Now that the 2022 NHL Draft has taken place, with the New Jersey Devils adding 8 new prospects to the organization, I wanted to take a look at the current state of the prospect pool. The Devils’ prospect pool was already in a strong place before the draft with Alexander Holtz leading the way for the forwards and Luke Hughes for the defensemen. Back in February, Scott Wheeler of The Athletic ranked the Devils’ prospect pool 4th in the NHL. EP Rinkside had the Devils’ prospect pool ranked 11th in their rankings back in September. With the addition of a solid draft class led by defensemen Simon Nemec and Seamus Casey, the Devils’ prospect pool remains one of the better groups in the league. In today’s post, I want to take a look at how this pool breaks down by position and highlight which prospects are ones to keep an eye out for going forward.
The top tier of the Devils’ forward prospects is led by Alexander Holtz and Arseni Gritsyuk. Holtz, a 20-year-old right wing, is one of the best goal-scoring prospects outside of the NHL. He’s a threat all over the offensive zone and on his off-wing on the PP. He had an impressive 26 goals in 52 games for Utica last season and played in 9 games for New Jersey. I’m expecting him to make the Devils out of training camp this season and show that he can be a pure goal scorer for the team for years to come. Gritsyuk, a 21-year-old left wing, is coming off of a breakout campaign for Avangard Omsk in the KHL that saw him put up 16 goals and 12 assists in 39 regular season games as well as 6 goals and 4 assists in 13 playoff games. His contract with Avangard runs through this season and I am sure the Devils would love to bring over his high-end skill after this season. He’s a real wildcard prospect that has a lot of potential. Both of these players are legitimate, top 6 NHL prospects for New Jersey.
Players in Utica that are on the verge of contributing in New Jersey include Fabian Zetterlund, Tyce Thompson, Nolan Foote, and Graeme Clarke. All 4 of these prospects are legitimate NHL prospects and could make their breakthrough this season for New Jersey. Zetterlund, a 22-year-old right wing, has taken positive steps in his development over the past 2 AHL seasons. Last year, he had 24 goals and 28 assists in 58 regular season games for Utica as well as 8 points in 5 playoff games. He even managed to produce in 14 games for New Jersey with 3 goals and 5 assists. He seems perfect for a bottom 6 role due to his strong 5’11”, 218 lbs. frame that he likes to utilize to win battles as well as his shot and puck skills that allow him to provide secondary scoring. His development has helped increase the quality of this group of forwards in the Devils’ prospect pool. Thompson, a 22-year-old center that can play on the wing, has been limited to just 27 AHL games in his career due to injuries the past couple of seasons. He did produce at a near-point-per-game pace for Utica last season and managed to get into 2 games for New Jersey. It seems the organization values his game and thinks he will be in New Jersey eventually as he’s been a call-up over the past 2 seasons. Hopefully, he can stay healthy this season and show that he has potential as a solid bottom 6 option for the Devils. Foote, a 21-year-old left wing, with size at 6’4”, 201 lbs. is a player that will really on his shot and size to make the NHL as his skating is lacking. He’s struggled with consistency at the professional level but will look to take a step forward this season with Utica. I can see him as one of the first call-ups to New Jersey since his shot is good enough for the NHL level. He has scored 4 times in 13 NHL games so far with the Devils. Next, we have Clarke, a 21-year-old right wing, who has battled injuries since his junior days. When he’s healthy, he is a dangerous goal-scoring threat that could develop into a middle 6 wing at the NHL level. Like Foote, he’s also struggled to be consistent as a pro so hopefully, he can turn it around this upcoming season.
Other players in Utica to keep an eye out for include Aarne Talvitie and Brian Halonen. Talvitie, a 23-year-old center, is coming off of his first full professional season with Utica where he was used in a depth role. It seems he hasn’t been able to get quite back on track as an NHL prospect since an ACL injury that he suffered in the Gold Medal game of the 2019 World Junior Championship. At this time, I don’t see him as much of an NHL prospect. Halonen, a 23-year-old wing, was signed as a free agent from Michigan Tech last spring. He seems to have the potential to play as a professional, but I don’t see him as much of an NHL prospect at this moment in time.
