The New Jersey Devils currently have five goaltending prospects in their system. This includes the Utica Comets (AHL) duo of Nico Daws and Akira Schmid who have already had a taste of the NHL with the Devils. It also includes 2019 5th round pick Cole Brady, 2021 4th round pick Jakub Malek, and 2022 4th round pick Tyler Brennan. Brady is one of the Devils’ NCAA prospects, Malek has professional experience in Europe, and Brennan is plying his trade in the WHL. In today’s post, I want to focus on Brady and Malek, who are both set to join new teams for the 2022-23 season. I’m going to take a look at how their development is coming along and how these moves could impact their futures.
Cole Brady Transfers to UMass
As you can see from his career stats, Cole Brady is a goaltender that has progressed from the junior A ranks in Canada through the top two levels of junior hockey in the United States before playing college hockey.
The Devils drafted him in the 5th round of the 2019 Draft with the 127th overall selection. This came after Brady had a solid season with the Janesville Jets in the 2nd-tier North American Hockey League (NAHL). He would then progress to the top-tier United States Hockey League (USHL) with the Fargo Force for his draft+1 season in 2019-20 where he found more success.
Brady would join Arizona State University for the next two seasons but would find limited success when healthy. Still, he was close to an average goaltender in the Big 10 despite ASU playing an all-road schedule due to the pandemic. Overall, as a freshman in 2020-21, he appeared in 13 games with a 3-5-2 record, 3.31 GAA, and .910 SV% with 50.00% of his starts qualifying as Quality Starts (QS). Unfortunately for Brady, he wasn’t able to build upon his freshman season. As a sophomore, last season he appeared in 12 games with a 5-6-0 record, 3.89 GAA, .900 SV%, and saw his QS% dip to 45.45%. He played in 7 games through November 12 with a .903 SV% but then played in just 5 games the rest of the season with an .894 SV%. Relegated to a backup role, he made just a single appearance in November, 2 appearances in December, and 3 appearances in January, with the last of those coming on January 7. As a result, it’s no surprise he desired to seek a transfer for regular playing time.
The good news is Brady seems to have landed himself an excellent opportunity with the University of Massachusetts. UMass has been a top 3 team in Hockey East over the past 4 seasons and has posted a winning percentage above .600 during each of those seasons. They won the Hockey East Championship the past 2 seasons and notably won the NCAA Championship in 2021. Besides joining a strong program, Brady has a real chance to play for UMass. Matt Murray who was the starter for much of the past 5 seasons has graduated and turned professional with the Texas Stars of the AHL.
The only other goaltenders to play for UMass last season were Luke Pavicich and Henry Graham. Pavicich, appeared in 4 games last season with a 1-1-0 record, 1.62 GAA, and .933 SV% as a 19-year-old freshman. Before that, he had a solid season in 2020-21 with Kenai River in the NAHL where he posted a .919 SV% in 36 regular season games. Graham appears to be an emergency goaltender for UMass, as he just turned 22 years old and has appeared in 1 game over 2 seasons with the program.
This leaves Brady set to compete for playing time with Pavichich and Colin Purcell. Purcell is 20 years old and is entering his freshman season with UMass. He played in just 7 games for Penticton in the BCHL last season with a 4-2-0 record, 2.55 GAA, and .889 SV%. Before that, he spent 2 seasons with Youngstown in the USHL where he appeared in 32 games with a 7-17-5 record, 4.50 GAA, and .862 SV%. I should note that 17-year-old Czech prospect Michael Hrabal has committed to UMass but he wouldn’t factor into Brady’s playing time until the 2023-24 season at the earliest.
It seems that Brady has the inside track to the #1 spot over Pavicich and Purcell. He is more experienced with 25 NCAA games under his belt compared to Pavicich (4) and Purcell (0). I have to think that was a big factor in UMass recruiting Brady as they didn’t want to go into the season with a goaltender that has little to no NCAA experience. Brady is also a more regarded prospect given that he’s been drafted and has played well in a top-tier junior league before his collegiate career. Pavicich had only played at the junior A level in Canada in the OJHL and the 2nd-tier NAHL in the United States before joining UMass. Purcell does have some USHL experience but without much success. He also had a cameo with the USNTDP but it didn’t go well for him. Brady should be able to grab the starting job right from the beginning of the season for UMass. This is a golden opportunity for Brady to showcase how he can perform at this level. We should learn a lot about where he is at in his development right now and what his chances of turning into an NHL goaltender are. He’s likely to spend the next 2 seasons proving himself with UMass which is fine as the Devils hold his rights until August 15, 2024. I’m looking forward to how he performs with a strong program such as UMass going forward.
