The 2022-23 NCAA season will see 10 New Jersey Devils compete. This group features 3 forwards, 6 defensemen, and a goaltender spread out across the Big Ten, Hockey East, and Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA). This group is highlighted by defenseman Luke Hughes for the University of Michigan. This post will take a look at the prospects playing college hockey and what the upcoming season could hold for them.
The Big Ten has 4 Devils prospects across Michigan and Michigan State. Defensemen Luke Hughes, Ethan Edwards, and Seamus Casey will suit up for Michigan while defenseman Viktor Hurtig will play for Michigan State.
Before discussing Hughes, Edwards, and Casey, it’s worth noting that Michigan will see some turnover on their blue line this season. Highly regarded prospect Owen Power has already moved on to sign and play for the Buffalo Sabres and captain Nick Blankenburg has graduated and signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Jack Summers who has been a depth defender the past 4 seasons has also graduated. There are a few returning defenders in Keaton Pehrson, Jay Keranen, and Steve Holtz but they figure to be used as depth. Joining Casey as new additions to the blue line are Luca Fantilli, John Druskinis, and Brendan Miles. Fantilli figures to provide the most competition for playing time despite being an undersized defenseman that turns 20 years old at the end of December. He has spent the past 2 seasons with the acclaimed Chicago Steel team in the United States Hockey League (USHL) and was captain of the team last season. Druskinis is another USHL product who had 8 points and 159 penalty minutes in 53 games last season for the Tri-City Storm. Miles is a player that has developed at a step below the USHL in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) over the past 2 seasons. Brandon Naurato is taking over as Head Coach for Michigan and it will be interesting to see how he deploys these players.
Luke Hughes, the 4th overall selection in the 2021 draft, is set to return to Michigan for his sophomore season. Last year, he led all NCAA defensemen in goals and points by posting 17 goals and 22 assists for 39 points in 41 games. His offensive production and consistency held up well historically as he had the 3rd most points (39) and points per game rate (0.95) among draft+1 year defenders in NCAA history (minimum 40 GP). He accomplished this while playing on the right side of the 2nd pairing with sophomore Jacob Truscott. Right now he’s been anchoring the left side of the top pair for the United States team at the U20 World Junior Championship. Given his versatility to effectively play on either side, his elite transition game, and diverse offensive skills, Hughes should be in line for a big step up in responsibility this season. I’m looking forward to seeing how his defensive game improves as a sophomore now that he has had more time to bulk up and experience this level. He should be a Hobey Baker candidate and make his case for the NHL after this season.
Ethan Edwards also figures to take a step up for Michigan this season. The 4th-round pick from the 2020 draft had a solid freshman season last year for Michigan with 3 goals and 8 assists for 11 points in 36 games. He started last season as one of four defenders vying for a spot on the 3rd pair. He eventually would solidify his spot on the left side of that pairing and grew more comfortable as the season went on. He even stepped up to a temporary top pair role in February when the team was short-handed. The sophomore seems to have a real shot to move up to the 2nd pair for this season with the departures of Power and Blankenburg. I would also expect to see him get some time on special teams, especially the PK.
Seamus Casey, the Devils 2nd-round pick from the 2022 draft, is a highly regarded offensive defenseman. The right-handed shooting defender is a big part of Michigan’s incoming freshman class after he posted 10 goals and 23 assists for 33 points in 48 USDP games with the US National Team Development Program U18 team last season. Casey also had 3 goals and 3 assists in 6 games for the US team at the U18 WJC in the spring as they won a Silver Medal. He should be able to win a spot in the starting lineup out of camp. I’d expect him to be utilized in a sheltered 3rd pair role with some PP time until his defensive game can catch up to his offensive game.
Michigan State used 9 defensemen last season and of those captain Dennis Cesana and Aiden Gallacher have departed. Cesana has turned pro while Gallacher has transferred to Northern Michigan. In a sense Michael Underwood, a transfer from Clarkson, replaces Gallacher. Considering the team went 12-23-1 last season, there should be a lot of opportunities to grab consistent playing time.
Viktor Hurtig, a 6th-round pick from the 2021 draft as an overager, spent last season playing junior hockey in Sweden for Vaxjo Lakers and Mora IK. Across 47 J20 Nationell games he had 6 goals and 11 assists for 17 points. The right-handed shooting defenseman played across both sides of the ice on the 2nd and 3rd pairs last season. He’ll bring size to Michigan State with his 6’6”, 192 lbs. frame and already turned 20 years old so he should be able to adjust to the physicality well. It’s tough to project just where he would fit into the lineup considering how unsettled Michigan State is at this time, but he’ll certainly be allowed to show what he can bring to the ice.
Hockey East features 5 Devils prospects across 5 different teams. This group includes a pair of seniors looking to earn an entry-level contract with New Jersey, 2 freshmen, and a goaltender that transferred schools this offseason.