Players outside of North American professional hockey that have NHL potential include Samu Salminen, Patrick Moynihan, and Chase Stillman. Salminen, a 19-year-old center, has size at 6’3”, 190 lbs., plenty of skill, and leadership qualities. He’s been a dominant presence for Jokerit’s U20 team in Finnish junior hockey over the past 3 seasons. Now he is set to join the University of Denver to play against some of the best North American prospects in his age group. He seems to have legitimate 2nd line potential should he reach it and I can see his floor being that of an NHL player. Moynihan, a 21-year-old right wing that could shift back to center, has been a legitimate offensive threat since joining Providence College three seasons ago. He’s a former member of the USNTDP and USA U20 team at the WJC and has earned praise for his versatility and intangibles. He profiles as a bottom 6 role player that could provide depth at the NHL level. Stillman, a 19-year-old right wing, that was a controversial selection by the Devils in the 1st round in 2021 is a player known for his engagement on the ice due to his high motor and work ethic. He does have some offensive skill that seems to be untapped as of yet as his OHL production isn’t what you would expect from a 1st rounder. The Devils value him as they have already signed him to his entry-level contract. His NHL potential seems to be that of a middle 6 wing that can provide secondary scoring and energy. Hopefully, he can improve his production when he returns to the OHL next season. I do try to give him, and other players like him that essentially missed having a 2020-21 season, some slack since that had to have been hard on their development. At the end of the day, these 3 players are all prospects that I can see reaching the NHL level.
Other prospects that round out this group of forwards include Zakhar Bardakov, Nikola Pasic, Jaromir Pytlik, Petr Hauser, Artem Shlaine, and Josh Filmon. Bardakov, a 21-year-old forward, is known for his size at 6’2”, 198 lbs. and his physical game in the KHL for SKA St. Petersburg. He profiles as a 4th liner at the NHL level. We’ll see if the Devils try to bring him over when his deal with SKA ends following the 2023-24 season. Pasic, a 21-year-old forward, seemed like a potential late-round steal for the Devils in the 2019 draft due to his offensive skills but has been unable to produce well at the top level of Swedish hockey, the SHL, having more success in the 2nd tier, Allsvenskan. The Devils hold his rights until June 1, 2023, so he will need a big season to earn a contract with the organization. Pytlik, a 20-year-old forward, with size at 6’3”, 201 lbs. is another player that suffered from the OHL shutdown in 2020-21. Since that lost season, he’s struggled to get on track with stints in the Finnish top 2 tiers as well as a return to his native Czechia. I’m not ready to give up on him just yet but he needs to turn it around this season. Hauser, an 18-year-old right wing listed at 6’4”, 205 lbs. is a recent pick of the Devils. He’s been a force at the junior level for HC Sparta Praha in Czechia but will be looking to jump from the junior ranks to the professional level this season where we can get a better idea of his potential. The Devils seemingly liked his combo of skill and size when they drafted him.
Finally, we have Shlaine, a 20-year-old center that has spent the past 2 seasons with Connecticut in the NCAA but has now moved to Northern Michigan. He’s done well in the faceoff circle in college but has been wildly inconsistent when it comes to producing offense. He ended up dropping out of the top 6 for UConn last season and will be looking for a fresh start at Northern Michigan this upcoming year. He could profile as a bottom 6 NHL center if he can up his point production while maintaining his faceoff skills. Filmon, an 18-year-old left wing, is listed at 6’2”, 159 lbs. and will need to fill out his frame. He does seem to have some untapped potential and did well to get himself on the map after breaking through for Swift Current in the WHL last year with 45 points in 67 games. His underlying metrics were good from expected goals, controlled zone entry, and controlled zone exits point of view. His NHL potential is likely that of a 4th liner but some in the scouting community think that with the right development, he could surpass that.
