The state of New Jersey has a hockey community. Not one that churns out players at all levels like Minnesota or Michigan or Massachusetts. However, it is a decent bet that in most draft years, there is someone from the Garden State to pay attention when getting picked. It does help that New Jersey does have two well known youth programs with New Jersey Rockets and North Jersey Avalanche. The United States National Team Developmental Program has certainly taken notice of New Jersey. The U-17 team includes Woodcliff Lake’s Arem Minnetian and Old Tappan’s Salvatore Guzzo. This year’s U-18 team includes Long Valley’s Tyler Muszelik and the subject of today’s profile: the Bridgewater-born Devin Kaplan.
Who is Devin Kaplan?
Per his Elite Prospects profile, Devin Kaplan was born on January 10, 2004 out of Bridgewater, New Jersey. He is listed as a right winger and he has a right handed shot. He is measured at 6’3” and 198 pounds. Kaplan is certainly not a small forward. Enter common statement about adding muscle that applies to the majority of prospects here; but he can be considered Big. As stated earlier, Kaplan was a member of this year’s USNTDP Under 18 team. The next step for Kaplan is college. He is committed to joining Boston University for the 2022-23 season.
Kaplan went through the North Jersey Avalanche before getting the invite to join the USNTDP Under 17 team in 2020-21. He stuck with the program through that season. He appeared in 46 games for the U-17s, wherein he put up 13 goals and 26 assists to go with 52 penalty minutes. Of those 46 games, 30 appearances were with the USHL team where he put up 6 goals, 18 assists, and 32 PIM. This means in his 16 non-USHL games, he scored 7 goals and 8 assists. All very respectable numbers; his 39 points for the season placed him fourth on the U-17 team in scoring. Kaplan even did well enough to get two games with the Under 18 team, wherein he scored a goal and put up two assists. It was a good season for Kaplan.
In 2021-22, Kaplan was with the Under 18 team full-time. He played in 53 games for the program, with 22 of those being in the USHL. His USHL time was quite productive with eight goals, ten assists, and 36 PIM. In the other 31 games, he put up five goals and 15 assists to go with 23 PIM. My understanding was that Kaplan played in the bottom six, which helped contribute to his lower point totals. The gap was quite large between seventh and eighth in scoring for the 2021-22 USNTDP (7th place Hutson had 63 points, 8th place Cole Spicer had 39). Kaplan finished ninth with his 38 points. The main objective of the program is to prepare for the World Under 18 Championships. While the team’s goal of Gold fell short (they earned Silver), Kaplan certainly contributed with a goal and five assists in six games. And, perhaps more impressively given his penalty totals, no penalties in the tournament.
His production compared to his USNTDP teammates per Pick224 is modest. Kaplan put up a primary point per game rate of 0.5, which is not all that impressive. His USHL production was more encouraging given his 0.727 per game rate ranked right between Adam Ingram and 10 games of Cruz Lucius. What is not as encouraging is how many shots he is listed for. Kaplan apparently took just 27 shots in the USHL and 39 in all USNTDP games per Pick224, which is oddly missing a USNTDP game (31 played, not 30 per Pick224) and a shot (USA Hockey has him at 67 total shots). That is just a bit over a shot per game, which is not bad but you would like to see more from a prospective pro forward. Then again, he was not necessarily in the lineup playing alongside Cooley, Nazar, Howard, or Gauthier. If he was asked to play a depth role, then that will undoubtedly impact his production.
Again, Kaplan’s next step is college. Kaplan made his BU commitment back in August 2018, which seems crazy as he was just 14, but that’s how it goes in college in order to avoid major junior teams. By the way, should Kaplan decide to go to the CHL instead of NCAA, then Kitchener of the OHL has his rights from the 2020 OHL Priority Selection draft. I doubt that will be the case as Devin’s older brothers also went through college, and there have been no rumblings him about going to the O. I would expect college will be where Kaplan fully hones his game and, hopefully, in a higher spot in the lineup than what he served with the USNTDP.
Where is Devin Kaplan Ranked?
Kaplan’s rankings are a bit all over the place. Some have him in their top 100. Others do not. One thing is for sure is that he will be a Day 2 pick if and when he is selected in Montreal.
