Rookie camp began for the New Jersey Devils yesterday. They did not announce who would be at the camp either earlier in the week or yesterday. Pictures from camp? Yes. Features on their site with some of the players? Yes. A full list of who was there? No. However, with two games coming up on Friday and Sunday in the 2021 Prospects Challenge, the Devils decided to reveal who is actually going to participate in it this morning. The Devils have announced their 23-man roster for the 2021 Prospects Challenge through their official website.
Forwards (13): Graeme Clarke, Nolan Foote, Patrick Grasso, Alexander Holtz, Tyler Irvine, Jordan Kaplan, Dawson Mercer, Nate Schnarr, Luke Stevens, Chase Stillman, Aarne Talvitie, Tyce Thompson, Fabian Zetterlund
Defensemen (7): Kevin Bahl, Zach Biggar, Jeremy Groleau, Joe Masonius, Nikita Okhotiuk, Michael Vukojevic, Reilly Walsh
Goaltenders (3): Nico Daws, Marek Mitens, Akira Schmid
Per the Devils’ release, Groleau, Zetterlund, and Bahl will be wearing ‘A’s as alternate captains. There is no designated captain.
More importantly, the Devils’ official website will be streaming both games live. That’s 7 PM ET on Friday against Buffalo and 1 PM ET on Sunday against Boston. Buffalo announced their roster on Monday, which will feature Jack Quinn and John-Jason Peterka. Boston anounced their roster yesterday, which features Fabian Lysell. These games are essentially pre-preseason. Doing well here may mean more opportunities in the actual preseason that begins at the end of the month, but that may be it so I would not put a lot of stock into either game other than it being an exhibition game.
In light of the 2021 Top 25 Devils Under 25 list being fully revealed, do note that this Prospect Challenge well represents the list. There are a number of outsiders - players outside of the Top 25 - that could feature in these two games. Such as Nico Daws, Michael Vukojevic, Aarne Talvitie, and Chase Stillman. Those in the Top 25 itself range from #10 (Holtz, coincidentally will be wearing #10 in these games) to #24 (Akira Schmid). A couple of these players could be call-up options for the 2021-22 season such as Kevin Bahl and Tyce Thompson, who both did receive call-ups last season.
That being said, the roster does have some unfamiliarity in it as there are two try-out players and five players on AHL contracts. These two games may help more from a Utica perspective ahead of their training camp. Here is a quick summary of who these seven are:
Luke Stevens (LW) - Elite Prospects Profile - 24 years old, 6’5”, 207 pounds, Last Played: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL). This is Kevin Stevens’ son. Stevens is a big forward whom was drafted by Carolina back in 2015 in the fifth round. He attended Noble & Greenough, a prep-school in Connecticut, and moved on to Yale for the 2016-17 season. He stayed all four seasons, putting up an average of 0.35 points per game in 101 games. Stevens signed an AHL contract with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in August 2020 and appeared in 12 games with the Penguins. He did not register any points. Stevens is on this roster on a try-out basis. Best of luck to him in rookie camp. Stevens will wear #52 in the Prospects Challenge.
Tyler Irvine (RW) - Elite Prospects Profile - 25 years old, 5’11”, 170 pounds, Last Played: Binghamton (AHL). Irvine was a member of the Binghamton Devils last season, so if you followed them closely then you know who he is. Irvine was the captain of Merrimack College in 2019-20 and put up his best season yet as a senior with 13 goals and 27 points in 32 games. Binghamton brought him in on a PTO in January 2021 and Irvine ended up playing 25 games with the B-Devils, putting up a goal and three assists. Irvine was re-signed for Utica on an AHL contract. The apparent hope is that he shows improvement in what would be his second season in the AHL. Irvine will wear #53 in the Prospects Challenge.
Patrick Grasso (C) - Elite Prospects Profile - 25 years old, 5’7”, 170 pounds, Last Played: University of New Hampshire (NCAA). Grasso is the nephew of Joe Mullen and Brian Mullen. He is also one of the first signings of the Utica Comets after the Devils’ affiliation was set in July; joining Mareks Mitens and Irvine. Grasso came out of Des Moines of the USHL and joined UNH in the 2016-17 season with an impressive 20-goal, 33 point rookie season. However, that would be the peak of his production in his five seasons at New Hampshire. Grasso did wear an ‘A’ for the team in the last two seasons and did average over half a point per game in those two seasons. Grasso will be a Comet, the purpose of this camp is to establish where he could be on the depth chart. Grasso will wear #54 in the Prospects Challenge.