The top tier of the Devils’ defensive prospects is led by 18-year-olds Luke Hughes, a left-handed shot, and Simon Nemec, a right-handed shot. These prospects both have the potential to be stars at the NHL level due to their high-end skills. Hughes is incredible in transition and could develop into a game-breaking player from the blue line. He’s capable of playing on both sides of the ice which shows his versatility. His defensive game still needs a bit more work but another year with the University of Michigan should be good for his development before he tries to make the NHL in 2023-24. Nemec already has 88 games of top-flight professional experience in Slovakia and could make the Devils’ roster for this upcoming season. Though I suspect they may have him play with Utica as he adjusts to North American hockey. Nemec has a really high floor and I think he’ll be able to contribute as a top 4 defenseman in New Jersey within a couple of seasons at the very least.
Those aren’t the only defensemen on the verge of making their impact in New Jersey. Utica’s Reilly Walsh, Kevin Bahl, and Nikita Okhotiuk have all had varying degrees of experience at the NHL level already. Walsh, age 23, is a right-handed, offensively-minded defenseman that had 43 points in 70 games with Utica last season. He had an assist in his only NHL game as well. He’s entering the final year of his entry-level contract and will have a great opportunity to make the team out of training camp as a 3rd pairing defenseman that can help out on the PP. Bahl, age 22, is a 6’6”, 229 lbs. defensive-minded player that plays a real physical game. He has already played in 24 NHL games across the past 2 seasons and also seems to have a chance to earn a spot on New Jersey’s roster out of training camp. He doesn’t offer the high-end upside of a Hughes or Nemec, or the offensive skills of Walsh, but his physical presence could help him carve out a role at the NHL level. He’s also entering the final season of his entry-level contract and will be looking to prove he’s a full-time NHL player. Nikita Okhotiuk, age 21, is another physical defenseman similar to Bahl. Also, a left-handed shot, he’s not afraid to throw his 6’1”, 194 lbs. frame around or to drop the gloves. He played in 5 games for New Jersey last season so he also has had a taste of the NHL. I think Bahl has a bit more of a chance of playing with New Jersey this season, but I wouldn’t count out Okhotiuk should he have a great training camp. His upside is also limited but he does have the makings of a solid 3rd pairing defenseman.
Before I move on to the prospects outside of the AHL, I should touch on 2 other Utica defensemen, Michael Vukojevic and Jeremy Groleau. Vukojevic, age 21, is a left-handed shooting defenseman with size at 6’3”, 212 lbs. that has been solid for Utica in a lesser role than Walsh, Bahl, and Okhotiuk. He was a leader for Kitchener back in his OHL days, has shown he can provide some secondary scoring at even strength in the AHL, and can play a physical game. We should learn more about his potential when he hopefully takes on a larger role for Utica this season. I wouldn’t count him out just yet. Groleau, age 22, is another left-handed defenseman with size at 6’3”, 201 lbs. He turns 23 in October and is entering the final season of his entry-level contract. He’s been used mostly in a depth role at the AHL level in his career and I don’t see him having a future in the NHL.
The 2 most intriguing prospects in this group outside of North American professional hockey include Shakir Mukhamadullin and Seamus Casey. Both of these players are legitimate NHL prospects that are worth keeping an eye out for. Mukhamdullin, age 20, is a 6’4”, 194 lbs. defender that moves well, has some untapped offensive potential due to his puck skills, and can play a physical game. He has a lot of experience for the Russian junior teams at the international level and already has 100 regular season KHL games under his belt. The Devils signed him to his entry-level contract last year and he even got into 3 playoff games for Utica at the end of the season. The plan was for him to play for Utica this upcoming season but that has since changed and he will be back with Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the KHL. He’s a project with top 4 potential so they can afford to take their time with his development. Hopefully he can continue to progress at a good pace in the KHL. One area I want to see him improve is his overall awareness and hockey IQ as he is prone to making bad errors at times. Casey, age 18, a right-handed defenseman, is a potential 2nd round steal for New Jersey from this past draft. He’s small, generously listed at 5’10”, 174 lbs. but is great with the puck on his stick, playing in transition due to his skating, and can be a PP quarterback. He’ll be heading to the University of Michigan where he will look to continue to improve his defensive game, especially defending entries and playing against physically stronger opposition. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him turn professional after 2 years of college hockey.