- #61 North American skaters - NHL Central Scouting (Final Ranking)
- #61 - Elite Prospects (May ranking)
- N/A - Craig Button, TSN (May 10, 2022 ranking)
- #69 - Bob McKenzie, TSN (June 28, 2022, final ranking)
- #60 - FC Hockey (Final ranking)
- #36 - Smaht Scouting (Final ranking)
- #51 - Will Scouch (April ranking)
- #61 - Recruit Scouting (Final ranking)
- #115 - Draft Prospects Hockey (Final ranking, number from EP profile)
- #96 - The Hockey Writers - Peter Baracchini (June 28, 2022, final ranking)
- N/A - The Hockey Writers - Matthew Zator (April 5, 2022 ranking)
- #86 - The Hockey Writers - Andrew Forbes (March 22, 2022 ranking)
- #67 - The Athletic - Corey Pronman (May 31, 2022 ranking - $)
- #74 - The Athletic - Scott Wheeler (June 6, 2022 ranking - $)
Clearly, the people at Smaht Scouting - particularly, Austin Garrett - really likes Kaplan. Enough to rank him in the high end of the second round. Everyone else tagged him towards the end of the second round, planted him in the third round, or not at all. Of note, Scouch had one of the bigger drop offs as he placed him 30th in his December ranking. Then again, Scouch’s tier for that ranking is “Just a Big Ol’ Whack of Interesting Players,” and he himself begins the section with “Here’s where things go awry and I start to just shrug my shoulders and pray to the hockey gods.” So that may not be that big of a drop as it may seem. Draft Prospects Hockey was stricter, having Kaplan at 79th in their Spring rankings and then into the triple-digits in their Final rankings. A handful of his rankings have been improvements, such as CSS bumping him a few spots to 61st among North American prospects. Still, this is all indicative of someone getting picked on July 8 and not July 7.
What Others Say About Devin Kaplan
As Kaplan played deeper in the lineup for the USNTDP and certainly did not light it up with the U-18s, he has not received as much attention as the others on this year’s national team. That said, there is enough to get a sense of what Kaplan is about and what the hope would be for the prospect.
As Smaht Scouting ranked Kaplan incredibly high in their final rankings, it is fair to think they think highly of him. Which they do. Here is Austin Garrett’s profile of Kaplan at Smaht Scouting. Before he breaks down Kaplan’s game from his own observations, Garrett proclaims he could out perform where he is picked. A bold claim. Garrett especially loved what he saw out of Kaplan in terms of transitioning the puck to offensive situations:
Devin Kaplan’s strength is his transition game. He has very good small area puck handling ability and good edges to maneuver through the neutral zone. He was the catalyst for transition on the [Rutger] McGroarty/[Charlie] Stramel line for the games that I tracked which included two games against Big 10 NCAA teams and two USHL games. During those games he was a part of 51% of all successful transitions for his line which is an astounding percentage of involvement. Even crazier: he was successful on almost 83% of those transitions. It is rare for Devin Kaplan to have an opportunity to enter/exit the zone and for the USNTDP to not do it with possession.
And Garrett also points out that the 6’3”, near-200 pound winger can forecheck:
He has the ability to forecheck hard as the F1, is smart on the wall as the F2, and possesses the brain and the hand-eye coordination to really excel as an F3 forechecker as well. His speed allows him to suffocate space and he’s not afraid to use his size and physicality to separate players off the puck.
And Garrett has positive things to say about Kaplan defending plays, noting that he did kill penalties for the USNTDP - which is a good sign that he knows what to do when the opposition has the puck:
As a winger Kaplan shows exceptional awareness and closing speed to mitigate pressure from the points in the defensive zone. He scans constantly and earned a role as a penalty kill defender as well on the USNTDP. Rarely is he caught out of position and has a very good motor in puck pursuit and backchecking. More than a couple of times he’s chased people down after being caught deep in the offensive zone in my viewings.
Clearly, Garrett is a big fan of Kaplan. This is not to say he does not have any criticism of the player. Garrett does think that Kaplan’s shot needs work. Namely with its accuracy, its power, and just its general usage. The latter is backed up by his middling shot count from available information. Garrett also thinks Kaplan can stand to be more aggressive and keep using his stick first in physical situations as that has yielded more success for Kaplan when it came to winning picks. Lastly, his own projection sees Kaplan more of a middle-six winger who can facilitate play. Which is nice to have but does speak to a potential limit in his upside.
