For a few years now, many have wondered when New Jersey would finally take the next step towards being a competitive group.
That might not be far away. There will be competition for roster spots because of the young talent looking to make a splash. A full season of Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier down the middle will go a long way in ensuring they take that step, too.
Winger Alexander Holtz is right on the cusp of becoming an impactful player. Last year, his debut AHL season was impressive, putting up 51 points in 52 games as a 19-year-old. He showed improved playmaking ability and less reliance on his wicked shot. The more he can diversify his offensive toolset, the more effective his shot will become. Adding that kind of weapon to the top-nine and the Devils’ power play could be a difference maker for New Jersey.
Nolan Foote had a couple of cups of coffee in the NHL the last couple of seasons and could find himself working into the bottom-six and utilizing his shot on the power play at some point this season. Holtz on the half-wall and Foote in the bumper or at the net front with his 6-foot-4 frame could add elements to New Jersey’s powerplay that they need.
Šimon Nemec and Luke Hughes - the second and fourth overall picks from the last two drafts - are the crown jewels of their defensive group. They both bring excellent mobility and offensive instincts, but both will need to clean up their defensive game a bit. Hughes is a cerebral talent who gashes opponents with his passing and his skating, looking to exploit any crack in their defensive structure. Nemec is a tactician, moving the play to its next step and finding his teammates in opportune positions on the ice.
Samu Salminen is a Finnish center ready to kick things off in the NCAA with the University of Connecticut. A skilled playmaker the thrives because of his intelligence, Salminen has improved a bit as a skater from a technical standpoint but still has work to do. The NCAA route will allow him to take his time. Another NCAA player of note in their system is Patrick Moynihan, a versatile forward who works hard and has a sneaky good shot, Moynihan projects as a useful bottom-six energy player who could play on the penalty kill.
Arseni Gritsyuk is a speedy, skilled winger who can score in bunches. His agility and pace help him create space to do his work offensively. The young Russian had a good KHL season last year and will look to build on it this year. Shakir Mukhamadullin was a Devils first-rounder in 2019 and the 6-foot-4 defender has looked better with each passing season in the KHL. He will be back in Russia this year on loan after signing his entry-level contract but the big, mobile blueliner looks like he could be an option to make the Devils roster as soon as next year. The Devils’ pipeline is looking strong and they already have young talent on the roster to go with it.
2022 NHL Draft Class
Round 1 (2 Overall) - Šimon Nemec, D, Nitra MHC (Slovakia)
Round 2 (46 Overall) - Seamus Casey, D, U.S. National Development Team (USHL)
Round 4 (102 Overall) - Tyler Brennan, G, Prince George Cougars (WHL)
Round 4 (110 Overall) - Daniil Orlov, D, Sakhalinskie Akuly (MHL)
Round 4 (126 Overall) - Charlie Leddy, D, U.S. National Development Team (USHL)
Round 5 (141 Overall) - Petr Hauser, RW, Sparta (Czech Jrs.)
Round 6 (166 Overall) - Josh Filmon, LW, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
Round 7 (198 Overall) - Artem Barabosha, D, Krasnaya Armiya (MHL)
The Devils were set on not taking a center with the second overall pick this year it seemed. Captain Hischier and franchise cornerstone Hughes are there, but beyond those two, it gets a little bleak. Their selection of Nemec did make sense in a lot of ways as they needed a right-shot defender for the future. They deemed the skillful and mobile Slovak blueliner as the top defenseman in the draft and made him a Devil with the second overall pick. Nemec won’t be rushed into the NHL lineup as the right side of the NHL roster is fairly solid at the moment but the plan seems to be to have the second overall pick in the AHL to start the season, adjusting to the North American game.
Seamus Casey was one of the more interesting players in the 2022 NHL draft class because of the tools that he brings to the game as well as his methodical approach. He reads play well, positively impacts the transition game, and has the offensive acumen to be a legit threat at that end of the ice. He will be heading to the University of Michigan to hone his craft this year, a route that will be excellent for his development.
The fourth round features the Devils making three picks, beginning with netminder Tyler Brennan. They needed to help shore up their goalie pipeline and they snagged one of the top goalies in the draft class. Brennan is big, has some good size, and moves well in his crease. He needs to work on staying in position more and improving his reflexes, particularly up high, but there is a good base to work with.
Russian defender Daniil Orlov was their next pick in round four. The defensive defenseman plays a simple game without much flash or flair. He uses good footwork to close gaps and a good stick to poke pucks free. He sometimes gets physical but isn’t much of a puck handler. Charlie Leddy, their third fourth-rounder, plays a similar game style but with more efficiency as a puck handler. He establishes his gaps in the neutral zone and then closes out along the wall when he reads that the timing is right. He produced some solid defensive results for the NTDP squad and will be on the long track to the pros with a few years at Boston College ahead of him.
The blueline is the strength of the Devils’ prospect pool. Nemec and Hughes are at the top end of the group and Mukhamadullin is playing well overseas but the defensive group is deep. Casey has impressive tools and an analytical approach to the game. The former NTDP defender breaks down opposition in transition, weaving through the middle of the ice and creating some incredibly fun plays in the offensive zone. Kevin Bahl, acquired in the Taylor Hall trade a couple of years ago, is right on the verge of breaking into the NHL. He is a 6-foot-6 defender who uses his length well in the defensive zone and isn’t afraid to lay a hit, exerting the force of his massive frame on attacking forwards. Daniil Orlov and Charlie Leddy, both taken in the 2022 draft, also add to the defensive depth.
Center is an area of weakness, despite the Devils’ insistence on not taking one at second overall. Still, the biggest weakness in the organization as a whole - from the NHL down - is the goaltending situation. Nico Daws was forced into action far too often and early last year. He was drafted as an overage netminder and he didn’t have a long track record of success prior to the year he was drafted. Akira Schmid looked fine at times and disastrous at others at the AHL level and was also forced into NHL games. Tyler Brennan is a fine goalie prospect and likely jumps to the top of the heap long-term but the Devils could use a high-level goalie prospect to fill out the system because they have not had an answer in net since Corey Schnieder’s first few seasons in Jersey.
Next Man Up: RW Alexander Holtz
The young Swedish sniper should be able to earn a spot on the roster in training camp. Even if that starts in a third-line role, playing with Erik Huala and Tomas Tatar, there should be opportunities for him to make his mark. Holtz shot is as good or better than just about anyone on the Devils’ current NHL roster which will make him an immediate threat to score with the man advantage and his five-on-five play can be insulated a bit. There’s no rush to ask Holtz to take a spot on the wing of Hughes or Hischier as of yet, but with some time at the NHL level, he'll likely work his way there by season’s end. Don’t be surprised to see Holtz's name in the Calder conversation if he earns his spot out of training camp.
Prospect Depth Chart Notables
LW: Nolan Foote, Arseni Gritsyuk, Josh Filmon
C: Samu Salminen, Tyce Thompson, Patrick Moynihan, Artem Shlaine
RW: Alexander Holtz, Graeme Clarke, Chase Stillman, Jaromír Pytlík
LD: Luke Hughes, Shakir Mukhamadullin, Kevin Bahl, Daniil Orlov
RD: Šimon Nemec, Seamus Casey, Charlie Leddy
G: Nico Daws, Tyler Brennan, Akira Schmid
For a deeper dive into the prospect pool with player rankings, check out the Yearbook and Future Watch editions of the Hockey News print edition!