Prospect pools move in cycles. Teams begin with drab unimpressive youth crops, but can have a great NHL team. Then the squad begins to grow old, slip in the standings, and get high draft picks as a result, as high-end prospects begin to come flowing back into the fold. Once the team has hit rock bottom, those young up-and-comers begin to graduate and form a new core at the NHL level. When this stage ends, the prospect pool is left barren but once again, the said NHL team has returned to the playoffs. Hopefully, this isn’t an exact science and there are exceptions (i.e. Sabres and Oilers) but for the most part this is the life cycle of prospect pools.
The Devils are in the beginning of the graduation stage. Their pool was probably at its strongest last season when the likes of Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Will Butcher were all still considered prospects. The group will get even weaker this year with the eventual graduation of players like Michael McLeod and Joey Anderson. Despite this, the Devils will still have a relatively strong pool due to their ability to scout and draft talented players in the later rounds.
The Devils have a lot of key prospects who played their last season in North America. Here are the top five players they have going into next season.
No. 1: Ty Smith
Smith is the no question best prospect in the Devils’ system. His production in the CHL is unmatched, even by players like Michael McLeod. Smith is a dynamic puck mover who excels at transitioning play from defense to offense. He is extremely intelligent on the ice and is very rarely out of position. Smith is also a proven leader who has captained Canada’s U18 team. When players were asked before the 2018 draft which teammate they would want to play with at the NHL level Smith was the most common answer. The Devils got a steal at No. 17.
No. 2: Michael McLeod
This was the one of the harder spots to choose. Outside of Smith, the Devils don’t really have another prospect who would be considered blue chipp. McLeod was thought to be one when he was first drafted, but has struggled to truly break out in the OHL. He is turning pro this season, and will probably see some time in the NHL at some point. His speed is still what makes him the second-best prospect the Devils have because it is a game-breaking skill. If the strength he puts on translates to some improved puck possession in the offensive zone, McLeod will be an effective player in the NHL.
No. 3: Joey Anderson
After an impressive sophomore season, which saw Anderson captain the U.S World Junior team and win an NCAA Championship, many people might be inclined to put him over McLeod. Some things Anderson does better than McLeod include his offensive versatility and perception that he is much closer to being NHL-ready. Anderson is certainly a valuable asset to have, considering he can play multiple positions and excel up and down the lineup. However, McLeod still has a higher overall ceiling, which is why Anderson finds himself third on this list. It is no slight though, Anderson will probably reach (and stick in) the NHL faster than McLeod. Anderson is still my pick for the rookie that will make the team out of camp, and he very well might play all 82 games (if he stays healthy) in Newark next season.
No. 4: Reilly Walsh
Walsh recently announced he will be returning to Harvard for his sophomore season. This was a smart decision because Walsh will have an expanded role in their offense next year. He will also continue to grow defensively against older competition. That being said, he is very close to making the jump. His skating and puck skills will be extremely useful at the NHL level, and his ability to quarterback the power play can take pressure off players like Will Butcher. Walsh will probably sign at the end of this college season, and make his AHL debut. Next year will be the earliest we can expect him to be at The Rock.
No. 5: Brett Seney
Jeremy Davies has a solid case for this spot considering his production at Northeastern, but I decided to go with the guy who had an impressive start to his pro-career. Seney was always an intriguing prospect at Merrimack due to his speed. He could fly up and down the ice, while creating scoring chances for himself and his teammates. Having said that, Seney is pretty small and seemed like a really good college player with a promising outlook. He made his debut in the AHL and continued to produce. This summer, Seney dominated the scrimmage at Development Camp. There is a very real chance he could also make the team because he is exactly what the Devils want in a player. He is extremely fast, goes all out on the attack, and has shown he can be supportive at the pro level. It will be interesting to see how this next season goes because Seney may be on a trajectory to break out and surprise a lot of people.