Last Friday, John revealed the 24 players that missed out on this year’s Top 25 Under 25 ranking. As we have in previous years, we will reveal which players made our Top 25 in sets of 5, beginning with this post on spots #25 to #21. This group includes three forwards, a defenseman, and a goaltender. One of the forwards is a former 1st round pick, another is entering his 3rd AHL season, while the third is set to make his NCAA debut this fall. The defenseman is a talented player out of the US National Team Development Program (USNTDP) and the goaltender has already made his debut for the New Jersey Devils. Let’s take a look at who these players are.
#25 - Samu Salminen - C - Age: 19 - 2022-23 Team: University of Connecticut (NCAA) - 2021 Rank: 25 - Elite Prospects Profile
Retaining his spot at #25 is the talented center, Samu Salminen. The 6’3”, 190 lbs. Finn was drafted by the Devils in the 3rd round of the 2021 Draft from Jokerit’s U20 team. Salminen established himself early on at the top level of junior hockey in his pre-draft season of 2019-20 when he posted 7 goals and 13 assists in 23 games for Jokerit U20. His draft season of 2020-21 would see him serve as an alternate captain and top-line center for Jokerit U20. He would go on to impress with 10 goals and 16 assists in 17 games. That 1.53 points per game rate would rank 5th among all players that played in at least 15 games that season. Salminen would also produce on the international level as Finland’s captain for their entry at the U18 World Junior Championship, as he posted 7 goals and 2 assists in 7 games. He also had the best face-off percentage in the tournament at 70.21%.
Last season, Salminen remained with Jokerit’s U20 team so he could retain eligibility to play college hockey in 2022-23. He captained Jokerit U20 and once again served as the top line center playing big minutes. He posted 19 goals and 29 assists in 44 games. Solid production but perhaps a bit underwhelming for a player of his caliber in their draft+1 season in their 3rd season of playing in that U20 league. However, I do recall reports that mentioned he was focused on improving his defensive game and becoming more well-rounded so that could explain the production. Regardless, he did win 60.45% of his face-offs and average 18:50 per game while leading his team in scoring so it’s hard to not be satisfied with his development.
Salminen was set to join the University of Denver, a top college program, for 2022-23 since being drafted but that has changed in recent weeks due to eligibility issues. He is now set to join the University of Connecticut where he should have a great opportunity to play big minutes and make an immediate impact. Playing at this level should give us a better idea of where he is at in his development and how much potential he has. We know he can be dominant in the circle and make plays with and without the puck at the junior level in Finland. This is a solid step up in competition for Salminen and I’m looking forward to tracking his progress.
#24 - Chase Stillman - RW - Age: 19 - 2022-23 Team: Peterborough Petes (OHL) - 2021 Rank: 26 - Elite Prospects Profile
Cracking the top 25 in his 2nd year of eligibility is 2021 1st round pick, Chase Stillman. The 6’1”, 181 lbs. right wing is still a work in progress offensively but is known for his high-energy, physical game. He spent his pre-draft season of 2019-20 with Sudbury in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), posting 13 goals and 21 assists in 58 games. Those 34 points ranked tied-5th among his peers for the 2021 draft class. As a result, he was named to the OHL Frist All-Rookie Team. He also made his international debut at the U17 World Championship, representing Canada White with a goal and 3 assists in 6 games. Like the other OHL-based prospects, he would have a turbulent draft season of 2020-21 due to the league shutdown. He did manage to play 8 club games for Esbjerg U20 in Denmark’s top junior league where he dominated with 9 goals and 7 assists in 8 games. He notably posted 43 penalty minutes in that short amount of time. What helped his draft stock the most was being a member of Canada’s team at the U18 WJC where he had 2 goals and 2 assists in 7 games as they captured a Gold Medal.
Last season was a chance for him to prove he was worthy of his 1st round selection. However, his 19 goals and 30 assists across 59 OHL games split between Sudbury and Peterborough were underwhelming, especially for a player that received a lot of top-line minutes. Notably, he had a 0.83 points per game with both teams which are well below what you would expect from a former 1st round pick in his draft+1 season in the OHL. Among his peers in their draft+1 season, his 0.83 points per game rate ranked 24th, finishing behind 5 undrafted players.
Stillman doesn’t turn 20 years old until March 19, 2023, so he’ll be returning to Peterborough for the 2022-23 season. The Devils think highly of Stillman, as evidenced by their signing him to an entry-level contract last August. It’s time for him to put his offensive game together and produce at well over a point per game pace as the team’s top line right wing. He’s shown the ability to get to good spots on the ice to score and glimpses of playmaking skills. Hopefully, he will be more consistent and start to justify his draft position. A strong start to the season could see him contend for a spot on Canada’s team at the U20 WJC in December. We should learn a lot about Stillman’s prospects this season.
#23 - Graeme Clarke - RW - Age: 21 - 2022-23 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) - 2021 Rank: 16 - Elite Prospects Profile
Falling 7 spots from last year’s ranking is Graeme Clarke. The 6’0”, 174 lbs. right wing was drafted by the Devils in the 3rd round of the 2019 Draft. In his draft year of 2018-19, Clarke posted 23 goals and 11 assists in 55 regular season games for Ottawa and had 7 goals and 7 assists in 18 playoff games. Known for his creative goal-scoring ability, his 23 goals ranked 9th among his draft class peers in the OHL. Clarke would face some adversity in 2019-20 as a shoulder injury that required surgery would limit him to just 16 games for Ottawa. He did produce in that time with 9 goals and 8 assists. The 2020-21 season and OHL shutdown would see Clarke turn pro. First, with HC Nove Zamky in Slovakia, he and his brother, Brandt Clarke, a top prospect for the 2021 draft, sought competitive games. Graeme’s stay in Slovakia would only last 6 games, where he had an assist, before the AHL started up and he joined Binghamton. In 31 games with Binghamton, he posted 8 goals and 10 assists. A solid showing that saw him finish tied-8th in points among players from his draft class.
