Welcome to the 2019 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2019 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2019 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils Prospects.
What we will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2019-20 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
New Jersey Devils Prospects
After making the playoffs in 2017-18, the 2018-19 Devils could not continue the momentum. Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall was limited to just 33 games. Nico Hischier also missed 13 games, causing him to score five fewer points than his rookie campaign. In net, Keith Kinkaid struggled after winning the starter’s job in late 2018 and Cory Schneider started slowly before showing some promise later in the season. All in all, it lead to the Devils missing the playoffs by quite some distance.
Changes were needed and the off-season has been a busy one in New Jersey. The team won the draft lottery, receiving the first overall pick. They also used their cap space to acquire a Norris Trophy-winning defenceman in P.K. Subban. Power forward Wayne Simmonds signed a one-year deal. The team still has cap space and could make even more moves. They have improved their core though, and now look to add some of their youngsters to it.
2019 NHL Draft Picks (Grade A+): Jack Hughes, Nikita Okhotyuk, Daniil Misyul, Graeme Clarke, Michael Vukojevic, Tyce Thompson, Case McCarthy, Cole Brady, Arseny Gritsyuk, Patrick Moynihan, Nikola Pasic,
2018-19 Graduations: Brett Seney, Kurtis Gabriel (age)
Top Prospect: Jack Hughes
The Devils drafted Hughes with the 1st overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Hughes. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#2 Prospect: Ty Smith
Defence — shoots Left
Born March 24th, 2000 — Lloydminster, Alberta
Height 5’11” — Weight 179 lbs [180 cm / 81 kg]
Smith had another strong season with Spokane putting up seven goals and 62 assists for 69 points in 57 games. He was named WHL and CHL Defenceman of the year. However, he was not quite as dynamic in the playoffs, where he was held to nine points in 15 games. Smith also played for Team Canada at the World Juniors putting up three points in five games.
Smith is an excellent skater. He can rush the puck up the ice, or pinch in at the blue line and still cover up his spot defensively. He has excellent speed in both directions. His acceleration is elite, as he reaches top speed in just one or two strides. Smith also has the pivots, agility, and edgework to cover large areas of the ice. This helps him in the defensive game. It also allows him to walk the line, and to open up passing and shooting lanes. Smith has good balance and a low centre of gravity. He has improved his core strength this past year but can still do more before he is NHL ready.
Offensively, Smith is a very good stick handler. He can lead the rush, but also has the poise to control the puck at the blue line and quarterback the play. He has excellent vision and reads the play extremely well. Smith is patient and poised. He makes smart passes to teammates, giving them good scoring chances. He also works well as a trailer, reading the play and finding the open ice to create an offensive threat. Smith almost always seems to make the right play with the puck. Smith is a very good passer and can set things up on the rush or from the point on the power play.
He also has a good wrist shot with an outstanding release. He has improved his slap shot this season and gets good power on his one-timer. Smith is also good at getting his shot on net, despite the traffic, finding shooting lanes. He keeps his shot low and allows his teammates to get screens, tip-ins, and rebounds.
His defensive game is based on smart positioning and a quick stick, but he is undersized. Smith must continue to get stronger, to be better in front of the net and in the corners. He is willing to battle forwards but could use more muscle. Smith is good at getting the puck out of his own end quickly. Once there is a loose puck, he can get to it quickly and either skate it out of danger or make a good first pass to start the transition game. Smith’s best defensive attribute is his skating. It helps him to maintain good gap control, and he is tough to beat off the rush. Overall, his defensive game is strong, with the main concern being size and strength. Again he’s improved these areas this past season but there is a difference between junior and the NHL.
A 2000 birthdate, Smith is not eligible to start the season in the AHL. It is either make the Devils or head back to the WHL. He will likely get a nine-game tryout to see where he is this fall but the pressure will be on Smith to impress in those games or he’ll be sent back to the WHL. Defencemen take time to develop and another year gaining strength and playing big minutes in the WHL (and in the World Juniors) could really help Smith. Even if he’s not a full-time NHLer this year, and he could be, expect him on the team in 2020.
#3 Prospect: Jesper Boqvist
Left Wing/Center — shoots Left
Born October 30th, 1998 — Falun, Sweden
Height 6’0″ — Weight 179 lbs [183 cm / 81 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 2nd round, #36 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Boqvist had another strong season with Brynas in the SHL. He put up 13 goals and 35 points in 51 games. He was tied for second in points by a player under the age of 21 in the SHL last season. He also got to play in some games with the Swedish National Team, putting up two assists in five games at the European Hockey Tour.
