Welcome to the 2018 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2018 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 2018 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed.
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 2018-19 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
The New Jersey Devils were one of the biggest surprises in the NHL. Led by Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall, with a big contribution from backup goaltender Keith Kinkaid, and strong rookie seasons Nico Hischier and Will Butcher the Devils made the playoffs. They would lose in the first round, falling in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but for a team whose rebuild was ahead of schedule, there are few Devils fans who were disappointed by the results of the 2017-18 season.
The Devils have not made a lot of moves in the off-season. They even let trade deadline rentals like Patrick Maroon and Michael Grabner walk in free agency. It seems clear that general manager Ray Shero is not looking to speed up the rebuild despite the strong results. The team will stick with the process.
2018 NHL Draft Picks: Ty Smith, Xavier Bernard, Akira Schmid, Yegor Sharangovich, Mitchell Hoelscher, Eetu Pakkila
Graduations: Nico Hischier, Will Butcher, Steven Santini, Jesper Bratt, Blake Coleman
Top Prospect: Ty Smith
The Devils drafted Smith with the 17th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Smith. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#2 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 was injured in Devils training camp and missed the start of the OHL season as a result. In 38 games with the Steelheads, he put up 16 goals and 44 points. He added six goals and 10 points in six playoff games, but the team fell in the first round. McLeod also spent some time in Binghamton, picking up one assist in six games. In December and January, McLeod played in his second World Juniors, scoring four points in seven games and winning gold with Team Canada.
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 excellent 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.
McLeod no longer looks to pass on every play, which was an issue in his draft year. Add in a non-stop motor to go along with his strong skating, 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 is seen as the Steelheads have matched him against the other teams top lines for two years now. They also use him to kill penalties. He also took this important role with Team Canada. 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 will go to Devils training camp looking for an NHL role. With the Devils losing forwards in free agency, there are some openings on the roster. A good camp would go a long way towards McLeod starting the season in New Jersey. Even if that does not happen, expect to see him called up if injuries hit. McLeod is very close to being NHL ready.
#3 Prospect: Jesper Boqvist
Center — shoots Left
Born October 30th, 1998
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 a solid season with Brynas in the SHL. He put up three goals and 13 points in 23 games. He didn’t have the same success in the playoffs though as he scored just one assist in eight games. He also struggled at the World Juniors with just one goal in six games but he did come home with a silver medal.
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. However, he needs to add upper body strength and improve the power on his wrist shot if he wants to score goals from further out.
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.
Boqvist is likely to spend another season in Sweden playing for Brynas. Expect him to come over in 2019-20. Boqvist might need a bit of AHL time to adjust to North American Ice when he does come to North America. He could be NHL ready late in the 2019-20 season or in 2020-21.
#4 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 had a strong season with University of Minnesota-Duluth scoring 11 goals and 27 points in 36 games and helping the team to the NCAA Championship. He also scored four goals and seven points in seven games with Team USA at the World Juniors, helping the team to a bronze medal.
Anderson has good speed and acceleration, which he uses to get in extremely quickly on the fore check. 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 strong wrist shot and excellent 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 stick handling 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 signed an entry-level contract with the Devils following the completion of the college season. He will come to training camp looking for a spot on the team but is likely to start out in Binghamton in the AHL. Anderson is likely a year or two away from being NHL ready.
#5 Prospect: John Quenneville
Centre — shoots Left
Born April 16th, 1996 — Edmonton, Alberta
Height 6’1″ — Weight 195 lbs [185 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 1st round, #30 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
Quenneville had another solid season in the AHL. He scored 14 goals and 34 points in 43 games. He also got in a couple of games at the NHL level but did not record a point.
Skating wise, Quenneville continues to improve. He has decent top end speed and has improved his quickness and acceleration. He could still get better but has made strides since being drafted. His stride is long and powerful. He has the balance and the strength to fight through checks and win battles on the boards. Quenneville is strong on the puck and uses his body to protect it. He has decent agility and solid edgework as well.
Quenneville has the versatility to play both left wing and centre, though he likely projects as a winger at the next level. He has spent most of his professional career on the wing. Offensively, Quenneville is at his best controlling the puck down low on the cycle game and setting up teammates with good vision, and very high hockey IQ.
