Prospect Update: Part I – AHL, ECHL. Feat: Anderson, Merkley, Popugaev

The Binghamton Devils (AHL) are the affiliate of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by: JustSports Photography / Binghamton Devils)

Introduction

The All-Star break is upon us which means — whether for good or bad — the New Jersey Devils have about a week off. The Devils currently own a 17-24-7 record, which ranks them last in the Metropolitan Division and 30th in the league. This likely means they will utilize the trade deadline to continue to build their prospect pool. As well as focus on compiling draft selections for the upcoming draft. 

With this in mind, let’s take a look at how the current Devils’ prospects — across the different levels — are faring thus far this season. This article will be the first piece in a two-article series.

This one consists of Devils’ prospects in the AHL and ECHL, such as Nick Merkley, Josh Jacobs, and Nikita Popugaev. While the other evaluates Devils’ prospects in the NCAA, USHL, OHL, WHL, MHL, and Swedish leagues, such as Tyce Thompson, Nikola Pasic, and Akira Schmid. Next to each player will be my ranking among the top-25 in the Devils’ system. The full top-25 ranking can be found in the second article.

AHL

Michael McLeod #2

When the topic of Devils’ prospects comes up, one of the first names you hear is Michael McLeod. The 21-year old forward is now in his second full AHL season and is putting up similar production he did last season. The centerman has 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) across 33 games, playing predominantly with wingers Brandon Baddock and Nathan Bastian. McLeod has also played a valuable role on the team’s first power play and penalty kills. 

These statistics may not jump out to you, but when watching the Binghamton Devils play, the swift-skating McLeod is always doing the little things that get him noticed. He is the glue that holds the team together, and this is further evident as Binghamton had their eight-game winning streak snapped and then endured two-game losing-streak when he was recalled. McLeod should still be regarded as a top prospect in the Devils’ system.

Joey Anderson #4

The lone representative from the Binghamton Devils in this year’s AHL All-Star Game is the 21-year-old right-winger. In his first full season in the AHL, Anderson has compiled a wonderful season with 32 points (13G, 19A) in 40 games. His 108 shots are first on the team and ranks 26th in the league.

Forward Joey Anderson was elected to the AHL all-star game this year. (Photo by: NHL.com)

Recently, Anderson has been extremely hot, tallying 11 points (five goals, six assists) in his last eight games. He has played a large factor in the ability of when the Binghamton Devils were able to go on their eight-game winning streak.

Anderson’s performance this season did not go unnoticed, as he was named to the AHL All-Star team. Expect him to also get a look at the NHL-level later on this season. The former third-round pick has shown he has loads of potential and should be regarded as one of the Devils’ better prospects in their system.

Mikhail Maltsev #7

The 21-year old centerman has recently taken the AHL by storm with his extremely flashy shootout moves, which resulted in two Binghamton’s recent shootout victories on their eight-game winning streak. Maltsev has also improved steadily during the season after surprising many in the preseason. And is cementing himself as a top-ten prospect in the Devils’ system.

Through 29 games this season, he has eleven points (seven goals, four assists). However, he has kicked it up a notch lately, tallying five goals and an assist in his last eight games. Maltsev has played on each of the four lines for the Binghamton Devils and does everything from winning faceoffs to deking opposing defenseman out of his skates. Hopefully, the Russian continues to develop at a rapid pace.

Nick Merkley #8

One of the three pieces the Devils received in the Taylor Hall trade was 22-year old Nick Merkley. Here you can find about what he did before coming over in the trade. However, it is time to focus on what he has contributed since arriving.

In 13 games with the Binghamton Devils, Merkley has 11 points (four goals, seven assists). These 11 points have come across his last nine games and included four multi-point outputs. He also has 30 shots over the same time. It’s worth mentioning three of his four goals have come on the power play.

Merkley has showcased a great shot along with — what is the main part of his game — a distinct playmaking ability. Given the New Jersey Devils are struggling mightily at the NHL-level, do not be surprised if we get to see Merkley in the red and black by season’s end.

Projecting Merkley is difficult due to the fact he has just arrived. But I would certainly regard him as a top-eight prospect in the Devils’ organization.

Nathan Bastian #11

The six-foot-four forward has played 41 games for Binghamton this season. He has tallied 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) across these games, which puts him on pace to surpass his output from last season comfortably. He has primarily played alongside Michael McLeod on the team’s first line while also serving as a net-front presence on the power play. Bastian also has been getting a considerable amount of penalty kill time.

