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The 2021 AATJ Top 25 Devils Under 25: The Outsiders from #51 to #26

It is time to reveal the order of the 2021 All About the Jersey Top 25 New Jersey Devils players Under 25 list. As is tradition, this begins with the 26 players who did not make the list this year - The Outsiders.

Russia v Czech Republic: Preliminary Round Group B - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship
Arseni Gritsyuk is one of the 26 who did not make the 2021 AAtJ Top 25 Under 25 list this year.
Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

The All About the Jersey Top 25 Under 25 list has been put together for the tenth time. This is the annual tradition where we ask and answer one question: Who are the best young players in the New Jersey Devils organization? This is a question that can be answered in multiple ways. Some will prefer the potential of the player over what they have done. Others want to see current results on top of future results. Fans can easily make a list based on where the player stacks up in the organization currently. This is an exercise in perception. Rather than argue for one method over the other, we just ask the basic question and let the wisdom of the crowd decide among the writers here and you, the People Who Matter.

Why do we do this? More than just an offseason exercise, this is an annual check to see who is coming through the pipeline and determining how they rate amongst each other. Due to multiple draft years with lots of picks, the Devils are loaded with a lot of players under the age of 25. The New Jersey Devils are a young team. The Utica Comets will be a young team. There are prospects yet to turn professional or come to North America that warrant a closer eye than others. By ranking the young players, we can get a sense of who will help this team now, in the near future, and in a more distant future. From there, we can also get a sense of what the Devils could need going forward. And it is a “we” because the rankings are determined by a weighted average among the writers and the overall ranking from the Community Survey, which is filled out by the readers like you: the People Who Matter. (Note: There were some ties this year, broken by the Community ranking. Three of four are in this post.)

As part of this annual tradition here at All About the Jersey, the reveal of this year’s list begins with those who actually did not make the Top 25 itself. These are The Outsiders. With 51 players (technically 50 now) under the age of 25 in the Devils organization, 26 players would not make it. It is perfectly fine for a player to be here. Some can and have moved up into the Top 25 after a really strong season. Some are in this post after having an off season, which may be more forgivable given the everything that happened in 2020 and 2021. Blake Coleman rarely ranked high on these lists and was the definition of a late bloomer. By no means should everyone in this post be written off for good. As ever, you are free to disagree with the rankings and discuss their position in the comments. They are

Now onto the list. This is in reverse order from 51st to 26th on the 2020 All About the Jersey Top 25 New Jersey Devils players Under 25 List. All ages are as of September 15, 2021.

#51 - Nikita Popugaev - Right Winger/Left Winger - Age: 22 - 2021-22 Team: Unknown - 2020 Rank: 50 - Elite Prospects (EP) Profile

It was serendipity that I began writing up this post on the day where news came out that Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the KHL has released Popugaev. The large winger has played for the following teams in his young career: Moose Jaw (WHL), Prince George (WHL), CSKA Moscow (KHL), Zvedza Chekov (VHL), Krasnaya Armiya Moscow (MHL), Amur Kabarovsk (KHL), Amurskie Tigry Kabarovsk (MHL), Binghamton (AHL), Adirondack (ECHL), Dynamo Moscow (KHL), and Dynamo Krasnogorsk (VHL). Now, some of those seasons saw him shuttled up and down in Russia as the VHL is the KHL’s minor/second league, and the MHL is their junior league. But he has never been productive or impactful in any of them except for his time in Moose Jaw back in 2015-16 and 2016-17 before he got traded. While he is unsigned as of this writing, I really doubt the 13th team is going to be the one where he puts it all together. Maybe he will sign with another KHL team? Maybe he will try his hand in another European country? But any hope of an actual future with the Devils is all but gone. With the departures of Evan Cormier and David Quenneville, Popugaev is now holding the last place position on this list. Fitting that it is by an unsigned player.

