The New Jersey Devils are in a unique and sweet spot as an organization. Based on last season’s standings, they were a top-three team in the league and finished with a franchise record 112 points. In terms of the future, Yahoo’s Ian Kennedy ranked the Devils in the top five for prospects pool. For years, fans have heard the never-ending statement that the future is bright in New Jersey. Now, the future is here, and it is only going to get better.
With the 2023-24 season around the corner, there is potential for prospects to make their NHL debuts in the coming months. Years of buildup and anticipation for a highly-touted draft pick can culminate with a debut, and the Devils have a few candidates that we will likely see lace up the skates for New Jersey. Lastly, with Luke Hughes making his NHL debut last season, all eyes are on the next defensive prospect who can make his debut this season.
If Simon Nemec‘s debut and introduction to the NHL goes half as well as Hughes’, the Devils’ defense will be an unstoppable force. The 19-year-old defenseman was the second overall pick in the 2022 NHL draft. In the 2022-23 season, he played in the American Hockey League (AHL) and recorded a stat line of 65 games played, 12 goals, and 22 assists for 34 points. In six playoff games, he scored one goal and three assists.
Nemec’s goal is to make the roster out of training camp. However, with 19-year-old defenseman Luke Hughes fighting for a spot, it is not likely that Nemec will start with the big club. Furthermore, the Devils will likely be hesitant to play two young defensemen right off the bat. Luckily, the Slovak defender has been able to adapt to smaller North American ice with the Utica Comets of the AHL. Comets head coach Kevin Dineen shared, “You get to watch these kids when they’re 18 or 19, and all of the sudden, you see where they’re at when they’re 30. Whether it happens the first month during this season or what have you. I look forward to watching the next 15 years.” (from ‘Devils’ Simon Nemec ‘ready to fight’ for opening night roster spot,’ NJ.com, 9/15/23) Nemec’s debut will be watched by many, and Devils fans have been waiting to see him play in the NHL since the moment he was drafted.
The Slovak defender is praised for his hockey IQ, smooth skating, and two-way play. He is also a main fixture on the Comets’ power play and will surely be used in the Devils’ future special team units. Hopefully, fans will not have to wait too long until he makes his NHL debut.
In the same draft that the Devils selected Jack Hughes, Tyce Thompson, and Arseni Gritsyuk, they also selected Graeme Clarke in the third round. The 6-foot-1 winger has spent the last three seasons in the AHL and has been improving tremendously each season. In the 2022-23 season, he recorded 25 goals, 33 assists and 58 points in 68 games played. Clarke set career highs and more than doubled his production from the previous season.
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With the departure of Tomas Tatar, Alexander Holtz will likely fill the Devils’ bottom-six. However, the season is long, and injuries are unfortunately a part of the game. This will allow Clarke an opportunity to show his progression in the NHL. The 22-year-old Minnesotan is in the last year of his entry-level contract and will be high on the call-up list if a spot needs to be filled.
Clarke’s performance in the AHL and the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo are positive signs that he will be able to take the next step in his career. All that he needs is the chance to put on the Devils sweater and prove that he belongs in the lineup.
As the defensive depth for the Devils continues to build up, Seamus Casey is an exciting, fast, and offensive-minded defenseman who will begin his 2023-24 season with the Michigan Wolverines. Casey will be entering his sophomore season after an incredible season where he played 37 games and scored eight goals and 21 assists for 29 points. Therefore, the American defender will likely not join the team until late April or a potential playoff appearance. He will also have to sign his entry-level contract in order to play.
Though Casey does not have the same anticipation and expectations as Hughes and Nemec, two years at Michigan could be enough for his development. In development camps, he is a constant bright spot and stands out amongst the competition. His future in the NHL looks promising, and much will be discovered in his sophomore season.
While fans may have to wait until the 2024-25 season to see Casey consistently in the lineup, he is not a prospect to underestimate. Getting a glimpse of him in New Jersey in the upcoming season would introduce his abilities to the fans and a taste of what he can bring to the lineup.
The prospect pool discussions dwindle as the Devils show more consistent success. However, despite current success, New Jersey still has an impressive and immense set of prospects that have yet to make their debut. Depth is a key component to the league, and having the ability to bring in young, quality players makes the Devils even more dangerous.