It’s time to reveal which players cracked the top 15 but saw themselves just outside of the top 10 in today’s post in the Top 25 Under 25 series. This group includes three forwards, a defenseman, and a goaltender. Three of these players already have varying levels of experience with New Jersey. One of them is an established regular while the other two are looking to make the jump from Utica in the American Hockey League (AHL) at some point over the next season or two. The other two players are prospects currently playing in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Let’s take a look at which players were ranked in this range.
#15 - Shakir Mukhamadullin- LD - Age: 20 - 2022-23 Team: Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL) - 2021 Rank: 18 - Elite Prospects Profile
Moving up 3 spots into a top 15 ranking is prospect Shakir Mukhamadullin. The 6’4”, 194 lbs. defenseman was drafted by the Devils with the 20th overall selection in the 2020 Draft. At the time, Mukhamadullin was coming off of a strong draft season that saw him help Russia’s U20 team capture a Gold Medal at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and break into the KHL for Salavat Yulaev Ufa. That season he appeared in 27 games with an assist and an average ice time of 3:07. He also continued to play some junior hockey in the MHL with Tolpar Ufa where he had a productive 2 goals and 8 assists in 13 games as he showcased his offensive skills. The 2020-21 season would see Mukhamadullin further breakout and silence some of the doubters when he appeared in 39 games for Salavat Yulaev Ufa with 3 goals and 7 assists while averaging 12:56 per game. He led all U20 defensemen in the KHL in scoring with those 10 points. Among all U20 defensemen in a single KHL season, those 10 points had him ranked tied-5th overall and his 0.26 points per game ranked 5th in the all-time rankings. Mukhamadullin also represented Russia at the U20 World Junior Championship (WJC) but had a rough tournament as he was held off the scoresheet and made a few glaring mental errors.
Last season, Mukhamadullin had 3 goals and 4 assists in 34 regular season games for Salavat Yulaev Ufa while averaging 15:19 per game. Mukhamadullin finished 2nd in scoring among U21 defensemen in the KHL. He continued to take a regular shift for the team in the playoffs as he averaged 15:23 per game across 11 games. After his KHL season was over, Mukhamadullin went to Utica and made his AHL debut. He had 2 assists in 3 playoff games for the team.
The Devils organization thinks highly of the young defenseman as evidenced by them taking him in the 1st round of the 2020 Draft and signing him to an entry-level contract in December of 2021. The plan was for Mukhamadullin to play the 2022-23 season in North America with Utica but that changed at some point in the offseason. He has since been loaned back to Salavat Yulaev Ufa and started his KHL season. I expect him to continue to play a key role for Ufa and perhaps earn more special teams time now that he’s in his 4th KHL season. He will turn 21 years old on January 10, 2023, so the Devils can afford to be patient with his development. Another season in the KHL with more responsibility should help him make the transition to North America in 2023-24.
Tyce Thompson jumps up 6 spots after a frustrating season that saw him very productive when healthy. Thompson, a 6’1”, 174 lbs. forward, was drafted by the Devils in the 4th round of the 2019 Draft in his 3rd year of eligibility. At that time, he was coming off of an impressive freshman season for Providence where he had 8 goals and 17 assists in 42 games. He would break out in his sophomore season in 2019-20 with 19 goals and 25 assists in 34 games. That was enough to lead the team in goals and finish 2nd in points. His production would take a step back in his junior season but he was still effective. In that 2020-21 season, he served as team captain and had 11 goals and 14 assists in 25 games. That was enough to lead the team in goals, assists, and points. He would turn pro and sign his entry-level contract with the Devils following his college season. In 7 games with New Jersey, he had an assist. In 11 games with Binghamton, he had 2 goals and 2 assists.
Last season, Thompson started with Utica where he had 4 goals and 3 assists in 7 games. That earned him a call-up to New Jersey where he played in 2 games before injuring his shoulder. He had to have surgery which sidelined him from mid-November to April. He returned to Utica and was productive with 2 goals and 6 assists in 9 games. In the playoffs, he had a goal and an assist in 5 games.
About a month ago, Thompson re-signed with the Devils to a two-year contract. The 2022-23 season will be his age 23 year and he will be looking to break into the NHL at some point though it’s likely he starts the season with Utica. Hopefully, he will stay healthy and get a full season of professional hockey experience. The Devils will be looking to see Thompson grow into a power-forward role as he progresses. Thompson will be one of the players to look for as an early candidate to be called up by New Jersey.
#13 - Nico Daws - G - Age: 21 - 2022-23 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) - 2021 Rank: 32 - Elite Prospects Profile
Nico Daws, a 6’4”, 204 lbs. goaltender, is a big riser on this year’s list after finishing on the outside of the top 25 on last year’s list. This isn’t surprising as Daws featured a lot as a rookie for New Jersey at the NHL level and was a big reason that Utica was a top AHL team. The Devils acquired Daws in the 3rd round of the 2020 Draft in his 2nd year of eligibility. At that time, he was coming off of a season that saw him appearing in 38 games with a 23-8-6 record, 2.48 GAA, and .924 SV% for Guelph in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). That was enough to be named OHL Goaltender of the Year. He also made Canada’s squad at the U20 WJC but had mixed results across 2 games though was a part of the Gold Medal-winning team. With the OHL shutdown in 2020-21, Daws would move to Germany to play professionally with ERC Ingolstadt in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL). In 10 games he had a 4-6 record with a 2.90 GAA and .898 SV% as one of four U21 goaltenders to play in at least 10 games.
