Outside of the Utica Comets and the World Hockey Championship, the 2021-22 season is now complete for the New Jersey Devils prospects. I wanted to take a look at how these players changed their NHL probabilities according to the Hockey Prospecting model from Byron Bader. The model includes over 5,000 players, including every skater drafted in the first 7 rounds of the draft from 1990 to present as well as stars from the 1980s. The model uses NHL Equivalencies from a player’s pre-draft year to their draft+3 season to project their chances of becoming a “Star” or “NHLer”. An NHLer is a player that reaches 200+ games. A Star is a forward that puts up 0.70+ career points per game or a defenseman with 0.45+ career points per game. The model also provides 5 player comparables for players based on their Star and NHLer probabilities.
The model also includes nearly 700 goaltenders, including those drafted in the first 7 rounds from 1990 to present as well as select goaltenders from the 1980s. The Goalie Equivalency is based on “save percentage standardized by average save percentage by era multiplied by the league translation.” The goaltending model accounts for seven years of development from the pre-draft season to the draft+5 season. The NHLer threshold for goaltenders is 100+ games. I highly recommend subscribing to support the work done by Hockey Prospecting.
When looking at the Devils’ prospects, I’ll be breaking it down between forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders. Since the model covers skaters through their draft+3 season, I’ll be further separating it between players that are in their draft+1 through draft+3 seasons and those that are past their draft+3 season. Now of course there is more to development than how a player looks in a model. There are always going to be players that outperform expectations and those that underperform. The purpose of this post is to see which players could turn into potential stars and NHLers. It is also to take a look at which way a player is trending.
Draft+1 to Draft+3
As you can see from the chart above, Alexander Holtz is clearly in his own tier. After that, you have Arseni Gritsyuk as the other prospect with a greater than 50% NHLer probability. You also have Holtz, Gritsyuk, and Stillman as the three prospects that have improved their probabilities since their respective draft years.
Holtz’s Star probability went down a bit from his draft year but is up 6% from his draft+1 to draft+2 season. This isn’t surprising since his draft+1 SHL season was inconsistent and he battled injury late in that season. He’s coming off of a successful rookie season in the AHL and it would be a shock if he doesn’t turn into a legitimate NHLer at the very least. His top comparable in the model is Alexander Mogilny which shows how highly thought of a prospect he is. I think we will be seeing him in New Jersey full-time next season.
Arseni Gritsyuk is coming off of his first full-time KHL season as a draft+3 player. He’s improved his NHLer probability by 7% to move above the 50% threshold. This is largely thanks to him putting up 28 points in 39 games to lead U21 players in the KHL. He still has an outside chance to reach Star potential but at the very least he’s become a legitimate NHL prospect. He’s only signed with Avangard Omsk through next season so perhaps we will see him in North America after that.
Another prospect that is trending up is Chase Stillman. His NHLer probability is now just 30% but is up 10% from last year. Now, while I do think highly of the model, it is worth noting that extenuating circumstances, such as the OHL’s canceled 2020-21 season, can be hard to properly account for. Essentially, a player like Stillman, had a pre-draft season, no draft season (it doesn’t account for his 8 games in the Danish U20 league, and then a draft+1 season. Regardless, this projection seems fine to me since a player like him isn’t going to be a star at the NHL level but could make a career as a guy that provides physicality and secondary scoring. Cal Clutterbuck is his closest comparable and that’s a player with over 900 NHL games. While fans will understandably be frustrated that the Devils used a 1st round pick on Stillman, there is a legitimate chance that the Devils are getting an NHL player there. Stillman turned 19 years old in March so he still has plenty of time to develop. It will be interesting to see how he does in his third OHL season next year.
Next, I want to check in on the rest of the Utica players on this list. Nolan Foote has seen his NHLer probability decrease by 5% but is still one of the forwards with a greater than 40% chance. He turns 22 years old next November so it’s certainly not time to write him off just yet but he needs to take a step next season. To his credit, he did well in his cameo with New Jersey last year with 3 goals in 7 games. Graeme Clarke is another draft+3 player and Utica Comet. Like Foote, he is a goal-scoring winger, but unlike him, his NHLer probability is now down 1% from his draft year to 19%. Clarke did have a 32% NHLer probability and 25% NHLer probability after his draft+1 and draft+2 seasons respectively. Injuries and inconsistencies have hurt his chances but I’m still cautiously optimistic that he can break through as an NHL player for the Devils due to his shot. Like Foote, Clarke will need to take a step forward next season to show that he is a legitimate option for the NHL.
