Discover more from Steve’s Newsletter
Less-Heralded Devils Prospects To Watch This Weekend
Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
With the way the New York baseball teams are finishing their respective seasons and the dark clouds hanging over the start to the area’s NFL clubs’ campaigns, the hockey season can’t come soon enough.
The Devils, coming off their best season in over a decade, are already welcoming their rookies into training camp in advance of this weekend’s Prospects Challenge in Buffalo. New Jersey will play three games in four days against Ottawa, Buffalo, and Boston.
Headlining the Devils’ tournament roster will be defensemen Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec, their first-round picks from the 2021 and 2022 NHL Drafts, respectively. Barring injuries or complete tanking of their games, both players are destined for New Jersey this season.
In addition, there often is a less heralded player or two who makes enough of a mark at this event that it can propel them to a legitimate shot at the big club. Here are three such players I’ll be watching:
1) Josh Filmon
If you think a 2022 sixth-round pick has no chance of sticking around at such a young age, I refer you to Jesper Bratt, whose speed and skill were so apparent prior to the 2017 training camp that he made New Jersey’s roster despite being only a year removed from his sixth-round draft status.
Granted, the Devils were a relatively talent-deprived squad back then as compared to the team that has set the highest sights this season. Still, if you can make plays, you deserve to be here.
And Filmon, a 19-year old left wing, seems to have a bit of a knack for making plays. He scored 47 goals in 64 games in his last season as a WHL junior player before notching his first professional goal at AHL Utica during his four games there. He’s not the biggest guy, listed at 6-foot 1 and around 160 pounds, but he’ll go to the hard areas to fight for 50/50 pucks and get inside to generate scoring opportunities.
Obviously, the greater likelihood is that Filmon will use this season to continue developing his body and two-way game in the minors. But as Bratt showed, you never know.
2) Topias Vilen
With Hughes and Nemec expected to garner all the attention and much of the back line ice time during the tournament, Vilen will probably have to resort to continuing on his path of underrated steadiness. Another low (fifth round, 2021 Draft) pick, the Finnish lefty defenseman shouldn’t be counted out of General Manager Tom Fitzgerald’s preseason debate either. New Jersey watched Damon Severson and Ryan Graves walk in free agency, replacing them with Colin Miller, a 30-year old stay-at-home type in the Brendan Smith (who’s still on the team, by the way) mold and the rookies. As much as I root for giant Kevin Bahl to keep progressing, I wouldn’t etch his name in cement for the opening night lineup either.
Vilen’s attributes aren’t likely to pop in this tournament, as he’s not a flashy skater nor does he unleash bombs from the point. Since he’s more known for his ability to end plays and smartly move pucks ahead, not noticing him might be a sign that he is playing well.
3) Tyler Brennan
The goalie, of course.
The one area that has the most potential for holding the Devils back this season will once again be in the nets. Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid both had their moments last season, but when all was said and done, no one should be sold on either as long-term solutions.
Until the 2023 Draft, Fitzgerald and predecessor Ray Shero made a habit of selecting a goalie every year. Brennan, a 19-year old toiling in the WHL prior to his signing of an entry level contract in April, was the Devils’ 2022 fourth-round pick. He was considered the top North American netminder that year, albeit in a relatively weak class.
Some of Brennan’s junior numbers might look concerning on its face, but scouts believe he has the size and athleticism to develop into a future contributor at the higher levels. The key for Brennan will be how he adapts to the increased speed. The tournament might not flow at an NHL pace, but it will surely be a step up from what he has previously experienced.
Can he push off to get across the crease to make the difficult saves, not just the easy saves? How does he react to the bigger bodies creating traffic in front of him? And can he help out his defenseman by skating out of the crease to move pucks, which scouts consider one of his weaker points?