Welcome to the 2021 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2021 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. 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 2021 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed. Today, we look at the 2021 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 2021-22 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.
2021 New Jersey Devils Prospects
The Devils had another painful season as the team’s rebuild continues. However with youngsters like Jack Hughes, Ty Smith, Yegor Sharangovich, Jesper Bratt, Janne Kuokkanen, and others coming into their own there are signs of light appearing at the end of the tunnel. Devils management has spent the summer supporting those young players and make acquisitions that will improve the team. They have signed Dougie Hamilton and Tomas Tatar, a pair of players who are extremely well-regarded in the analytics community. They also added Ryan Graves, Christian Jaros, and Jonathan Bernier, giving the team more depth on defence and in goal.
2021 Draft Picks: Luke Hughes, Chase Stillman, Samu Salminen, Jakub Malek, Topias Vilen, Viktor Hurtig, Zakhar Bardakov
Graduations: Jesper Boqvist, Yegor Sharangovich, Janne Kuokkanen, Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian (expansion)
2021 New Jersey Devils Top Prospect: Luke Hughes
The Devils drafted Hughes with the 4th 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]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 1st Round, #17 Overall, at the 2018 NHL Draft.
After playing 48 games last year, Smith barely comes in as a prospect under our criteria (50 games played). He had an excellent first pro season, putting up two goals and 23 points in 48 games with the Devils. The former WHL and CHL Defenceman of the year quickly adjusted to the NHL game.
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 over the past few years but can still do a bit more this off-season.
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 and gets decent power on his one-timer. This is another area that should continue to improve as Smith fills out his frame and matures physically. 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 still even more room to grow.
Smith was very impressive as a rookie and should continue to be in the Devils lineup next season. He played just over 20 minutes per game as a rookie and that number should only go up as he matures. As good as Smith was, the Devils should be encouraged that he is still just 21 years old and there is room to grow in his game.
#3 Prospect: Dawson Mercer
Centre/Right Wing — shoots Right
Born October 27th, 2001 — Bay Roberts, Newfoundland
Height 6’0″ — Weight 178 lbs [183 cm / 81 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 1st Round, #18 Overall, at the 2020 NHL Draft
Mercer had an outstanding season with Chicoutimi, even if it was shortened by the Pandemic. He put up 19 goals and 36 points in just 23 games. He was a First Team All-Star and also won the awards for Best Defensive Forward and Most Sportsmanlike Player in the QMJHL. Mercer was even better in the playoffs with six goals and 17 points in nine games. Mercer also won a silver medal with Team Canada at the World Juniors, putting up six points in seven games.
Mercer is a very good skater, who always keeps his feet moving and this helps him play a 200-foot game. He may not be the fastest player in the CHL, but his speed is still well above average. The fact that he is smart with his positioning and his feet are always moving, help him to seem faster than he is. Mercer has excellent edgework and agility. This allows him to beat defenders in one-on-one situations. Mercer has excellent lower-body strength already. This gives him a powerful stride and he is able to fight through checks. He also wins battles on the boards and in front of the net. This area of his game should only improve as he matures and gets stronger.
Mercer has very good hands and can beat defenders in one-on-one situations. His speed and agility allow him to take a defender wide and cut back to the front of the net. He can score goals with an excellent wrist shot. If defenders back off to defend against his speed, he has the smarts to use the defenceman as a screen and put that wrist shot on net with a quick release. Mercer also has a very good snapshot, one-timer and backhand. His shots feature a quick release, which makes them even more effective. Mercer can also score goals in tight, with the quickness to pounce on rebounds and the hand-eye coordination to get deflections.
Mercer is quick on the forecheck, pressuring opposing defenders and creating turnovers. He is willing to play a physical game, getting involved in battles on the boards and establishing his position in front of the net. Mercer will improve this aspect of his game as he gets stronger. His stickhandling and puck protection skills are also good, helping Mercer to be effective in the cycle game. He also has good vision and passing skills. In extending the play, Mercer gives his teammates time to get open. When they do, he can make a quick move to create a passing lane and set them up for a scoring chance. He is also a smart player who often makes the right play with the puck. He can also play the role of playmaker when leading the rush.