Finally, we get to the rest of the defensive prospects. There is the remaining NCAA group which includes Case McCarthy, Ethan Edwards, Viktor Hurtig, and Charlie Leddy. McCarthy, age 21, is a right-handed shot that is entering his senior season as an alternate captain for Boston University. He earned a place on the top pairing as a junior and seems poised to take a big step this upcoming season and earn a contract with New Jersey. I see him at best as a 3rd pairing/depth defenseman should he reach the NHL level. Edwards, age 20, completes the trio of Devils’ prospects on Michigan. A left-handed shot, he had a successful freshman season last year where he went from a 4-way battle for the 3rd pair, to winning that role full-time as the season progressed. He is a legitimate NHL prospect and we should learn more about him as he takes another step for Michigan this upcoming season. Hurtig, age 20, will be entering his freshman season for Michigan State this upcoming season. A 6’6”, 190 lbs., right-handed shot, Hurtig has spent the past few seasons playing at the U20 level in Sweden. Making the jump to college hockey will give us a better idea of how much he has progressed over the past few seasons. As of right now, it seems he’s unlikely to make the NHL level based on what he’s shown in Sweden. Then there is Leddy, age 18, who is another right-handed shooting defenseman that the Devils added in the most recent draft to improve their depth. Like Casey, he’s another USNTDP product, except he will be playing college hockey for Boston College. It seems that his NHL potential would be that as a shutdown defenseman should he improve his skating and ability to play a physical game with smart body positioning. We’ll have to see how he develops over the next 2-3 seasons at BC.
Over in Europe, the remaining defensive prospects are Topias Vilen, Yegor Zaitsev, Daniil Misyul, Daniil Orlov, and Artem Barabosha. Vilen, age 19, is a left-handed shooting defenseman that has already signed with New Jersey. He’s been a full-time player for Pelicans in Liiga over in Finland for the past 2 seasons thanks to his sound defensive game and motor. He profiles as a shutdown defenseman at the NHL level should he reach his potential.
Zaitsev, age 24, has developed into a solid KHL defenseman that should have a solid career in European hockey. At this point, it doesn’t seem like he has much NHL potential, and considering he will turn 25 in May, isn’t much of a prospect anymore. Misyul, age 21, is a 6’3”, 187 lbs., left-handed shooting defenseman. He’s established himself for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl over the past 3 seasons and has one more season left on his contract. He could be an interesting option to bring over to Utica after this season if the Devils choose to sign him. Orlov, age 18, is an interesting left-handed shooting defenseman that the Devils added in the most recent draft. He’s produced offense at a solid rate in the MHL, Russia’s top junior league, and will be making the jump to Spartak Moscow of the KHL next season after signing a contract that takes him through the 2025-26 season. It’s hard to gauge his NHL potential at the moment, but the Devils can afford to see how the next few seasons work out for him in the KHL. Finally, Barabosha, age 18, another recent draft pick, was also seemingly targeted by the Devils to help with the right-handed defenseman depth in the organization. He’s another player with plenty of MHL experience but still is yet to make the jump to the KHL where it will be easier to gauge his NHL potential. He’s another project pick that the Devils will hope works out.
If there is one area of the prospect pool that I am slightly concerned about, it’s the goaltenders. The Devils don’t have a top prospect among this group but I do think they’ve done well to draft enough goaltenders that could have NHL potential. They’ve given themselves plenty of chances by drafting a goaltender in 8 straight drafts. That goes back to selecting Mackenzie Blackwood (2015) who has since gone on to graduate to the NHL with mixed results. It also includes Evan Cormier (2016) and Gilles Senn (2017), neither of whom worked out.
