2021-22 Top 10 New Jersey Devils Prospects

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While the overall depth of the Devils prospect pool is very good, what is even more impressive is the youth already playing on the roster.

dIn a full-on youth movement, the Devils are led by Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Dawson Mercer, and Ty Smith who are all under 25-years-old with a full supporting cast that makes up half of their active roster. Despite having over ten players young enough to be considered prospects not listed because they have already graduated, the Devils still have a strong pipeline of prospects on the way to the NHL.

The Devils are flush with youth as a result of a focus on drafting and developing players. With five first round picks in the past two drafts the Devils have been able to acquire several promising prospects. In addition to high drafting, the Devils have also had success in later rounds in players such as Yegor Sharangovich (Selected 141 in 2018), Jesper Bratt (Selected 162 in 2016), and Miles Wood (Selected 100 in 2013)

With plenty of cap space and few long-term contracts to muddy the water, the Devils are on track for building a highly competitive team for a very long time.

Top 10 New Jersey Devils Prospects

  1. Luke Hughes, D – Michigan University (NCAA)

Age: 18
Ht/Wt: 6-2/185
Drafted: 2021 round one, fourth overall by New Jersey Devils

With the fourth overall selection in the 2021 Draft, it was widely suspected by many that the Devils would draft a player to give them a top-end defensive prospect and a player with an older brother in the organization.

Passing on Brandt Clarke, younger brother of Graeme Clark, the Devils united two of the three Hughes brothers. Luke is the younger brother to Devils franchise cornerstone Jack Hughes, and the Vancouver Canucks star defenseman Quinn Hughes. The elder Hughes brother has been hinting for some time now that Luke may end up being the pick of the litter. So far, he has not disappointed.

After a monster draft season with the USNTDP posting 49 points in 56 games, he has hit the ground running as an NCAA freshman. Through his first 20 games in college has had 18 points. That is ridiculous considering he is an 18-year-old freshman and a defenseman! While it was unfortunate the WJC were canceled after Hughes played just one game, he will still have an important year of development with the Wolverines as they pursue an NCAA title.

Like his brother Quinn, Luke is a gifted offensive defenseman. He has sublime puck handling skills and has above-average skating and speed. Luke may not see or think the game at the same level as Quinn, but he does have a size advantage over Quinn standing at 6-2. Luke projects to be a top pairing NHL defenseman that excels at transitioning to offense and plays a solid all-around game. A Norris Trophy is not out of the question in his future.

  1. Alexander Holtz, RW – Utica Comets (NCAA)

Age: 19
Ht/Wt: 6-0/194
Drafted: 2020 round one, seventh overall by New Jersey Devils

Considered to be one of if not the best sniper and shooter outside of the NHL. Holtz has a promising future if he can live up to his potential to play on a wing with either Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier. Since his draft, his development had seemingly flatlined.

While as an 18-year-old playing pro hockey in the SHL is impressive, his point totals failed to increase. Holtz is a three-time participant for Sweden at the WJC and while his previous campaign produced three points in five games, this year’s tournament would have been a true indication of his ability to play as a 19-year-old. His two points in two games before the premature cancellation suggest he was going to be a much more impactful player on the big stage.

Holtz played in ten AHL games at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season and again was underwhelming with a loan goal and three points. This is his first full season in North America and the transition and development are back on track as he has recorded seven goals and 13 points in 12 games with Utica and has seen seven games up in the NHL. Still only 19-years-old Holtz is performing to a level commensurate to where the Devils drafted him and is well on pace to securing a first-line role with the team in the immediate future.

  1. Nolan Foote, LW – Utica Comets (AHL)

Age: 21
Ht/Wt: 6-4/201
Drafted: 2019 round one, 27th overall by Tampa Bay Lightning

Acquired in the trade for Blake Coleman, Foote is a big-bodied goal scorer. Despite playing through a wrist injury during his draft season, Foot managed to produce 36 goals and 63 points and was a first-round selection by the Lightning.

His play at the 2020 WJC scoring five points helped Canada to a Gold Medal. As a rookie in the AHL last year he had a strong showing with 17 points in 24 games and earned an NHL recall where he played in six games and scored his first career NHL goal.

