The New Jersey Devils‘ top-tier prospects are making headlines again, specifically their defensemen. Simon Nemec looks like he is finding his way with the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League (AHL), and Luke Hughes continues to make plays worthy of a Hobey Baker Award candidate. Here’s how these two, and many other Devils’ prospects, performed over the last seven days.
Nemec Fills the Score Sheet
Nemec reminded the world again why the Devils selected him with the second-overall draft pick in last July’s Entry Draft when he collected a pass in the slot and ripped the puck past the goalie to record his second AHL goal during the Utica Comets’ 7-3 win over the Belleville Senators on Saturday (Dec. 3.)
Simon wanted to join the party 🎉 pic.twitter.com/IUCEFiJ3vP— Utica Comets (@UticaComets) December 4, 2022
Nemec also tallied one assist in the win and was a game-high plus-5 rating. He now has two goals and five assists on the season and leads all Comets skaters with a plus-6 rating and 39 shots through his 19 games played.
Hughes In Fine Form Before World Juniors
Hughes was named to the U.S. preliminary roster for the 2023 World Junior Championship Monday (Dec. 5), along with fellow Michigan defenseman and Devils prospect Seamus Casey. Hughes is one of just six players to return from last year’s tournament, and he’s the only player who played in the 2022 World Junior Championship and the 2022 Men’s World Championship. The 19-year-old is expected to be named to the leadership group for this year’s tournament due to his U.S. hockey experience and his fine play with Michigan.
Hughes scored his third goal of the season in Friday’s (Dec. 2) 6-3 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers when he joined the rush and beat the Badgers’ goaltender with a half slapshot from the top of the faceoff circle.
Hughes also added one assist Friday (Dec. 2) and another on Saturday (Dec. 3) when Michigan defeated Wisconsin 4-2 to pass Casey for the scoring lead amongst Michigan defensemen. The Hobey Baker hopeful has three goals and 14 assists for 17 points, which is just one more than Casey.
Gritsyuk Starting a Streak?
Arseni Gritsyuk has six points in his last four games for Avangard, including four assists and two goals. The former fifth-round pick is the former Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) rookie of the year but has been up and down during his second full professional season. He’s bounced from top line to bottom line and from left wing to right wing, but the one constant seems to be his presence on the power play.
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Gritsyuk scored two goals Sunday (Dec. 4), with his first coming on the power play when he wired home a slap shot from the right circle that beat the goalie short side over his glove.
The second came from the other side of the ice when he collected a puck in transition and let a wrist shot go that beat the goalie over his blocker. Gritsyuk has six goals and 13 assists in 37 games this season and points in three straight games.
The Best Of The Rest
Jakub Malek recorded his first career Liiga shutout Thursday (Dec. 1) when Ilves defeated Hameenlinna 4-0. He recorded 26 saves in the win and now has a 2.26 goals against average (GAA) and a .897 save percentage (SV%.)
Samu Salminen had a breakout week with the University of Connecticut, where he recorded one goal Tuesday (Nov. 29) and one goal and one assist Friday (Dec. 2.) The Finnish center was especially impressive in the faceoff circle, where he won 12 out of 19 faceoffs Tuesday and 10 out of 13 Friday.
Hughes, Casey and Salminen all have great chances to represent their county in the upcoming World Junior Championship, so it’s great to see them at the top of their games. Which other Devils prospects are you looking forward to seeing at the World Juniors?
Mason works in the sports gambling industry but his true passion lies in the game of hockey. He covers the New Jersey Devils for The Hockey Writers and spent time in the past covering Penn State men’s hockey for various online media outlets. Feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter to further connect.