The New Jersey Devils found themselves in a position they didn’t want to be in this season, and that was being sellers on the trade market. But if there is a positive takeaway, it’s they were able to restock their cupboard of draft picks and prospects, specifically the latter. By trading away some of their key contributors, they added five new prospects to their farm system, four of whom now rank in their top 10. Here’s how they did it.
Taylor Hall Trade Boosts Pipeline
When the Devils traded Hall to the Arizona Coyotes, it’s clear they were looking for a significant return. And that’s what they got, as then-general manager Ray Shero obtained two draft picks and three prospects. Of those prospects were Kevin Bahl, Nick Merkley, and Nate Schnarr, all of whom were among the Coyotes’ top 10 in their farm system.
We’ll start with Bahl, who was the highest-rated of the three the Devils received. He was a second-round pick of the Coyotes in 2018 and has played for the Ottawa 67’s (OHL) for four seasons. He was part of Team Canada at the 2020 World Junior Championship and captured a gold medal.
There isn’t a ton of offensive upside to Bahl’s game, but that’s not his forte. At 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, he’s an imposing figure who skates well for someone his size, and he’s effective at exiting the defensive zone cleanly. The Devils lack a defenseman of that makeup in their system, so Bahl is a welcomed addition, even if his ceiling isn’t that high.
Then there’s Merkley, who was a first-round selection of the Coyotes in 2015. Once a highly-touted prospect, he seems to have found new life with the Devils. He has 18 points in 21 games with the Binghamton Devils (AHL) and earned a call-up to the NHL a couple of weeks ago, where he scored his first-career NHL goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Even though the Devils returned him to Binghamton, Merkley showed promise while in the NHL. Binghamton is looking to make a push towards the AHL playoffs, and he figures to play an important role in that push. But it wouldn’t be a surprise if he gets another look in the NHL before the season ends, either.
The last prospect the Devils received for Hall was Schnarr. He’s in the middle of his first pro season and has eight points in 20 games since the trade. But before turning pro, he enjoyed a breakout 2018-19 campaign with the Guelph Storm (OHL), where he had 102 points in 65 games. He has potential as a bottom-six center, but he’ll need time to develop in the AHL.
Foote, Kuokkanen Significant Trade Deadline Additions
The Hall trade wasn’t the only way the Devils restocked their prospect pool. Interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald managed to keep things rolling at the trade deadline with two notable acquisitions. The first was Nolan Foote, whom the Devils got in return for Blake Coleman from the Tampa Bay Lightning. The second was Janne Kuokkanen, who was part of the package the Devils received for Sami Vatanen from the Carolina Hurricanes.
We’ll start with Foote, who’s the best prospect of the two. He was a first-round selection of the Lightning in 2019 and was considered their top prospect. He plays for the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL and has 33 points in 27 games this season but has missed a good chunk of time due to injury. He also was a part of Team Canada at the 2020 World Junior Championship, where he had five points in seven games and captured a gold medal.
Foote is the type of forward the Devils could use in their system. He has excellent size, at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, but that’s far from his best asset. He has a cannon of a shot and knows how to find the back of the net, especially on the power play. He was the 48th-ranked prospect on Corey Pronman’s midseason rankings at The Athletic, so the Devils got a good one, and someone who could replace Coleman sooner than later.
Then there’s Kuokkanen, who was a second-round pick of the Hurricanes in 2016. He’s spent the last three seasons in the AHL and was the Charlotte Checkers’ leading scorer before the trade. He’s a versatile forward who can play left-wing or center, but likely projects as a winger in the NHL. He doesn’t have a great shot, but he’s a great passer and will create scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Kuokkanen isn’t the top prospect Foote is, but he was still among the Hurricanes’ top 10. Since he’s 21 years old and already has three years of AHL experience, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the NHL before season’s end. If he does well when called-up, it could give him a head start against his competition to earn an NHL gig heading into training camp in September.
How Devils’ Top 10 Looks After Trades
There’s been a lot of movement in the Devils’ top 10 after the trades they’ve made, but it’s been for the better. Here’s how things stack up after moving Hall, Coleman, and Vatanen (asterisk indicates acquired via trade):
- Ty Smith (D)
- Nolan Foote (LW)*
- Jesper Boqvist (LW/C)
- Reilly Walsh (D)
- Joey Anderson (RW)
- Tyce Thompson (C)
- Kevin Bahl (D)*
- Janne Kuokkanen (LW/C)*
- Nick Merkley (RW)*
- Michael McLeod (C)
As you can see, that’s a lot of new faces acquired in just a couple of months’ time. The Devils still don’t have an elite, top 25 overall prospect, but their system is a lot deeper than it was at the start of the season. The change of scenery seems to have benefited Merkley, as he’s one of the Binghamton Devils’ top players and played well during his brief call-up to the NHL.
The other prospects acquired via trade — Bahl, Kuokkanen, and Foote — may not be far from getting NHL minutes, either. The expectation is Foote and Bahl will turn pro next season, while Kuokkanen could be in the NHL at some point soon. And with the potential for the Devils to have three first-round picks in the 2020 Entry Draft, they could have one of the top farm systems entering next season, especially since a couple of those picks could be in the top 10.
This all fits in with Fitzgerald’s plan of building a team with players similar in age to Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. Now comes the part where they have to develop those players, but there’s no doubt their prospect pool is in the best shape it’s been in quite some time. And that should help them begin building a young roster that’s closer to contending.