6 Devils Prospects Who Could Crack 2022-23 Roster

The New Jersey Devils made quite a few additions this offseason. They added a top-six winger in Ondrej Palát, a new goalie in Vitek Vanecek, and made some upgrades on defense with John Marino and Brendan Smith. Even though that’s quite a bit of NHL talent taking up roster spots, the Devils have built up a strong farm system and will have more than a few prospects competing for regular NHL gigs on the opening night roster. Let’s look at who that might be. 

Tyce Thompson, Center/Right Wing

Thompson missed most of the 2021-22 season after undergoing shoulder surgery in November. But when he did play, he produced, totaling six goals and 15 points in 16 games with the Utica Comets (AHL). Of those 15 points, 11 were primary points (goals or first assists), which is a good indication of future scoring. He’s versatile, as he can play either center or right wing, which could help him land a spot on the Devils’ roster since there’s uncertainty as to who’ll be their fourth-line center. 

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If the spot opens up, Thompson will likely be competing with Jesper Boqvist to center the fourth line alongside Miles Wood and Nathan Bastian. While Thompson has some skill and underrated shot, his style may suit a fourth-line, bottom-six role better than Boqvist, which could make for an interesting camp battle if that’s how the situation unfolds. 

Kevin Bahl, Defenseman

Bahl was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes in Dec. 2019. His time may be coming, as he showed noticeable growth in the NHL last season. His five-on-five numbers weren’t spectacular; he finished with Corsi and expected goals percentages (CF%, xG%) of 46.61 and 49.1 percent, respectively. But those were significant improvements from his prior season, especially his xG%, which jumped from 34.3 percent to 49.1. 

Kevin Bahl New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils defenseman Kevin Bahl (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With the way the Devils’ blue line is constructed, there’s an opportunity for Bahl to grab a spot as a third-pair defender. Smith is the favorite at the moment, but if Bahl continues on his upward trend and shows he can defend the rush the way an NHL defenseman needs to succeed, that job could be his. He also adds a physical element that the team’s defense generally lacks. 

Fabian Zetterlund, Right Wing

Zetterlund got a 14-game stint with the Devils last season and looked quite impressive. Of Devils skaters to log at least 100 minutes at five-on-five, he finished fourth in CF% (52.63 percent) and first in xG% (61.75 percent). He was also the team’s most-efficient five-on-five scorer, averaging 2.96 points per 60 minutes, and showed play-driving ability. 

Zetterlund’s NHL stint likely wasn’t a fluke either. He finished with 24 goals and 52 points in 58 games for the Comets and was one of their best players a season ago. He played top-line minutes with the Comets, and when given an opportunity alongside Nico Hischier with the Devils, he did not look out of place. Since the team has 13 forwards at the moment, he will have to take someone’s job, but that seems like a good bet to make. 

Alexander Holtz, Right Wing

The Devils have a lot invested in Holtz. They used the seventh overall pick on him at the 2020 draft, the first of three first-round selections they had that year, and expect him to be a top-six scorer for a long time. He may be on the cusp of an NHL gig as well, as he finished with 26 goals and 51 points in 52 games for the Comets a season ago; of those 51 points, 42 were primary points.

Alexander Holtz, New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils prospect Alexander Holtz (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Because the Devils are up against the salary cap, for now, any scoring addition they make at this point will likely come from their farm system. Though Holtz hasn’t looked the part in the NHL yet, he offers the most scoring upside and should be a good fit alongside Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier. He’ll need top-six minutes in the preseason to succeed, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t get that opportunity in exhibition games. If Holtz produces and doesn’t look out of place at five-on-five, he should force his way onto the roster. 

Nikita Okhotiuk, Defenseman

Okhotiuk is lower on the pyramid of Devils’ defense prospects than Luke Hughes, Šimon Nemec, Shakir Mukhamadullin, and even Bahl, but the organization does seem to think highly of him. He got a cup of coffee in the NHL last season and scored his first NHL goal. He’s not afraid to stir things up and plays a physical game that will agitate opponents. 

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Okhotiuk is an ideal defenseman to carry as the seventh blueliner, but he’s still a prospect at 21 years old who needs playing time, not sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch. He would probably benefit from another year with the Comets, who should boast a very strong blue line in 2022-23. But he’ll at least be in the mix for one of the last spots on the Devils’ blue line, though he has work to do to overtake Smith and Bahl. 

Nolan Foote, Left Wing

Foote’s first two seasons as part of the Devils organization have been a bit up and down. He impressed with the Binghamton Devils (AHL) in 2020-21, totaling 17 points in 24 games as one of their top scorers during the COVID-shortened campaign. Last season was a bit of a step back, however, as he finished with 14 goals and 32 points in 55 games with the Comets — a 42-point pace over a 72-game AHL schedule. 

Despite the step back in production, the Devils still gave Foote a look in the NHL, and what he did in those minutes was encouraging. He finished with three goals and four points in seven games and totaled an xG% of 53.85 percent, granted in a small sample size of 68 minutes. The strength of his game is his shot, but two of his three goals a season ago came from dirty areas around the crease: 

Nolan Foote, New Jersey Devils
Nolan Foote shot chart for 2021-22 (via Evolving-Hockey)

At 6-foot-3, 196 pounds, the Devils want Foote to be a power forward. If he can consistently score goals in the slot and around the blue paint, that’ll help him earn an NHL spot. It can’t just be about his shot, but his NHL stint in 2021-22 showed he’s making more of an effort to get to high-danger areas and not rely solely on his shooting ability. He might have an uphill climb to pass Zetterlund and Holtz on the wing, but he’ll be in the conversation too. 

Less Spots Means More Camp Battles

Were it not for the Devils acquiring Marino, Reilly Walsh would likely be in a prime position for an NHL roster spot. He finished with 43 points in 70 games for the Comets and has some offensive upside that could be beneficiary for a bottom-pair role. He might still have a chance, but it may have to come on his off-hand since the right side of the Devils’ blue line is in such great shape. At the very least, a strong camp could show the Devils’ coaching staff that Walsh is worthy of being call-up No. 1 in case of injuries. 

Unlike the two most recent training camps, there are far fewer roster spots available for Devils prospects this year. That’s especially true up front since the Devils have 13 forwards. If Zetterlund or Holtz make the team, they’ll have to take someone’s job to do so, which should make for some intense camp battles once preseason games begin in about three weeks. 

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