Welcome to the beginning of the actual list of the Top 25 New Jersey Devils Under 25 for this year. As with tradition, we will be revealing the twenty-five players in reverse order by five players at a time. You could interpret this as a tier. You could see these five as at least better off than the Outsiders. You could see it for what it literally is: a means to present the list over the course of the next five weeks. All the same, this post will reveal who climbed up the rankings of perception and who remained the same in this year’s list.
Remember, all ages are as of October 8, 2020. Also, Dan and I will be discussing this on the next Garden State of Hockey if you prefer to hear about these players instead of reading about them.
#25 – Nikola Pasic – Left Winger – Age: 19 – 2020-21 Team: Linköping HC (SHL) – 2019 Rank: #31 – Elite Prospects (EP) Profile
Pasic had a very, very good 2019-20 season. The 2019 seventh round draft pick stayed with BIK Karlskoga of the HockeyAllsvenskan last season. The HockeyAllsvenskan is a professional league in Sweden. It is behind the SHL in terms of tiers. Not only did Pasic play in 45 games with the team, but he put up eight goals and twenty-seven assists. The 35 points put him in a tie for 28th in the entire league in scoring last season. More impressively, it was the most among all junior-eligible players in the league. Adding to the accomplishment is the reality that Pasic only averaged just under 14 minutes per game and took only 56 shots on net. Even in a more limited role where he was not shooting a whole lot (his role may be more about setting up players); Pasic was involved in a lot of production for BIK Karlskoga. That is great to see at any level, much less in professional league at age 19. Pasic earned his way to Sweden’s World Junior Championship team, which was another achievement for Pasic’s young career so far.
Pasic turned 20 on October 16. He also received a contract extension for two seasons from Linköping. The organization clearly thinks Pasic is on his way to being a SHL regular. He has appeared in all eight games for Linköping. He has averaged only 10:39 per game and he only has one goal and ten shots on net so far. However, it is still early in the season for both Pasic and Linköping, who had games postponed due to the virus. The hope is that as the season goes on, Pasic can further establish himself at the SHL level and try to move up in the lineup.
Still, Pasic’s 2019-20 was certainly worthy of moving him up six spots into the Top 25 for this year. Onwards and hopefully upwards for the young Swedish winger.
Joining Pasic, Yegor Sharangovich enters the proper Top 25 Devils Under 25 list for 2020. Had the survey and the lists from writers be compiled in November, he could have been ranked much higher. Sharangovich’s second season in the AHL does not appear to have much to write home about on the surface. 57 games, 10 goals, and 15 assists for an improvement of only eight points from his rookie AHL season in 2018-19. However, Sharangovich did perform better as the 2019-20 season went on. As noted by Duncan of Jeff’s Panel from the third quarter evaluations, his play was improving while he had a changing role throughout the season. In support of that, since January 31, 2020, Sharangovich scored seven goals and put up eight assists in 19 games before the AHL season ended its season due to the Coronavirus. He certainly heated up but it could also be a sign that he was figuring things out at the AHL level.
The hope is that he really has because Sharangovich has been fantastic in his current loan with Dinamo Minsk. In 20 games, Sharangovich has been one of the team’s top players. He has averaged 19:22 per game. With both power play and shorthanded production, he has played on both sides of special teams for Dinamo. He even has a letter on his jersey, designating him as one of the team’s leaders. The most impressive part are his ten goals. Not only is ten goals in twenty games a great goal scoring rate, but as of Halloween, it was the fifth most goals scored by a player in the entire KHL. Yes, the entire KHL. Sharangovich is currently a top scorer in the entire KHL with six even strength goals, two power play goals, and two shorthanded goals. So what if he only has two assists; he is among league leader in goals in arguably the most talented league in the world outside of the NHL. This move up in the rankings is a little more than just Sharangovich getting rewarded for a hot streak.
It remains to be seen whether this can be translated to improved play and production in North America. But it is still great to see – especially with goals like this one – and to see in real time.
It was a tumultuous 2019-20 season for the Devils’ third-round draft pick from 2019. Clarke was gearing up to be the top right winger on the top line on what could be – and would become – the most dominant team in Canadian major junior hockey. It started off well enough as Clarke was skating alongside Marco Rossi and he scored seven goals in nine games. Then he injured his shoulder in November so severely that it required surgery. It is both a compliment and a regret when the head coaches’ initial reaction to the media about the news includes the phrase: “Nobody can replace 50 goals.” It is a lot to ask for in junior hockey, but Clarke could have done it with Rossi (and imagine how much more Rossi would have produced too). Clarke was selected for his shooting and finishing talent and he was in a prime situation to make it happen. Instead, he ended up missing four months with the injury and subsequent surgery. When Clarke returned, he was only able to get into seven more games and score two more goals. Then the Coronavirus, as with everything else in hockey, ended the OHL season early. What could have been a massive season for Clarke ended up being filled with difficulties and delays.
That stated, there is enough belief in his talent among the writers and the community. Enough belief in his skills as an offensive winger to keep him in the same spot he entered the Top 25 Devils Under 25 season. Strong shooting wingers are always going to be well-regarded as it has been a bit of a shortfall in the Devils’ system for quite sometime. It is better now as the Devils acquired Nolan Foote and just drafted Alexander Holtz. Still, Clarke could be one to watch for in the future. He will spend this coming season in the OHL, which is going to be a strange experience as the Minister of Sport in Ontario is only allowing the league to play in February with a ban on body checking. I have no idea how that will be enforced or how checks are somehow more dangerous in a sport filled with close-contact situations such as puck battles, faceoffs, sitting on the boards, being in the locker room, and traveling on buses. And it may not even happen now that the Premier of Ontario has weighed in and publicly expressed a desire to see the OHL return with checking. Either way, should Clarke have a productive comeback season in 2020-21 and the skills show he has a future in the pro game, then he could remain on the Top 25 Devils Under 25 for years to come.