First, we have the seniors, Boston University defenseman Case McCarthy and Providence forward Patrick Moynihan. A few weeks ago I wrote about their development to date and what the 2022-23 season could hold for them as they look to earn a contract with New Jersey. Essentially, the right-handed shooting defenseman, Case McCarthy, is back with Boston University as a key member of the team. Last year, he ended up playing himself on to the top pair alongside Alex Vlasic, who has since gone on to debut for the Chicago Blackhawks. McCarthy should resume his role on the right side of the top pair and play in all situations for BU while also bringing a physical presence. He will also serve as an assistant captain this season.
Patrick Moynihan, joined Providence as a player capable of playing either center or right wing. Throughout his collegiate career, he has found success on the wing on a full-time basis, playing on either of the top 2 lines. He’s also emerged as a threat on the PP due to his good shot and quick release. Moynihan earned the reputation as a high-character, role player coming up through the USNTDP it seems he will be relied upon heavily for Providence both offensively and defensively as well as for leadership. If he can find more consistency, then I think he should at least be a point-per-game player as a senior this season.
Charlie Leddy, a 4th round pick from the 2022 draft, is set to debut for Boston College this fall. The 6’1”, 185 lbs. right-handed shooting defenseman is another product of the USNTDP. He had 17 assists in 55 USDP games last season for the U18 team. He was also a member of the US team that won a Silver Medal at the U18 WJC last spring. He’s joining a BC team that is coming off of a down year that saw them post a 15-18-5 record. BC has already seen some turnover on their blue line as Drew Hellson turned pro, Jack St. Ivany graduated, and Tim Lovell transferred to ASU. Leddy should be able to challenge or slot in next to some of the returning defensemen such as Eamon Powell, Aidan Hreschuk, or Marshall Warren for playing time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him earn a top 4 role with BC eventually this season.
Samu Salminen, a 3rd round pick from the 2021 draft, is set to join UConn as a freshman this fall. He was previously set to join Denver but that move fell apart recently. He’s been a top player for Jokerit’s U20 team in the Finnish juniors for the past 3 seasons. He’s been the top line center for that time, playing big minutes in all situations, and served as captain last season where he had 19 goals and 29 assists for 48 points in 44 games. UConn is a program on the rise but a step down from Denver. The good news is that it means he should be able to challenge for a top 6 role right away, perhaps even the spot vacated by Artem Shlaine. We know the 19-year-old, 6’3”, 190 lbs. forward can dominate at the junior level so I’m looking forward to seeing how he adjusts to the collegiate level. He’s going to be challenged against players that are older and stronger and that have more experience at this level. We should get a much better idea of how his development is going this season. Hopefully, he locks up a top 6 spot, even if it’s on the wing, this season with UConn. I’m sure they were thrilled to add a player with his offensive skill late in the summer.
Now it’s time to get to the goaltender in this group of prospects. A few weeks ago I wrote about Cole Brady’s transfer from Arizona State to Massachusetts. His career has featured inconsistent results due to streaky play and health issues but Brady is ready to become the UMass starting goaltender as he enters his junior season. Throughout 2 seasons with ASU, Brady went 8-11-2 with a 3.60 GAA and .905 SV%. That experience gives him the inside track towards the starting job over Luke Pavicich and Colin Purcell. Pavicich has only played in 4 NCAA games and Purcell hasn’t made his debut yet. We should get a better idea of where Brady is at in his development as he moves to a top Hockey East team. This is a fantastic opportunity for him to show that he’s a legitimate NHL prospect.
Artem Shlaine, a 5th-round pick from the 2020 draft, is another prospect that transferred this offseason. Shlaine had spent the past 2 seasons with UConn but struggled to find consistency despite being given plenty of chances to center the first or second lines. With UConn, he appeared in 59 games with 8 goals and 18 assists for 26 points. It wasn’t until February of last season that he fell to the third line. He’ll now join a Northern Michigan team that went 20-16-1 last season. It will be interesting to see how moving from Hockey East to the CCHA affects his production. I have to imagine that he was sold on the chance to be a top 6 center for Northern Michigan for him to make the transfer. Considering 2 of their top scorers have graduated in Hank Crone and Hampus Eriksson, and a forward such as A.J. Vanderbeck played on the wing at times last season, so it seems Shlaine has a great opportunity ahead of him. He certainly needs to show more consistency and increase production this year. He’s solid in the faceoff circle but that will only take him so far. This season should be a good test for the incoming junior.
What are your expectations for Luke Hughes this season? Which other college prospects are your most excited about? Do you think Case McCarthy and Patrick Moynihan will impress enough this season to earn a contract with the New Jersey Devils? How do you think Samu Salminen and Viktor Hurtig, coming from European juniors, will adjust to college hockey? Do you think the transfer moves for Artem Shlaine and Cole Brady will pay off? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!