On Sunday, John revealed the outsider list of 17 players who finished outside the Top 25 on this year’s list. This post reveals the last five who made the cut. This portion of the rankings includes three players who will be looking to make their AHL debuts this season, one player who is hoping to cling to an AHL roster spot, and a winger making his debut in the rankings as a 4th round pick in this year’s draft. Let’s dive in.
#25 - Michael Vukojevic - D - Age: 22 years - 2022-23 Team: Utica Comets - 2022 Rank: 28 Elite Prospects Profile
Rising three spots and sneaking into the Top 25 for the first time in this year’s rankings is LHD Michael Vukojevic. The 6’3 216 pound defender was drafted by the Devils in the 3rd round in 2019 (82nd overall) after a strong season with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. When the OHL cancelled the following season due to the pandemic, Vukojevic signed a one year contract and later his full ELC. Vukojevic impressed enough in his first AHL season to be one of the biggest risers in these rankings in 2021 after putting up 11 points in 26 games despite only taking 20 shots on goal.
Unfortunately, the big defender has done little since then to build off that early success. 2021-22 saw Vukojevic’s production rate dip to 17 points in 54 games. While points aren’t everything, especially for a defensive-minded defenseman, usage is and Vukojevic saw a four game demotion to Adirondack during the 2021-22 season before working his way back into Utica’s lineup. As Hadi Kalakeche of Dobber Prospects put it: “the outlook seems bleak in his case, as his style of play doesn’t seem to gel well with the North American pro game.”
If Vukojevic’s NHL prospects were bleak in 2021-22, they only got tougher last season. After a brutally slow start, Vukojevic suffered a broken finger in February, limiting his season to 3 points in 37 games. In short, after an impressive first year of professional hockey, Vukojevic has been steadily slipping down the Devils depth chart.
I don’t want to be too hard on Vukojevic, who made the jump to the AHL a season earlier than he should have due to the cancellation of his OHL season, and much of Vukojevic’s fall is due to the rise of other defenders in the system. However, the fact remains. This season, Vukojevic will have tougher competition for ice time with an even more crowded blue line in Utica. How Vukojevic will handle the challenge remains to be seen, but he will need a strong camp to avoid splitting time between Utica and Adirondack in 2023-24, a less than ideal situation for a 22-year-old defender with NHL aspirations. Everyone loves a good comeback story and Vukojevic will need to have one in order to crack into the Devils lineup. Personally, I would love to see him do it.
#24 - Daniil Misyul - D - Age: 22 - 2022-23 Team: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL) - 2022 Rank: 41 Elite Prospects Profile
Rocketing up the rankings seventeen spots from last year and also making his debut in the Top 25 is 6’3 196 pound defenseman Daniil Misyul. This is Misyul’s highest ranking since he finished 26th in 2019. Like Vukojevic below him, Misyul was also selected in the 3rd round by the New Jersey Devils in 2019 (70th overall). Unlike Vukojevic, Misyul has been playing in Russia for Lokomotiv since his draft year and just signed his ELC in May.
Like Vukojevic, Misyul is known more for his defensive play than as a driver of offense. As such, Misyul’s rise in the rankings seems to be due to the signing of that aforementioned ELC rather than any increase in production. Misyul tallied 0 goals and only 7 points in 59 games in the KHL this past season, a small uptick from 3 points in 41 games in 2021-22 but a lesser rate of production than two seasons ago with Lokomotiv when Misyul tallied 7 points in only 46 games. All those numbers should be taken with a large amount of salt; however, as the KHL is notorious for limiting usage of young players, especially young defenders, that skew their numbers low compared to other leagues.
That is not to say that Misyul will suddenly explode with offense after coming to North America, but there may be a little more to his game if he’s allowed to utilize his speed more in transition once he arrives. The expectation is that Misyul will come to Devils camp 2023-24, but thus far I have been unable to confirm that this is actually the case. Misyul is known for his speed, skating and and gap control — attributes that should translate well should Misyul come over. The Devils blueline may be crowded, but after three KHL seasons, Misyul has a chance to play in some NHL games once he makes the adjustment to North America.
#23 - Cam Squires - RW - Age: 18 - 2022-23 Team: Cape Breton Eagles (QMJHL) - 2022 Rank: N/A Elite Prospects Profile
Making an impressive debut at 23rd on the list is this year’s 4th round pick (122nd overall) Cam Squires. The 6’0, 170 pound winger scored 30 goals and tallied 64 points last year in 67 games for the Cape Breton Eagles in the QMJHL, an uptick of 30 points from his previous season. Squires was a late riser in this past year’s draft due to the improved production and a summer spent developing his defensive game to become a stronger two-way player.