Last season, Clarke had 10 goals and 14 assists in 52 games for Utica in the AHL. He did miss all of the games in January due to a hand injury. In the 20 games before the injury, he produced well with 5 goals and 10 assists. He struggled to find consistency in his game after his return, with just 5 goals and 4 assists over his final 32 games. As a result, he often found himself playing in the bottom 6, unable to push for a spot higher in the lineup.
While injuries have impacted his development, Clarke should get back on track in 2022-23. He doesn’t turn 22 years old until April 24, 2023, and should challenge for a spot in the top 6. With his goal-scoring ability thanks to a quick release, high compete level, and vision, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have a breakout season. Hopefully, he can stay healthy and produce at a consistent level.
#22 - Akira Schmid - G - Age: 22 - 2022-23 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) - 2021 Rank: 24 - Elite Prospects Profile
Jumping up 2 spots from last year’s list is Akira Schmid. The 6’5”, 205 lbs. goaltender was selected by the Devils in the 5th round of the 2018 Draft out of Switzerland. At the time he was coming off of a solid season with Langnau U20 in the top Swiss junior league and had represented his country at the U18 WJC. From that point, he has faced plenty of adversity but has managed to overcome it.
In 2018-19, he was set to play for Lethbridge in the Western Hockey League (WHL) but was cut from the team after a single poor start. He was in limbo for a bit as he tried to find a new team. Eventually, he joined Corpus Christi in the 2nd tier North American Hockey League (NAHL), had 2 solid starts, and then found himself up a level with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League (USHL). This is where Schmid would break out with a league-leading .926 SV% in 37 games. He also represented Switzerland at the U20 WJC that season.
Schmid seemed primed to be a top goaltender in the USHL in 2019-20 but was limited to just 13 games, split between the Omaha Lancers and Sioux City Musketeers, with a sub .900 SV% as he tried to play through a hip injury. Eventually, the injury required offseason surgery to correct the issue. The surgery was successful and Schmid bounced back in a big way for the Musketeers in 2020-21 as he had a league-leading .921 SV% and earned Goaltender of the Year honors.
Last season was always going to be a big jump in competition as Schmid was going directly from the USHL to AHL. Overall, Schmid had a successful season as an AHL rookie that saw him play in 38 games (34 starts) with a 22-8-5 record, 2.60 GAA, .911 SV%, and 2 shutouts. He had an impressive 22 Quality Starts (64.71%) and 8.56 Goals Saved Above Average. Most of this was propped up by a super strong start for Schmid and the rest of the Utica Comets but overall you have to be satisfied with his performance at the AHL level. Schmid did play in 6 games at the NHL level, and as you would expect for a goaltender jumping from the USHL, struggled with a .833 SV%.
Schmid is set to return to Utica for 2022-23 where he should once again split time with Nico Daws. Hopefully, New Jersey can receive stable goaltending at the NHL level so Schmid (and Daws) can focus on developing at the AHL level this season. I’m curious to see if he can maintain his level of play consistently over the whole season and prove that he could be a legitimate option for New Jersey in the future.
#21 - Seamus Casey - RD - Age: 18 - 2022-23 Team: University of Michigan (NCAA) - 2021 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Making his debut at #21 is talented defenseman, Seamus Casey. The 5’10”, 174 lbs. product of the US National Team Development Program (USNTDP) was selected by the Devils in the 2nd round of the 2022 Draft. Casey is a well-regarded prospect thanks to his high-end offensive skills. He’s excellent at moving the puck, is a capable PP quarterback, and is dangerous in transitions. There are questions about his defensive game but his high upside made him a worthy pick for the Devils at 46th overall. He joined the USNTDP for his pre-draft season of 2020-21. In 46 games with the U17 team, he led the defensemen with 8 goals and 28 assists.
Last season, Casey was excellent for the U18 team with 10 goals and 23 assists in 48 games. That includes a strong showing in the USHL where he had 3 goals and 10 assists in 17 games. He also represented the US at the U18 WJC where he had 3 goals and 3 assists in 6 games as they won a Silver Medal.
Casey is set to join fellow Devils prospects and defensemen, Luke Hughes and Ethan Edwards, at the University of Michigan this fall. He’ll turn 19 years old on January 8, 2023. He still has a ways to go towards filling out his frame and developing his defensive game so he should be there for the next 2-3 seasons. As of now, should he reach his potential, he seems to project as an offensive defenseman that could play sheltered 3rd pairing minutes while running a PP at the NHL level. It will be interesting to see how he develops over the next few seasons to see if he can perhaps beat that projection. As much as I want to see his defensive game improve, I’m intrigued by his offensive skill-set. Hopefully, he can learn a few moves from Hughes along the way. Casey should be one of the more exciting prospects to follow in the next few seasons.
Rankings & Your Take
For full disclosure, here is how everyone ranked the players in this post:
Keep checking back as we continue to release these rankings in sets of 5 every week. Were you surprised to see Casey debut in the top 25? What do you expect from Schmid in his 2nd pro season? Do you think Clarke is primed to take the next step as he enters his 3rd pro season? What are your expectations for Stillman this season in the OHL? Are you excited to see how Salminen performs in the NCAA? Where did you have these players ranked? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!