Dom Lunardo | April 13th, 2020
The New Jersey Devils as an organization had high expectations for themselves heading into the 2019-20 campaign. After landing the P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Nikita Gusev, and Jack Hughes, who the Devils selected with the first-overall pick in last summer’s draft, things were looking quite positive for a Devils fan base, two seasons removed from their last postseason berth. Ray Shero, who was the Devils general manager at the time had added some integral pieces with hopes of competing for a spot in the postseason by mid-April. Sadly for Shero, and the entire Devils team, the 2019-20 season has been an unmitigated disaster on almost every level.
“Devilishly (Not) Good”
Before the NHL hit the pause button due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Devils sat dead-last in the Metropolitan Division, and nowhere close to a playoff spot. Their best player, Taylor Hall, one of the most coveted unrestricted free agents (UFA) at seasons end was shipped off to Arizona in a mid-season trade. Their head coach, John Hines? Fired. GM Ray Shero? Also fired. Jack Hughes? A disappointing seven goals to show for his rookie campaign. P.K. Subban? A measly 18 points, and a (-21) rating in 68 games this season in the swamp. All that aside, the focus in Newark, New Jersey and re-building the Devils back to prominence is down to their young guns. Players such as Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, Jesper Boqvist, and Hughes himself represent the “next wave” of Devils royalty. Besides, the Devils also have a pretty talented prospect pool coming down the pipeline. Just how good are these youngsters, and how much of an impact can they have on the future in Newark, New Jersey.
Number 3: Janne Kuokkanen, Left-Wing, Binghampton Devils (AHL)
First up is the 6’1 Finnish-born winger, Janne Kuokkanen. Watch Kuokkanen play and move around the ice is an absolute treat. His ability to retrieve loose pucks, check, and make plays in all three zones will bode well at the National Hockey League Level. Janne Kuokkanen is also a strong, fluid skater who is always looking to find an open teammate. Selected in the second round, 43rd overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, Janne Kuokkanen was part of the deal that saw defenseman Sami Vatanen head to Carolina during this season’s trade deadline. Janne Kuokkanen tallied 52 points in 42 games with the Charlotte Checkers, the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate of the Hurricanes, including 12 goals. The super-Finn is a lock to make the Devils squad and will serve as the perfect compliment to high-skilled players such as Hischier, Hughes, and Boqvist in the coming years.
Number 2: Nolan Foote, Left-Wing, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Man, oh man, what a break for the Devils. Coming in as runner-up is the son of long-time NHL defenseman, Adam Foote, Nolan Foote. When the Devils dealt diminutive forward Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning at this year’s deadline, Foote presumably “fell in their lap.” Standing at a towering 6’4, Foote has all the tools to be one of the league’s next best power forwards. Foote scored five points in seven games, for a very impressive showing with Team Canada during this past year’s 2020 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships that saw the Canadians take Gold. Foote has the size, grit, hands, and release that’ll have Devils fans n the edge of their seats for years to come. Foote is also a tremendous leader for a 19-ear-old who wears the “C” for his current club, the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey league (WHL). Foote is an absolute star in the main, and one of the most unique prospects hitting center-stage out of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
Number 1: Ty Smith, Defenseman, Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
Coming in at number one on our list and a teammate of Nolan Foote on Team Canada’s Junior Team is defenseman, Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs, also of the WHL. Born in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Smith was born for hockey. born for hockey. Smith is an elite skater who offers speed, passing ability, and offensive flare from all over the ice. Just ask opposing teams forwards during this past year’s World Junior Tournament. Smith carries a tremendous and is just oozing with potential. Regardless of who’s running the show, down in Jersey (currently GM Tom Fitzgerald), all of his predecessors have raved about Smith’s development and his potential as a bonafide star at the NHL level. When you look at the likes of Kuokkanen, Foote, and Smith wearing Devils uniforms in the not so distant future, things are starting to look very very bright for a city otherwise known as “the swamp”.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images