He can drive the net when given the opportunity. Quenneville improved on his finish in close, showing more of a knack to make plays in front of the net. He is strong on the puck. His long reach and good puck skills really help him to protect the puck down low. He is not afraid to battle in the corners and in front of the net and has only gotten better as he has gotten stronger. Quenneville added bulk over the last couple of summers and it would not be surprising to see him come to camp even more defined. He also has a strong and accurate wrist shot, allowing him to score from further out.
Defensively, Quenneville is very strong and well-developed. He offers great support to his defenceman both in back pressure on the rush, and in defending the cycle game down low. He is very good in the face-off circle. Quenneville also anticipates plays well and cuts down passing and shooting lanes. Willing to play physical in all three zones, and even willing to drop the gloves, he can be a really pest to the other team’s top players.
Quenneville heads to training camp looking to seize an open spot on the wing. With a good camp, he can take that spot. He appears to be ready to make an NHL impact and the question that remains is if he will be a second, third, or fourth line player once he settles in.
#6 Prospect: Jeremy Davies
Defence — shoots Left
Born December 4th, 1996 — Sainte-Anne-de-Belle, Quebec
Height 5’11” — Weight 182 lbs [180 cm/83 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 7th round, #192 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Davies had a breakout season as a sophomore with Northeastern University. He scored six goals and 35 points in 36 games, helping the Huskies to a Beanpot tournament title, and a spot in the NCAA tournament elite-eight. Davies was an NCAA (East) first-team All-American and a Hockey East all-star.
An undersized defenceman, Davies is a very good skater. He has good speed and acceleration in both directions. Davies is able to join the attack or to pinch in at that blueline and still get back defensively. He has good agility and footwork. His lateral movement is strong and he keeps forwards in front of him in the defensive zone. Davies is also able to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. He also pivots well allowing him to transition from offence to defence and vice-versa. Davies could add weight though. He needs to be stronger on the puck and improve his balance.
Davies is a very smart offensive player. He sees the ice extremely well and makes smart plays with the puck on his stick. This includes a good first pass out of the zone, skating the puck out of danger and leading the rush, and quarterbacking the play from the point. He can make tape-to-tape passes through tight spaces, setting up teammates for a scoring chance.
Davies has a decent slap shot. He also has a very good wrist shot. He sneaks down from the point to let go his shot at the top of the faceoff circles. Davies understands how to keep his shot low and on net. This provides teammates with the opportunity to get rebounds and shooting chances. His ability to walk the line opens up shooting lanes and helps him to avoid shot blocks.
Davies uses his skating to his advantage in the defensive zone. He is difficult to beat one-on-one and maintains good gap control. His agility allows him to keep his body between his man and the front of the net. Davies could be more physical in his own end though. He can be overpowered by big and physical forwards. He needs to improve in winning battles on the boards and in front of the net.
Davies will spend another season at Northeastern. If he is as good as he was as a sophomore, expect the Devils to try to sign him at the end of the year. Once he has an entry-level contract, Davies could make his professional debut.
#7 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 played 35 games for Farestad in the SHL, scoring three goals and seven points in limited ice time. He also had a goal and an assist in six playoff games. Zetterlund had more success in the Allsvenskan with two goals and five points in eight games. He also won a silver medal at the World Juniors with two goals in the tournament.
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 an excellent 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 is 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 is set to spend another season with Farjestad. He is also expected to play in the World Juniors again. He is a bit of a long-term project, but has the potential to be a top-six NHL forward.
#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 had a strong freshman season with Harvard, scoring seven goals and 20 points in 33 games. He was named to the ECAC All-Rookie Team. In 2016-17 he was a huge part of the Chicago Steel team that won the USHL’s Clark Cup.
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 is 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 a decent slap shot. 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 seems to rush the puck a bit too much at the point. Walsh needs to learn to slow things down, use his puckhandling skill and skating ability to his advantage and find openings in the defence. Improvements in this area may come as he is more familiar with the NCAA game.
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 sophomore campaign this fall. He should continue to show improvements but is a bit of a long-term project. Expect him to be at least two-to-three years away from the NHL.