Forward Nathan Bastian has a great front-net presence. (Photo by: NHL.com)

Due to his large stature, along with silky hands in and around the net, Bastian is emerging as a promising prospect. Now, I would not regard him anything higher than a potential bottom-six forward for the time being. However, the former second-round pick has definitely made promising strides this season.

Nate Schnarr #12

Nate Schnarr was another of the three players included in the trade for Taylor Hall. The six-foot-three, 20-year old has one goal and four assists in his 10 games with Binghamton, this while typically serving in a fourth-line capacity. Early indications show a distinct ability to pass the puck, as Schnarr has set up numerous scoring chances in his short time with the team.

Given this is the rookie’s first professional season, it is not surprising to see the scarce output. Look for Schnarr to continue to grow in the Devils’ system. He should be regarded as a top-15 prospect in the system.

Brett Seney #14

The 23-year-old is in his first real full season with the Devils’ AHL-affiliate. Through 40 games, he leads the team in scoring with 34 points (15G, 19A). This point total also ranks him in the top-30 of the league. Seney has served on the Binghamton Devils first line while also playing a valuable role on the power play, where has three goals. 

As a sixth-round pick, he brings great value. Look for him to possibly be back in the NHL by season’s end. However, for the time being, he projects out to be a bottom-line NHL-player.

Josh Jacobs #17

The 23-year old is now in his fourth full season at the AHL-level with the Devils organization. The primarily defensive-defenseman does not impress you with his point total – 10 points in 36 games. However, his defensive ability is certainly impressive. 

Defenseman Josh Jacobs has been the Binghamton Devils (AHL) best defenseman. (Photo by: JustSports Photography / Binghamton Devils)

He has been Binghamton’s best defenseman for a couple of seasons now. And should be rewarded for it if New Jersey moves some defenseman at the trade deadline. Jacobs should project as a decent NHL bottom-pairing defenseman with penalty-killing upside. Hopefully, he is given this chance sometime in the near future.

Gilles Senn #24

The 2017 fifth-round selection is in his first North American professional season and has struggled. As of Tuesday, through 16 games, the 23-year old has a .888 save percentage and 3.12 goals against average in the AHL. Watching him play shows the need for a continued adjustment as the Swiss netminder gets used to the different style of hockey in North America. 

In a system that is in desperate need of goaltending. Hopefully, Senn rights the ship and shows he can emerge as a solid prospect. However, for now, I would rank him behind Akira Schmid, but in front of Cole Brady and Evan Cormier in the Devils’ system.

Colton White NR

The 2015 fourth-round selection is regarded as a decent defense prospect in the Devils’ system. However, his performance this season arises some doubts. In 34 games, he has only tallied eight assists and a -9 rating. He also seems a bit tentative in his own zone, as he is prone to some turnovers and has failed to clear the puck on some occasions. White still possesses fantastic skating ability, which is a strong suit of his game.

The 22-year old still has time to continue to develop. However, as of now, projections on White should only be at the ceiling of a seventh defenseman. 

ECHL

Forward Nikita Popugayev played with the Binghamton Devils (AHL) last year but has played all of this season in the ECHL. (Photo by: NHL.com)

Nikita Popugaev #25

The monstrous 6-foot-6 Russian forward has played all of this season for the Devils’ ECHL-affiliate, the Adirondack Thunder. In 33 games he has tallied 21 points (five goals, 16 assists), which ranks seventh on the team. His +5 rating is second on the team and is impressive given the struggles the Thunder has experienced this season.

When observing Popugaev in his 17 games with Binghamton last season, a lack of defense, as well as a lack of skating ability was apparent, as he was only able to rack up five points across this time. It seems as if he was pleasantly progressed over the last year or so. 

Hopefully, we will get a taste of how he has adjusted sometime in the AHL this season. The former fourth-round pick is only 21 years old and should still project in the top-25 of the Devils’ system.

Colby Sissons NR

The 22-year old undrafted free agent played 38 games for Binghamton last season and struggled mightily. Interestingly enough, many regarded Sissons as a promising prospect in the organization. So far this season, Sissons only played two games with Binghamton and has played 37 with the ECHL-affiliate. In this time, he has racked up 22 points as well as a discouraging -18. 

The ECHL as a league does not get much exposure, so evaluating a defenseman based just on traditional statistics is hard. However, given Binghamton has preferred defensemen such as Jeremy Groleau and those on professional tryouts such as Kyle Cuminsky and Luc Snuggerud, this is not an encouraging sign for Sissons.

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