The New Jersey Devils have built up quite the farm system over the last few years. Even with the graduations of Dawson Mercer and a couple of other players, they still have a deep prospect pool, thanks to a solid showing at the 2022 draft. Who are their top 10 prospects heading into the 2022-23 season? Let’s take a look.
- Josh Filmon
- Samu Salminen
- Chase Stillman
- Nico Daws
- Kevin Bahl
10. Tyce Thompson, Center/Right Wing, 23 Years Old
A fourth-round pick at the 2019 draft, Tyce Thompson has emerged as a solid prospect who seems to have an NHL future. Though he missed most of the 2021-22 season after undergoing shoulder surgery, he produced at a nearly point-per-game pace with the Utica Comets (AHL), with 15 points in 16 games.
What’ll help Thompson in his bid for an NHL job is he’s capable of playing either down the middle or right wing. Since the Devils have 13 forwards on their NHL roster at the moment, that could help him as soon as this coming training camp since there’s uncertainty as to who’ll be their fourth-line center. Though he may top out as a bottom-six/third-line forward, he has an underrated shot and is a decent enough playmaker. He needs to continue adding strength to his 6-foot-1, 174-pound frame, but the NHL potential is there.
9. Reilly Walsh, Defenseman, 23 Years Old
Walsh took a noticeable step forward in his development with the Comets a season ago. After totaling 15 points in 33 games with the Binghamton Devils (AHL) during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 campaign, he finished with nine goals and 43 points for the Comets. While the offensive production wasn’t a significant jump, his defensive game was where he improved most.
After the Devils acquired John Marino this summer, it’ll be interesting to see where Walsh figures with the rest of the Devils’ defensive group. With Marino, Damon Severson and Dougie Hamilton on the right side, would Walsh be comfortable playing on his off-hand on the left side? Would someone else move to the left to make room for Walsh if he earns a spot on the team? He has offensive upside and could quarterback the team’s second power-play unit because of his shot. With improvements defensively, it may be his time to break into the NHL.
8. Nolan Foote, Left Wing, 21 Years Old
The 2021-22 season was a bit of a step-back scoring-wise for Nolan Foote. After totaling 17 points in 24 games for the Binghamton Devils in 2020-21, he finished with 14 goals and 32 points in 55 games for the Comets — an 18-goal, 42-point in a 72-game AHL schedule. He also got a cup of coffee in the NHL and finished with three goals and four points in seven games.
However, it was in his NHL stint that Foote showed he was making strides in his development. He finished with an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 53.85 percent and was getting to high-danger areas more often than he did during his previous NHL call-up in 2020-21. Since Foote is an average skater at best, he’ll need to find different ways to score. His shot is the strength of his game, but if he starts scoring dirty goals around the net, that’ll help him carve out a role in the NHL. He likely projects a middle-six/third-line winger at this point.
7. Fabian Zetterlund, Right Wing, 23 Years Old
It was a breakout season of sorts for Zetterlund. In his third year in the AHL, he finished with 24 goals and 52 points in 58 games, making him one of the Comets’ top scorers. He also got a stint in the NHL and looked quite impressive. In his 14 games with the Devils, he averaged 2.96 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five and had an xG% just above 61 percent.
Fourteen games may not be a significant sample size, but Zetterlund looks NHL-ready. He has the AHL production to reinforce that his NHL stint wasn’t a fluke. Since the Devils are tight on cap space, any scoring additions they make before the start of the season will likely come from their farm system. Zetterlund is in a prime position to land one of those spots, as it seems he may be ready to play a middle-six role right away.
6. Shakir Mukhamadullin, Defenseman, 20 Years Old
The third of three first-round picks at the 2020 draft, Mukhamadullin was the most controversial of the three the Devils used at the time. Since then, the former 20th overall pick has slowly progressed in his time playing for Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the KHL. He even got a taste of the AHL playoffs last season, where he picked up two points in three games for the Comets.
Mukhamadullin is a bit of a unicorn when it comes to defense prospects. At 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, he does not play an overly physical game, but that isn’t necessarily what makes him unique. The following visual is from about halfway through last year’s KHL season:
It’s rare to see a defenseman create the number of zone entries and exits Mukhamadullin does, and his success rate is quite good too. There are questions about how his defensive shortcomings will translate to the NHL, but there’s no doubting he’s an intriguing prospect. He’ll play one final season in the KHL before heading to North America in a year. Time will tell what he turns in to, but he has top-four potential.
5. Seamus Casey, Defenseman, 18 Years Old
In acquiring Vitek Vanecek from the Washington Capitals, the Devils also obtained the 46th overall pick at the 2022 draft. They’d use that selection on Casey, who had a strong draft-eligible season with the USNTDP. He also impressed at the U-18 World Junior Championship for Team USA, where he had three goals and six points in six games.
