New Jersey Devils: Kitchener Rangers GM Likes Michael Vukojevic’s Pro Prospects

OSHAWA, ON - NOVEMBER 10: Michael Vukojevic #51 of the Kitchener Rangers skates during an OHL game against the Oshawa Generals at the Tribute Communities Centre on November 10, 2019 in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
OSHAWA, ON - NOVEMBER 10: Michael Vukojevic #51 of the Kitchener Rangers skates during an OHL game against the Oshawa Generals at the Tribute Communities Centre on November 10, 2019 in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images) /

The New Jersey Devils have a lot of great young players in the organization. There are players that have already made their mark in the NHL like Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Ty Smith, and Mackenzie Blackwood. Then, there are former 1st-round picks in different areas of the prospect pool like Nolan Foote, Alexander Holtz, and Dawson Mercer.

However, the Devils prospect pool is remarkably deep. The Devils’ Top 25 Prospects list is deeper now than it has been in franchise history. There are also some guys who don’t get talked about as much and one of them is Michael Vukojevic. He is a 19-year-old defenseman that was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2019 NHL Draft.

His now-former OHL GM thinks very highly of this New Jersey Devils defenseman.

Michael Vukojevic was just signed to an AHL contract by the Binghamton Devils. He is going to make his pro debut with them this season and join what looks like a very young defense. They are a team with eight guys that play the position and are 24 years old or younger. Their average age is a ridiculous 21.6 years old. If this group ends up working, the New Jersey Devils should have a lot to look forward to in terms of their NHL squad’s future.

I had the luxury of interviewing Kitchener Rangers General Manager Mike McKenzie. He gave me a few minutes to talk about Vukojevic and what he might be able to bring now that he is going to be a pro hockey player. Mr. McKenzie was very insightful on the game of Vukojevic:

Question: How do you expect Michael Vukojevic to play in his first pro season as a 19-year-old?

"It’s really exciting for him. I’m happy for him. He gets to have that taste of professional hockey and obviously, it’s a really unique situation with our league not playing right now. So he is making the most of it and getting a chance to get his feet wet in pro. I think it will be really good for his development for him to be around pro players, see that side of the game, get to practice and play with guys who are older at a pro level. I’m really happy for him. It’s a great opportunity for him."

He was an assistant captain with you in Kitchener. Do you expect him to carry that leadership mentality to the pro game?

"I think at some point, yeah. As a younger player you probably just go in and kind of mind your own business for the first little bit and try to get accustomed to life as a pro. So I don’t think he’ll be going in and showing leadership right off the start. With our team, he has always been a guy who has shown leadership. Like you said, he wore an “A” for a little bit. If we were playing right now we would plan on him being a part of our leadership group, so he definitely has that ability down the road in (professional hockey)."

With Binghamton, what do you expect his offensive ceiling to be from the back end?

"I think as he moves up like most guys, you try to find a role for yourself. To be completely honest, I don’t think he is going to be a pure offensive guy in pro hockey and I think even Michael would say the same thing. I think he projects to be a guy who chips in some offense and his hands and offensive side of the game is good enough to chip in but I don’t think he is a guy who is going to put up massive numbers or run a first power play. I think for him, he just really needs to focus on the defensive side of the game, being hard to play against, shutting down other teams top players, and just doing all the things he did for us like moving good first passes, moving the puck up the ice quickly, and just being hard to play against. I think that is what he really has to focus on. The offensive stuff will come, just like it did with us in the last couple of seasons."

Do you think he’ll be an NHL regular someday and if so, what is his role?

"Yeah, I think he has a chance to be. If that happens, I think his role is going to be a guy that is hard to play against, moves the puck efficiently, stays out of trouble that way but really good defensively. He is really going to have to be a part of a team’s (penalty kill) if he wants to be a full time NHL guy. Be a guy who is really relied on and you know that most times nothing bad is going to happen because he is just so solid, steady, and hard to play against. I think he has that chance if he plays his game like he can. That is how I would describe him as “playing his game”."

Of course, I am extremely grateful that Mr. McKenzie gave me some time to talk about one of his players in Michael Vukojevic as he is getting ready to be a pro hockey player at such a young age. It is always so great to get insight on New Jersey Devils’ prospects that you don’t get a lot of insight on compared to some of the higher draft picks.

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It seems like McKenzie has some good feelings about his defenseman and that he has a chance to be an NHLer someday. Hopefully, if he does make it, he will succeed because the Devils are always looking for good shutdown guys who can contribute a little bit of offense from time to time. Michael Vukojevic will be easy to cheer for after hearing all of that from someone who would know best.