#50 - Jeremy Groleau - Left-shooting Defenseman - Age: 21 - Likely 2021-22 Team: Utica (AHL) / Adirondack (ECHL) - 2020 Rank: 48 - EP Profile

The first AHLer on the list in reverse order is defenseman Jeremy Groleau. His second professional season was marred by the COVID-19 shortened AHL season. This impacted a lot of players. Unlike a lot of players, Groleau registered a total of zero points and 16 shots on net in 21 games with Binghamton. This does not bode well for a team with six defensemen signed to NHL contracts that will likely start in Utica and signed Joe Masonius to an AHL deal back in July. Unless there is something I am missing, it appears Groleau may be an extra defensemen with the Comets. He could even see some ECHL time in 2021-22. He is young but he is pretty much just a guy at this point.

#49 - Matthew Hellickson - Left-shooting Defenseman - Age: 23 - 2021-22 Team: Toronto (AHL) - 2020 Rank: 46 - EP Profile

Technically, Hellickson should not even be on this list. He has signed an AHL contract with the Toronto Marlies on August 17. They are not a part of the New Jersey Devils organization. This is true. The issue was timing. When the list was put together of eligible players back in the end of July, Hellickson was included as he was a member of the Devils organization. I made the call to include him as he did sign an AHL contract back in April. However, either the Devils or Comets opted to not sign him or Hellickson opted to hit the free agent market. I am happy he found somewhere to play. He did well for a defensively-minded Norte Dame team for four years. But he had little hope of cracking through what is a crowded and young blueline in Utica, featuring several players who can play kind of like he does. He never had a “breakout season” like Aarne Talvitie or Jeremy Davies did, so he was never touted as a prospect. That he was given an AHL contract to play for Binghamton at all was likely a tell of how the organization saw him. Good bye and good luck in Toronto.

#48 - Jakub Málek - Goaltender - Age: 19 - 2021-22 Team: VHK Vestin (Czech 2nd League) - 2020 Rank: N/A - EP Profile

The first member of the 2021 Draft class comes in at 48th and it is the overage goaltender from the Czech second league, Jakub Málek. This pick was not particularly well received when it was made. When asked about it, the Devils’ European scouting director stated the pick was made off a recommendation by Scott Clemmensen. (Thanks to TheJRod2006 for that tidbit.) Clemmensen recommended Evan Cormier, who finished bottom on last year’s Top 25 Under 25 list and is no longer in the organization. I am not sure how well Clemmensen knows the Czech second league. Málek did well as VHK Vestin’s ‘1B’ goaltender. The ‘1A’ goaltender, David Gaba, was one of the best in the league last season. His contract ends after this season so we shall see if Vestin uses him more this season and where Málek goes from there. Until then, he will play in the relative anonymity in the Czech Republic.

#47 - Viktor Hurtig - Right-shooting Defenseman - Age: 19 - 2021-22 Team: Växjö Lakers HC J20 (Swedish U-20 National League) - 2020 Rank: N/A - EP Profile

Hurtig is big, large, and even huge. He is also a right-shooting defenseman who primarily played for Västerås IK’s organization last season. Mostly with their U-20 team and a few games with the senior team in the HockeyAllsvenskan (Sweden’s second league) and seven games on loan with Surahmmars in HockeyEttan (Sweden’s third league). He did well enough to earn a transfer to Växjö, but he is still listed as being on a junior contract. I do not know if he is intending to go to college or wants to keep his future options open instead of committing with the Lakers. Still, the sixth round pick comes in here between his limited play and the expectation that he is still going to play junior hockey. One to keep in mind for the future.