Boqvist has a great first step and outstanding acceleration. He wins races to loose pucks and can pressure players who have the puck. His top end speed is also very good, and it helps him to be dangerous in transition and create odd-man rushes. Boqvist has a powerful lower body, which gives him a strong stride. He has the ability to fight through checks, and be strong on the puck against other junior players. However, playing against men, one can see that there is still a bit of room to improve before he is ready to take the next step. Boqvist also has very good agility and can make quick cuts to beat a defender in one-on-one situations.
Boqvist combines his excellent skating ability, with the quick hands to make stick handle in a phone booth. His dekes, feints, and puck protection make him a real handful for defenders. When Boqvist gets a step on a defender, he drives to the net looking to make a play. He is also a strong playmaker, using his vision to find open teammates and his lateral agility to open up passing lanes.
Most of Boqvist’s goals come in close to the net. He has the hands to finish in tight, and the quickness to pounce on rebounds. He also has a quick release on his wrist shot and can get off a quick one-timer. He’s added power to his wrist shot, but will still do most of his goal-scoring inside the face-off dots.
Boqvist is willing to take a hit to make a play and can battle along the boards but he isn’t one who initiates contact. Instead, he uses his stick to make poke checks at the puck. He could be even better at battling with more upper body strength. His positioning is generally pretty good in his own end, and he can transition the puck quickly to offence once a turnover is created. His speed and quickness is an asset in his own end.
It has basically been confirmed that if Boqvist does not make the Devils out of camp, he will spend another season in Sweden. On CapFriendly, the Devils currently have 11 NHL forwards under contract as well as Pavel Zacha as an RFA. There will be a tough competition for the spot in camp, including the other forwards on this list and Brent Seney who played 51 games last year. Positional versatility and his defensive game will be assets for Boqvist in that fight for a spot.
#4 Prospect: Mackenzie Blackwood
Goalie — shoots Left
Born December 9th, 1996 — Thunder Bay, Ontario
Height 6’4″ — Weight 225 lbs [193 cm/102 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the second round, #42 overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft
Blackwood got his first real taste of NHL action last season. In 23 games he went 10-10-0 with a 2.61 goals-against-average and .918 save percentage. It was enough to give the Devils faith in his ability to be a full-time NHL goalie, as they traded away Kinkaid at the deadline and have not added an experienced backup this summer.
Coming in at 6-foot-4, Blackwood has the ideal size that teams look for in goaltenders now. He uses that size effectively and comes out to challenge shooters and take away the amount of net they have to look at. He skates extremely well and can back up quickly to close down the net on dekes. Blackwood is almost always square to the shooter, even on cross-ice passes as he gets across very quickly due to a strong leg push. He stays in control and avoids over-sliding.
Blackwood plays a strong butterfly technique with strong legs that take away the bottom of the net, and an excellent glove hand. His rebound control is strong for his age; however, it can continue to improve. He does a very good job of recovering quickly and getting square to the puck when he does give up a rebound though.
Playing the Puck
Blackwood also is a very good stick handler and passer, not being afraid to leave his crease to play the puck. He takes advantage if he sees the opponent make a bad line change, and can make a long pass to his forwards. Blackwood’s puck handling makes him like a third defenceman back there for his team. He is a natural leader, with a cool and calm demeanour. Blackwood does not get frustrated after giving up a goal. He bounces back quickly, focusing on making the next save.
There are still some raw spots in Blackwood’s game that could be refined by a good goalie coach. He can be tighter with his arms and body when he goes down in the butterfly. However, these are minor issues and entirely fixable. For a goaltender who only started playing the position due to an injury to a teammate at the age of 12, his technique is pretty polished.
Blackwood will compete for starts with Schneider. He proved that he was NHL ready at the end of last season. The Devils will be counting on him to continue his development and shoulder a big load if they are to make their way back to the playoffs in 2020.
#5 Prospect: Joey Anderson
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born June 19th, 1998 — Roseville, Minnesota
Height 5’11” — Weight 192 lbs [180 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 3rd round, #73 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Anderson bounced between the Devils, where he had seven points in 34 games and the Binghamton Devils, where he had six points in 13 games last season. While the offensive numbers weren’t great, it was a nice introduction to pro hockey after two years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Anderson has good speed and acceleration, which he uses to get in extremely quickly on the forecheck. Despite being slightly undersized, height wise, Anderson has a stocky frame which he uses to play a very physical game. He also has the ability to beat defenders wide and drive the net. Anderson could use work on his agility and edgework, which would help him to make plays one-on-one against defenders. He has good lower body strength and balance, helping him to win battles along the boards and establish his position in the crease.