Mercer is an effective defensive player as well. He is able to get back and support the defence down low. He works hard on the backcheck, bringing effective backpressure against the transition game and physical support down low against the cycle. Mercer has very good positioning and an active stick. This helps him to create turnovers and he is able to quickly transition them into offensive opportunities. His ability to cut down passing and shooting lanes has helped Mercer to be an effective penalty killer. Mercer has also greatly improved in the faceoff circle this year.
Mercer spent his first two years in the QMJHL mainly playing on the right-wing. The past two seasons, he spent more time at centre and was especially effective there. That said, there will be quite the competition for spots at centre with the Devils in the coming years and so he may end up back on the wing. He has the potential to be a top-six forward, capable of playing in all situations if he is able to meet his potential. Expect to see him in Utica to start the season, but he could make his way to New Jersey before the year is out.
#4 Prospect: Alexander Holtz
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born January 23rd, 2002 — Saltsjo-Boo, Sweden
Height 6’0″ — Weight 192 lbs [183 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 1st round, #7 overall at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Holtz did not have the season that he would have hoped for after being the seventh overall pick in the 2020 Draft. He put up just seven goals and 18 points in 40 games with Djurgardens in the SHL. After putting up nine goals and 16 points in 35 games in 2019-20, it was a bit disappointing that he did not take a step forward. He was better in the playoffs with two goals and four points in three games. Playing for Binghamton in the AHL, he also struggled, with just one goal and three points in 10 games. Holtz played for Sweden in the World Juniors, scoring one goal and three points in five games.
Holtz is a decent skater, but this is not a stand-out area of his game. His first few steps and his acceleration are merely decent. His top-end speed is also best described as adequate. Holtz is not slow, and he can keep up with the play, but he is not a speedster. However, Holtz can still be elusive. His edgework and agility are very good and he can use these to wake quick cuts to avoid defenders. He is also strong on his skates, able to fight through checks and get to the front of the net as well as win battles along the boards. There is still room for him to get even stronger going forward though and this will only help as he adjusts to playing the game in North America and against bigger opponents.
Holtz is a pure sniper. He has an outstanding wrist shot and lightning-quick release. He also has an excellent slap shot and one-timer. Holtz even has a good backhand. He has the quick hands to change the angle of his release before firing the puck, fooling goaltenders. He can also get to the front of the net, scoring goals with his quick hands and excellent hand-eye coordination to get tips and bang in rebounds. Holtz has all the tools necessary to score goals at the NHL level.
Holtz also makes smart plays with and without the puck. While he has a shoot-first mentality, he also has the vision and passing skills to find open teammates and create scoring chances. He is able to control the puck down low and create space for those teammates to get open. While Holtz’s skating is not quite in the elite level of fellow top prospects, he makes up for it by almost always being in the right position. He has a knack for finding open spaces in the offensive zone when he doesn’t have the puck. He is also willing to work hard, getting in quickly on the forecheck and pressuring opponents into making mistakes.
Holtz’ defensive game is a bit of a work in progress. He is willing to work hard in helping on the backcheck and playing physical, however, he needs to get stronger to really make an impact when playing against men. Holtz can also work on his positioning as he has a tendency to overcommit and chase the puck a bit too much right now. The work ethic is there though, so with good coaching, he can improve this aspect of his game.
While Alexander Holtz has some holes in his game and can become a more complete player going forward, he has one skill that simply can not be taught, the ability to put the puck in the net. The fact that he can be a pure sniper puts his ceiling as a first-line winger. That said he could use a year in the AHL to continue to work on his skating and defensive play before he is ready to take the next step.
#5 Prospect: Nolan Foote
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born November 29th, 2000 — Denver, Colorado
Height 6’4″ — Weight 201 lbs [194 cm/91 kg]
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1st round, #27 Overall, in the 2019 NHL Draft.
Traded to the New Jersey Devils in February 2020.
Foote looked good in his first pro season. He put up seven goals and 17 points in 24 games with Binghamton. He also got time with the Devils. He even picked up his first NHL goals, finishing with two points in six games.
Foote’s skating has improved over the last few years but there is still a bit of work to do. While his top-end speed is above average, his first few steps and his acceleration still need a bit of work. This means he has some trouble in winning races for loose pucks. However, he is good at keeping up with the rush and getting in on the forecheck. His agility and edgework are decent for his size. He has good power and balance though. Foote is strong on the puck and is very good in board battles and in front of the net.