#46 - Case McCarthy - Right-shooting Defenseman - Age: 20 - 2021-22 Team: Boston University (Hockey East) - 2020 Rank: 44 - EP Profile

As with a lot of teams in college hockey, Boston University’s season was significantly shortened. The team only played in 16 games and the Devils’ prospect, Case McCarthy, played in twelve of them. The defensive minded defenseman did not put up a lot of points. As such, it is hard to get a sense of his progression. Especially on a team that boasts David Farrance, Alex Vlasic, and Domenick Fensore on it. The 2019 fourth-rounder is about being steady in his own zone. Short of being dominant or college hockey collecting even ice time stats, that is not favorable for fan perception. Pick224 did estimate his ice time per game to 22.77, second only to Farrance on the Terriers. At least McCarthy played a lot when BU actually had a game last season. We shall see if he is able to stand out more in his junior year in 2021-22.

#45 - Artem Shlaine - Center - Age: 19 - 2020-21 Team: Connecticut (Hockey East) - 2020 Rank: 45 - EP Profile

Speaking of shortened seasons, Connecticut played 23 games, went 10-11-2, and got bodied by Providence in the Hockey East tournament, 6-1. This is to point out that it was not an easy situation for freshman forward Artem Shlaine. He at least played in every game, but he amassed just nine points. It took quite some time before he scored his one and only goal of the season. It was a big one against a ranked Northeastern team. Per that linked post at The U Conn Blog, head coach Mike Cavanaugh noted how difficult it is for players to adjust to college hockey. I think that was definitely the case as his eight assists came largely from a point streak at that time. The fifth rounder from 2020 was going to need time to develop anyway, so the hope is to see if he will make substantial gains in his sophomore season as a Huskie.

#44 - Zakhar Bardakov - Center - Age: 20 - 2021-22 Team: SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) - 2020 Rank: N/A - EP Profile

Bardakov is a double-overage pick that ended the Devils’ 2021 draft class. He is one of the few prospects I have ever seen described as a menace (thank you, Steve Kournianos, for that). Being the most penalized player in the MHL for two seasons running is not an accolade in my view. However, Bardakov toned down the fouls with Vityaz Podolsk last season in the KHL and took zero PIM in four MHL appearances. He was also on relatively good behavior with the Russian WJC team. He is set to play for SKA St. Petersburg. This is not just a large forward with a real nasty streak. Those are some actual accolades and partially why he is higher up on this list than what you would expect from a seventh round draft pick. He has some game, at least at the Russian level. Given that he is 20, I would not expect him to play a lot as young players tend not to get a lot of minutes in the KHL. (He averaged 10:27 last season with Vityaz.) It may not mean much as he is just signed for this season. I would not be shocked if he comes to North America sooner rather than later. Perhaps that factored into him being picked by the Devils instead of trying to sign him as a free agent next year.

#43 - Yegor Zaitsev - Left-shooting Defenseman - Age: 23 - 2021-22 Team: Dynamo Moscow (KHL) - 2020 Rank: 43 - EP Profile

Speaking of Russian seventh round draft picks, Zaitsev returns to 43rd on the Top 25 Under 25 list. The 2017 draft class selection made his way to the top six on Dynamo Moscow’s blueline last season. Zaitsev averaged 16:08 per game, fifth most on the team, in 58 season games with the team to go with one goal, 76 shots on net, and nine points. This continued in the playoffs, with an average of 17:56 per game in 10 games. He also led the blueliners in hits (115 in season, 15 in the playoffs), although I cannot vouch how accurately KHL scorers record hits. Or if hits matter. So why is Zaitsev not any higher if he is a regular defenseman in the second best league in the world? He is 23, he is signed for another two seasons (2021-22 and 2022-23), and so there is a real question of whether he will even come to North America, much less be able to compete for a spot in New Jersey in the future. Hence, he remains in the 40s instead of being higher on such a list.

By the way, the first of four ties was between Zaitsev and Bardakov. As the community collectively ranked Zaitsev at 39 and Bardakov at 48, Zaitsev went ahead of Bardakov.