Jakub Malek Signs with Ilves
The other goaltending prospect joining a new team this offseason is Jakub Malek, a 4th-round pick at 100th overall in the 2021 Draft. Malek was drafted by the Devils as an overager after a 2020-21 season that saw him break through into professional hockey in the Czech 2nd division. As you can see from his stats below, he has been exceptional at the U20 and professional level in the Czech 2nd-tiers.
Last season, Malek excelled as a 19-year-old posting a 22-9 record, 1.95 GAA, and .932 SV% which led all regular goaltenders. He posted a great 70.97 QS% and had a 20.89 Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA). His .932 SV% ranks 3rd all-time in the Czech 2nd division among U20 goaltenders (minimum 20 GP). He nearly helped his team to promotion to the top division by playing in 13 playoff games with a 7-4 record, 1.75 GAA, and .933 SV%. This success has led to Malek seeking out a higher level to play in so he could continue his development as he tries to progress to an NHL career. For this, he decided to make the move to Ilves in Finland’s top division, Liiga.
Ilves is one of the better teams in Finland, coming off of a 3rd place finish in both the Liiga regular season and playoffs last year. Judging by SV%, it seems they received solid but unspectacular goaltending between the tandem of Marek Langhamer and Vadim Zherenko last year. Langhamer’s .908 SV% ranked 14th among 32 qualified goaltenders while Zherenko’s .902 SV% ranked 17th. Langhmaer, a former Arizona Coyotes prospect, appeared in 26 regular season games with a 14-6-5 record, 2.56 GAA, and .908 SV%. He was stellar for Ilves in the playoffs, appearing in 13 games with a 6-7 record, 1.72 GAA, and .933 SV%. The 28-year-old is entering the final season of his contract with Ilves. Zherenko, a current St. Louis Blues prospect who has already signed his entry-level contract, appeared in 30 regular season games last year with Ilves with an 11-8-11 record, 2.67 GAA, and .902 SV%. The 21-year-old made just 2 appearances in the playoffs with a .882 SV%. He is entering the final season of his contract with Ilves as well.
Malek is entering this situation as the 3rd goaltender on the depth chart but considering neither Langhamer nor Zherenko were more than middle-of-the-pack goaltenders last year, there is an opportunity for him to win the backup spot and perhaps the starter’s role eventually. With a veteran goaltender in Langhamer entering the final season of his contract, the team could be quick to move on should he not perform up to expectations. Malek’s main competition for playing time seems to be Zherenko since they are at similar points in their development. Malek and Zherenko could be battling it out for a spot on the roster with the other ending up with KOOVEE, a team that Ilves has an affiliation with in Mestis, the Finnish 2nd-tier.
I think some time in Mestis could be a good thing for Malek at this point in his career. Sure it is another 2nd division league but it still represents a big step up from the Czech 2nd division. It would give him a chance to get experience in Finland without the pressure of playing for a top team in the top tier right away. Considering Malek signed a two-year deal with an option for a third year, then I think Ilves wouldn’t mind having Malek spend some time with KOOVEE before he makes a serious push to be the #1 with Ilves.
Regardless of whether he starts in Liiga or goes down a division to Mestis, I expect us to learn a lot about Malek this season. We know he can dominate the 2nd division in his native country. Moving to Finland to play some of the best players in Europe in a quality league will be a good test to see where he is at in his development. The Devils hold his rights until June 1, 2025, so they can afford to be patient to see how his time with Ilves unfolds. I am encouraged to see him making this move and looking forward to seeing what the next few seasons have in store for him.
How do you view Cole Brady and Jakub Malek as prospects? Do you think these moves will help their development? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!