Anderson is a hard-working forward who does the dirty work on his line. He digs hard in the corners and digs out loose pucks. Anderson is also willing to get to the front of the net, both with and without the puck. When he is there he has the soft hands to finish things in tight to the goal. Anderson also has a good wrist shot with a decent release that he uses from further out.
His passing skills are decent, but Anderson is more willing to make the simple pass to keep the cycle game going and maintain possession than to try a fancy pass. He uses his stickhandling ability to protect the puck but isn’t the type of player to make a lot of one-on-one moves to get past a defenceman. He plays a north-south style and is all about making simple plays that keep possession and generate scoring chances.
Anderson also has a strong defensive game. He shows the gritty type of hard-working plays he makes in the offensive zone in the defensive zone as well. Anderson supports the defence down low and works to win battles along the boards. He has good positioning and creates turnovers that quickly lead to transition offence. Anderson is willing to do whatever it takes to win games and is not afraid to block shots.
Anderson will fight for a spot on the team. His ability to play a gritty, physical style without taking too many penalties is a real asset as he will be looking to start with a bottom-six role. There is still some question as to how much offence Anderson has though. If the Devils think that he can develop his offensive skills better in the AHL, it might make sense for him to spend one more season in Binghamton.
#6 Prospect: Michael McLeod
Centre — shoots Right
Born February 3rd, 1998 — Mississauga, Ontario
Height 6’2″ — Weight 188 lbs [188 cm / 85 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 1st round, #12 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
McLeod struggled at times during his first full season as a pro hockey player. He got in 21 games with the Devils, putting up just three assists. Down in Binghamton, he had a bit more success with six goals and 33 points in 55 games.
McLeod is an absolute speedster, with great top-end speed and outstanding acceleration. McLeod is one of the fastest skating prospects in all of hockey- he’s that fast. On top of that, he has excellent agility, and the ability to change directions quickly. McLeod uses his skating ability to its full advantage to elude defenders and open up passing and shooting lanes when working off the rush, or even when playing the cycle game. McLeod has good size and is strong on his skates, which is a great asset in working along the boards and in front of the net.
McLeod shows strong passing skills and good vision. He makes strong, tape-to-tape passes both off the rush and in the cycle game. McLeod has a good release on his wrist shot and has improved its power over the last year. It can improve a little more, by adding muscle to his frame. He is also using his shot more often than in the past. However, he could still stand to shoot more. Telegraphing his passing and not being able to change things up with a shot is going to curtail his offensive potential at the NHL level. He needs to keep goaltenders honest.
Add in a non-stop motor to go along with his strong skating and McLeod shows the willingness and ability to get in quickly on the forecheck. He pressures defenders and creates turnovers and mistakes, which then create offence for himself and his linemates. He gets into the dirty areas, whether that be battling for pucks in the corner, or establishing his position in front of the net.
McLeod is also able to provide great support on the backcheck. His strong two-way game was seen in the OHL, and his AHL coaches felt comfortable using him in defensive situations including killing penalties. He brings his grit and tenacity in all three zones, being strong along the boards and playing a physical brand of defence. McLeod reads the play extremely well and provides defensive support where it is needed. He is strong positionally, and more than willing to sacrifice his body at the defensive end.
McLeod is another Devils forward with a chance to claim a bottom-six role in training camp. With Hughes and Hischier as the Devils long-term 1-2 punch at centre, the team is hoping that McLeod will develop into an excellent two-way player for the third line. McLeod will need to improve his scoring to become a threat in that role. The Devils must assess if he can do that at the NHL level or needs more time in Binghamton. Even if sent down, he could be a quick call-up if the Devils have injury concerns.
#7 Prospect: Aarne Talvitie
Center — shoots Left
Born February 11th, 1999 — Espoo, Finland
Height 5’11” — Weight 201 lbs [180 cm/91 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 6th round, #160 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Playing his first season in North America, Talvitie put up five goals and 16 points in 17 games at Penn State. However, a torn ACL ended his season early. He also scored seven points in seven games at the World Juniors helping the Finnish team to the gold medal. He was named in the top three players on the team.