Marian Studenic’s position here is similar to Sharangovich. Like the Russian center, the Slovakian winger’s second season in the AHL does not seem all that remarkable on the surface. Nine goals and seventeen points in 37 games is not remarkable. However, like Sharangovich, he was heating up in the weeks up until the season was cut short. As noted by The Panel, the right winger did improve in his performances in the third quarter of the season and he did put up six goals and three assists in the nine games since January 17. With Joey Anderson being traded away, all right wingersin the system moved up the depth chart by default and with Studenic entering his third season in the AHL, he is not entirely out of the discussion for a future call up.
What I think helped his cause with respect to these rankings and prevented a further drop is his current loan. Studenic was loaned out to HC Slovan Bratislava of the Tipsport Liga, Slovakia’s top hockey league. In four games, Studenic has put up three goals and one assist. That is good enough to lead the entire team in goals and be second on the team in points in their short season so far. Unfortunately, the Coronavirus forced the team enter a quarantine and so Studenic and the squad has not played since October 11 – where Studenic scored two of his three goals so far. They are scheduled to play on November 1. Still, the fact that Studenic has made an instant impact abroad helps the idea that he is still a talented young player for the Devils to develop. He just turned 22 a few days ago, so there is some credence to that.
I hope Studenic continues to produce with Slovan Bratislava and be able to come back to Binghamton and build on his previous seasons. I want him to make a good case for himself and make the right wing competition in New Jersey and Binghamton even tighter. In the interim, follow his fan Twitter account because of course there is a Twitter account devoted to supporting all things Studenic.
The first five to be revealed for 2020 will end with Russian center Mikhail Maltsev. Do you like toolsy players? Here is one in a 6’3”, 220 pound package who just completed his first season in North America last season. Again, his production alone is not particularly notable: 11 goals and 10 assists in 49 games. However, most of that production came at the turn of the calendar. Between Binghamton’s own changes and Maltsev’s own adjustments to the AHL game, he may have started to get settled and start to blossom. By the Panel’s own assessment, his performances did improve as his rookie season went on, noting his blend of speed and physical play. He even earned the most stars of the game given some particularly strong performances in the season. And he even got things done in the shootout, going 2-for-4 by showing off some sweet dangles and bravery akin to his stunning preseason goal against Our Hated Rivals way back in September 2019. This is not just a big center; Maltsev is a big center with some decent hands and wheels to go with it. There is enough there to see that he could crack through to the NHL in the future. Had the 2019-20 season concluded as normal, maybe we would have seen him get a call up to New Jersey or thrive further in Binghamton.
Maltsev was loaned out to the KHL giants, SKA St. Petersburg. I am not sure what to make of it so far. Maltsev has only played in four KHL games since the end of September. He played a decent amount in those games. He averaged 13:51 in those games, he went 36-for-59 in faceoffs in those four games, and he had an assist and ten shots. I did not see those four games but nothing about that statline strikes me as anything close to bad. I cannot find any information as to whether he is hurt or in quarantine (SKA did suffer an outbreak, this may be it) or if the SKA coaches just want to play other forwards. It is unfortunate as I think actively playing would do Maltsev a lot of good. He just finished his first full season in North America last season. He needs to be getting minutes and further refining his skills. It is one thing if he is not able to actually play, but if he is able and just not getting into the roster, then the loan should be adjusted for Maltsev’s sake. There is a real potential NHL player but that potential can only be realized with minutes. If you know what is going on with Maltsev, please let us know. Something is up here.
Regardless, I am not the only one who thinks he could have a real chance in New Jersey in the not so distant future. As such, he returns to the 21st spot in this year’s Top 25 Devils Under 25.
The way the list is constructed is that every list is weighted equally and averaged out. The community represents one list and the writer’s vote represents another. This way a really high or low ranking does not totally skew the final results in one direction. For this year’s list, it was a very tight result for these five players. A couple of different rankings in either direction could have yielded a completely different order for these five players. There was more of a gap between 26th ranked Nikita Okhotyuk and Pasic and 21st ranked Maltsev and the 20th ranked player. However, if you feel that these five should have been in a different order, then know that you would not be all that far off. It really was a close result.
In terms of the community survey, it was a similarly tight set of results for a slightly wider set. The community ranked Sharangovich 26th, who was edged out by the community’s 25th spot and Clarke. Okhotyuk finished just a bit ahead of Maltsev, who just edged out Fabian Zetterlund – who missed the Top 25 in the full list. Strangely, Zetterlund had the lowest standard deviation among the others in this range so there was not as much variation as there were for the others in this post. The only real surprise is that the community’s bottom five has a player not yet revealed. You will find out who he is soon enough.
Next week will reveal who came in at 20th through 16th on this year’s list. As a tease, all five players were eligible last year, four of them were in the 2019 Top 25 Devils Under 25 list, and three of them fell down to this range compared with last year’s list. I hope you will enjoy it as much as you enjoyed this reveal.
In the meantime, I would like to know what your reaction is to this part of the list. Who are you pleased to see ranked 25th through 21st? Who in this post do you think is overrated or underrated? What do you think about Pasic, Sharangovich, Clarke, Studenic, and Maltsev in general? Among the five, who do you think has the best chance of making New Jersey in the future? Please leave your answers in the comments. Thank you for reading.