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The 2023 AATJ Top 25 Devils Under 25: The Second Five Revealed from 16th to 20th

This week we reveal the second group of five on this year’s list: a goalie, three forwards and a defenseman. One player has played games for the Devils before. Another is making his debut on this last as a pick in this year’s draft.

NHL: JUL 14 New Jersey Devils Development Camp
Hameenaho made a strong debut in this year’s list.
Photo by Andrew Mordzynski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Top 25 Under 25 rankings continue rolling out this week with players 16 through 20. This week’s list features a player who has played 11 games for the Devils but has struggled with injuries, a goalie who got his first taste of the Liiga last season, two players looking at increased rolls in the NCAA next season and the Devils 2nd round pick in this year’s draft. Let’s dive in.

#20 Ethan Edwards - LHD - Age: 21 - 2022-23 Team: University of Michigan (NCAA) - 2022 Rank: 26 Elite Prospects Profile

Rising to 20th on our list after just missing the cut last year is 5’11” 190lb defenseman Ethan Edwards. The Devils drafted Edwards in the 4th round (120th overall) in the 2020 NHL entry draft after putting up 33 points in 50 games for the Spruce Grove Saints of the AJHL. A year in the USHL followed, where Edwards tallyied 27 points in 51 games for the Sioux City Musketeers before debuting for the University of Michigan the following season.

Edwards is known more as a hard-skating transition player and puck supporter than an offensive driver and in the University of Michigan that has been the case. After a freshman campaign of 11 points in 26 games, last season Edwards became the defensive bedrock beside offensive-minded Devils prospect Seamus Casey. Although Edwards only put up 14 points in 37 games in 2022-23, his defensive play and willingness to grow his all-around game has gone well-noticed. His rise in these rankings is well-earned for those efforts.

Edwards will be looking for an increased role at the University of Michigan in 2023-24 after teammate Luke Hughes signed his ELC for the Devils and other Wolverine defensemen graduated at season’s end. One difficulty Edwards may face is his size. While not terribly undersized, shutdown defensemen tend to be bigger than 5’11” in the NHL. This is not a roadblock, but a challenge that Edwards will need to overcome at the next level. So far, Edwards seems up for the challenge. Next season, Edwards will be one to watch as this will be his junior year and if the puck-moving defender factors in to the Devils long term plans, they will likely want to ink him to his ELC next summer.

#19 Jakub Malek - G - Age: 21 - 2022-23 Team: Ilves (Liiga) 2022 Rank: 27 Elite Prospects Profile

Also rising up the list after barely missing the cut last year is goaltender Jakub Malek. The 6’4” Czech goalie surprised many people when the Devils selected him in the 4th round (100th overall) in the 2021 NHL entry draft. Since the draft not only has Malek quieted critics, but he has made Scott Clemmensen, who is widely credited for the pick, seem very shrewd for pushing for him.

In his first post-draft year, Malek dominated Czechia2 for VHK Vestin, wresting the starting job from David Gaba, sported one of the best save percentages in the league (93.2%) to go along with a sterling 1.95GAA, earned All-star team honors and won league awards for Best Goaltender and Best Junior. In short: he dominated.

Of course, Czechia2 is a lower league. This past season saw Malek get his first taste of tougher competition playing for contending Ilves in the Liiga. Malek had an adjustment period playing behind former Arizona Coyotes goaltender and league-leader in both GAA and SV% Marek Langhamer. However, by season’s end Malek finished with a more than respectable .903 SV% to go along with a stellar 2.03 GAA (good enough for 9th in the entire league).

Ilves had a strong playoff run finishing third in the Liiga this past season. Malek will look to build on the team’s and his own individual success in 2023-24. As Marek Langhamer appears to have signed with IK Oskarshamn of the SHL for next season, Malek should get an opportunity to win the starter’s net next year. The increase in workload should give the Devils plenty of opportunity to evaluate Malek’s game and determine whether or not to bring him over after his contract ends.

#18 Samu Salminen - C/LW - Age: 20 - 2022-23 Team: University of Connecticut (NCAA) - 2022 Rank: 25 Elite Prospects Profile

Rising into the Top 20 for the first time after taking the last spot in the Top 25 two years in a row is Samu Salminen. The highest ranked center on this list who has not yet signed his ELC, the 6’3”, 190 lb Salminen was drafted by the Devils in the 3rd round (68th overall) in the 2021 Entry Draft. It was a strange road for Salminen in the year after the draft. As a player with NCAA ambitions, Salminen had to stay in the lower U20 Jokerit team to maintain eligibility even though he scored 48 points in 44 games for his team and barring the NCAA restrictions would have likely made the jump to the top league.