Talvitie is a good skater. His top-end speed and acceleration allow him to go wide on defenders and still cut in and drive the net. He also has the agility and edgework to effectively weave in and out of traffic and make plays. Talvitie could stand to bulk up even more to be stronger on the puck and improve his balance.
Talvitie can play the roles of both shooter and playmaker. He has a strong and accurate wrist shot. It is very heavy. It also features a quick release and this can fool goaltenders. Talvitie also has a very good one-timer. He is a gritty forward, willing to get to the front of the net and get rebounds and deflections. Talvitie also battles hard on the forecheck, and on retrieving loose pucks in the corners.
Talvitie is a strong playmaker as well. He uses his slick hands to control the puck and extend plays. He makes quick feints in order to open up passing and shooting lanes. Talvitie sees the ice very well and has the distribution skills to get the puck to the open man.
Talvitie works hard in the defensive end of the ice. He is a committed back checker, who fights for loose pucks and pressures attacking forwards. Despite his small stature he is willing to engage physically and puts a ton of pressure on the opponent. Going forward he will need to reign things in a bit, as he has a tendency to get into penalty trouble.
Talvitie returns to Penn State, hoping that his knee is fully rehabbed and he is ready to pick up where he left off last season. He really played well prior to the injury and without that injury question, he would probably be a top-five prospect for the Devils as his season was trending that way. Talvitie will still need some time in college but could be a steal of a pick.
#8 Prospect: Reilly Walsh
Defence — shoots Right
Born April 21st, 1999 — Andover, New Hampshire
Height 5’11” — Weight 181 lbs [180 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 3rd round, #81 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Walsh broke out with an excellent offensive season as a sophomore. He put up 12 goals and 19 assists for 31 points in 33 games for Harvard. Overshadowed by teammate Adam Fox, Walsh was named to the ECAC Third All-Star Team.
Walsh is an excellent skater. His stride is textbook and gives him excellent speed in both directions. He also has a very good first step, and his acceleration allows him to reach that top-speed in two to three strides. Walsh also has very good pivots. He transitions from offence to defence and back effectively and can play a 200-foot game. His agility and edgework are also good. Walsh needs to get stronger though, he gets knocked off the puck a bit too easily and struggles in the corners and in front of the net.
Walsh’s offensive game is keyed by his strong skating ability. He pairs this with good puckhandling skills. Walsh is able to retrieve loose pucks and skate them out of danger. If an offensive opportunity presents itself, he can skate the puck up the ice and lead the rush. More often though, he head-mans the puck with a strong first pass and then picks up as a trailer on the backend. Walsh has improved his slap shot in the past year, but could still be even better. He does a good job of getting it through traffic and on net. Walsh understands how to keep his shot low to allow his teammates to tip in pucks and pounce on rebounds. He also has a good wrist shot with a quick release.
Walsh makes good passes to start the transition game but needs to improve his ability to quarterback the power play. He has improved his poise and slowed things down this past year, making better use of his puckhandling skills and skating ability to find openings in the defence. This has helped him to be a much more dynamic player. He has the patience to wait for a teammate to get open and can make a quick move to change the angle and get the puck through tight areas.
Walsh’s strong skating makes him difficult to beat in one-on-one situations. While he is not overly physical, he uses an active stick to create turnovers and change the direction of play. Walsh could stand to work on his positioning going forward though. There are times where he can get caught not moving his feet and focusing on the puck. This is an area he will need some coaching in.
Walsh returns to Harvard for his junior campaign this fall. With Fox leaving the team, Walsh will take over the role of top defender. This will be a test for him and if Walsh succeeds he could find the Devils making offers for him to leave school next spring.
#9 Prospect: Daniil Misyul
The Devils drafted Misyul with the 70th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Misyul. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#10 Prospect: Fabian Zetterlund
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born August 25th, 1999 — Karlstad, Sweden
Height 5’11” — Weight 195 lbs [180 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 3rd round, #63 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Zetterlund was limited to just 16 games with Farjested in the SHL last season, picking up two goals and four points. He also played at the World Juniors but did not pick up a point in what turned out to be a disappointing tournament for the Swedish team. After returning to Sweden, a knee injury cut the season short and forced him into surgery. The Devils hope that he will be ready to play in September.
Zetterlund is a stocky winger, who has excellent balance and a powerful stride. He can fight through checks and is tough to knock off the puck. He is not the fastest skater but is not slow by any means either. In fact, his speed is slightly above average. Zetterlund reaches that speed with decent acceleration. His agility and edgework are decent but again are not elite.
