The preseason hockey train is chugging in time for the start of autumn. This time of year will show us who makes the cut out of camp for the New Jersey Devils. After the 23-man roster is set, Utica Comets (AHL), Adirondack Thunder (ECHL), and who goes back to Junior hockey, NCAA, European Leagues and Developmental Systems. All these help grow players into talented, skilled, young men looking to make a living in the NHL.
Stay tuned for the New Jersey Devils’ prospects episode between your very own Pucks & Pitchforks contributors, Joseph Stanislau & Trey Matthews. We talk about the importance of a fairly stacked prospect pool, and some other players that weren’t mentioned in this article that could make an impact.
In the meantime, let’s take a look at some prospects who will no longer be prospects come this time next season.
Very few people need an introduction to the Liptovsky Mikulas, Slovakia native who blossomed into a great hybrid of offense and defense. One of the things that popped out in his draft season that garnered attention was his effort. He leaves no stone unturned when pushing his team to win. His passion on the ice is infectious, which can eventually make him a valuable leader. Nemec just knows how to make the right passes whether it is on the power play or on a tape-to-tape pass at even strength.
Offensively, Nemec showed a new offensive style to his game. He had the passes before, but he added 12 goals after scoring just one in the Slovak league a year ago. Nemec had 34 points in 65 games. Playing more games in Utica will help him build up endurance. The way he is confident in his shot at a more competitive level shows that he won’t last long in Utica before Tom Fitzgerald eventually calls him up.
Nemec might be sheltered on the third pair, but it will take no time before he’s a second-pairing guy. Long term, as this student grows, he will eventually play first-line minutes. The way things are going he doesn’t need to play like Brian Rafalski did early on in his career from an offensive perspective. His physical play is one of the most underrated aspects of his game, and once he gets a hold of someone, it won’t take long for the Devils faithful to really adore his game.
Like our guy Simon Nemec, everyone knows this Luke Hughes’s name. Even though he’s the youngest of the Hughes brothers, Luke Hughes carries his own legacy in his family tree. He has the size, speed, physicality, and high-speed processor to scan for open lanes. Whether it is puck-carrying, passing, or even shooting, he knows how to do the flash and dance deke and dangle moves with the puck.
Having his feet get wet in the NHL at the end of last season, this young man will be a treat and potentially be a future first-pair LHD pair. His ceiling is potentially Scott Niedermayer, the way he has speed, excellent stickhandling, agility, and the potential to really break in the playoffs.
If we look at his floor, Hughes could hover around his brother Quinn’s level of play, which is still ridiculously good. The genes and the skills absolutely carry well. Everything Luke brings to the table leads to more wins for New Jersey. His defensive game is steadily coming along, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see him master the takeaway game and become very hard to play against on the blueline.
The native of Lahti, Finland is on the path to becoming the next stay-at-home defenseman on the left-handed side. Topias Vilen is a very sound skater with very good speed and plays a very simple game that thwarts offensive breakouts. His ceiling would look similar to prime Andy Greene type of hockey where it is chipping pucks on the net, making that set-up pass, and killing off penalties on top of even-strength.
Vilen’s role may not be the most interesting on this team, but he would play an integral linchpin position for the New Jersey Devils. His ability to play 3rd and 2nd line-level minutes on a deep Devils team would set him up long-term when the Devils look to have him be the successor to Jonas Siegenthaler or anyone else on the left side as the veteran defense gets either too old or the contract gets too expensive. Having a player like Vilen around gives Tom Fitzgerald the ability to have cap flexibility and a player who is ready to be inserted into Lindy Ruff’s lineup when needed.