Perhaps I’m a bit too high on Casey, but there is a lot to like about his game. His skating, particularly his edgework, is outstanding. He’s a crafty stickhandler in the offensive zone, and he also excels in transition as a puck-mover, whether it’s with the puck on his stick or as a passer. Some draft rankings had him ranked as a mid to late first-round prospect, so selecting him in the middle of the second round was a good bit of business by the Devils. Scott Wheeler compared him to Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard in a post-draft write-up at The Athletic (from ‘2022 NHL Draft: Winners and losers from Day 2, picked by Scott Wheeler’ – The Athletic, 7/8/2022). That signifies Casey has top-four potential.
4. Arseni Gritsyuk, Left Wing, 21 Years Old
The breakout prospect in the Devils’ system, Gritsyuk finished with 16 goals and 28 points in 39 games for Avangard Omsk in the KHL a season ago. He also had six goals and 10 points in 13 KHL playoff games, helping him earn KHL Rookie of the Year. Entering the 2022-23 KHL season, which opened up this past weekend, he was listed as the top-ranked U-23 player in the league (Mukhamadullin was third):
Though Gritsyuk was a fifth-round pick, it’s not the first time the Devils have found a high-upside prospect (Jesper Bratt, Yegor Sharangovich) in the later part of the draft. What could make Gritsyuk the next Bratt or Sharangovich is his high-caliber shot and much-improved skating since the Devils drafted him in 2019. Right now, he projects more as a middle-six winger. But another impressive showing with Omsk this season (he already scored a goal in his first game) in the KHL could have the Devils thinking potential top-six winger.
3. Šimon Nemec, Defenseman, 18 Years Old
The second overall pick in the 2022 draft, Nemec had a fantastic season in the Slovak Extraliga, totaling 43 points in 58 games between the regular season and playoffs. It was a bit of a surprise to see the Devils take Nemec with the second pick after the Montreal Canadiens selected Juraj Slafkovsky first overall, but they clearly believe in his upside.
Nemec is a creative and shifty playmaker in the offensive zone. His skating is quite good, and he excels at moving the puck through the neutral zone in transition. He needs to improve his rush defense to become an NHLer, but that should come with time. At worst, Nemec should become a second-pair defenseman, but he very much has top-pair potential.
2. Alexander Holtz, Right Wing, 20 Years Old
The seventh overall pick in the 2020 draft, Holtz had a very impressive D+2 season in 2021-22 with the Comets, totaling 26 goals and 51 points in 52 games. Not only was he the Comets’ top scorer, but he was also one of the top U-21 scorers in the entire AHL. Holtz did get a cup of coffee in the NHL but only totaled two assists in 10 games. He had some flashes, but overall, the game still seemed a bit too quick for him.
While Holtz has yet to break through in the NHL, he may not be far off. When a 20-year-old produces at nearly a point-per-game pace in the AHL, it’s only a matter of time before he finds his footing at the next level. His shot is elite, and he’s an underrated playmaker. His skating needs improvement, but he’s spent the summer training with Andreas Öhgren, Bratt’s trainer, in Sweden. If he finds that next step of quickness, 2022-23 could be the season that he contributes to the Devils’ top-six, where he projects long-term.
1. Luke Hughes, Defenseman, 19 Years Old
The younger brother of Devils center Jack Hughes, Luke Hughes had a fantastic freshman season with the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA, totaling 17 goals and 39 points in 41 games. He was among the best defensemen at last month’s U-20 WJC, totaling six points in six games with Team USA. And he only turns 19 years old later this week, meaning there’s plenty more runway for development.
Hughes is an elite skater, just like his brothers Jack and Quinn, but he’s the biggest of the three at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds. His offensive upside is sky high, and his defensive game saw significant improvement as his freshman season progressed with the Wolverines. He’ll return to Michigan for his sophomore year, where he’ll wear an A for the Wolverines. He might not score 17 goals again, but he’ll be one of the best defensemen in the NCAA. He has the highest ceiling of Devils prospects and could become a high-end top-pair defender in his prime.
Devils Prospects Should Start Breaking Through Soon
Since the Devils have had high picks for more than a few years, they still have top-end talent in their system. But they’ve also accumulated legit prospects with their later-round picks, some of who are approaching their mid-20s and are now getting close to being NHL-ready. Among those are Zetterlund, Walsh, and Thompson, but even a younger prospect like Holtz has made progress since the Devils drafted him a little less than two years ago. Because of that, it should be a matter of when and not if they impact the NHL roster.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017