Late yesterday morning, the New Jersey Devils announced they had signed prospect Tyce Thompson to a two-year, entry-level contract that will begin this season. The 21-year-old forward was a 2019 fourth-round pick of the Devils and will report to the team after going through COVID quarantine protocols.
The Devils also announced the signing of prospect Aarne Talvitie late this morning. Like Thompson, he also signed a two-year, entry-level contract, but his will begin for the 2021-22 season. Talvitie will instead report to the Binghamton Devils and play this season on an AHL deal.
Thompson’s Rise as One of Devils’ Top Prospects
At the time of Thompson’s selection, it looked like a questionable pick. He had 25 points in 42 games during his draft year with Providence College (NCAA) and hadn’t shown much offensive production in the USHL in 2017-18.
As it turns out, the Devils saw something in Thompson that no one else did. He was one of Providence’s best players in 2019-20, finishing with 19 goals and 44 points in 34 games. His production dipped a bit this season, but he still produced a point-per-game pace (25 points in 25 games), which led Providence.
Thompson doesn’t have the biggest frame at 6-foot-1, 172 pounds, but he has attributes that make him an interesting NHL prospect. Here’s what The Athletic’s Corey Pronman had to say about him in the fall.
…Thompson’s toolkit jumps out when you see his size and skill. He can stickhandle very well in tight areas, showing the skill to make highlight-reel plays and displaying a high level of creativity with the puck. Thompson moves the puck fine, but he’s more of a shooter than a passer and can score from mid-range. He competes well, and killed penalties for Providence. His footspeed isn’t the best but given his skill and productivity I see a player who is on an NHL trajectory.From ‘2020 NHL organizational rankings: No. 2 New Jersey Devils’, The Athletic – 9/11/2020
Thompson scored some pretty goals in his time with Providence, showcasing some of the high-level skill Pronman mentioned in his organizational ranking of the Devils. That should make him a good fit as a complementary winger on a scoring line down the road.
The Devils’ plan is to get Thompson some games with the big club in New Jersey after he completes his quarantine. He’s been highly productive in the NCAA, so he may be ready to step into the NHL right away. If not, there’ll be a spot for him to find his game with Binghamton in the AHL.
Talvitie’s Stock Hurt by Injury
Talvitie was a sixth-round pick of the Devils at the 2017 Draft. He played a year of junior hockey in Finland after his selection, where he had 58 points in 41 games. He then headed over to the states and began his freshman season with Penn State in 2018-19. That was quite the campaign for Talvitie, as he had 16 points in 17 games with Penn State and captured a gold medal with Team Finland at the 2019 World Junior Championship.
Unfortunately, Talvitie suffered a torn ACL in the gold medal game against Team Canada. That ended his 2018-19 campaign and kept him off the ice until Penn State returned for training camp to begin the 2019-20 season.
It’s been a bit of a struggle for Talvitie since then. His production took a step back in 2019-20, as he totaled 19 points in 30 games. He finished the 2020-21 campaign with 13 points in 21 games, though Penn State was one of the worst teams in the Big Ten.
However, that dip in production may be cause for concern. Here’s what Scott Wheeler had to say of Talvitie in his Devils prospect ranking:
[Talvitie] is not just talented, but he’s also a counted-upon two-way player who is as effective without the puck as he is with it. He’s hard to knock off of the puck, his shot slings off of his blade from mid-range when he has time to really lean into it, and he’s got good hands. But a heavy stride from a standstill (he’s an above-average skater once he builds through his stride) and his stagnant production can limit him and may prevent him from reaching his NHL potential.From ‘Wheeler’s 2021 NHL prospect pool rankings: No. 11 New Jersey Devils’, The Athletic – 1/31/2021
There’s no question Talvitie hasn’t been the same player since his knee injury. Before then, he looked like he was on the path to being one of the Devils’ top prospects. The production hasn’t been there since, and perhaps his skating took a hit after his injury. He has talent, so it’ll be up to the Binghamton and New Jersey Devils to help him find his pre-injury level.
Late-Round Drafting Proving Pivotal
Thompson has the higher ceiling of the two prospects and could be a middle-six scoring winger if he reaches his full potential. Talvitie looked like he had that kind of upside before his injury, but as of now, it’s more likely he’ll be a bottom-six forward if he makes the NHL.
Either way, the Devils’ late-round drafting seems to be paying off once again. Current contributors to the club include Jesper Bratt (sixth round, 2016), Mikhail Maltsev (fourth round, 2016) and Yegor Sharangovich (fifth round, 2018). That’s how teams become contenders. And if one of Thompson or Talvitie becomes NHL regulars, that puts the Devils one step closer to reaching that goal.
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Prospect info from Elite Prospects