Last year, the Finnish winger’s jump to North America started on a bumpy road. Salminen faced visa issues, which prevented him from joining UConn until the season had already started. The late acclimation to his new team (and country) contributed to a slow start, causing Salminen to only put up only 2 points in his first 8 games.

Luckily, the slow times would not last long for Salminen. After the first eight games, the large center caught fire, producing nearly a point per game the rest of the season (0.8), and even earning ice time on UConn’s top line as a freshman. Salminen, who is poised to take on a larger role for UConn this coming season, has a chance to build on his late season success and could very well breakout this season. A surging Salminen would certainly be terrific news for the Devils who lack center depth in the prospect pool.

#17 Tyce Thompson - C/RW - Age: 24 - 2022-23 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) - 2022 Rank: 14 Elite Prospects Profile

Dropping three spots in his final year in the rankings before aging out of this list is 6’1” RW Tyce Thompson. It’s hard to remember now, but during a short window of time not that long ago the younger brother of Buffalo Sabre star Tage Thompson may have had the bigger hype surrounding him.

That year was 2019-2020. After a little over 100 games in Buffalo and only 21 points to his name, Tage Thompson’s NHL career looked to be stagnating. Tage played only one game for Buffalo that season before finishing the year with the Rochester Americans of the AHL. Meanwhile, Tyce Thompson was surging in his post-draft year as part of a productive top line for Providence alongside Jack Dugan and Patrick Moynihan. That magical season, which would prove to be the best year for all three players on that line, Thompson scored 44 points in 39 games, nineteen more points than his freshman year in eight less games.

That was in 2019-20. Since then older brother Tage Thompson exploded into an NHL star after a massive breakout season in 2021-2022, whereas the Devils Tyce Thompson struggled with a string of injuries that has him on the verge of slipping out of the organization. Since signing with the Devils, Tyce has played a total of 11 games in the NHL as a callup over the course of three seasons and has one assist to his credit. In the AHL, Tyce had an impressive 15 points in 16 games in an injury-shortened 2021-22 season and looked to be turning a corner. Last year, after another injury, Tyce’s production plummeted to 26 points in 56 games on the season. In short, thus far, Tyce Thompson has had an injury-plagued professional career.

This should be pretty obvious, but Tyce will need to stay healthy if a regular NHL spot is in his future. Tyce will also need to breakout soon. At 24-years-old, his days as a prospect are dwindling. Tyce will look to push for a roster spot in camp.

#16 Lenni Hameenaho - RW - Age: 18 - 2022-23 Team: Assat (Liiga) - 2022 Rank: N/A Elite Prospects Profile

Making an impressive debut at 16th on this list is the Devils 2nd round pick (58th overall) of this past year’s NHL entry draft Lenni Hameenaho. The 6’1” 185lb winger known for his high hockey intelligence has been in the Assat system since 2019-2020 when he scored 50 points in 30 games for their U16 team.

Since then Hameenaho quickly rose up the ranks scoring 60 points in 31 games for the U18 Assat team in 2020-21. This led the league by a whopping fourteen points. The following year in 2021-22, Hameenaho continued dominating the U18 league with 11 points in 4 games before a graduation to the U20s as a sixteen year old, where he put up 37 points in 42 games. His rise continued with a brief three game stint in the Mestis.

Hameenaho’s draft year last season saw the cerebral winger rise all the way to Assat in the Liiga, where he put up an impressive 21 points in 51 games. The knock on Hameenaho by some pundits is a perceived low floor, high ceiling, but so far Hameenaho’s game seems to already be improving in the short time since the draft. Already in 2023-24, Hameenaho led all prospects in the World Juniors summer showcase and has tallied 9 points in 6 total international games per Elite Prospects. By comparison last season, Hameenaho only scored in 5 points in 12 total international games for Team Finland and 2 points in 5 games at the World Juniors.

While this is admittedly a very small sample size, it’s the only post-draft sample we have right now other than a strong prospects camp and at least that sample is trending up. As not much else has changed since the draft, you can read more about Lenni Hameenaho in John Fischer’s post-draft post on the Finnish winger here. Hameenaho will rejoin Assat in the Liiga next season and look to build off last year’s success.


How everyone ranked these players:

The 2023 AAtJ Top 25 Devils Under 25 Rankings - (16-20)
The AATJ Writers & Community


Now is is time to tell us what you think. How did you rank these players? Let us know in the comments below. Next week we reveal the third set of five players who fell just outside the Top 10.