Foote owns a heavy and accurate shot and he has a knack for finding open ice to become available to take advantage of any time and space. Since his draft he has begun to make better use of his size and puck protection skills. His defensive game is also at least average at the pro level.

Where he still needs to improve on is his foot speed – pardon the pun. Foote lacks separation speed or the first-step quickness to find the space and time to exploit his NHL-level shooting ability. Like Holtz, he has the luxury of playing as a sniper on the flank of either Hughes or Hischier in the near future if he can round out his game.

  1. Chase Stillman, RW – Sudbury Wolves (OHL)

Age: 18
Ht/Wt: 6-1/181
Drafted: 2021 round one, 29th overall by New Jersey Devils

Stillman has solid hockey bloodlines as the brother of Riley Stillman and son of Cory Stillman. Chase enjoyed a successful rookie season in the OHL of 34 points in 58 games. In his draft-eligible season, the OHL was shut down, so he found a home in Denmark before helping Canada win Gold at the U-18 with four points in seven games. Selected by the Devils with their second first round pick in 2021 his D+1 back in the OHL has him wearing the Assistant Captain “A” and 27 points through 22 games.

Stillman is best known for his high compete level and motor. Stillman has shown NHL-level shooting and playmaking upside but is seldom described as a dynamically skilled offensive player. Stillman projects as a versatile and valuable support player, much like his father.

  1. Reilly Walsh, D – Utica Comets (AHL)

Age: 22
Ht/Wt: 6-0/185
Drafted: 2017 round three, 81st overall by New Jersey Devils

Perhaps one of the Devils most underrated prospects is the offensive defenseman Reilly Walsh. After a USHL Clark Cup Championship in his draft year with the Chicago Steel, Walsh made the jump to the NCAA where he played three seasons with the Harvard Crimson. In 96 career games, the Massachusetts native scored 78 points and was close to a point per game player in his final two seasons.

His transition to pro was solid and his offense carried over last year to the AHL where he scored 15 points in 33 games as a rookie. In his second season now in Utica, his near point-per-game production level has returned with 18 points through his first 24 games with the Comets.

The right-shot defender produces a high volume of shots, is a prolific passer, and can run the power play. He has average size but plays a physical game and has been developing that even more. His defensive game is not as dominant as his offensive game but is not a liability. The challenge for Walsh will be to find ice time behind the likes of Dougie Hamilton, Luke Hughes, and Ty Smith, and stay ahead of some of the names to follow on this list.

  1. Nico Dawes, G – Utica Comets (AHL)

Age: 21
Ht/Wt: 6-4/203
Drafted: 2020 round three, 84th overall by New Jersey Devils

After backstopping the Guelph Storm to an OHL Championship in his D-1 year, Dawes followed that up by winning the OHL Goalie of the Year Award and winning Gold with Canada at the WJC in his draft year.

With his stock as a top prospect on the rise, he became a refugee in his D+1 season when the OHL shutdown. Dawes found work back in Germany in the DEL playing his first taste of pro hockey. He struggled in his ten games and is now playing as a rookie in the AHL with a strong 8-1-0 record and a 2.15 GAA and .926sv%.

Dawes relies on his size and positioning to be more of a shot-blocker than an athletic saver relying on speed and reflexes. Dawes will compete with Akira Schmidt for starts in the AHL and with COVID creating the taxi squad again Dawes could see the lion’s share of starts in the AHL if Schmidt is recalled for a long NHL run.

  1. Shakir Mukhamadullin, D – Salvat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)

Age: 19
Ht/Wt: 6-4/194
Drafted: 2020 round one, 20th overall by New Jersey Devils

The big Russian defender is a polarizing player. Some prospect writers are enamored with his size and offensive upside. Others are turned off by his decision-making and apparent lack of hockey IQ. I have him ranked seventh, so my intentions are transparent. Mukhamadullin was a surprise to some to be a first-round selection. His stock may have been artificially inflated as the KHL season was underway during the NHL Draft giving the Russian some recency bias perhaps.