#42 - Topias Vilén - Left-shooting Defenseman - Age: 18 - 2021-22 Team: Pelicans (Liiga) - 2020 Rank: N/A - EP Profile

The Devils’ fifth round selection in the 2021 draft was for this defensive-minded defenseman. Vilén is very much a stay-at-home defenseman. One can question how far such a player can go in today’s game. Even the “stay-at-home” defensemen in the NHL have to be able to be mobile, handle and distribute pucks decently, and provide enough support to not hold an offense back. And it is hard to get a sense of progression for this type of player; see Case McCarthy. However, what boosts Vilén is that he was an 18-year old rookie playing for Pelicans in Liiga with an average ice time of 12:44 in 35 games. The eight points and 49 shots certainly do not hurt. He also was a leader on the Finnish U-18 team at the World U-18 Championships. I think that also helps his profile. Vilén is signed for two more seasons with Pelicans. I think the plan is to wait and see how he does and then consider bringing him over at 20. Short of a standout performance in Finland or internationally, I would expect him to stay around here in these rankings until he does.

#41 - Nate Schnarr - Center - Age: 22 - 2021-22 Team: Utica - 2020 Rank: 36 - EP Profile

Nate Schnarr was brought to the organization as part of the Taylor Hall trade, which was during his first season of professional hockey. His second season was a part of last year’s truncated and challenging season for Binghamton. His 15 points in 33 games was fourth on the team; A.J. Greer nearly caught him in about half of the games. While he is still young, it is telling that he did not even get a look at the NHL level last season when the team was shuttling players in and out from Binghamton. Even Greer got a game. At this rate, Schnarr is going to have to break out at the AHL level if he is going to get a taste of the NHL with New Jersey. I think fans have picked up on that and have downgraded him accordingly.

#40 - Cole Brady - Goaltender - Age: 20 - 2021-22 Team: Arizona State (Big Ten) - 2020 Rank: 49 - EP Profile

Due to the pandemic, Arizona State opted to play entirely on the road with a schedule against Big Ten competition. Making matters worse, the team was beset by injuries and other departures. This led to a really poor season for the Sun Devils as the team went 7-16-3. With that context in mind, it is pretty impressive freshman goaltender Cole Brady posted an overall save percentage of 91% in 13 games. He faced a lot of shots and received very little help. Brady was not impressive prior to college, so the bump of nine spots in the ranking tells me that more people understood his plight. Over at House of Sparky, Evan Oscherwitz highlighted Brady as someone who could flourish. The post notes that ASU will have home games and have two incoming defensemen as part of a recruiting class. I echo his point that if he performs as well or better, then it is good for the school. It is also good for Brady’s hope for a future in pro hockey.

#39 - Eetu Päkkilä - Left Winger - Age: 21 - 2021-22 Team: Ilves (Liiga) - 2020 Rank: 35 - EP Profile

Eetu Päkkilä further entrenched himself in the Ilves first team in 2020-21. He played 49 games for the squad as well as five playoff games. In the regular season, he put up 101 shots, scored five goals, and put up 17 points while averaging 13:20 per game. A shooting percentage of just 5%? Unlucky. Päkkilä was on the scoresheet more often in Ilves’ short playoff with two goals and two assists in five games to tie for the team lead in playoff scoring. He also had a modest bump in ice time to 14:09 per game in those five appearances. Since he did not have a very productive loan to the Mestis like he did last season, I think that cooled perceptions a bit. So did the knowledge that he signed an extension with Ilves that keeps him with the team through the 2023-24 season back in November 2020. Päkkilä will turn 22 in October, so it is possible he ages out of this list just after that contract ends. Whether he is brought over to North America then is a totally different question.

