The Top 25 Under 25 ranking continues today with those players that just made it into the top 20. This group of 2 forwards and 3 defensemen consists of players with professional experience. This includes 2 players that have already played for New Jersey in the NHL, 2 players that already have AHL experience, and another that has KHL experience. All of these players were in the top 25 of last year’s ranking, though only one of them has seen his ranking rise on this year’s edition. Let’s take a look at who these players are.
#20 - Tyce Thompson - C/LW - Age: 22 - 2021-22 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) - 2020 Rank: 20 - Elite Prospects Profile
Holding his spot at 20th in our annual ranking is Tyce Thompson. The 6’1”, 172 lbs. right handed forward was drafted by the Devils in the 4th round of the 2019 Draft, his 3rd year of eligibility. The 22 year old is from Oyster Bay, NY and comes from a hockey family. His father Brent was a veteran of 121 NHL games and is currently the head coach of the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. His brother Tage is currently a player for the Buffalo Sabres. The Devils decided to take a chance on the offensively gifted forward after his freshman season for Providence College in 2018-19 where he put up 8 goals and 17 assists in 42 games.
In 2019-20, his age 20 season and sophomore year, Thompson would take a big step forward for the Friars with 19 goals and 25 assists in 34 games. For this effort he earned All-USCHO and Hockey East Second All-Star Team honors. He was 2nd on his team in scoring, trailing NCAA leading scorer Jack Dugan. Thompson’s 1.29 points per game rate ranked 7th in the NCAA. This strong season saw his stock go up, especially on our list as he went from 44th on 2019’s Top 25 Under List to 20th on the 2020 List.
The 2020-21 season would prove to be his final season of college hockey. As a junior, he captained the Friars and put up 11 goals and 14 assists in 25 games to earn Hockey East Second All-Star Team honors once again. While his points per game rate dropped to 1.00, he still lead Providence in scoring by a 6 point margin over the next highest scorer. The Devils were able to sign Thompson when his season ended and introduce him to professional hockey. He first made his debut for the New Jersey Devils with a 6 game stint in April before going down to the AHL and making his debut with 8 games for Binghamton. After going up and down again, Thompson finished the season with 7 games for New Jersey, registering an assist and 8:43 average time on ice. With Binghamton he played in 11 games and had 2 goals and 2 assists. With Binghamton he even picked up a couple of fighting majors, showing that despite his lean frame and offensive mindset, he’s not afraid to get physical.
As this article from NJ.com notes with quotes from Thompson’s college coach, Nate Leaman, what makes Thompson and valuable player is his ability to play in a variety of roles. He can provide secondary scoring, playing at either center or on the wing, and on any line. While he still needs to pack on more muscle, his work rate is enough for him to win battles for loose pucks and play hard every shift. I listed his 2021-22 team as Utica since I think he will spend most of the season there but I do expect him to get some serious looks for New Jersey’s line up in training camp and over the course of the season.
#19 - Kevin Bahl - LD - Age: 21 - 2021-22 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) - 2020 Rank: 13 - Elite Prospects Profile
Next up on our list is the 6’6”, 229 lbs. left handed shooting defenseman, Kevin Bahl. While “falling” having been 13 on last year’s list, I wouldn’t say his stock is down. That seemed to have more to do with some of the recent additions to the Devils organization and a few of the players that stepped up for New Jersey last season. Getting back to Bahl, the 21 year old from New Westminster, British Columbia was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2018 Draft. He came over to the Devils in the Taylor Hall trade in December of 2019.
Bahl spent 4 seasons with the Ottawa 67’s in the OHL from 2016-20, appearing in 237 games with 14 goals, 73 assists, +55, and 299 PIM. Known for utilizing his very large frame in a physical manner as a shutdown defender, Bahl showcased really good four-way mobility at the OHL level and was able to provide a bit more offense as his career progressed. He improved his points per game rate from 0.07 to 0.31 to 0.50 to 0.57 across those 4 seasons. His final season with Ottawa in 2019-20 saw him earn OHL Second All-Star team honors.
During this time, Bahl also was a consistent presence for Canada’s junior teams. He played for Canada Red at the 2016 U17 World Hockey Challenge, helped Canada U18 to a Gold Medal at the 2017 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, played for Canada at the 2018 U18 World Junior Championship, and helped Canada to a Gold Medal at the 2020 U20 World Junior Championship.
