Top 20 New Jersey Devils prospects developing with gusto

By John Iadevaia

Photo: Joe Blandisi has been surprisingly effective in his first year as a pro, scoring 12 points in 21 NHL games and 21 in 24 for Albany. (Courtesy of Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

Photo: Joe Blandisi has been surprisingly effective during his first year as a pro, scoring 12 points in 21 NHL games and 21 in 24 for Albany. (Courtesy of Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

10. (7) Joshua Jacobs, D, 7.0 C
2nd Round, 41st Overall, 2014

It took some time but Jacobs looks more comfortable in the second half of the OHL season. Earlier on, the Michigan native seemed to be stuttering in his new setting. There were flashes where it looked like he was clicking in Sarnia’s fast, attacking system, but other times where he looked out of place. Now it appears he has simplified his game and looks well-rounded on both sides of the puck. As he gets more accustomed to his surroundings, look for his offensive game to open up more. Interestingly enough, Jacobs was also named an assistant captain along with Zacha on January 30th. 

9. (18) Miles Wood, LW, 7.0 C
4th Round, 100th Overall, 2013

Over the past seven months, Wood has taken a real step forward. At Boston College, the freshman has quickly assumed a role as a complementary player in the top-six. What he has learned to do well is use his body to open up space for his teammates, a trait he seemed to pick up when he played in a bottom-six role for Team USA last season at the World Junior Championships. At the same time, Wood has the finesse and puck skills to be a consistent scorer. Throughout the year, the power forward has factored into the Golden Eagle’s high powered offense with multipoint performances and has also played a big role on special teams. While he has shown promise, it will do Wood good to remain at Boston College where he can continue to play top-six minutes before he joins the pros.

8. (8) Blake Speers, C/RW, 7.0 C
3rd Round, 67th Overall, 2015

Sault Ste. Marie has had a middling season thus far, but city native Speers is doing his best to contribute to a postseason berth. Centering the top line, Speers is a catalyst for the team’s offense and leads them in scoring as a point-per-game player. Speer’s numbers might be a bit down from last year, but his overall game has taken a step forward. Defensively he has improved as he strives to become a responsible two-way player in case his offense cannot carry him through the pros. Another positive is that he has become more of a possession player, protecting and winning the puck as well as controlling the faceoff dot. By putting in this extra work, Speers is doing what he needs to do to find success when he joins the Devils.

7. (6) John Quenneville, C/RW, 7.0 C
1st Round, 29th Overall, 2014

As the season has progressed, Quenneville has been one of the most upstart prospects in the Devils system. Coming off a disappointing 2014-15 regular season, the centerman has looked motivated to finish his WHL career strongly. This was validated when he played for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. The all-around player continues to be responsible away from the puck, but offensively he has done very well. In fact, he has been one of the most consistent contributors for Brandon which is already stacked with strong talent. Quenneville has especially been good at even strength, scoring at over a point-per-game pace. His finishing has been on point, but his playmaking has been much better. Quenneville’s rise bodes well for when he jumps to the pros.

6. (5) Blake Coleman, C, 7.0 C
3rd Round, 75th Overall, 2011

Coleman has been sidelined since injuring his shoulder on November 27th against Binghamton. He received surgery in January and remains out indefinitely, a shame because the former Miami of Ohio standout was in fine form during Albany’s success in the fall. After graduating college, Coleman has adapted to the pros on and off the ice nicely. The Texan provided grit, energy and skill in Albany’s top-six while his character and performance endeared him to his teammates. Some of them even referred to him as the identity of the team and an example of the kind of hockey the organization wants to see. That is a bit ironic because he shares that same distinction with his former linemate and roommate in Albany.

5. (15) Joe Blandisi, RW/C, 7.0 C
Signed as Free Agent, 2015

No player in the system has had as meteoric a rise as Blandisi in the past year. Since he was dropped by Colorado last summer, the forward has done nothing but improve his performance, becoming a scoring threat who is not afraid to battle for the puck. After a rough start in Albany, the Ontario native improved his defensive play, earned more ice time and became a top scorer for his AHL club. Since his second call-up in January, he has impressed the coaching staff enough to stay in New Jersey. Along with Coleman, Blandisi also represents the kind of fast, attacking, support brand of hockey Coach Hynes is trying to establish. If the Devils continue to produce players like Blandisi and Coleman, they will become a consistent contender for years to come.

4. (2) Steve Santini, D, 7.5 C
2nd Round, 42nd Overall, 2013

Santini remains one of the most well-regarded defensemen in college hockey and a linchpin for Boston College. Known more for his punishing play away from the puck, the junior is starting to show more offensive tendencies. He is getting more involved in plays, pinching deeper, providing an outlet and getting shots to the net. By growing this side of his game, he becomes more than a one-dimensional player and will warrant more ice time and opportunities.

3. (3) Mackenzie Blackwood, G, 7.5 C
2nd Round, 42nd Overall, 2015

This has been quite the interesting season for Blackwood. When it comes to his OHL, the Ontario native has easily been one of the top goaltenders in the league. His mentality and competitiveness are what drive him to success. It is also gotten him into trouble. Blackwood has been suspended multiple times this season for lashing out against opponents. Yet he has bounced back each time he has hit a bump in the road. So long as he remains confident and controls his competitiveness, Blackwood gives Barrie a chance to win on any night.

2. (4) Reid Boucher, LW, 7.5 C
4th Round, 99th Overall, 2011

The biggest difference for Boucher this season compared to last year is his confidence. A big factor is that he can play his offensive brand of hockey, make mistakes and atone for them. This is something he has struggled with in the past that has hurt his ability to contribute consistently. It is no surprise he has played very well in Albany as a result. Boucher’s skating has improved and his execution on plays has expanded as well. Since being recalled to New Jersey in January, his enhanced play and confidence has been noticeable. With the second half of the season in full stride, Boucher remains an active participant in the Devils top-six.

1. (1) Pavel Zacha, C/LW, 8.0 C
1st Round, 6th Overall, 2015

Keeping his position as the top prospect in the Devils system is Pavel Zacha. The decision by Devils management to send him down to junior has worked out, as the Czech Republic native looks more conditioned and balanced this season. He is more lethal on the offensive rush, scoring over a point-per-game and has expanded his playmaking skills. He can still do a better job controlling his aggressiveness but it helps make his game away the puck relentless. The trade deadline additions of Travis Konecny, Matt Mistele and Sam Studnicka have lessened the burden on Zacha, but he remains an important piece in the Sting’s success. His growth this season makes it more likely he will be with New Jersey in October.

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