Readers of the this site seemed pleased with the Squires pick with 85% of voters loving or liking the pick and only 1% not liking the selection. Some of the early hype around Squires may be due to some pundits already opining that the Devils may have struck gold in selecting him. Whether that’s true is early to say, but Squire’s ranking here suggests that those pundits are not the only ones who think highly of the young winger.
As not much has changed regarding Squires since the draft, you can read more about him here on Chris Fieldhouse’s post summarizing the pick. A ranking of 23rd is extremely high for a 4th rounder before his D+1 season, but it is also understandable given the hype around Squires and with so many players exiting the pool in the Top 25 of last year’s list. Someone had to fill those voids in the Top 25 and right now Squires is one of those players. In 2023-24, Squires will rejoin the Eagles as one to watch as a possible breakout candidate. Best of luck to Squires as he continues his development.
#22 - Tyler Brennan - G - Age: 19 - 2022-23 Team: Prince George Cougars (WHL) - 2022 Rank: 33 Elite Prospects Profile
Jumping eleven spots from last year’s list is 6’4 goaltender Tyler Brennan. Brennan was selected by the Devils in the 4th round (102nd overall) in the 2022 entry draft and at the time was considered the top ranked North American goalie by central scouting in a weaker than average goalie class. Per Dobber Prospects, Brennan’s strengths at the time of the draft included his edgework and his ability to divert pucks but he showed some weaknesses in his game such as his puck play and inefficiencies that forced him to squeeze his arm to his chest on shots.
Some of those kinks in Brennan’s game may be working themselves out. While Brennan’s raw numbers aren’t exactly eye-popping (2.86 GAA and .898 SV% last season), his 2.86 goals against was a marked improvement over the previous season’s 3.58 GAA and the WHL is a high-scoring league. Brennan’s 2.86 GAA actually ranked 15th in the WHL in 2022-23 and his numbers improved throughout the year with a strong finish to the season. This improvement was good enough for Brennan to earn his ELC in April.
Brennan will begin his professional career this upcoming season either in Utica or Adirondack, where he will be utilizing Akira Schmid’s rise for inspiration.
#21 - Chase Stillman - RW - Age: 20 - 2022-23 Team: Peterborough Petes (OHL) 2022 Rank: 24 Elite Prospects Profile
Rising three spots from last year’s list is the Devil’s first round pick (29th overall) in 2021 RW Chase Stillman. Since the draft, the 6’1, 183 pound Stillman has been known more for his high energy than offensive prowess. Early in the 2022-23 season, at least for a moment, that seemed to have been changing. Stillman scored four goals in a single game in November, a fact that made me question whether the pesky winger had turned a corner offensively in a season that was only around 20 games old at the time.
Turns out, no. At least not yet. After the impressive four goal feat, Stillman stagnated on the scoresheet tallying only 48 points in 59 games at the conclusion of his D+2 OHL season. Stillman’s NHLe of 22 remained unchanged from the previous year, which could be considered a regression when you factor in age. In short, thus far Stillman has not produced how one would expect from a former first round pick.
Stillman’s team, the Peterborough Petes, on the other hand, had an impressive season that concluded in winning the OHL championship. In the playoffs, Stillman tallied 13 points in 21 games for the champion Petes, finishing 26th in post-season scoring in the OHL, a less-impressive feat when you consider that many players tied or ahead of Stillman played almost half has many games or in Evan Vierling’s case 13 points in a mere 7 games. Despite the production concerns, Stillman was a regular contributor for the Petes and very much a large part of the team’s success.
Stillman actually signed his ELC with the Devils in August of 2021, but because of his age (he had to play either in the NHL or OHL last year and could not be sent down to Utica) and the Pete’s long playoff run extending Stillman’s season too long to join the Comets this year, the hard-forechecking winger will not make his professional debut until 2023-24. Not surprisingly, given his production in the OHL, the Devils are touting the grit in Stillman’s game, something the pesky winger has in spades. If Stillman makes the NHL one day, he is likely to become a fan favorite due to his workmanlike aggressive off-the-puck, hard-forechecking playstyle.
OHL production aside, I’m betting on Stillman, whose aggressive, high-energy play off the puck is built for the pro level. If Stillman can produce just enough to be a somewhat contributing member of the Devils bottom 6 one day, all of his other attributes could make him a very effective complimentary player even if he is not lighting up the scoresheet on a regular basis. Stillman will get his first chance to show how his game translates to the pro level this season as he finally makes his debut, likely in Utica.
How how everyone ranked these players:
Are you surprised by the results so far? Elated? Ecstatic? Confused? Tell us what you think in the comments below. Next week we reveal numbers 16-20.