Let’s move on to the other European-based prospects on this chart. Samu Salminen had a solid but unspectacular 2021-22 season for Jokerit U20 in Finland’s top junior league. He was once again above a point per game as a player and captained the team as the top-line center. However, he didn’t necessarily dominate the league as you would expect from a player in his draft+1 season. Now some of that could be attributed to him making more of an effort to improve his defensive game but it’s still something to take into account. As a result, his NHLer probability is down 13% and now below the 50% mark. We’ll learn a lot about him next season when he joins the defending NCAA champions at the University of Denver.
Remaining in Europe, we have Nikola Pasic, Jaromir Pytlik, and Zakhar Bardakov who have all seen their NHLer probabilities go down since their draft years. Pasic is an interesting case as a 7th-round pick in 2019 that seemed to be good value with a 14% Star probability and 45% NHLer probability in his draft year coming out of Sweden’s top junior league. The following season he had a successful loan move to the Allsvenskan, the second tier of hockey in Sweden, and saw his NHLer probability climb to 52%. However, over the past two seasons, he has struggled to produce in the top flight SHL and has since found himself back in the Allsvenskan. He’s going to play there again next season and perhaps that is his level as he enters his age 22 season next year.
Jaromir Pytlik, is another player like Stillman, that was affected by the canceled OHL season in 2020-21. He seemed like a value pick in the 4th round of the 2020 draft with a 17% Star probability and 51% NHLer probability coming out of the OHL. Unfortunately, he spent his draft+1 season stuck in limbo, playing in just 4 second division games in Czechia and a handful of international games for his country. It seems that lack of playing time had a real negative effect on his development as he struggled mightily last season. He played in 5 Liiga games for KalPa, went on loan to play in 12 games for IPK in Mestis (second division in Finland), and then returned home to play on a Kladno team in Czechia’s top division that battled relegation. As a result, his probabilities have taken a huge hit. Hopefully, he can get his career back on track in 2022-23 when he spends a full season with Kladno. I should note that coming into the season it was listed on Cap Friendly that the Devils had to sign him by June 1 or lose his rights. Now Cap Friendly is listing the Devils as holding his rights until June 1, 2024, which would give them more time to track his development.
Then we have Zakhar Bardakov who was selected in his third year of eligibility in 2021. He’s known for his elite work ethic and tenacity but lacks offensive potential. It comes as no surprise that his top comparables are Colby Armstrong and Daniel Carcillo. Bardakov did have a solid age 19 season for Vityaz Podolsk in the KHL in 2020-21 with 11 points in 44 games but has since been stuck down the depth chart for SKA St. Petersburg. Hopefully, he can play an increased role next season. He is signed with SKA for two more seasons.
Finally, we have two collegiate prospects in Patrick Moynihan and Artem Shlaine. The model didn’t rate Moynihan, a 2019 6th round pick, that high in the model from the start. He’s coming off of his junior season for Providence that saw him as a top line RW for much of the season with 11 goals and 14 assists in 38 games. He doesn’t profile to provide much offense at the pro level but has been praised for his intangibles. For that reason alone, I wouldn’t completely write him off as a potential 4th line player someday at the NHL level. Shlaine, a 2020 5th round pick, had an inconsistent two seasons for Connecticut so it’s no surprise the model doesn’t rate him. He did transfer to Northern Michigan where he will hopefully get to play a top 6 role and hopefully take another step in his development.
Draft+4 & Beyond
Now we move on to players that are past their draft+3 seasons. Benjamin Baumgartner was drafted in his third year of eligibility in 2020. The model doesn’t have data for his draft year in 2018 which was spent in the top tier of Swiss junior hockey. It did give him an 8% Star probability and 24% NHLer probability in his draft+1 season where he made the jump to the top division of Swiss hockey. He further improved his NHLer probability to 50% in his draft+2 season so it’s easy to see why the Devils used a 6th round pick on him. Unfortunately, his production has declined over the past two seasons and it seems unlikely the Devils will sign him by June 1 to retain his rights.
Another player that the Devils may choose to not sign by June 1 is Eetu Pakkila. A 7th round pick in 2018, Pakkila has struggled to translate junior success to the pro level in Finland. In three seasons in Liiga, he hasn’t posted a points per game rate above 0.40 and is still trying to establish himself. I expect the Devils to not retain his rights.
Now we move on to the Utica Comets players. Tyce Thompson was drafted in his third year of eligibility in 2019 as a 4th round pick after a successful freshman season for Providence. His sophomore season of 2020-21 when he had 44 points in 34 games saw his NHLer probability jump from 3% to 31%. Since then he finished his junior season of college in 2020-21 as a point per game player and has 19 points in 27 AHL games over the past two seasons in the AHL while battling injury. The Devils value him as they have played him 9 times at the NHL level already. He turns 23 years old in July and will be entering a season where he needs to stay healthy and prove that he can take the next step.
