The AATJ Top 25 Under 25 continues this week with the reveal of the bottom half of the top 10. This week’s list features a top defensive prospect, a defender expected to make a big impact in the Devils lineup this upcoming season, two forwards who will be vying for a roster spot and the highest-ranked goaltender on this list. Let’s delve in.
#10 - Nolan Foote - LW - Age: 22 - 2022-23 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) - 2022 Rank: 19 - Elite Prospects Profile
Rising nine spots from last year is 6’3’’ 201lb RW Nolan Foote. Originally selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round (27th overall) in the 2019 NHL entry draft before coming over to the Devils in the Black Coleman trade, the younger brother of recent acquisition Cal Foote and son of longtime NHL defenseman Adam Foote, had his best season of professional hockey last year. After 14 goals for the Comets in 2021-22, Foote reached the 20 goal mark for the first time of his professional career last season adding another 17 assists for a career high 37 points in 55 games. The offensive outburst was good enough for third place for the Comets even though Foote, who missed time in Utica during a call-up to New Jersey, played 13 games less than leader Graeme Clarke (58) and 15 games less second-place finisher Reilly Walsh (41).
During that call-up the Devils last season, Foote scored only one goal in six games, but looked far far more comfortable on the ice than during previous stints with the big club, often using his large frame to pin back defenders and win puck battles along the boards. The boardwork was a big step in the right direction for Foote, who learned to adjust his game in order to hopefully better translate in the NHL — something Devils coach Lindy Ruff publicly acknowledged. Foote’s in-game adjustments have not gone unnoticed by Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald either, who has made it clear that Foote “has put himself in a position to play full-time in New Jersey next year.”
With Foote requiring waivers this coming season along with Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald’s endorsement, it appears that a roster spot is there for Foote with a strong performance in camp. Expectations are that Foote will earn that spot and make the full-time jump to the NHL this year adding some size and grit to the bottom 6 to go along with a high-caliber shot around the net.
#9 - Seamus Casey - RHD - AGE: 19 - 2022-23 Team: Michigan Wolverines (NCAA) - 2022 Rank: 21 - Elite Prospects Profile
Rocketing up the rankings from a debut of 21 last year is 2022 2nd round pick (46th overall) defenseman Seamus Casey. Originally listed as 5’9’’ 161 lbs in his draft year, the young defender has grown to 5’10’’ 178 lbs according to the website of the Michigan Wolverines. In addition to the added muscle and height, Casey’s game has grown as well.
Prior to the draft, Casey played a prominent role on the U.S. National Development Team, pocketing a consistent 36 points in 46 games for the U17 team in 2020-21 and another 33 points in 48 games for the U18 team in 2021-22. That first season, Casey also added another 20 points in 30 games for the USNTDP juniors team.
Last season saw Casey playing mostly alongside LHD Devils prospect Ethan Edwards on the Wolverines blueline. Casey sparkled early and although his pace slowed as the season wore on finished with 29 points in 37 games as a freshman. With a big turnover on defense in Michigan next season after some key graduations and the signing of teammate Luke Hughes to the Devils, a Casey is expected to play a much larger role. While an increase in points would be welcomed by Devils fans, it will be the strides Casey makes in the defensive end that will likely determine who far Casey game will translate at the highest levels.
#8 - Alexander Holtz - RW - AGE: 21 - 2022-23 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) - 2022 Rank: 8 - Elite Prospects Profile
Maintaining his 8th spot in these rankings is 6’0’’ 194lb RW Alexander Holtz. Before the Devils selected Holtz in the 1st round (7th overall) in the 2020 NHL entry draft, the scoring winger had been quickly rising up the ranks in the Djurgårdens IF system in his native Sweden. In 2017-2018, Holtz started in the U16, where he put up a ridiculous 18 points in 5 games, then quickly moved up splitting time between the J18Elit (scoring a league-leading 45 points in 17 games even though Holtz only played in roughly half of the games) and the J18 Allsvenskan (29 points in 13 games) before settling in all the way up on the J20 SuperElit team, where Holtz finished his upward trending season with 8 points in 11 games.
Holtz continued his offensive domination in 2018-19 for his J20 SuperElit team putting up 47 points in 38 games, averaging over a point per game in international play and getting a taste of the SHL in a three game call-up. Holtz would play most of his draft year in the SHL the following season putting up a very respectable 16 points in 35 games for a player his age. In his post draft year, Holtz continued playing for Djurgårdens IF in the SHL adding another 18 points in 40 games before crossing over to the Devils AHL affiliate.
