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The 2023 AATJ Top 25 Devils Under 25: The Third Five Revealed from 15th to 11th

The 2023 AATJ Top 25 Under 25 continues with two of the rankings biggest risers and the need to invoke the tiebreaker rule to determine who finished 11th.

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New Jersey Devils 2023 Development Camp
Topias Vilen was one of the biggest risers in the list from last year.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Getty Images

This post reveals those five players who finished just outside the Top 10: three forwards, a defenseman and a goalie. Amongst these five players are two big risers from last year’s list (a forward and a defenseman), a goalie holding onto his #13 spot and two other forwards. Interesting about this list is only one player in these five has made their NHL debut as of this writing. Perhaps, more interesting about this list is that there was a tie for 11th place. Dusting off the old AATJ rulebook, also known as emailing John Fischer to inquire what to do, the community vote determines the tiebreaker. Let’s dive in.

#15th - Josh Filmon - RW - Age: 19 - 2022 Team: Swift Current Broncos (WHL) - 2022 Rank: 39 Elite Prospects Profile

Rocketing up the rankings a whopping twenty-four spots (more than anyone from last year’s list) is the Devils 2022 6th round pick (166th overall) Josh Filmon. The 6’1’’ RW’s rise is well-earned. After scoring 23 goals and adding another 22 assists (45 points) for the Broncos in his draft season, Filmon exploded with 47 goals and 28 assists (75 points) in 2022-23. Those 47 goals tied Filmon for 4th in the WHL, only three goals behind the 2nd place finisher, Kai Uchacz, who would have led the league with 50 goals if not for wonderkid Connor Bedard’s obscene 71 goal season. Impressively, Filmon performed the feat in four less games than Uchacz.

One of Filmon’s many highlights for Filmon this past season was a six goal game in December, a feat that not even the aforementioned Bedard accomplished. In fact, Filmon’s double hattrick tied him for second best of all-time in the AHL (seven are tied with seven) and the first time anyone in the league accomplished the feat since Tyler Ennis scored six for Medicine Hat in 2009. In short, it was a beautiful cherry on top of a very impressive season.

Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald clearly took notice, inking Filmon to his ELC in March and an ATO to allow Filmon to debut in Utica after the end of the Broncos season. Filmon made his professional hockey debut in 2022-23, playing four games for the Comets and scoring his first professional goal. Unfortunately, due to Filmon’s birthday, the power forward will either have to play for the Devils or the Swift Current Broncos at the start of next year. Expect Filmon to take what he learned in Utica back to Swift Current in 2023-24 and with an eye towards a late season return to the Comets once the Broncos season has ended.

#14th - Topias Vilen - LHD - Age: 20 - 2022-23 Team: Lahti Pelicans (Liiga) - 2022 Rank: 30 Elite Prospects Profile

Another big riser from last year’s list jumping sixteen spots from 2002 is 2021 5th round pick (129th overall) Topias Vilen. Much like Josh Filmon at 15th on this list, the Devils seem to have been finding a lot of late round gems lately and it looks like they may have scored another one with Vilen. On one hand, it is kind of a surprise that Vilen was ranked so low (38th European Skater according to Central Scouting) given that he was already playing reliable minutes for the Pelicans in the Liiga during his draft season

The knock on Vilen at the time of the draft was his lack of offensive production, which seemed to be true in his D+1 year for the Pelicans when he went goalless with six assists in 50 games. That changed last season. In 2022-23, Vilen tied for fifth in the Liiga in goals for a defenseman with nine and added another eight assists for 17 points in 41 games. Vilen accomplished this while playing around twenty minutes a game for the Pelicans. Although the points did not come in the World Juniors tournament (one assist in five games), Vilen was the backbone for Team Finland on the backend earning some of the highest minute averages in the tournament.

Despite the outburst in the Liiga last season, Vilen should not be confused as an offensive defenseman, but there may be a little more roundness to Vilen’s game. Lahti lost to Tappara in the Finals last season, finishing second in the Liiga and thus delaying his debut for the Utica Comets until 2023-24. Vilen should be a fixture on Utica’s blueline this coming season as he begins his North American career.

#13th - Nico Daws - G - Age: 22 - 2022-23 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) - 2022 Rank: 13 Elite Prospects Profile

Holding onto the 13th spot for the second year in a row is 2020 3rd round pick (84th overall) goaltender Nico Daws. The 6’4’’ netminder impressed enough for the Guelph Storm of the OHL in his draft season to be considered North America’s top goalie in the 2020 draft according to Central Scouting. In his draft season of 2019-20, Daws finished with a 23-8-6 record for the Storm and a league’s best .924 SV% to go along with a third-best 2.48 GAA, earning him Goaltender of the Year honors.