Fabian Zetterlund is another player on the cusp of breaking into the NHL team. A 3rd round pick from the 2017 draft, Zetterlund seems to be a late bloomer taking big steps in his production in his draft+4 and draft+5 seasons. In 2020-21, his age 21 season, Zetterlund had 10 points in 21 Allsvenskan games before the AHL season started. When he joined Binghamton, he posted 19 points in 34 games. Last year, Zetterlund excelled for Utica with 52 points in 58 games as one of the top players on the team. He impressed with 8 points in 14 NHL games at the end of the season to get fans hyped for what he can bring to the table. He’s a player that I think is poised to break through as a solid role player for the Devils. It’s understandable why the model didn’t rate him highly off of his draft+3 season but he’s turned a corner since then.
Finally, we have Aarne Talvitie, a 6th round pick from the 2017 draft. Talvitie was trending well after his draft+1 season that saw him as a top player in Finnish junior hockey. At that time he had improved his NHLer probability to 35%. However, he suffered an ACL tear in the Gold Medal game of the 2019 World Junior Championship during his draft+2 season of 2018-19. Before that injury, he was a key player for Penn State with 16 points in 17 games. Since the injury, his production plummeted from 0.94 points per game as a freshman to 0.63 as a sophomore and 0.62 as a junior. He’s been used in a bottom 6 role for Utica and it seems like he may not reach the level he was once trending towards.
Draft+1 to Draft+3
Now we move on to the defensemen and it’s no surprise to see Luke Hughes with the best Star probability (57%), NHLer probability (80%), and the largest increases in both from his draft year to draft+1 season. He did spend his age 18 season as a freshman defenseman who produced nearly a point per game. He’s currently playing well for the USA at the World Hockey Championships. His transition skills are elite, his offensive instincts spectacular, and his defense is improving. It seems like he’ll play one more season for Michigan and then make the jump to New Jersey.
Shakir Mukhamadullin has the next highest NHLer probability (46%). Mukhamadullin is very much a work in progress but has shown himself a capable PP QB in limited opportunities in the KHL and in action for Russia’s junior teams. With his size and skill, it’s understandable why the Devils used a 1st round pick on him in 2020. They’ve already signed him to an entry-level contract and he’s made his AHL debut for Utica in the playoffs. Next season is his age 21 and draft+3 season where he will likely spend most of his time in Utica. He certainly has the potential for a bright future.
Michael Vukojevic has improved his NHLer probability by 16% since his draft year. He’s been mostly a 3rd pairing option at the AHL level but has posted some solid underlying numbers at that level. I think he could become a solid 3rd pairing defender at the NHL level and is a bit of a wildcard to make it. Long-time NHL defenseman Dan Hamhuis is Vukojevic’s top comparable in the model. On the flipside, Connor Carrick is his second comparable so it could go either way for him.
The other Utica Comet on this list is Nikita Okhotiuk who brings a physical, defensive-minded game to the rink. The model was never that high on him and still isn’t though I suspect New Jersey will give him plenty of chances to make an impact. Rob Scuderi is Okhotiuk’s top comparable in the model.
Looking at the other NCAA defensemen besides Hughes, we have Ethan Edwards and Case McCarthy. Edwards has seen a slight uptick in his NHLer probability which is now 22%. He’s coming off of a solid freshman season for Michigan in his draft+2 season that saw him go from a rotational defenseman to a mainstay on the 3rd pairing. He should have the chance to play full-time next season and perhaps even on the 2nd pairing. Case McCarthy has seen his NHLer probability fall steadily every season from his draft year. I do think he’s a bit better than the model gives him credit for. He played 32 games for Boston University as a freshman in his draft+1 season of 2019-20. The pandemic limited him to just 12 games in 2020-21 which I think threw a wrench in his development and projection. He did play in 26 games as a top 4 defenseman last season and finished as the top RD on the depth chart. He’s already been named an assistant captain for the upcoming season and I think he is poised for a breakout in his senior season.
Finally, we have a trio of European-based defensemen in Viktor Hurtig, Daniil Misyul, and Topias Vilen. Hurtig has slightly improved his stock since his draft year and brings depth to the RD position for the Devils organization. Misyul’s overall NHLer probability is down 6% from his draft year but has recovered from dips over his draft+1 and draft+2 seasons. He’s continued to move up the depth chart for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl over the past 3 KHL seasons. He turns 22 years old in October and is signed with his KHL club for one more season. I wouldn’t write him off just yet. We also have Topias Vilen who recently signed his entry-level contract with the Devils. Considering he had 0 goals in his draft+1 season last year, I’m not surprised to see his probability fell 14% as this is an NHLe based model. Regardless, he played most of the season as the 2nd pairing RD for Pelicans in Liiga and impressed with his defensive play.