In 2020-21, his age 20 season, Bahl spent most of his time with Binghamton in the AHL. In 27 games he had a goal, 4 assists, -6, and 12 PIM. For a player of his size and strength, I’m encouraged to see that he was able to stay out of the penalty box. According to Pick 224, Bahl had a EV Goals For% of 40%, 4th among B-Devils defenders. His estimated time on ice of 17.38 was 4th among the B-Devils defenders. This seems to suggests that he still has some development left to do at the AHL level. He is only 21 years old after all. Bahl also made it into 7 games for New Jersey where he had 2 assists, an even rating, 0 PIM, and averaged 16:55.
The Hockey Prospecting model only gives Bahl a 20% chance of becoming a NHLer (200+ games). I’m a bit higher on him than that since I think a mobile defenseman with his size will get plenty of looks at the NHL level. I expect him to get into a few games for the New Jersey Devils over the course of the upcoming season but think he will spend most of his time further developing at the AHL level with Utica. At this point in his development, I think he will push for a roster spot in New Jersey in 2022-23.
#18 - Shakir Mukhamadullin - LD - Age: 19 - 2021-22 Team: Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL) - 2020 Rank: 15 - Elite Prospects Profile
Slipping 3 spots on this year’s list is polarizing prospect, Shakir Mukhamadullin. The 6’2”, 170 lbs. left handed defenseman was selected in the 1st round of the 2020 Draft by the Devils. At that time, he was coming off of a rookie season with Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the KHL that saw him play in 27 games but just average 3:07 per game which is typical for young players in the KHL. For Tolpar Ufa in the Russian junior league, the MHL, Mukhamadullin showcased his offensive skills with 2 goals and 8 assists in 13 games. A mainstay of the Russian junior teams, having won a U17 WHC Gold Medal and U18 WJC Sliver Medal in his pre-draft season, Mukhamadullin was a member of the Russian U18 team at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in his draft year.
Last season, a hot start saw Mukhamadullin put up a very productive season. In 39 games he had 3 goals, 7 assists, -2, 10 PIM, and averaged 12:56 per game. His 0.26 points per game rate was the 5th most among U20 defensemen in KHL history. He also represented Russia at the U20 WJC. While his defensive game hasn’t fully caught up to his offensive one, it was encouraging to see this article at EP Rinkside praising his development. The Elite Prospects team was the most critical outlet when it came to Mukhamadullin as a prospect, but in that article, Mitch Brown notes that there is evidence to show that he has a lot of NHL upside. This is due to his improved pace of play, skating in transition, and off-puck awareness.
The Hockey Prospecting model was also pleased with Mukhamadullin’s post draft year, seeing his NHLer Probability going from 46% to 64%. Mukhamadullin doesn’t turn 20 until January 10, 2022 and is signed with Salavat Yulaev Ufa through the 2021-22 season. I expect him to play an even larger role there this upcoming season. After that, I have to imagine the Devils will try to do everything they can to sign him so they can develop him in their own system from 2022 and beyond. Mukhamadullin seems to really have some upside a mid-pairing defenseman for a long time.
#17 - Reilly Walsh - RD - Age: 22 - 2021-22 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) - 2020 Rank: 12 - Elite Prospects Profile
Reilly Walsh is another player that slipped in the rankings this year, but similar to Bahl and Mukhamadullin, it seems to be more because of the players added to the organization. The Devils drafted the 6’0”, 185 lbs. right handed defenseman in the 3rd round of the 2017 Draft. Walsh is known for his offensive game which saw him star at Harvard University from 2017 to 2020. Prior to that he spent his draft season of 2016-17 split between Proctor Academy in prep hockey and the Chicago Steel in the USHL. He was clearly too good for high school hockey with 30 goals and 39 assists in 30 games for Proctor Academy as he earned All-USA Hockey Second team honors. With the Chicao Steel he had 2 goals and 8 assists in 24 games as they won the Clark Cup. He also represented the USA U18 team at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Walsh was born on April 21, 1999 so his freshman season of 2017-18 was his age 18 season. The North Falmouth, Massachusetts native was immediately able to translate his offense to the college level with 7 goals and 13 assists in 33 games. His 0.61 points per game rate ranked 4th among U19 defensemen in the NCAA. He earned ECAC All-Rookie Team honors for that productive season. Walsh was able to follow that up with an even more productive sophomore season in 2018-19 when he put up 12 goals and 19 assists in 33 games. His 12 goals and 0.94 points per game rate ranked 2nd among U20 defensemen in the NCAA. His production would dip slightly in his junior season of 2019-20 when he put up 8 goals and 19 assists in 30 games. Still, his 0.90 points per game rate would rank 9th among all defensemen in the NCAA.
