New Jersey Devils Celebrate Last Years Atop Prospect Lists

New Jersey Devils defenseman Luke Hughes (43): James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey Devils defenseman Luke Hughes (43): James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Jersey Devils were just ranked fourth in The Athletic’s pipeline rankings. They’ve been in the top five for years thanks to multiple number-one overall picks, a great record of development, and a few other top picks and prospect trades. Now, those top pipelines have turned into success on the ice. Finally.

Jack Hughes is the obvious reason the Devils have been so high for so many years. Even after his disastrous rookie year, Hughes was driving the hope for a positive future in New Jersey. Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt both also brought hope, but they’ve since graduated from the pipeline. Now, they are replaced by the likes of Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec, two of the prospects who still haven’t made the jump to the NHL.

This year, there will be a lot of graduations. Hughes will turn 23 years old this season, negating him from any U23 lists next offseason. That alone will drop the Devils on any list focusing on youth over just traditional prospects. Plus, Connor Bedard’s introduction to the league puts him slightly ahead of Hughes as the best U23 prospect when looking at ceiling alone. Obviously, Hughes has the track record after his performance in the last two seasons, but Bedard has “best ever” possibilities.

Luke Hughes is going to join the NHL next season full-time, which pulls him from prospect lists entirely. Simon Nemec might also join the NHL squad full-time by the end of the season. Losing those two players alone drops them from total prospect evaluations. They might be the two best defensive players that are still considered prospects.

On top of that, the Devils are expected to add Alexander Holtz and Nolan Foote to the NHL full-time. Losing both those players as prospects would make someone like Josh Filmon, Arseni Gritzyuk, Graeme Clarke, or Seamus Casey the team’s best prospect. While we like those three players, they don’t have the pedigree or the upside of some of the 20 best prospects in the NHL.

There are also some “make-or-break” years coming for Devils prospects. Nico Daws is coming off hip surgery, and how he responds this season will really show what the Devils do with his future. Chase Stillman is a former first-round pick, the only first-round pick who isn’t expected to make some impact on the NHL squad this season. How will he respond to his move to the Utica Comets? Lenni Hameenaho was the Devils’ second-round pick this year. He’s known to be very average at just about everything. Still, plenty of players make the league because they are reliable. Let’s see if that’s his ceiling.

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The Devils enjoyed being on top of the prospect lists for years. Now, they get to enjoy the fruits of that labor. While it’s slightly sad the Devils will fall to the middle of prospect ranks, we’d much rather be at the top of the league standings.