#9 Prospect: Xavier Bernard
The Devils drafted Bernard with the 110th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Bernard. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#10 Prospect: Blake Speers
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born January 2nd, 1997 — Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
Height 6’0″ — Weight 184 lbs [183 cm/83 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 3rd round, #67 overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft
After a stellar junior career, Speers struggled at times in his first year playing pro hockey. He has the skills but will need to deal with stronger, faster opponents. Speers scored 12 goals and seven assists for 19 points in 62 games for Binghamton.
Speers is another player who can really skate. He has great top end speed and acceleration, along with a very quick first step. This helps him to win both short races for loose pucks and to get in quickly on the forecheck. He can also vary his speed and attack defenders to the outside or slow up to create passing lanes or get room to get a shot off on the rush. Speers adds outstanding agility and edgework making him very slippery and elusive to defenders. He can use this skating skill both off the rush and in the cycle game.
Speers needs to add lower body strength and more muscle to his frame. While his speed and agility help him to avoid checks, when he does get hit, he seems to be knocked off the puck a little too often. He is willing to battle for loose pucks in the corners and in front of the net, but again more strength is needed to improve his effectiveness in this area.
Speers has very good stickhandling ability and a wide variety of moves that can help him get around a defender. He protects the puck very well and can make a wide variety of moves with slick hands. Those hands help him to finish in close to the goal. Speers also has an accurate shot and a good release, though he could stand to use it more often. His passing skills are extremely good, as he has excellent vision and the ability to thread the puck through the tightest of openings.
A little undersized, Speers will try to play a gritty game, but again this is where he needs more strength going forward. His versatility is a major asset as Speers can play all three forward positions, though he spends most of his time on the wing. Speers has very good hockey sense. He makes smart plays with the puck and darts into open areas, looking for the give and go immediately after dishing it off.
Speers shows good hockey sense in the defensive end, and the ability to cause turnovers. He backchecks hard, has good positioning, and reads the play in order to anticipate passes and create chances and begin the transition game. He almost never takes a shift off and supports his defence with effective back pressure.
Speers will go to training camp looking to earn a spot in the Devils lineup. However, it is far more likely that he ends up back in the AHL. Speers still needs to adjust to pro speed. He also needs coaching on his positioning.
Sleeper Prospect: Aarne Talvitie
Center — shoots Left
Born February 11th, 1999 — Espoo, Finland
Height 5’10” — Weight 198 lbs [178 cm/90 kg]
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 6th round, #160 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Talvitie dominated the Finnish Under-20 league last year. He scored 34 goals and 58 points in just 41 games for the Espoo Blues U20 squad. He has not played in the Liiga yet, and so maintains his college eligibility. He will play for Penn State next season.
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 backchecker, 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.
As mentioned, Talvitie will start at Penn State this fall. He needs to bulk up and the NCAA season gives him ample opportunity to take care of this fall. Talvitie is likely two to three years away from being NHL ready.
The Devils are well stocked at forward. In addition to the prospects already profiled, they also have Brett Seney, an undersized winger who put up eight points in 12 AHL games after finishing his college career at Merrimack College. They also on the rights to Nikita Popugaev, a big goal-scoring winger who left the CHL for the KHL last season. Nathan Bastian had a strong junior career with Mississauga but has struggled so far in the AHL. Marian Studenic helped the Hamilton Bulldogs to the OHL title. Yegor Sharangovich, Mikhail Maltsev, and Brandon Gignac are further down the depth chart.
On the blueline, the Devils lack depth. They got great values in both Smith and Bernard, instantly helping their system, though more is needed. They also signed free agent Colby Sissons who had a huge year in the WHL. Matthew Hellickson, Yegor Zaitsev, and Jocktain Chainey round out the defence group.
In goal, the Devils have MacKenzie Blackwood, who really struggled this season. Gilles Senn is playing in Switzerland. They added Akira Schmid in this year’s draft.
Main Photo: KELOWNA, BC – MARCH 03: Ty Smith #24 of the Spokane Chiefs passes the puck against the Kelowna Rockets at Prospera Place on March 3, 2018, in Kelowna, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)