With the end of another season approaching, it is time to check on the Devils prospect pool. Developing young players is a tricky business. A lot of teams struggle to master its nuances and get the most out of their draft picks. The Devils however, have experienced some relative success at developing impactful young players, which core assets like Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt have indicated (just to mention a few).
However, this isn’t the case for every prospect in the Devils system, which could affect their development and organization’s stance on their chances at a professional career. Let’ us take a look at some of the Devils prospects who improved, stagnated, ot flat out busted in 2017-2018.
Jeremy Davies…The newest face of New Jersey’s defensive prospect pool. Davies played top four minutes on one of the best teams in the entire NCAA. He ran their potent power play, and scored 12 more points than he did his freshman campaign. Not bad, considering Davies was a seventh-round pick. Davies is just the kind of player the Devils need. He’s extremely skilled, smart with the puck, and a great skater. One more year in college will do him good, so hopefully at this time next year he is signed and ready to play pro hockey.
Reilly Walsh… Another NCAA defenseman, Walsh had an impressive freshman season at Harvard. He ran their power play and showed off his offensive gifts. Walsh is an extremely skilled player and even began to take on more defensive responsibility as the 2017-2018 season progressed. The Devils are in desperate need of a puck mover so to have both Davies and Walsh excel is a very good sign.
Michael McLeod…New Jersey’s 2016 first-round pick has had a tough season. He fought injuries throughout the year, had a coach who didn’t like him at World Juniors, and struggled to find his rhythm in any Steelhead games he actually played. Simply put. McLeod didn’t really do anything to bolster his stock. Some may argue that as a sign regression (based on his reputation), but he still has all the tools to make him a great prospect. Hopefully he finds a way to recollect himself this offseason so he can get back to speed and ready to make an impact at camp next year. As of writing this, I still consider him a dark horse candidate to be on the Devils season-opening roster in October.
Blake Speers… After getting a cup of coffee in the NHL, many expected Speers to make a push for the opening night lineup this year. He didn’t make the team and was relegated to Binghamton, where he had a putrid first half of the season. After he was able to acclimate himself to the speed, Speers began to finally start producing just as the season ended, finishing with just 12 goals and 19 points in 62 contests. It was a promising sign that ultimately kept his season from being a complete disaster, but Speers didn’t have much progress overall. He is still a fringe player to make the team next year.
Nikita Popugaev…The 6’6” Russian winger definitely looked like a steal when the Devils drafted him in the 2016 fourth round. He had first round talent, but struggled acclimating in North America (both on and off the ice). He was perceived as lazy and not happy with his playing situation or junior team, which resulted in a mid-season trade in 2016-2017. Things only got worse in 2017-2018. Popugaev decided he had enough of Canada and returned to Russia. Production doesn’t matter, but it isn’t looking like the Devils are going to see him again. In my opinion, he isn’t coming back from Russia any time soon, and will ultimately look to carve a career in the KHL.
Evan Cormier… As evidenced by the fact he went unsigned, the Devils did not feel they had anything in Cormier. He was a skilled goalie who struggled to put up numbers on a defensively challenged team. He might have been able to put everything together if he wasn’t facing 40+ shots a night. It was unfortunate it didn’t work out, but since there is no chance the Devils get any value out of the pick it is a bust. Cormier’s numbers speak for themselves, as the goalie went 24-24-0 and posted an abysmal 3.18 GAA with a .900 SV%.