Foote has very good size and plays with a blend of skill and power in his game. He has good stickhandling and puck protection ability. His size helps him to protect the puck on the cycle, and control the puck down low below the hash marks. He keeps the puck moving with smart passes to teammates and then moves to get himself open and take it back.
Foote has an excellent wrist shot and a very quick release. When teammates have the puck, he finds open areas to get that shot off. When the other team has the puck, he is quick to get in on the forecheck, causing pressure and creating turnovers. Foote also is a good playmaker with good vision and decent passing skills. Foote is willing to work in the dirty areas of the ice. He gets to the front of the net and uses his size to create havoc. He also battles well on the forecheck. Don’t expect Foote to be a huge hitter though, while he uses his size effectively in battles and to protect the puck, he does not through a lot of big hits.
Foote is a smart defensive player. He reads the play well and gets into good positions. He knows how to support the defence down low and battle against the opponent’s cycle. He is also not afraid to block shots or to take a hit to make a play. Foote uses his size and long stick effectively, cutting down passing lanes and intercepting passes. He has even been an effective penalty killer for Kelowna.
Foote could take some time to be NHL ready. Big power forwards often need to continue to get stronger and put on muscle before playing that style of game effectively in the pros. He could also continue to work on his foot speed. Expect Foote to start the season in Utica but he could become an option if the Devils face injury issues. He could be ready for full-time usage in 2022-23.
#6 Prospect: Shakir Mukhamadullin
Defence — shoots Left
Born January 10th, 2002 — Ufa, Russia
Height 6’3″ — Weight 178 lbs [191 cm / 81 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 1st Round, #20 Overall, in the 2020 NHL Draft.
In 39 games with Salavat Yulaev last year, Mukhamadullin put up three goals and 10 points. He also played for Russia at the World Juniors but was held off the scoresheet. Mukhamadullin was part of a young Russian team that played at the European Hockey Tour and put up two assists in four games.
Mukhamadullin is listed at 6-foot-3. He is an excellent skater for his size. He has good speed and acceleration in both directions, allowing Mukhamadullin to get around the ice and play a 200-foot game. His agility and edgework are also good for a big player. He is able to change directions and move well laterally. Mukhamadullin also has smooth pivots, allowing him to transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. He could stand to get stronger though, as he is a bit lanky right now. This will help him to fight through checks and win battles on the boards. He is good at this when facing his own age group, but playing against men, you can see the need to add strength. It should come as he matures though.
Mukhamadullin has a big shot at the point. His slap shot and one-timer is an absolute cannon. However, he has some issues with control, as he can get wild at times. He could also stand to keep it lower as this will increase the chances of him getting it on the net through traffic, as well as give his teammates more opportunities for deflections and rebounds. Mukhamadullin also has a powerful wrist shot but can learn to use it more often.
Mukhamadullin is also a good passer. He has good vision and can make smart plays from the point as well as start the transition game with his first pass. He handles the puck well and is poised at the line, using his agility to move laterally and open up those shooting and passing lanes. His strong skating and puck handling skills also allow him to retrieve pucks in the corners and skate them out of danger, avoiding forecheckers.
Mukhamadullin is willing to use his size to play a physical game. He is also willing to battle along the boards and in front of the net. This comes out a lot in watching him at the junior level, but less so in the KHL. That is natural as Mukhamadullin needs to continue to put muscle on a tall, lanky frame. It should come with maturity. He has a long stick which he uses to cut down passing and shooting lanes and create turnovers. Once a turnover is created, Mukhamadullin is quick to move that puck up the ice. His positioning and reading of the play are still a bit inconsistent. There are times when he is great, and other times he looks lost. Continued coaching and experience will help him in this area.
The combination Mukhamadullin’s size, skating ability, offensive tools, and physicality are intriguing. He could grow into an all-situations defenceman playing big minutes. He will likely be back in the KHL next year as Elite Prospects indicates that his contract runs through the 2021-22 season. Mukhamadullin should gain more responsibility and minutes in Russia before he comes over to North America. While he will likely never have the offensive game to be a true #1 defenceman, he could grow into an effective #2 or #3 with time.
