Devils Prospect Report: 2023 World Junior Championship & More

It’s World Junior Championship season, so there’s no better time than now to talk about prospects. The New Jersey Devils have one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL and are expected to have quite a few prospects playing in this year’s World Junior Championship tournament, which takes place from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Halifax and Moncton, Canada. Here is a breakdown of all the Devils’ prospects we may see at the most prestigious junior tournament of the year.

Nemec, Hughes & Vilen Headline Devils Defensemen at WJC

It came as a huge surprise when the news broke that Simon Nemec would represent Slovakia in this year’s tournament. There’s no doubt that the former second-overall draft pick is one of the most talented defense prospects in the entire world. But after opting out of last year’s August tournament to prepare for the NHL season, it seemed like a long shot that he would attend the tournament this year. However, it’s been confirmed that Nemec will go.

Nemec has three goals and 10 assists for the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League (AHL) so far this season and has looked more and more impressive as he’s piled up games. The second-overall pick in the 2022 draft started on the Comets’ bottom defensive pair but has shot up all the way to the top pairing and is also contributing on special teams.

Simon Nemec Team Slovakia
Simon Nemec, Team Slovakia (Photo by ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)

Nemec flew up draft boards with his impressive play for Slovakia at the 2021 World Juniors, where he recorded four assists in five games, and at the 2022 Men’s World Championships, where he had one goal and five assists in eight games, becoming only the fourth under-18 defenseman to ever record a goal at the men’s tournament. The two-way blueliner is certainly Slovakia’s top defenseman and captain candidate, but he may also be the best defenseman in the entire tournament.

Luke Hughes is another potential top defenseman and captain at this year’s competition but for the Americans. Hughes had one goal and five assists for the red, white and blue during the 2022 World Juniors, and he also suited up at the men’s tournament, where he recorded one goal and three assists in 10 games. The former fourth-overall pick is the only player invited to Team USA’s pre-tournament camp to also have played in the 2022 World Juniors and the 2022 Men’s World Championship.

Related: 2022 WJC Team USA Player Profile: Luke Hughes

Latest News & Highlights

Hughes has three goals and 15 assists in 20 games for the Michigan Wolverines and is a Hobey Baker Award candidate. The smooth-skating, 6-foot-2 defenseman will look to play a similar role for the Americans that Nemec will play for Slovakia as potential captain, number one defenseman, and likely best player.

Topias Vilen has experience representing Finland at every level since his U16 days, where he wore an “A” on his sweater as an alternate on multiple occasions. The former fifth-round pick turned heads at the NHL Prospects Challenge, gaining praise from the Devils’ coaches and his teammates. Because he is only 19 years old, he wasn’t eligible to play in the AHL, so he was ultimately loaned back to Pelicans of Liiga in Finland, where he has six goals and four assists in 21 games.

Vilen’s six goals are tied for second amongst all defensemen in Liiga, and his plus-14 is good for third among all Pelicans defensemen. Based on his play at the club level and past experience with Finland, HE has a chance to wear a letter on his sweater, completing the trio of Devils defensemen in leadership roles. Regardless of who wears which letters, Nemec, Hughes and Vilen will all stand out as some of the tournament’s best players.

Hauser, Casey & Salminen in the Mix

Petr Hauser is another returning player from last year’s tournament. He represented Czechia and can be remembered for his blistering wrist shot that went post and in against the Americans in the quarter-finals, which helped the Czechs upset Team USA 4-2.

The 6-foot-4 power forward only had one goal and one assist in last year’s tournament, but he has recently been praised for his impressive play and should prove to be a much larger asset this year.

Seamus Casey is another Devils defenseman who has an outside chance to make the American squad. The Michigan freshman is one of three 2022 draft picks invited to a camp dominated by returning players and other 2021 draft picks.

Although Casey is undersized and young for this tournament, he has proved he can compete and excel against bigger, stronger and more experienced players. It is rumored that Keith Tkachuk, one of the former NHLers who serves on the U.S. selection committee, vouched hard to have Casey invited to camp, which isn’t a surprise after his performance so far in the NCAA with the Wolverines. Casey has four goals and 12 assists in 20 games and only four penalty minutes, all while consistently skating circles around the opposition. Team USA is expected to announce its final cuts over the next few days.

Not many people are talking about Samu Salminen as a potential player for Team Finland because of the rocky start to his NCAA career, but I wouldn’t count him out just yet. Salminen originally committed to play college hockey at the University of Denver but faced some obstacles with their admissions process, forcing him to transfer to the University of Connecticut (UConn.) Before the season started, he faced a hiccup in his immigration status, which caused him to miss the first few weeks of the Huskies’ season.

Related: Devils Top 10 Prospects: Midseason 2021-22

The big center captained the Finns at the U18 World Championship in 2021, where he had seven goals and two assists in seven games. He also recorded 30 points in 26 games in his U16 and U17 campaigns.

The 19-year-old has three goals and two assists in 11 games in his first season with UConn. Although this production isn’t as noticeable as it was during international play, it is important to keep in mind the adjustment period that is often needed for international players playing in North America, especially ones who have gone through as much as Salminen has early in his college career. The former second-round pick’s leadership qualities, two-way game and history with Team Finland should all be enough to overlook his up-and-down start to keep his name in the mix.

The Best of the Rest

Tyler Brennan was invited to Team Canada’s camp, but was ultimately released during Monday’s (Dec. 12) cuts. The former fourth-round pick only has previous experience playing for Canada at the U17 level and was expected to compete for the starting job for the reigning gold medalists, but he was sent home. Brennan has a 3.35 goals against average and .887 save percentage in 14 games for the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League (WHL.)

Just after he announced he was coming to North America to play in the Devils’ system after his Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) season, Shakir Mukhamadullin, along with Arseni Gritsyuk, was invited to play for Team Russia in the Channel One Cup that takes place starting on Dec. 15. Russia is banned from the World Junior Championship this year due to its ongoing conflict with Ukraine, but Mukhamadullin has represented his country at multiple age levels, including last year’s World Junior Championship. And he was among the last cuts for the Russian Olympic Committee at the 2022 Olympic Games.

Shakir Mukhamadullin Team Russia
Shakir Mukhamadullin of Team Russia (Russia Hockey/FHR.RU)

Gritsyuk has also represented Russia at multiple different levels. He recorded eight goals and seven assists in 20 games at the 2018 U18 World Championship and one goal in four games at the 2019 World Junior Championship, plus one goal and three assists in four games at the 2020 World Junior Championship. The 21-year-old also totaled one goal, two assists and a game-winning shootout goal in six 2022 Olympic Games on his way to earning a gold medal.

Even with some cuts pending, the Devils will have a strong presence at the 2023 World Junior Championship. Hughes, Nemec, Vilen and Hauser will likely play top minutes while Casey and Salminen wait to learn their fate. Which Devils prospects are you most excited to watch at this year’s tournament? Please leave your comments down below.

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