#38 - Ethan Edwards - Left-shooting Defenseman - Age: 19 - 2021-22 Team: Michigan (Big Ten) - 2020 Rank: 42 - EP Profile

The fourth rounder of the 2020 draft class had himself a very fine season in the USHL. Ethan Edwards joined the Sioux City Musketeers after two seasons with Spruce Grove of the AJHL. In a different league, Edwards led Sioux City blueline with six goals and 21 assists in 51 games - finishing just ahead of 2021 draft pick Shai Buium. His 27 points put him in a tie for ninth in the league among USHL defensemen. Edwards’ high-intensity game unfortunately put him into penalty trouble as he took a whopping 96 PIM. Still, it was a successful USHL campaign even with Sioux City’s short-lived playoff run (four games, Edwards just had one goal). The pick was seen as a good one in 2020 and Michigan fans were excited then. Now, they are especially excited with the news that Owen Power, Matthew Beniers, and Kent Johnson are all returning. Yes, Ethan Edwards will join a team that will include Luke Hughes (much higher on this list), Dylan Duke, Mackie Samsokevich, Brendan Brisson, Thomas Bordeleau, and Johnny Beecher. The adjustment to college hockey could be a challenge, but Edwards will be joining the best-on-paper team in the nation. If he has a good freshman year, I would expect another rise in the rankings for the 2022 Top 25 Under 25 list.

#37 - Jaromir Pytlik - Center - Age: 19 - 2021-22 Team: KalPa (Liiga) - 2020 Rank: 34 - EP Profile

Whereas Edwards had a good season in a new league, Jaromir Pytlik had an incredibly difficult 2020-21. There was no OHL season and Pytlik picked up an effectively-season ending injury in his first game at the World Junior Championship for the Czech Republic. He only played four games on loan with HC Stadion Litomerice before the tourney. He played none for a club or franchise afterwards. It was seen as a good pick, but Pytlik essentially lost an important post-draft season for development. I can appreciate that he did not fall too far down in the rankings as a result, but there is still a lot of work he needs to do to progress in the system. Instead of returning to the Soo Greyhounds, Pytlik is trying his hand in Finland. He signed a two-season contract with KalPa of the Liiga back in May. It is a professional league and, per Brian’s post, a team with not a lot of available spots for forwards. Pytlik will have to earn his minutes. If he does, then his prospects improve. If not, then he may slip further again.

#36 - Benjamin Baumgartner - Center - Age: 21 - 2021-22 Team: Lausanne HC (Swiss National League) - 2020 Rank: 41 - EP Profile

I was surprised that Benjamin Baumgartner rose in the rankings for this year’s list. I liked the selection of then double overage forward. However, his production slipped with HC Davos last season going from 27 points in 37 games to 25 points in 47 games. And it is not like Baumgartner was prolific internationally like he was at the Division 1A WJCs in 2020; he had five appearances for Austria and two goals. It is important to note that the Swiss National League did have interruptions in their season due to the pandemic and that could have had an impact. Still, it was a downturn from his breakout in 2019-20 that saw him get drafted. Baumgartner signed a four-season contract with Lausanne HC in May. Even if the change in teams goes well for him, will he ever come over to North America? The NHL does have a transfer agreement with the Swiss National League, so it is possible that if Baumgartner is willing and the Devils are interested in paying Lausanne for it, then he could come over before his deal ends in 2025. Whether that happens is another question.

#35 - A.J. Greer - Left Wing - Age: 24 - 2021-22 Team: Utica - 2020 Rank: N/A - EP Profile

A.J. Greer was one of the returns in the trade that sent Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to Long Island back in April. Greer has the career consistent with an AHL Tweener. In the ‘A,’ Greer has been a productive winger with Colorado Eagles in recent seasons. While he got off slowly with Bridgeport, he went off for the B-Devils with 14 points in 16 games. In the handful of NHL callups, Greer has not done enough on the scoresheet or on the ice to warrant more games. He played once for New Jersey last season and that was it. Greer will turn 25 in December and he is pretty much at the stage where what you see what you get as a player. He will likely produce enough with the Comets to make one think he should get a call up. If or when that happens, he will show why he would be more effective with Utica. As such, he enters his only AAtJ Top 25 Under 25 list among the outsiders at 35.

Incidentally, the second of four ties was between Greer and Baumgartner. As the community collectively ranked Greer at 33 and Baumgartner at 40, Greer went ahead of Baumgartner.