Walsh was set to return for his senior season with Harvard but the pandemic changed those plans. Instead, he signed with the Devils and turned pro with Binghamton in the AHL. Walsh made the most of his rookie season with the B-Devils, putting up 5 goals and 10 assists with a -5 and 12 PIM in 33 games. According to Pick 224, of the 6 regular defensemen the B-Devils had, Walsh was 1st in games played (33), 2nd in EV primary points per game (0.12), 1st in PP primary points per game (0.15), 1st in primary points per game (0.27), 1st in points per game (0.45), 2nd in EV Goals For% (48.08), 1st in Relative EV Goals For% (9.70)2nd in estimated time on ice per game (20.67), and 2nd in primary points per estimated 60 minutes (0.79). Among the 28 defensemen in the North Division that played in at least 20 games last season, Walsh ranked 17th in EV primary points per game, 3rd in PP primary points per game, 9th in primary points per game, 2nd in PP shots (17), 11th in points per game, 16th in EV Goals For%, 4th in Relative EV Goals For%, 9th in estimated TOI per game, and 9th in primary points per estimated 60 minutes. Clearly, he didn’t have much trouble translating his offensive game to the professional level.
I listed his 2021-22 team as Utica since I think he still could use more time there to develop his defensive game and gain more experience. The good news for Walsh is as a right defenseman, he’s right up there on the depth chart should a RD be unavailable to play for New Jersey. I think we’ll see him pick up his first NHL games this season and then him contend for a full time spot for the 2022-23 season. I’m curious to see if he can continue to be a leading offensive player from the blue line once again in his second AHL season.
#16 - Graeme Clarke - RW - Age: 20 - 2021-22 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) - 2020 Rank: 23 - Elite Prospects Profile
Last season was a tough year for all players but Graeme Clarke managed to navigate it beautifully and rose from 23rd to 16th on our annual list. The Devils selected the 6’0”, 174 lbs. RW in the 3rd round of the 2019 Draft. Clarke is another player to come through the Ottawa 67’s system where he excelled from 2017 to 2020. In his pre-draft season of 2017-18, Clarke put up 14 goals and 11 assists in 63 games. He had 2 goals and 4 assists in 6 games for Canada White at the U17 World Hockey Challenge.
His draft season of 2018-19 really got him on the radar as a prospect. He had 2 goals and an assist in 5 games as Canada U18 won Gold at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He took on a bigger role for the 67’s and produced 23 goals and 11 assists in 55 regular season games. He broke out even more in the playoffs with 7 goals and 7 assists in 18 games. The 2019-20 season would be harder for Clarke as a shoulder injury limited him to just 16 games. He did manage 9 goals and 8 assists when he was healthy though.
Last season saw a healthy Clarke adapt to the pro game well. First, he was with HC Nove Zamky for 6 games in Slovakia to get his season started. He then played in 31 games for the B-Devils in the AHL, producing 8 goals and 10 assists. Those 18 points ranked tied-9th in scoring among U20 players in the AHL last season. According to Pick 224, of the 12 B-Devils forwards to play at least 10 games, Clarke ranked 2nd in EV primary points per game (0.35), 5th in PP primary points per game (0.16), 2nd in primary points per game (0.52), 4th in points per game (0.58), and 2nd in primary points per estimated 60 minutes of ice time (2.00). As Brock Otten of OHL Prospects noted recently, Clarke improved as the AHL season went on, especially with his play away from the puck. Otten notes that Clarke’s puck skills and shot are what make him standout, but that he really seemed to develop his whole game well over the past year.
The Hockey Prospecting model gives Clarke a 26% NHLer Probability which is understandable. With that said, I like his chances of making it. His shot is already NHL caliber and he’s shown the ability to transition to a pro league already in his age 20 season. I think he’ll spend more time with Utica but I can see him earning a few call ups this upcoming season. It will be interesting to see how he builds off of a successful 2020-21.
Stay tuned as we continue to release these rankings in sets of 5 on a weekly basis. Where did you have these players ranked? What are your expectations for these players in both the short and long term? Do any of these rankings surprise you? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!