, they should be in contention for one of these players. This trio is made up of (rankings from EP Consolidated Rankings):
- #1 Owen Power (Michigan - Big10): 26 GP 3-13-16, +18, 6 PIM, 7% Star Probability, 62% NHLer Probability
- #2 Brandt Clarke (HC Nove Zamky - Slovakia): 26 GP 5-10-15, +6, 41 PIM, 56% Star Probability, 80% NHLer Probability
- #4 Luke Hughes (USNTDP - USDP/USHL): 38 USDP GP 6-28-34, 14 PIM; 18 USHL GP 4-11-15, +5, 8 PIM, 7% Star Probability, 62% NHLer Probability
Devils fans already are familiar with Luke Hughes as he is Jack’s brother. Luke, like his brother’s Jack and Quinn, possesses a smooth skating game that allows him to be a game changer. It is worth noting that he suffered a lacerated tendon in his foot that required surgery and cut his season short. Devils fans will also be somewhat familiar with Brandt Clarke, as he is the brother of the aforementioned Graeme Clarke. Brandt is another high upside defenseman like Power and Hughes due to his strong defensive game and potentially elite offensive game. Owen Power is a 6’5”, 214 lbs. defender that has succeeded everywhere in his career from the USHL with the Chicago Steel to a standout freshman season this past year with the University of Michigan.
Right Handed Defenseman
Another need that I feel the Devils prospect pool has is right handed defenseman. This doesn’t even necessarily have to be one of the elite defensive prospects, though Brandt Clarke being a RD would be a massive boost should the Devils draft him. In general the Devils prospect pool is very LD heavy compared to RD. In terms of players under 25 on the left side at the NHL level you have Ty Smith and Jonas Siegenthaler. All of the right sided defenders are older than 25. At the AHL level you have Kevin Bahl, Nikita Okhotiuk, and Michael Vukojevic as legitimate prospects on the left side. Reilly Walsh is their only prospect on the right side. Outside of North American pro hockey, you have prospects such as Ethan Edwards, Shakir Mukhamadullin, Yegor Zaitsev, and Daniil Misyul all on the left side. Even Matt Hellickson who is yet to sign is a left handed defenseman. Case McCarthy who has been solid if unspectacular at Boston University is the lone prospect on the right side. It would certainly benefit the prospect pool by adding a few right handed defenseman in this year’s draft to bring some more balance to the pool.
Besides Brandt Clarke, some other right handed defenseman that grade out well according to Hockey Prospecting include (with their highest and lowest available rankings):
- Dmitri Kostenko (Lada Togliatti - VHL/MHL): Ranked 49th by Draft Prospects Hockey to 65th by Dobber Prospects; 3% Star Probability, 57% NHLer Probability
- Jacob Guevin (Muskegon - USHL): 1% Star Probability, 53% NHLer Probability
- Vincent Iorio (Brandon - WHL): Ranked 38th by FC Hockey to 70th by TSN; 3% Star Probability, 46% NHLer Probability
- Ty Gallagher (USNTDP - USDP/USHL): Ranked 69th by Draft Prospects Hockey; 3% Star Probability, 46% NHLer Probability
- Brent Johnson (Sioux Falls - USHL): Ranked 41st by FC Hockey to 93rd by Smaht Scouting; 3% Star Probability, 46% NHLer Probability
- Theo Angesved (Linkoping J20 - J20 Nationell): 5% Star Probability, 43% NHLer Probability
- Ryan Ufko (Chicago - USHL): Ranked 47th by Dobber Prospects to 93rd by TSN; 5% Star Probability, 43% NHLer Probability
The need to add more goaltending isn’t as pressing as the others mentioned above. I still believe the Devils are well set in net with Mackenzie Blackwood for the immediate future. There is some uncertainty when it comes to the depth though. The Devils don’t have an established back up in-house for Blackwood. At the minor league level, Evan Cormier may stick around for the expansion draft but he’s not a prospect. Gilles Senn may be heading back to Switzerland rather than spending another season in the AHL. Nico Daws and Akira Schmid are both turning pro having recently signed their entry level contracts and will look to battle for playing time in Utica. That leaves Cole Brady as the Devils only goaltending prospect outside the professional ranks as he is about to enter his sophomore season at Arizona State. The Devils have drafted a goaltender every year since 2015 and I wouldn’t be surprised if they spend a mid to late round pick on another this year.
I wouldn’t expect the Devils to be in on Jesper Wallstedt (Lulea HF - SHL) as he is a potential top 5 pick and I think the Devils will look for a forward or defenseman with their 1st selection. Sebastian Cossa (Edmonton - WHL) is likely to go in the late 1st round or 2nd round but once again, I don’t think the Devils are looking for a goaltender that early. Some potential mid to late round options that have caught my eye include (utilizing the Hockey Prospecting Goaltending tool):
- Semyon Vyazovoy (Tolpar Ufa - MHL): 26 GP 14-9-1, 2.06 GAA, .939 SV%, 23% NHLer Probability (100+ NHL games)
- Kirill Gerasimyuk (SKA-Varyagi im. Morozova - MHL): 27 GP 14-13-0, 2.59 GAA, .931 SV%, 30% NHLer Probability
- Platon Zadorozhny (MHK Spartak Moskva - MHL): 22 GP 13-7-1, 2.40 GAA, .920 SV%, 36% NHLer Probability
- Maxim Motorygin (MHK Dynamo Moskva - MHL): 35 GP 25-7-3, 2.14 GAA, .912 SV%, 33% NHLer Probability
- Tomas Suchanek (HC Frydek-Mistek - Czech 2): 21 GP 8-10-0, 3.12 GAA, .908 SV%, 44% NHLer Probability
For reference when the Devils drafted Mackenzie Blackwood he had a 41% NHLer Probability, Evan Cormier a 24% NHLer Probability, Gilles Senn a 17% NHLer Probability (since up to 46%), Akira Schmid a 0% NHLer Probability (since up to 30%), Cole Brady a 34% NHLer Probability (currently 35%), and Nico Daws a 37% NHLer Probability (now at 32%). By no means is this perfect, but perhaps one of these MHL or Czech goaltenders could be worth a late round pick based on the model.
Do you agree with these needs that I have identified for the Devils prospect pool? What type of prospects do you think they could use to add to the system? Are there any 2021 draft eligibles that you already have your eyes on? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!