In 2020-21, Holtz turned heads in the AHL, scoring 51 points in 52 games (26 goals and 25 assists) and although Holtz only had 2 assists during a nine game call-up to the Devils, Holtz was one of the bright spots of a lost season. Last year, Holtz made the Devils out of camp and then became what Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald referred to as a victim of the team’s success. Holtz found himself out of the lineup during a historic 13 game win streak and had trouble sticking on a line during sparse opportunities. After 19 games (three goals and an assist), Holtz returned to Utica to work on the details of his game then proceeded to miss a few weeks with an injury before finishing his AHL season with 11 points in 14 games.
This will be a big year for the development of Alexander Holtz, who does not need to make the team out of camp to be an impactful NHLer one day in the very near future. More Importantly, Holtz will need to learn this season how to better get open to unleash his incredible shot at the highest level and how to play stronger on the defensive side of the puck. Whether Holtz will be tasked to learn things things in Newark or in Utica will ultimately be decided in camp.
#7 - Kevin Bahl - LHD - AGE: 23 - 2022-23 Team: New Jersey Devils - 2022 Rank: 18 - Elite Prospects Profile
Rising into the top 10 this year is 6’6’’ 229lb defenseman Kevin Bahl. Selected by the Arizona Coyotes in 2nd round (55th overall) of the 2018 NHL entry draft, Bahl came over to the Devils as part of the Taylor Hall trade. In 2020-21, Bahl split time between the Devils (7 games) and their AHL affiliate (27 games) That season Bahl earned his first NHL points, a pair of assists.
The following season Bahl dressed in 17 games for the Devils (4 points) and 54 games (16 points) for the Comets. Bahl made the full-time jump to the NHL last season playing in 42 games, while tallying 2 goals and 6 assists. Of course, Bahl is not known for his offensive prowess. It is his defensive play on the backend that earned his promotion to the big club. Bahl appeared far more poised last season than in previous call-ups with the Devils, even playing some games on the first pairing alongside Dougie Hamilton. With defenseman Ryan Graves signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins this offseason, the expectation is that Kevin Bahl will play many of those defensive minutes.
#6 - Akira Schmid - G - Age: 23 - 2022-23 Team: New Jersey Devils - 2022 Rank: 22 - Elite Prospects Profile
One of the storybook tales of 2022-23, goaltender Akira Schmid rose sixteen spots to number six in this year’s rankings. Selected by the Devils in the 5th round (136th overall) in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, the 6’5” 205 lb netminder started his first post-draft year getting cut from Lethbridge of the WHL after one bad start before joining Corpus Christi of the NAHL. That season, Schmid eventually settled in with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL, leading the league with a .926 SV% to go along with a sterling 2.18 GAA in 37 games.
The following season Schmid’s season was cut short by a hip injury, requiring surgery. Schmid recovered well the following year, returning to Sioux City and leading the entire USHL with a .921 SV% to go along with a stellar 2.01 GAA. Those eye-popping numbers earned Schmid much-deserved USHL Goaltender of the Year honors.
As a rookie goaltender in the AHL in 2021-22, Schmid was again fanatastic with a 22-8-5 record, 2.60 GAA and .911 SV% in 38 games. Schmid then set NHL history by making the jump to the NHL during the Devils goalie carousel season of 2021-22 — the first goaltender ever to make such a leap from the USHL in one season. There is a reason why goaltenders do not make that big a leap in one season and Schmid struggled in his brief call-up for the Devils in 2021-22 with a 4.83 GAA and .833 SV% in six games.
Things changed drastically for Schmid last season. In 23 games for the Utica Comets in 2022-23, Schmid secured a 11-7-4 record to go along with a 2.62 GAA and .905 SV%. Another injury to Mackenzie Blackwood forced Schmid again up to the big club. The rest his history. Schmid shined with a 2.13 GAA and .922 SV% often standing on his head in relief to earn the Devils victories. When starting goaltender Vitek Vanecek struggled in the postseason it was Akira Schmid, not Mackenzie Blackwood, who got the call. Schmid blanked the Rangers in games 5 and 7 advancing the Devils in their first playoff series win since 2012. While Schmid, along with most of the Devils, struggled against the Hurricanes in the 2nd round, his calm presence throughout the second half of the season and in the Rangers series has Devils fans hopeful for some stability in net this upcoming season.
Here’s how everyone ranked these players:
The gap between #8 Alexander Holtz (8.0 average) and #9 Seamus Casey (10.25 average) was one of the largest gaps in the Top 25. As with last week, the community again got every player in the correct order. Congratulations!
Now it is time to tell us what you think. What do you think of these five players? How did you rank them or others below them on this list? Let us know what you think in the comments below. Next week we reveal the Top 5, which includes two players who finished very close to one another.