In terms of current goaltending prospects, the Devils have Akira Schmid (2018), Cole Brady (2019), Nico Daws (2020), Jakub Malek (2021), and pick Tyler Brennan (2022). Daws and Schmid are the closest to helping out in New Jersey after they both had solid rookie seasons with Utica in the AHL last year. Daws, 21 years old, appeared in 21 games for the Comets with a 14-4-2 record, 2.54 GAA, .916 SV%, 12 Quality Starts (57.14%), and 7.48 Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA). Schmid, 22 years old, appeared in 38 games with the Comets with a 22-8-5 record, 2.60 GAA, .911 SV%, 22 Quality Starts (64.71%), and 8.56 GSAA. Of course, the goaltending crisis in New Jersey last season ended up affecting both of these prospects as they were thrown into the fire at the NHL level before they were ready. Daws ended up playing in 25 games for the Devils with a 10-11-1 record, 3.11 GAA, .893 SV%, 7 Quality Starts (30.4%), and -8.6 GSAA. Schmid ended up playing in 6 games with a 0-4-0 record, 4.83 GAA, and .833 SV%. Both of these goaltenders seem to be trending in the right direction towards having a future in the NHL, but they’ll need to prove that they can build off of their strong rookie seasons in the AHL.
Looking over to Europe, we have Jakub Malek, age 20, who has played well over the past 2 seasons for VHK Vsetin in the Czech 2nd division. Last year, he was particularly impressive, appearing in 31 games with a 22-6-0-3 record, 1.95 GAA, .932 SV%, 22 Quality Starts (70.97%), and 20.89 GSAA. He nearly helped his team win promotion with a strong playoff campaign that saw him play in 13 games with a 7-4 record, 1.75 GAA, and .933 SV%. It’s great to see him dominate at a professional level, albeit it being a 2nd tier league, at that age. We will learn a lot about his future NHL chances this upcoming season as he has transferred to Ilves in Liiga (Finland). He’s a real wildcard with upside for the Devils so it will be interesting to track his progress.
Moving on to the collegiate ranks there is Cole Brady, age 21, who has had a bit of a rough start to his NCAA career. In 2 seasons with Arizona State University, Brady appeared in 25 games with an 8-11-2 record, 3.60 GAA, and .905 SV%. He’s looking to get back on track with a fresh start with the University of Massachusetts as a junior this upcoming season. He’ll certainly be playing with a better defense in front of him so hopefully that, along with staying healthy, will help him get back on track.
Finally, we have the recently drafted Tyler Brennan who plays for Prince George in the WHL. Brennan, age 18, appeared in 39 games last year with an 11-25-2 record, 3.58 GAA, .899 SV%, and 1.31 GSAA. He was very busy for Prince George, facing an average of 35.26 shots per game, behind a struggling defense. It’s encouraging to see him essentially put up league-average numbers in his draft year despite playing for a team that lacked defensive structure. It seems the scouting community sees him as having real NHL potential with the question being whether that is as a starter or backup. Regardless, it’s good to see the Devils giving themselves another chance when it comes to drafting and developing a goaltender. I wouldn’t say goaltending is a position of strength in the prospect pool, but these prospects at least seem to be legitimate NHL prospects for the most part.
That is a lot of words that I hope provide an overview of the Devils’ prospect pool. To sum it up, they have exciting forward prospects in Alexander Holtz and Arseni Gritsyuk, intriguing defensive options in Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec, and a group of goaltenders that all of a shot of reaching the NHL. While some of the other prospects in this pool may profile as bottom 6 forwards or 3rd pairing defenseman, it’s worth noting that the overall quality of this pool is strong. It’s important to remember that the Devils’ NHL roster already has Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Dawson Mercer up front as young forwards that are a part of the core. You could also perhaps add Jesper Boqvist to that mix. On defense, you have Ty Smith, who if he gets back on track, is another young player that’s already part of the core. I think the Devils prospect pool is in a great place with that young core already set in New Jersey and the high-end prospects they do have between Holtz, Gritsyuk, Hughes, and Nemec. The amount of players that could develop into useful depth options is a real plus.
What is your opinion on the state of the Devils’ prospect pool? Are you satisfied with the players that have been added to this group from the 2022 NHL Draft? What are your thoughts on the development of these prospects? Which players are you expecting to make an impact at the NHL level? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!