#7 Prospect: Chase Stillman
The Devils drafted Stillman with the 29th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Stillman. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#8 Prospect: Kevin Bahl
Defence — shoots Left
Born June 27th, 2000 — Mississauga, Ontario
Height 6’6″ — Weight 231 lbs [198 cm / 105 kg]
Drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the 2nd round, 55th overall at the 2018 NHL Draft.
Traded to the New Jersey Devils in December 2019.
Bahl had a strong season in his first pro campaign. He played 27 games for Binghamton, scoring one goal and five points. He also made his NHL debut, picking up two assists in seven games with the Devils.
Most big defenders have skating issues. However, Bahl’s skating is actually above average. His first step and acceleration could use some work, but once he gets going he has pretty good top-end speed. He has the agility and edgework to walk the line in the offensive zone, opening up passing and shooting lanes. Bahl is also good at moving laterally while skating backwards, keeping opponents in front of him. His size is an advantage as he is tough to knock off the puck. He has good balance, winning battles in the corners and in front of the net.
Bahl’s offensive game really took off this season. He makes a good read and first pass out of the zone, but keeps things simple. Bahl usually makes the shortest possible pass to an open man. However, he added the ability to take a few more chances and to trying to hit forwards with long breakaways passes. He is not one to lead the rush through the neutral zone. However, Bahl has started taking more chances in joining the rush as a trailer this past season.
At the blue line, Bahl’s shot is very good, but he does not move around a lot to open up his shooting lane. However, Bahl has learned how to change angles with his stickhandling and open up passing lanes in the offensive end. This has seen him set up more scoring chances for teammates this year. Still, Bahl is more focused on the defensive end of the ice than the offensive one, not looking to pinch or take chances. The 67s, at times, have used him to play in front of the net on the power play, but this had limited success.
Bahl’s bread and butter is his defensive game. His strong skating, agility, and long stick make him very hard to beat in one-on-one situations. His long reach helps him to take the puck off opponents with an excellent poke check. He has good positioning and that reach also cuts down passing and shooting lanes. Bahl is particularly effective down low on the penalty kill, where he can take away plays in and around the goal line and slot.
Bahl is not the biggest hitter. He is disciplined and does not get himself caught out of position to throw huge checks. However, this does not mean that he is not physical. He is a man=beast on the boards, winning battles and clearing the zone. He also keeps the front of the net clear, allowing his goaltender to see shots and make saves. Bahl is not afraid to put his body on the line and block shots.
Bahl will likely start the season in Utica. Big defenders often take time to be NHL ready, and it would not be surprising if Bahl needs a year or two of AHL time going forward. While he looked good when he played last season, the fact that there were so few games certainly didn’t do his development any favours.
#9 Prospect: Graeme Clarke
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born April 24th, 2001 — Ottawa, Ontario
Height 6’0″ — Weight 174 lbs [183 cm / 79 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 3rd round, #80 overall at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
With the OHL not staring, Clarke went to Slovakia. He played six games, picking up just one assist. Clarke returned to North America and impressed with Binghamton. He put up eight goals and 18 points in 31 games.
Clarke’s skating is a bit hit or miss. While Clarke has a good first few steps, he can improve his stride. If he gets more bend in his hips and knees he can lengthen his stride and add power. This would help Clarke to improve his top-end speed and acceleration. He also can use a little work on his agility and edgework. Clarke is very smart though, and this helps him to get into the right positions and compensate for the lack of speed. He is also strong on his skates, with good balance and the ability to battle on the boards. This should continue to improve as he gets stronger.
Clarke is a sniper, with an excellent wrist shot and release. His shot is powerful and he can get himself inside the “home plate” area between the face-off dots to let it go. With his quick hands and the ability to change the angle of his release before letting it go, Clarke is able to fool goaltenders. He is willing to play in the dirty areas of the ice and can score in tight with his quick hands. Clarke creates havoc in front of the net and can score deflections or pounce on rebounds.
Clarke also maintains puck possession with strong work along the boards and in the cycle game. He has soft hands and can make moves on opposing defenders to create space. This helps him to open up passing and shooting lanes. Clarke also has good vision and passing skills. When he controls the puck in the cycle, he is able to buy time for his teammates to get open. Once they do, he can hit them with a quick pass for a scoring chance.