Joe Masonius (LD) - Elite Prospects Profile - 24 years old, 6’0”, 190 pounds, Last Played: Macon (SPHL). Masonius is a local in that he was born in Spring Lake, NJ and did play with the New Jersey Hitman before joining the USNTDP. Masonius was drafted in 2016 by Pittsburgh in the sixth round after a freshman season at UConn with 21 points in 34 games. Masonius played two more seasons in college before jumping to pro hockey in the ECHL in 2018-19 with South Carolina (1 game) and Manchester (12 games). His 2019-20 season was in the ECHL split between Norfolk and Greenville before making 9 appearances for the Macon Mayhem in the Southern Professional Hockey League last season. Whatever he did in the lower minor leagues must have impressed someone as Utica signed him to an AHL deal in July. With a blueline filled with young talent and may be adding Tyler Wotherspoon depending on how his PTO goes, Masonius should be prepared to battle for minutes. Masonius will wear #56 in the Prospects Challenge.
Jordan Kaplan (F) - Elite Prospects Profile - 24 years old, 5’10”, 170 pounds, Last Played: University of Vermont (NCAA). Kaplan is another local as he hails from Bridgewater, NJ, started his prep school hockey in Lawrenceville, and played a season with the New Jersey Junior Titans of the NAHL before going to college. Kaplan started with Sacred Heart for three seasons of fairly productive hockey. He transferred to Vermont for 2020-21, where he played in nine games and put up a goal and an assist. Utica signed him to an AHL contract in July (along with Masonius) and so 2021-22 will be Kaplan’s first professional season. His EP profile does not make it clear if he plays a particular position, but his camp will be about establishing himself all the same. Kaplan will wear #57 in the Prospects Challenge
Zach Biggar (LD) - Elite Prospects Profile - 18 years old, 6’0”, 179 pounds, Last Played: Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL). Biggar joins Stevens as the only other player on this roster on a try-out basis. However, Biggar is just 18 and will return to junior hockey for this coming season as he cannot play in the AHL due to his age. This try out is partially to fill out the roster and partially to see him up close for the future. Biggar was very productive at the AAA and Junior A levels and he made his major junior debut with the Titan for three games in 2019-20. Last season was his first actual season in the QMJHL with 33 games and 11 assists (plus three in nine playoff games). Per Pick224, his estimated ice time was 17.42, which suggests he was not just getting depth minutes throughout all 33 games. He should have a larger role in 2021-22 if only because he is not a rookie anymore. Should Biggar perform, good games will only help his cause after his time in major junior ends. Biggar will wear #58 in the Prospects Challenge.
Marek Mitens (G) - Elite Prospects Profile - 23 years old, 6’1”, 185 pounds, Last Played: Lake Superior State (NCAA) / Binghamton (AHL). Similar to Irvine, Mitens is another returning player as he was re-signed for Utica back in July. Mitens is originally from Latvia, but he moved to North America for the 2016-17 season ahead of attending Lake Superior State in 2017. He did quite well in his one season with Aston of the NAHL with a 92.5% Save Percentage in 41 games. His freshman season was rough (89.6% Save Percentage in 19 games), but he did make gains as a sophomore (91.9% Sv% in 11 games), became a starter as a junior with 39 games played (91.1% Sv%, and had an awesome senior season (93% Sv%!! in 25 games). Lake Superior State won the WCHA championship, went to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 years, and Mitens was named to the WCHA Second All-Star Team. Binghamton brought Mitens in on a tryout basis in April after Lake Superior State was eliminated by UMass in the NCAA Tournament. He played in four games and stopped 89.9% of all shots against. Utica brought him back and he could help push (or spell) Daws and Schmid. As those three are at the Prospects Challenge, I would think they will each get at least half of a game to get a look. Mitens will wear #60 at the Prospects Challenge.
I wish all of the players the best as they head to the Harborcenter for two games this weekend. Again, the games will be livestreamed on the Devils’ website. Check it out if only for it being the first time the Devils are in a game since May.
What do you think of the Devils’ roster for the Prospects Challenge? Who do you think should do well in these two games? Do any of the seven AHL/try-out players interest you? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the roster in the comments. Thank you for reading.