Last season, Daws gained a lot of experience at the professional level between the NHL and AHL. With Utica, Daws was among the top goaltenders in the AHL with a 14-4-2 record, 2.54 GAA, and .916 SV% across 21 games. He had 12 Quality Starts (57.14%) and 7.48 Goals Saved Above Average while facing an average of 30.12 shots per game. At the NHL level, he was thrust into a role that he wasn’t quite ready for due to the Devils goaltending crisis. Across 25 games, he had a 10-11-1 record, 3.11 GAA, and .893 SV%. He had just 7 Quality Starts (30.4%) and a -8.6 GSAA.
Hopefully, New Jersey’s goaltending situation is stable in 2022-23, not only for the team to finally be competitive, but also to allow prospects such as Daws and Akira Schmid to have time to develop properly with Utica at the AHL level. Those 2 goaltenders should split the workload with Daws likely getting a little bit more of the share of action. Daws will turn 22 years old on December 22, 2022, so he still has plenty of time left to develop. Projecting goaltenders is hard but Daws certainly seems like a legitimate NHL prospect.
#12 - Nathan Bastian- RW - Age: 24 - 2022-23 Team: New Jersey Devils (NHL) - 2021 Rank: N/A - Elite Prospects Profile
Returning to the annual rankings after a year away is right wing, Nathan Bastian. The 6’4”, 205 lbs. forward was still with the Seattle Kraken when we did last year’s ranking after being selected in the expansion draft. The Devils claimed him off waivers last November, reuniting Bastian with the organization that selected him in the 2nd round of the 2016 Draft. Before last season, Bastian had played in 48 NHL games for New Jersey with 6 goals, 7 assists, 31 penalty minutes, and averaged 12:38 per game in a depth role.
Last season opened with Bastian as a member of the Seattle Kraken. In 12 games with Seattle he had a goal, assist, and 31 penalty minutes and averaged 9:14 per game. Bastian took advantage of his return to the Devils organization as he put up 11 goals, 5 assists, 34 penalty minutes, and averaged 12:26 per game across 60 games. He proved to be a solid two-way depth player at even strength, a player capable of eating minutes on the PK, and was an asset on the PP thanks to his net-front presence. Defensively, Evolving-Hockey ranks his impact in the 93rd percentile among forwards last season.
This will be Bastian’s last appearance on this list as he turns 25 years old on December 6, 2022. He’s in the final year of his contract though he will still be a restricted free agent when it expires. He will be looking to have a strong 2022-23 season as a bottom 6 player that can contribute defensively, on special teams, and bring a physical element to the lineup. He’s set to earn $875K this season so he’s in a good position to increase his salary with his next contract should he continue to perform. Bastian fits in well as a role player that can complement the lineup around the Devils’ young talent up front.
#11 - Arseni Gritsyuk - LW - Age: 21 - 2022-23 Team: Avangard Omsk (KHL) - 2021 Rank: 29 - Elite Prospects Profile
An impressive 2021-22 season saw Arseni Gritsyuk rise up prospect lists and in our rankings. The Devils drafted the 5’11”, 191 lbs. wing in the 5th round of the 2019 Draft. At the time, Gritsyuk was coming off of a draft season that saw him put up 12 goals and 9 assists in 30 MHL (juniors) games for Omskie Yastreby. He also was a member of Russia’s U18 teams that won a Bronze Medal at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and a Silver Medal at the U18 WJC. In that Hlinka Gretzky Cup, he had 2 goals and an assist in 5 games, and in the U18 WJC, he had 3 goals and 2 assists in 7 games. In 2019-20, he played another year of junior hockey with 28 goals and 35 assists in 59 games. He also made his professional debut in 2 games with Izhstal Izhevsk in the VHL (Russian 2nd tier) and had a goal and 2 assists. The 2020-21 season would see Gritsyuk split his time between the top 2 tiers of professional hockey in Russia and the junior league. In 12 KHL games with Avangard Omsk, he had a goal, and assist, and averaged 7:13 per game. He even played in 3 playoff games as they went on to win the Gagarin Cup. In 8 VHL games with Metallurg Novokuznetsk, he posted 2 goals and 4 assists, and in 6 MHL games with Omskie Yastreby, he had 4 goals and 5 assists. Gritsyuk continued to play well at the international level as he had a goal and 3 assists in 6 games for Russia at the U20 WJC.
Last season was a break-out year for Gritsyuk. He played in 39 KHL games for Avangard with 16 goals, and 12 assists, and averaged 14:35 per game. For that strong performance, he earned the KHL Aleksei Cherepanov (Best Rookie) Award. He led all U21 players in scoring with those 28 points. His 0.72 points per game rate ranked 9th all-time in KHL history among U21 players. He continued to produce in their playoff run with 6 goals and 4 assists in 13 games and saw his ice time increase to 17:12 per game. He also earned a Silver Medal in the Olympics with a goal and 2 assists across 6 games.
Gritsyuk will be looking to further establish himself as one of the young stars in the KHL this season. This will be his age 21 year as he doesn’t turn 22 years old until March 15, 2023. His contract with Avangard runs until April 30, 2023, so the Devils will be monitoring his progress closely and looking to sign him to an entry-level contract after this season. Gritsyuk’s shot, ability to find pockets of open space and create space for himself, and skating make him one of the most exciting prospects in the Devils’ pool. He’s already off to a good start with a goal over his first 2 KHL games this season and I’m looking forward to him producing big numbers in a more increased role for Avangard.
Rankings & Your Take
For full disclosure, here is how everyone ranked the players in this post:
Stay tuned for next week’s post where we will reveal the bottom portion of the top 10. Back to today’s post, where did you have these players ranked? What are you expecting out of these players moving forward? Which of these players are you most excited about? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!