Clarke needs to continue to work on his defensive game. He is a willing back checker and works hard in his own end, supporting the defence against the cycle game and providing effective back pressure against the rush. However, the game seemed to be moving a bit too quickly for him at times last season. This should improve as he gets more minutes and experience at the AHL level. It is something that can be worked on with good coaching.
Clarke has the skills to become a middle-six winger at the NHL level but the Devils need to be patient with his development. He needs a year or two in the AHL to continue to work on his skating and defensive game. He could also stand to fill out his frame a bit. Expect to see him playing for Utica this season.
#10 Prospect: Samu Salminen
The Devils drafted Salminen with the 68th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Salminen. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Sleeper Prospect: Patrick Moynihan
Centre/Right Wing — shoots Right
Born January 23rd, 2001 — Millis, Massachusetts
Height 5’11” — Weight 183 lbs [180 cm / 83 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 6th Round, #158 Overall, in the 2019 NHL Draft.
Moynihan had a solid season with Providence. He put up six goals and 15 points in 17 games while playing against the opponent’s top players. Moynihan also had an important two-way role with Team USA at the World Juniors, helping the team to a gold medal.
Moynihan has very good but not quite great speed. He is able to keep up with the play and can even beat a number of other players on the ice. While not an elite speedster, he is in the next tier. He also has a decent first step and good acceleration. His skating is good enough to be able to match up against the best players on an opponent. Moynihan also has good edgework and agility. He can make quick cuts to change direction and avoid defenders. Despite that skill, he is much more of a north-south player than he is an east-west type when attacking. The lateral agility is useful in the defensive end. Moynihan is gritty and works well along the boards against his peers but could improve his strength before moving to the next level.
Moynihan plays a simple but effective game. He has a very good wrist shot and a quick release. He gets himself into good positions to take a pass from a teammate and fire the puck on net. Moynihan is also willing to get in quickly on the forecheck, pressuring opponents and creating turnovers in order to generate offensive chances. Moynihan gets to the dirty areas of the ice. He can maintain possession on the cycle game, protecting the puck well and moving it with short and quick passes.
Moynihan is not much of a creative playmaker. His assist totals come from keeping the puck moving and getting it to the open man. He does not move the puck through tight seams or take big chances. That style of game is effective for him, but there are questions if his skill level is high enough to really make a difference at higher levels.
Moynihan is a solid defensive player. He backchecks effectively. Moynihan is willing to provide support down low against the cycle game. He is also more than willing to play a physical and gritty game along the boards. Moynihan is a willing shot blocker. He also anticipates plays well, leading to him being in the right position to cut down passing lanes. An active stick is also helpful here. His lateral movement allows him to keep his body in front of opponents.
Moynihan uses tough, gritty play in front of the net to keep things clear. His gritty play extends to his work along the boards. However, he must watch himself and be disciplined to not take bad penalties. He is a bit undersized to play this style at the pro-level right now but should be able to increase his muscle mass in the coming years. He is already pretty good at face-offs and this should be valuable.
There are still some questions on Moynihan’s offensive game. With a bigger role in Providence, will he take the next step and put up a dominant offensive season as a junior. He showed signs of breaking through but was just not quite there this year. If he can develop that aspect of his game, he could become a top-six forward in the NHL. Even if he does not fully develop those aspects, he still has a good chance to be a third line or fourth line forward due to his solid play in his own end and willingness to play a gritty game.
Also in the System 2021 New Jersey Devils Prospects
Through a long rebuild, the Devils have developed a deep prospect system. While Blackwood has taken the reigns as the Devils top goalie, there is depth in the system as Cole Brady, Jakub Malek, Niko Daws, and Akira Schmid remain players to keep an eye on. The Devils are extremely deep in defensive prospects with Nikita Okhotyuk, Daniil Misyul, Ethan Edwards, Reilly Walsh, Michael Vukojevic, and Case McCarthy worth watching. Up front, the Devils have Arseni Gritsyuk, Tyce Thompson, Marian Studenic, Fabian Zetterlund, Aarne Talvitie, Benjamin Baumgartner, and Nikita Popugayev in the system.
2021 New Jersey Devils Prospects Main Photo:
SECAUCUS, NEW JERSEY – JULY 23: With the fourth pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the New Jersey Devils select Luke Hughes during the first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft at the NHL Network studios on July 23, 2021, in Secaucus, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)