Draft+4 & Beyond
Now we move to the defensemen that are past their draft+3 seasons. Reilly Walsh finished in the model with a 41% Star probability and 79% NHLer probability after three seasons of college hockey with Harvard. Erik Karlsson was his closest comparable after that 2019-20 season. Since then he has played two seasons of AHL hockey, improving his points per game rate from 0.45 in 2020-21 to 0.61 last season. He seems on the verge of cracking New Jersey’s roster and has a solid chance of becoming a contributor long-term.
The model isn’t that high on the 6’6”, 229 lbs. Kevin Bahl. His draft+3 season was in 2020-21, his rookie season in pro hockey, where he played in 27 AHL games and 7 NHL games. He’s never been the biggest point producer so it’s not surprising to see the model not rate him that highly. Former New Jersey Devils 1st rounder, David Hale, is listed as one of Bahl’s comparables. Still, Bahl did produce at a higher rate in 54 games in the AHL last year and already has 24 games of NHL experience under his belt before his upcoming age 22 season. With his size, I think he’ll get plenty of chances to make his mark in New Jersey.
Yegor Zaitsev was selected in his second year of eligibility in 2017. The model rated him quite well in his original year of eligibility with a 13% Star probability and 48% NHLer probability. That fell to 3% and 28% respectively in his draft+1 season which was his rookie year in the KHL. Since then it’s continued to fall as the recently turned 24 years old defender has climbed the depth chart for Dynamo Moscow. He’s signed with his KHL club for one more season but at this point, I don’t see him ever coming over to North America, at least not for the Devils.
Nico Daws currently leads this group of goaltenders in both NHL probability (46%) and improvement from his draft year (+8%). This isn’t surprising since he played in 25 NHL games as a rookie last season. Though he struggled at that level, as a 21-year-old in his draft+3 season, he still gained valuable experience. At the AHL level, he found a lot more success with a .916 SV%, 57.14 Quality Start% (QS%), and had a 7.48 Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) in 21 games. The model currently has his top comparable as Mackenzie Blackwood which is rather interesting. Daws is certainly a legitimate prospect but still has plenty of work to do.
Next, I want to look at Akira Schmid who has the least likely probability (25%) out of these goaltenders. One thing to keep in mind is that he spent his draft season of 2017-18 in the top level of Swiss juniors so the model doesn’t start until his draft+1 season which was spent with Sioux City in the USHL. Since then he’s marginally improved his NHLer probability by +1%. Schmid, like Daws, split his 21-year-old season between the NHL and AHL. He didn’t have much success in 6 games with New Jersey but was strong in 38 games with Utica posting a .911 SV%, 64.71 QS%, and 8.56 GSAA. Daws is a step ahead on the depth chart but I think Schmid is a bit closer to him than the model indicates. Schmid is entering his draft+5 season in 2022-23 so we should learn a lot more about him as a second-year pro.
Moving on to the collegiate level we have Cole Brady who was drafted in 2019 out of Janesville in the NAHL, a level below the USHL in American junior hockey. Brady spent his draft+1 season with Fargo in the USHL and then the past two seasons with Arizona State in the NCAA. It was an up and down two years with ASU as Brady posted a .905 SV% in 25 games and was never able to claim the #1 spot in the crease. As a result, his NHLer probability has decreased by 3%. Brady has since transferred to the University of Massachusetts for his draft+4 season in 2022-23. I’m interested in seeing how he performs with a more stable defense in front of him. I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up having a big season and improves his probability in a year.
Jakub Malek is a real wildcard for the Devils. He spent his draft year in the second division of Czech U20 hockey and was undrafted. The Devils took him after he had a strong draft+1 season in 2020-21 in the second division of Czech men’s hockey. That’s also where the data for him in the model starts. Last year, he was excellent for VHK Vsetin in the second division of Czech hockey with a .932 SV%, 70.97 QS%, and 20.89 GSAA in the regular season. He also had a .933 SV% in 13 playoff games as they nearly won the championship. As a result, his NHLer probability has improved by 5%. The 2022-23 season will be his age 20 and draft+3 season. We should learn a lot about him as he has signed a two-year contract with a third-year option for Ilves in Liiga, Finland’s top league. A strong showing in one of the world’s top leagues would boost his stock even more. I’m excited to see how he performs with this step up in competition.
Which prospects do you expect to make an impact at the NHL level? Did any of these probabilities surprise you? Which prospects are you most looking forward to keeping up with next season? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!