Still, Garrett boldly states that if Kaplan can develop a shot, then he could be “a top 10-15 player in a redraft in 5 years.” Needless to say, he pushed hard for that 36th overall ranking. In fact, he even wrote that he would rank him higher if he could. Find yourself someone who appreciates you like Garrett appreciated Kaplan’s prospects as a pro hockey player.
Alas, it is only Garrett who comes away this bullish about Kaplan. A more measured take comes from FC Hockey. At the tail end of this post about the fifth day at the World Under-18 Championships (Aside: Logan Cooley crushed it at this tourney), there is a short section focusing on Kaplan’s performance and related observations by Douglas Larson. Here is what he wrote about Kaplan:
Devin Kaplan has a rare combination of size, speed, and skill that makes him a real interesting prospect. I think he’s equally got all three of those incorporated in his game, and I wouldn’t say one stands out to me above the rest. He has quick feet and is surprisingly very mobile on the ice for his size. Kaplan had flashes where he could make a mover or two on a defender with his skating along with his polished set of hands. He wasn’t much of a play-driver on the ice but played a part in his line’s success. With his big frame, he protects the puck well and was never easy to get it from either. Kaplan’s playmaking wasn’t the best, as he had numerous passes that were off target that eventually ended up on the oppositions stick. However, he also had some impressive passes that I really wouldn’t expect out of him and his average at best skill. While Kaplan’s skating looked good, he really wasn’t able to do much off the rush as it was more in the zone play where he looked his best. I think using his body to be more physical and taking care of his own zone a little better are two things that he could work on.
Larson’s general conclusion is that he thinks Kaplan could be a third-line winger with some work. A prospect with some good tools but limited upside overall and amid each area. Again, Larson noted that he could handle the puck but did not move them well. He showed “average at best” skill. While he moved well, it did not lead to much success. While he is big, he could stand to use it more. In total, this is a player who has to learn to do more with what he has. This, again, lines up with the rankings he has (or has not) received. It also lines up with the kind of role he apparently served on the USNTDP. Given this was written towards the end of the tourney and the USNTDP campaign for 2021-22, I see this more of a summary of his game from the season as opposed to an observation just from one day or even the whole World U-18 tournament. I could be mistaken in reading into that, though.
Of course, not all who have observed him fully agree with what they have seen. Back in February, Zach Szwears at DobberProspects put up this set of observations. He (further) confirms that Kaplan was primarily on the third line as well as participating on special teams. These parts of it stuck out to me:
Kaplan has all the tools to become a reliable two-way winger for any NHL team that takes a chance on him. The major flaws in Kaplan’s game, however, are his poor skating and slow pace. Kaplan has been the perfect complementary winger for the USNTDP this year. He relies on his strong hockey sense to find the soft areas of the ice and exploit them before the opposition realizes he’s open. At times, he compensates for his lack of foot speed by positioning himself to be the trailer on an offensive fast break.
When Kaplan gains possession of the puck and looks to transition to offence, he primarily resorts to a transition pass rather than transitioning the puck himself, due to his underwhelming skating. This severely limits his transition game and allows the opposition to predict a transition pass when the puck is on his stick. Overall, if Kaplan can improve his skating, he has the potential to become a jack of all trades middle-six winger in the NHL
I will agree with Szweras that if Kaplan’s skating is a detriment, then that will hold him back from reaching the next level. In this day and age of the NHL - and the NHL of a few years from now - the expectation is that every skater is capable of contributing in all three zones. I am surprised he was this harsh on the skating since Garrett seemed to think it was an asset and Larson’s observations thought it was fine although Kaplan was not so effective in rush plays. I am never going to be against any prospect looking to refine their skating mechanics. It can only help him. However, I am unsure as to whether it is necessarily the main problem given the difference in opinions. Of course, when everyone sees the player at different times, then there will be a difference.
A Little Video
There is a little video out there about Devin Kaplan. This one clip is just a short one where he forechecks, wins a puck, gets to the slot, and re-directs in a shot by Lane Hutson for a goal.