Zetterlund is a goal scorer. He has a heavy wrist shot and he gets it off with a quick release. Zetterlund is willing to go to the net where he causes problems by creating traffic and screening goalies. He has the quick hands to bang in a rebound or tip a point shot. Zetterlund works well in the cycle game, he uses his body and balance to protect the puck. He can stand to work on his play along the boards though. Winning more battles for loose pucks would take his game to the next level.
Zetterlund is not the most creative player. He plays a north-south style. He isn’t one to try a difficult pass, instead, keeping the puck moving to the open man with a safer play. He also doesn’t use his stickhandling to create passing lanes and open up the ice.
Zetterlund’s defensive game has improved but is still a bit of a work in progress. He could use his body more, battling in the corners and putting pressure on in the backcheck. He does a good job of cutting down passing and shooting lanes though. Zetterlund transitions quickly from defence to offence when a turnover is created. He also needs a bit of work on his positioning.
Zetterlund signed with the Devils this year and is headed to North America. He is another forward who will compete for a spot in camp. However, with the adjustment to smaller ice, and the fact that he needs some defensive work, as well as the number of players competing for the spot, this could be an uphill battle for Zetterlund. Expect him to start the year in the AHL but he should be prepared for a call-up in case the Devils see some injuries amongst the forward group.
Sleeper Prospect: Xavier Bernard
Defence — shoots Left
Born January 6th, 2000 — Mercier, Quebec
Height 6’3″ — Weight 208 lbs [191 cm / 94 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 4th round, #110 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft
Bernard was traded from Drummondville to Charlottetown at the QMJHL trade deadline. Overall he put up six goals and 19 assists for 25 points in 66 regular season games. He also added an assist in six playoff games.
Bernard is a very good skater. He has good speed in both directions, which allows him to play a strong two-way game. His acceleration is also good in both directions. He has good edgework and pivots. Bernard is able to transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. His agility, as well as his lateral movement, are very strong. This helps him to maintain good gap control and to keep attackers in front of him on the rush. Bernard also has a strong lower-body. He has excellent balance and is very tough to knock off the puck. Bernard battles hard in the corners and in front of the net. He keeps the crease clear, and he wins the battles for loose pucks.
Bernard is mostly known for his defensive work, but there is some offensive potential in his game as well. He has an exceptionally hard slap shot and one-timer from the point. It is one of the better point shots in this draft class. Bernard uses his lateral mobility to open up shooting lanes and successfully gets his shot on net and through traffic on a regular basis. He also understands how to keep his shot low, which leads to rebounds and tip-ins for teammates.
Bernard is also a very good passer. He is very good at hitting the open man and starting the transition game out of his own end of the ice. Bernard can skate the puck out of danger but isn’t the type to rush it up the ice. While playing the point, he is poised with the puck and makes smart passes to teammates. He has not seen a lot of power-play time to this point in his junior career but could handle more. Expect to see Bernard’s point totals increase when this happens. He has the ability to do more at the offensive end than he has done to this point in his junior career.
Bernard is a strong defender. His strong skating and lateral agility make him tough to beat in one-on-one situations. He positions himself well and he uses a long stick to cut down passing lanes. Bernard keeps himself between his man and the net. He is physical in defending against the cycle game as well as clearing the front of the net. Bernard is also capable of throwing a big hit. He is disciplined and does not take a lot of penalties despite this physical game.
Bernard is still a bit of a long term project. Expect to see him spend one more season in the QMJHL before making the leap to the pros. Even when he does, he could use some AHL seasoning.
The Devils had a very strong draft in 2019. They add Clarke, Moynihan, and Thompson to a deep forward group. Nathan Bastian, Marian Studenic, Brandon Gignac, Nikita Popugaev, and Mikhail Maltsev, are also already in the system. The defence has improved depth with Okhotyuk, McCarthy, and Vukojevic added to a pool that also includes Colton White, Jeremy Groleau, Yegor Zaitsev, and Josh Jacobs. In goal, the Devils have Evan Cormier, Gilles Senn, and newly drafted Cole Brady.
Overall, the Devils depth has really improved in recent years, and two draft lottery wins have given them the top-end talent to complement that. Add in Ty Smith falling into their laps and some later round steals like Boqvist and Bratt and the Devils future is really bright.