His size is impressive, and he can use it to his advantage with a long stick at times and the ability to eliminate lanes, but he lacks any physical aggression that would be an asset. His skating is “Good for a player his size” which to me, always means average at best.

His greatest asset is on the point creating offence. His shot is heavy, however rangy and often too high. He reads plays well on the point and can distribute the puck well making him a dual offensive threat on the power play. Given the Devils depth on blue line, for Mukhamadullin to find a home in the NHL he will need plenty of development and time.

  1. Kevin Bahl, D – Utica Comets (AHL)

Age: 21
Ht/Wt: 6-6/229
Drafted: 2018 round two, 55th overall by Arizona Coyotes

The “Wrecking Bahl” is a throwback to the old days where NHL defensemen were 6-6 hulking and mean lumberjacks. They played defense and played a mean physical game. That is what Bahl does best, he is a big, mean and physically punishing player. Bahl showed some offensive upside in the later years of his OHL career on the Ottawa 67’s.

The biggest hurdle for Bahl to clear to make the NHL would be his skating. He has shown gains in that area and it is no longer a concern. Bahl was acquired with several prospects and pick from the Coyotes in exchange for Taylor Hall and he had a strong rookie AHL season that earned him an NHL cup of coffee with seven games.

Bahl will likely never be an offensive option in the NHL, but he could carve out a very good NHL career as a big physical shutdown defenseman.

  1. Graeme Clarke, RW – Utica Comets (AHL)

Age: 20
Ht/Wt: 6-0/174
Drafted: 2019 round three, 80th overall by New Jersey Devils

Clarke was a prospect trending up and in his draft year, he was improving rapidly with the Ottawa 67’s. His point per game totals jumped from .4 to .62 in his draft year, to .78 in the playoffs. Then in his D+1 year, he was a 1.06 point per game player until injury cut his season short to just 16 games. Losing almost an entire season hurt his development and then the Global pandemic limited his playing time again.

Clarke played six games in Slovakia before returning home to play 31 AHL games as a rookie. His production is improving in his second season, and he is back on the rise.

Clarke is an offensively inclined player. He has a quick first step, makes hard passes, and has an accurate shot. Many areas of his game are still under construction, including his skating, defense, decision making, physical play, board play, and so on. He is a prospect that has upside but requires more development at the AHL level. Clarke could develop into a solid bottom-six, versatile player.

  1. Nikita Okhotyuk, D – Utica Comets (AHL)

Age: 21
Ht/Wt: 6-1/194
Drafted: 2019 round two, 61st overall by New Jersey Devils

Another Ottawa 67s alumni, and like Bahl, Okhotyuk is a stay-at-home defensive defenseman. The Russian defender is not as big a Bahl, but he is a very hard hitter. He hits hard, and often. Okhotyuk is a very reliable defensive player. He makes good and quick decisions with the puck. Moves pucks out of high danger areas, covers the front of the net and clears rebounds effectively. He is capable of logging big minutes. His offensive upside is limited to non-existent, but he projects as a capable defensive defenseman.

Honorable Mentions:

Tyce Thompson – Brother to Buffalo Sabers Tage, Tyce has completed three seasons in the NCAA at Providence and is in his first full pro season and producing at a point-per-game pace in Utica.

Samu Salminen – The Devils 2021 third-round pick is producing over a point-per game in the U20 SM-sarja in Finland and has committed to the University of Denver for the 2022-23 season. Still a few years away but has good upside.

Arseni Gritsyuk – The 20-year-old is having a break-out season in the KHL with 26 points in 38 games with Avangard Omsk. He has one more year remaining on his KHL contract.

Fabian Zetterlund – Made his AHL debut last year with 19 points in 34 games and has improved to 17 points in only 20 games. His improved play earned him a three game NHL recall. He is on the rise.

Nate Schnarr – The third-year pro has found the offensive game he displayed in the OHL. At 22-years-old he still has plenty of upside.

Marian Studenic – Splitting time between NHL and AHL and is on the cusp. Has 22 career NHL games, but only two points.

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