When the OHL shutdown the following season, Daws played for ERC Ingolstadt in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) putting up a .898 SV% and 2.90 GAA in his first hockey against men. This prepared Daws for the AHL in 2021-22, where Daws was one of the best goaltenders in the league sporting a 14-4-2 record, 2.54 GAA, and .916 SV% in 21 games between trips on the New Jersey Devils goalie carousel. Likewise, Daws was one of the better goaltenders for the Devils in that awful year putting up a .893 SV% and a 3.11 GAA in 25 appearances. Not stellar numbers at a glance but good enough for second amongst the seven goalies to play for the Devils that season behind Jonathan Bernier, who sported a .902 SV% and a 3.06 GAA before a season-ending injury limited him to only 10 games. In short, the future appeared very bright for Daws.

The future may still be bright, but last season Daws struggled a bit on a weaker Utica team, finishing the season 16-14-3 with a higher 2.70 GAA and a lower .904 SV%. The drop in numbers may also be due to Daws playing with an injury as Daws underwent labrum surgery this offseason and will likely not return to the Comets until at least December. How Daws performs after he returns will tell a lot about his future. With the rise of another goaltender higher on this list, the Devils can afford to be patient with Daws, but with the uncertainty around the injury, Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald signed former Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Erik Kallgren this offseason to serve as the team’s number three netminder — at least while Daws recovers. The spot is there for Daws to earn back when he gets healthy.

#12th - Arseni Gritsyuk - RW/LW - Age: 22 - 2022-23 Team: Avangard Omsk (KHL) 2022 Rank: 11 Elite Prospects Profile

Technically dropping one spot due to losing the community tiebreaker is another potential late round steal for the Devils, Russian winger Arseni Gritsyuk. Selected in the 5th round (129th overall) of the 2019 NHL entry draft, Gritsyuk brokeout in a big way in 2021-22 scoring 16 goals and 12 assists (28 points) in only 39 games for Avangard Omsk of the KHL. That season saw Gritsyuk earn the KHL’s Aleksei Cherepanov Award for best rookie and not only lead all U21 players in scoring but his points per game pace (0.72) was good enough for 9th all-time in KHL history for players in that age group.

Last season was less magical for the Russian winger, at least at the start. Gritsyuk struggled early on earning a temporary demotion to the 4th line. The demotion seemed to motivate Gritsyuk, who turned the season around, finishing strong in the second half and ending up with 15 goals (one less than the previous year) and 40 points in 66 games.

Next season will be a new challenge for Gritsyuk. After some hope and speculation that Gritsyuk may sign his ELC with the Devils, the 5’11’’ 192lb winger opted for a two-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, which will begin next season. Devils fans will likely have to wait at least two more years before Gritsyuk comes over to North America.

#11 - Graeme Clarke - RW - Age: 22 - 2022-23 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) - 2022 Rank: 23 Elite Prospects Profile

After falling seven spots last year (from a former high of 16 on this list), 6’0’’ 174lb winger Graeme Clarke rose 12 spots this year to a new all-time high of 11 thanks, in part, to the community tiebreaker. The rise was well-deserved. Clarke was Utica’s top forward last season leading the team in goals (25), assists (33), points (58), points per game (0.85) and shots (211).

Clarke had a tough road before this breakout year. Plagued by injuries ever since Clarke, in his words, “felt my shoulder fall off” in October of 2019 requiring shoulder surgery that limited his season to 16 games, the 2019 3rd round pick (80th overall) followed up with a hand injury in 2021-22. Despite the injuries, Clarke performed well for the Devils AHL affiliate since making the jump to professional hockey, often finishing in the top ten in AHL scoring amongst players in his draft class.

Clarke has yet to make his NHL debut, something that is likely to change this season. With intense competition amongst the Devils bottom six, Clarke may have to wait for an injury to earn his chance with the big club. However, all the signs are pointing to a NHL debut this season if Clarke can stay healthy when his chance comes.

The Rankings

How everyone ranked these players and how the community tie-breaker factored in:

The 2023 AAtJ Top 25 Devils Under 25 Rankings - (11-15)
The AATJ Writers & Community

Not only did the community squeak Clarke ahead of Gritsyuk with the tiebreaker, but the community vote was the one one that got all five of these players in their final order. Well done!

Your Take

When you’re done patting yourselves on the back, let us know what you think about these five players. How did you rank them? What do you think of the fact that none of them were chosen higher than the 3rd round? Let us know in the comments below. Next week we reveal the first five of the Top 10.