The New Jersey Devils and General Manager Tom Fitzgerald have added some personnel to improve the team’s competitiveness this offseason in hopes of moving closer to NHL relevance. While the moves have been mostly applauded (with the worst criticism seeming to be overpays that won’t matter when the contracts are up) we need to maintain our heads and not assume the Devils are playoff bound this season. This team is still very much accumulating parts to ensure long-term success; while building up a good prospect pool is important, at some point, said prospects will need to be brought up to the big show and contribute. For some, it takes little to no time in the minors for them to make an impact; for others at the opposite end of the spectrum, they never show enough potential to be a regular contributor.
There are a few names within the Devils organization that showed promise with the Binghamton Devils last season. Some of them were promising due to their points per game ratio; others due to their contributions in their first year outside of juniors. With many of these names projected to start the season in Utica, the hope is that they can contribute even more this season to boost their stock to possibly earn an NHL call-up, or even a full time spot. The players listed below aren’t the only ones who could someday become NHL players, but they’re the ones who are trending the best after last season.
The Prospects We Want to See Dominate
Clarke was a surprise addition to the Binghamton roster last season due to the OHL not re-starting last season. He appeared in 31 games for the team and recorded 8 goals and 10 assists in those contests, good for the second highest total on the team. Not bad at all for a player who just turned 20 in April.
While Clarke isn’t a player who I would say needs to compete at a high level next season, his rookie year gives hope that he will. If he continues to improve his totals and his overall play, he could find himself spending some time in New Jersey sooner rather than later. Contributing 0.58 points per game last season, the hope would be for Clarke to take the next step by increasing that production across a full season. As a right shooting RW, Clarke also presents as somewhat of a need for the Devils right now with their abundance of left handed shooters; him coming along could go a long way towards helping to propel the team forward from within.
Foote managed to get himself a six game cup of coffee with the big club last season, contributing his first NHL goal and assist in that short time frame. As the prospect acquired back in the Blake Coleman trade, the Devils are hoping that Foote blossoms into a legit NHL talent. This past season was his first outside of juniors and the soon to be 21 year old forward managed to impress enough to earn said call-up.
Foote performed well in the AHL also, scoring 17 points in 24 contests, good for 0.71 ppg, one of the best numbers on the club. While I have Foote mentioned as a prospect here, he could see himself in full time NHL action as soon as this season should he impress in training camp. As a lefty, he has quite a bit of competition/established talent that he would have to outplay, but his AHL rookie season and his pedigree give hope for his future. If Foote starts the season in Utica, he’s one player that I would like to see absolutely tear it up, as I think him dominating in the minors would help to improve his toolset when he returns to the NHL level.
One name that might be flying under the radar a bit is the leading scorer for Binghamton last season in Fabian Zetterlund. Prior to the NHL and AHL’s return to play in early 2021, Zetterlund was loaned to AIK of HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden’s second tier league, where he put up 10 points in 21 contests. He followed that up with 19 points in 34 games for Binghamton, an improvement on his 19 in 46 from the prior season. His 0.56 ppg might be the lowest of the forwards we’ve looked at today, but his season to season improvement is an encouraging sign.
Zetterlund also has the “right-handed shooting RW” factor working in his favor, though his potential may not be as high as Clarke’s, or that of other prospects that have joined the Devils’ system. If Zetterlund doesn’t start pumping up his AHL point totals, or demonstrate consistent skills that would make him an asset in the Bottom 6, he may find himself being passed over by other prospects. He may not dominate this season, but I think how he develops in Utica might give us greater insight into his future with the organization.
And now for the only player on this list who isn’t a forward, we come to another player who joined Binghamton due to the OHL remaining closed last season. Vukojevic is an interesting prospect, as a lot of his Elite Prospects bio seems to have him painted as more of a shutdown guy. Yet, last season he still managed 11 points in 26 games for a bad (at least record-wise_ B-Devils team. His -1 in the plus/minus category should also be praised due to the team’s record having a lot of players entrenched in the minuses.
I’d like to see a bigger role for Vukojevic this season, as the recently turned 20 year old fills a few needs for the Devils Not only does he remove his man from the puck, but the Devils are searching for long-term solutions on the left side (aside from Ty Smith) which happens to be where Vukojevic plays. Hopefully the recent acquisitions of Jonas Siegenthaler and Ryan Graves work out, but if one falters, Vukojevic could be a piece that thrives with the big club if he continues to progress in the AHL.
Concluding Thoughts and Your Take
Now there are other prospects that certainly could have made this list, such as Reilly Walsh, Alex Holtz, and Kevin Bahl, but when creating the above list, I wanted to focus on guys who I think could spend the full season in the AHL either due to depth, handedness, or both. I know the inclusion of Foote, but omission of Holtz might baffle some, but again I was trying to take shooting hand into account. I felt that the abundance of lefties in New Jersey (including recently signed Tomas Tatar) could block Foote from playing with the big club this season, while the righty Holtz might have a clearer path. Plus, I also kinda already did a full article about what we should want/expect from Holtz last month while Brian gave us an update on him on Tuesday.
To conclude as we often do, I’d like to hear your thoughts about prospects we want to dominate in Utica this season. If you had to pick any prospect in the system slated to be in the AHL, who would you want to see thrive the most? Do you agree with the choices I made, or do you see a limited NHL future (if that) for one/some/all of them? Do you think these players all take a step/leap forward with the last year behind them? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!