#34 - Colton White - Left-shooting Defenseman - Age: 24 - 2021-22 Team: Utica - 2020 Rank: 27 - EP Profile

White has been a mainstay of these lists since 2015. However, time has shown him fall further down as it became more apparent that he is an AHL defenseman. While regarded pretty well by those who followed the B-Devils, he was just a guy on the ice in his short call ups with New Jersey over the past three seasons. Given that the New Jersey defense was not exactly loaded with talent, that he could not make a case for himself is telling. As such, his status is similar to Greer’s. He may be fine for Utica. He may do quite well. But if you move him up a level, you will see he why he is better suited for AHL hockey. Also like Greer, he will turn 25 after next season so expecting White to significantly develop is not reasonable. That he ended up in this range from the voting should not be a surprise.

#33 - Daniil Misyul - Left-shooting Defenseman - Age: 20 - 2021-22 Team: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL) - 2020 Rank: 32 - EP Profile

Daniil Misyul spent his second straight season primarily playing for the KHL team in Yaroslavl. He did have a run with the MHL team for their playoffs after Lokomotiv was bounced. Still, the 20 year old defender made 46 appearances and averaged 10:16 per game. That is still on the low end of ice time, but the organization wanted him with the main team. Interestingly, he averaged nearly a shot per game and made a majority of his passes (if I’m reading that last few columns of stats correctly). Misyul is signed through 2022-23 so the possibility he grows at Lokomotiv and gets more minutes is real. With that stated, how come he is much higher than Zaitsev? Easy: Age. Misyul will turn 21 in October and will be just under 23 when his contract ends. Zaitsev will be 25. There is more runway with Misyul. That stated, I think getting a larger role is what he would need to do to move up in the future. Easier said than done in the KHL, but it is what it is.

#32 - Nico Daws - Goaltender - Age: 20 - 2021-22 Team: Utica / Adirondack - 2020 Rank: 30 - EP Profile

Nico Daws was picked in the third round in 2020 after an awesome 2019-20 with Guelph. He posted an overall save percentage of 92.4% in 38 games with the Storm and was named to the OHL All-Star First Team as well as OHL Goaltender of the Year. I think that season is still carrying much of this ranking. With no OHL, Daws secured a loan to ERC Ingolstadt of the Deutsche Eishockey League (DEL). He was only able to make 10 appearances for the squad and posted a not-encouraging 89.8% save percentage in all situations. Michael Garteig was the primary goaltender for Ingolstadt and Daws did not appear to challenge him. Still, it was just 10 games and in a pro league in a country he is not familiar with at all. Therefore, I am not super surprised that he fell just two spots in this year’s list. Daws’ next step will be competing with Akira Schmid and Scott Wedgewood for appearances in Utica. Should that not work, Adirondack is a viable option. He will play. How he performs will speak more to his immediate future and how he is regarded in the future.

#31 - Aarne Talvitie - Center/Left Winger - Age: 22 - 2021-22 Team: Utica - 2020 Rank: 19 - EP Profile

Seeing Aarne Talvitie drop 12 spots, well, that was a surprise. Or was it? Talvitie finished his time at Penn State with 13 points in 21 games while wearing an ‘A’ for the team. Per Pick224, he played an estimated 16.40 per game (fifth most among Penn State forwards) and had 7 primary even strength points. That is not bad, but hardly something warranting inclusion in the top 25 as with the past two seasons. What really tanked Talvitie’s ranking was his time with Binghamton. The Devils signed him and he went right to the AHL for 18 games. He put up just one goal, two assists, and 15 shots on net. That is an auspicious start to a pro career. Jumping right from college to AHL hockey amid last season’s issues was always going to be a challenge. The hope is that a full season with more preparation will help Talvitie be more successful. He will turn 23 in February, so this season will be telling as to whether he has the promise of a possible NHL career he showed a few seasons ago. A bounce back season could put him back in the Top 25.

