The Devils Stanley Cup winning days are well in the rear view mirror. The team has lost a lot of star players to free agency and retirement and failed to replenish the roster through the draft. In over a decade of drafts, the Devils have failed to draft and develop an impact star player.
There have been plenty of first round busts in players such as Stefan Matteau, Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby, and Matt Corrente. Perhaps their best first round pick was the one they traded to Vancouver to acquire Corey Schneider to replace Marty Brodeur as the franchise goalie.
Top 10 New Jersey Devils Prospects
1. Pavel Zacha, Center/Left Wing
2015-16: Sarnia (OHL)
Drafted: Sixth overall in the first round of the 2015 draft by New Jersey
After making his NHL debut at the end of last season and playing in his first NHL game where he recorded two assists, Zacha has made the Devils full time. The Devils have a woeful track record in the first round at the draft but it looks like they have a keeper in Zacha.
He is the whole package with size, skating and skill. His first full rookie season may not see him producing stats that make you say Calder Trophy candidate, but he does have franchise first line center potential.
2. Steve Santini, Defence
2015-16: Boston College (NCAA)
Drafted: 42nd overall in the second round of the 2013 draft by New Jersey
Santini turned pro following the end of his junior season at Boston College and played in his first career NHL game before playing for USA at the World Championship. His first pro season has had a rocky start. He suffered an upper body injury and has played the majority of the year in the AHL with Albany where he has no points in 15 games played.
Despite his lack of offensive production, his defensive and physical play was enough to earn him a NHL recall to start January. He had a memorable first NHL goal when Taylor Hall banked the puck in off his back side in Edmonton. His offensive upside may be limited but he is the Devils top defensive prospect.
3. Michael McLeod, Center
2015-16: Mississauga (OHL)
Drafted: 12th overall in the first round of the 2016 draft by New Jersey
The speedy McLeod has been returned to junior in his post draft year and he was named to Team Canada for the World Junior Tournament where he posted three points in a limited role. McLeod has speed to burn, plays a solid two-way game and has flashes of skill.
It remains to be seen if he will be an offensive top-six forward at the NHL level. While his ceiling is in question, his floor is very reliable as at the least a second to third line forward with offensive upside.
4. Scott Wedgewood, Goalie
2015-16: Albany (AHL)
Drafted: 84th overall in the third round of the 2010 draft by New Jersey
The Devils have several promising goalie prospects in the system including Mackenzie Blackwood, Ken Appleby, and Evan Cormier. Wedgewood is the prospect that offers the most promise and upside and is close to being NHL ready.
After making his NHL debut last year and seeing four NHL games, he finished the season backstopping Albany to a strong playoff run and has been in the AHL full time this season where he was playing the lion’s share of the starts before a season ending injury. The New Jersey crease is in good hands for the foreseeable future.
5. John Quenneville, Center/Left Wing
2015-16: Brandon (WHL)
Drafted: 30th overall in the first round of the 2014 draft by New Jersey
The Devils were lucky to get the pick back they forfeited in the Ilya Kovalchuk salary cap fiasco as the team is desperate for top end prospects. Quenneville had an outstanding final year of junior hockey which featured a World Junior roster spot on Team Canada, followed by a trip to the Memorial Cup as the WHL Champions.
Quenneville scored at a point per game pace last year, and in his first season as a pro he is close to that same pace in the AHL. It remains to be seen if he can deliver offence at the NHL level, but even if he tops out as a third liner, he can be an effective, smart and gritty player.
6. Blake Speers, Center
2015-16: Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Drafted: 67th overall in the third round of the 2015 draft by New Jersey
Speers began the season in the NHL with the Devils, playing in three games before being returned to junior. He then suffering an injury that kept him out until the World Juniors where he played for Canada. Stepping into that calibre of hockey after a long injury and performing as well as he did was impressive.
Speers is a possession player who can drive the offence and could have a very promising NHL career. He may need some time in the AHL when he begins his pro career fulltime next season, but he should be an impact player when he arrives.
7. Miles Wood, Left Wing
2015-16: Boston College (NCAA)
Drafted: 100th overall in the fourth round of the 2013 draft by New Jersey
Wood played just one season of NCAA hockey before he signed with the Devils, and he made his NHL debut at seasons end. After his first NHL game he played for USA at the World Championship. Wood played the first two NHL games this year before being sent to the AHL. He was later recalled in late November. Since his return he has played in 26 games and has seven points to date.
Wood is a big bodied power forward who is not afraid to play in the dirty areas. He is another player with an unsure ceiling, but a reliable floor as a third line player.
8. Yegor Rykov, Defence
2015-16: SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
Drafted: 132nd overall in the fifth round of the 2016 draft by New Jersey
The Devils may have found a gem in the fifth round in Rykov. Rykov had a breakout World Junior performance on Team Russia where he scored a goal and seven points in seven games. He out-performed high profile prospect Mikhail Sergachev.
Rykov was able to create transition offence and produce on the power play for Russia which is something the Devils sorely need.
9. Vojtech Mozik, Defence
2015-16: Albany (AHL)
Drafted: Signed as a free agent in 2015
The Devils signed Mozik out of the Czech league last year and he made his NHL debut, playing in seven games before finishing the balance of the season in the AHL. Mozik was a top pairing player on the backend there and produced 17 points.
He is more of a defensive defenceman however and does not project as a top pairing defenceman. Mozik will likely be a depth two-way bottom pairing who can play a physical game as well.
10. Mackenzie Blackwood, Goalie
2015-16: Barrie (OHL)
Drafted: 42nd overall in the second round of the 2015 draft by New Jersey
Blackwood is a modern day NHL goalie; he is huge, quick, and athletic and plays a butterfly style. His first season of pro hockey has been a struggle as his numbers are at the bottom of the league. He has surrendered starts to ECHL call up Ken Appleby after the season ending injury to Wedgewood.
Blackwood as a strong resume and may simply be having a learning curve in his first pro season. With Corey Schneider holding the starting job in the NHL for the immediate future, and Wedgewood ahead on the depth chart, there is no rush for Blackwood.