It is the kind of play that I can already foresee some of the People Who Matter running to the comments to say, “THAT. That is what the Devils need. Let me tell you about how soft (skilled player) is and that this young man is so much better and...” so on for like a paragraph. It is a good clip in that it shows Kaplan using his size, shows that he can chase down and win a puck on a forecheck, shows that keep a play going, and shows he can get to the high-traffic areas when the play moves up high. That is good. However, I also see that Rutger McGroarty was the one to win the puck a second time after Kaplan’s pass being blocked led to a battle in the corner. He is the one who moved the puck to Hutson and as much as I know Kaplan intentionally deflected it, it reflects well on Hutson. Who is quite good in spite of his very small frame. Still, I think that short clip shows what I think Kaplan could be at his best.
There is not a lot of other video of Kaplan doing his thing on the ice for the USNTDP. There is this interview with a few highlights intercut. You can see among them that he set up next to the net in a 1-3-1 power play set-up. You can see him carry a puck in and go for a wraparound. You can see him finish some passes. It is nice. He also admits supporting Our Hated Rivals. But if we learned anything from Stefan Matteau, then a draft pick can change that. Although, I do not think that alone warrants a selection.
An Opinion of Sorts
We have a player who is large, did not play in a particularly prime position on a team filled with talented players, has some interesting tools, and could be useful at the NHL level if a certain level of upside is met. In other words: A project. Devin Kaplan is a project of a prospect. He is someone who will need the time in college to develop his game further. He is someone that whoever takes him will have to be patient in addition to providing guidance with respect to skating, attacking, and defending. Appropriately, he is going to Boston University. That is three seasons of a higher level of competition where he can do just that. Four if the team can convince him to sign after a senior season. Then, one has to hope he is closer to upside where he can prove that in the AHL and maybe work his way to the NHL from there. This is a common path for many project prospects.
It also has to be accepted that hitting their perceived potential is also not that common. I am still a little unclear on what the main issue is other than that he has potential and a ways to go to meet it. Is it the shot? Perhaps. Is it the skating? According to some. Is putting it all together? Maybe that is the one. Time will help; but how an organization guides him will be crucial in terms of him achieving his potential. I do not think it will be as much as Garrett of Smaht Scouting thinks where Kaplan ends up being one of the best players in the draft. I do think the potential of Kaplan being a useful bottom-six winger that can help on special teams, play in tight spaces, and chip in multiple ways is possible. How he does at BU and how he is guided will go a long way to meeting that.
Would I want the Devils to take him? Only from the third round and onward. I think Kaplan’s rankings from the various people and services are in a range where teams just start going their own way instead of following a general consensus. Could he be taken in the second round? Sure, but only later after the more tantalizing talents are taken. Certainly not at 37th overall considering who could and would be available then. Could he be had beyond the third round? Possibly, although 6’3” with a USNTDP pedigree going to a good hockey school is going to be hard to pass on at the point of the draft where everyone is a long shot of sorts. I think the early part of the third round is an appropriate time for the Devils to consider a player like Devin Kaplan. The Devils have been fine with letting players develop at their own pace in college. Adding a right winger to the prospect pool for a longer development cycle would be a plus as the Devils do not have any designated RWs unsigned on their reserve list outside of the seemingly unretired Nikita Popugayev. While someone who may project out to be a third or fourth line winger is not exactly ambitious, getting those players through the draft is a lot cheaper than free agency.
Would I be mad if the Devils passed up on him? Not really as I think other project-like prospects would be available from the third round and onward. But if the Devils picked him in the third round, then I think that would be just fine. I think Devin Kaplan does have a future in pro hockey. I just hope he is able to reach his potential at Boston University with the guidance of whomever picks him in July.
Devin Kaplan may be the best prospect to be from the Garden State in 2022. I think he is a Day 2 selection, right around the third round. I would be fine with the Devils taking a chance on him and guiding him through college. Now I want to know what you think. What do you think of Kaplan’s season? What did you like reading about him? What did you not like reading about him? Do you think he will hit his projection of being a middle to bottom six winger and, if not, what do you think he needs to do to reach it? Would you want the Devils to take him? If so, when? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Kaplan in the comments. Thank you for reading.