#30 - Patrick Moynihan - Center - Age: 20 - 2021-22 Team: Providence (Hockey East) - 2020 Rank: 38 - EP Profile

With the United States National Team Development Program, Moynihan often played on a bottom-six role more or less as a checking player. Given the talent on that team, that was not a shock. That is how he was used at the World Junior Championships in 2020, where he did contribute to a gold medal performance. However, teammates would say he has an offensive game in his toolbox. I believe the Providence Friars can agree with that. In a COVID-shortened 2020-21 campaign for the Friars, Moynihan put up six goals and nine assists in 17 games. His fifteen points placed him for third most on the team, which lost scoring machine Jack Dugan after 2019-20. The question will now be whether Moynihan can be a scoring leader as a junior without Tyce Thompson in the lineup. If the answer is yes, then expect his stock to rise within the organization as well as within the Top 25 Devils Under 25 list at AAtJ. As it is, he already jumped up eight spots.

#29 - Arseni Gritsyuk - Left Winger - Age: 20 - 2021-22 Team: Avangard Omsk (KHL) - 2020 Rank: 31 - EP Profile

Arseni Gritsyuk had an interesting 2020-21 to say the least. After scoring a ton in the MHL in 2019-20, Gritsyuk did make his KHL debut with Avangard Omsk. He played in twelve season games and three playoff games. He did not play much in them (7:13 per game to be exact) or score much (one goal, one assist, ten shots). However, when he had a stint with Metallurg Novokuznetsk of the VHL, he put up two goals and four assists in eight games. In a return to Omskie Yastreby, he put up nine points in six games. He also played for Russia at the WJCs, registering a goal and three assists in six games; while also getting three additional appearances for the national team. Given his low appearance totals, I question if he suffered an injury or something after the WJCs. The production suggests he belonged more in the VHL than the KHL, which is still a step up from the junior league, MHL. Still, Gritsyuk is a talented winger who can be swift and Avangard wanted him at least present more often. All signs are pointing to more time with Avangard Omsk in 2021-22. Should he flourish, it will be an interesting decision by New Jersey whether to sign him and bring him over when his current contract ends in 2023.

#28 - Nikola Pasic - Left Winger - Age: 20 - 2021-22 Team: Linköping HC (SHL) - 2020 Rank: 25 - EP Profile

Pasic is the second player in this group that fell out of the Top 25. To be fair, he was 25th last year so it is not like this fall is substantial like Talvitie. After being rather productive in Sweden’s second league, Linköping HC kept Pasic for 2020-21 and even signed him to a two-season extension in October 2020. As far as the season goes, he played solely for the first team in the SHL with 52 games played. He averaged 12:56 per game and finished eighth among forwards in scoring with seven goals and eight assists. That is pretty good for an under-20 player in a Sweden’s best league. The run of play when Pasic on the ice was not at all good; however, only four forwards on Linköping had a CF% above 50% last season so it may be more of a team issue than necessarily an issue with Pasic. As Pasic did not put up gaudy numbers like he did in 2019-20, I can understand a drop of three points. I still think this is a player to keep in the back of your mind. While his contract will end in 2023, I believe the NHL has a transfer agreement with Sweden so it could be a little earlier. I may recommend the Devils to consider this instead of waiting and hoping Linköping or another SHL team does not sign Pasic beyond 2023.

#27 - Michael Vukojevic - Left-shooting Defenseman - Age: 20 - 2021-22 Team: Utica - 2020 Rank: 39 - EP Profile

One of the biggest risers in this list was defenseman Michael Vukojevic. Due to the OHL not having a season, Vukojevic was able to play in the AHL and so he signed a one-season deal on February 3, 2021. While it was a rough season for Binghamton, Vukojevic certainly did the best he could. Despite only taking 20 shots, he finished second among Binghamton defensemen in scoring with one goal and ten assists. Early indications from his play showed he could be a smart player on the ice, which is a big plus for a prospective defenseman. His performances led to New Jersey signing him to an entry level contract on March 19. Making the jump from juniors to AHL hockey is not an easy one, but it appears to be one that Vukojevic made. I would like to see more from him in Utica, but the good news is that the Devils have the time to let him develop and there is something here to develop. As such, he shot up the rankings past multiple prospects who did not have such a season. So much so that he nearly made the Top 25 this year.

#26 - Chase Stillman - Right Wing - Age: 18 - 2021-22 Team: Sudbury (OHL) - 2020 Rank: N/A - EP Profile

Chase Stillman was selected with the Devils’ second first round pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. As there was no OHL season, Stillman went on loan to a Danish under-20 league team (Esbjerg) and performed for Canada at the World Under-18 Championships in a bottom-six role. The latter is what garnered more attention. I am not even sure if the Danish U-20 league was even watchable last season. In any case, Stillman did have an impressive rookie season in the OHL in 2019-20. Between that and being a part of Canada at an international tournament, there is reason to think Stillman has a bright future in pro hockey. To that end, the Devils signed him to an entry level contract last week. It may be as a bottom six winger, but it is a future in pro hockey all the same. His next step is to go back to Sudbury and be a force for the Wolves. Should he do that and some other movement is made, then he should make the Top 25 in 2022. He very nearly made it in this year.

Finally, the third tie in this year’s rankings was between Stillman and Vukojevic. The community collectively ranked Stillman at 21 and Vukojevic at 26. Therefore, Stillman went ahead of Vukojevic and is the last outsider. The fourth tie will be revealed tomorrow.

The Rankings

In the interest of disclosure, here is how everyone ranked the players who are in this post. Consistent with past surveys, the Community is a compilation of all 237 responses that were scored and organized by final rank.

The 2021 AAtJ Top 25 Under 25 Rankings for The Outsiders
The 2021 AAtJ Top 25 Under 25 Rankings for The Outsiders
The People Who Matter

When these posts go up, I do like to go into a little commentary about my own voting and the community. I am pleased that I only had two Top 25 votes end up among the Outsiders - Gritsyuk and Moynihan - and they were not by much. I definitely overvalued Greer compared to the total vote; I figure he could be a call-up option and so I did not want to value him too lowly. The same could be argued for McCarthy as I figure playing a lot for BU should be worth something. I definitely undervalued Baumgartner; the four-season contract extension dampened my hopes of him coming over - but I could be wrong. I also had undervalued White, Daws, and Misyul, players I put in the high 40s and ended up in the 30s.

As for the community, the collective vote of Stillman and Daws were the only two to not make it into the top 25 itself. Stillman narrowly missed 25th place. Daws did not. Still, it reinforces my faith in the wisdom of the crowd that the majority of the collective Top 25 ended up being in the total Top 25. In terms of significant differences, the collective vote definitely undervalued Pasic (finished 37th in poll, 28th on list) and Päkkilä (finished 45th in poll, 39th on list). The collective vote overvalued Daws (finished 24th in poll, 32nd on list), Stillman (finished 21st in poll, 26th on list), Schnarr (36th in poll, 41st on list), and McCarthy (41st in poll, 46th on list). Still, the general results were pretty solid. The question is now about the order of the Top 25 and less about who is and is not in it.

Your Turn

Thank you for reading through all 26 players that did not make this year’s Top 25 Devils Under 25 list. As we have done in years past, we will reveal the Top 25 in groups of five in reverse order. Brian will reveal who made the list in 25th through 21st place tomorrow.

In the meantime, I would like you to discuss the rankings of the players in this post. Again, this is an exercise in perception. Please be kind when discussing other people’s rankings. It is OK for people have differences of opinions about prospects. Still, please share your thoughts about these 27 players and where they were ranked in the comments. Who was rated too high in your opinion and why? Who was rated too low in your view and why? Who on this list do you think will make the Top 25 next year? Thank you again for reading.