It has been a rough decade for the New Jersey Devils.
Since making the 2011-12 Stanley Cup Final, they have qualified for the Playoffs just once and that came during the 2017-18 season. Prior to the 2016-17 season, things appeared to be on track for the organization when former General Manager Ray Shero pulled off the stunning Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall trade. Unfortunately, however, despite the heist, it resulted in just one trip to the postseason, where they were eliminated in five games by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
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Since then, the organization has had quite a few changes. Hall is no longer a member of the Devils, as they dealt him to the Arizona Coyotes in December of 2019. They were also able to obtain the First overall pick of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, where they selected Jack Hughes. While he struggled in his rookie campaign, he looks like he has arrived this year with eight points (3 G, 5 A) through nine games.
With players like Hughes, Nico Hischier, and goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, the Devils certainly have some pieces that should allow them to turn things around soon. On top of those names listed, they also possess one of the best prospect pools in the entire league, some of whom will be (or already are) contributing at the NHL level very soon.
As mentioned in every other Top 8 Prospects articles throughout this series, any player who has played in more NHL games than any other league in a season, regardless of the season, will not be included. (Exception has been made for the 2020-21 season, given that many leagues, including the AHL, have yet to play any games).
Here are the Top 8 Prospects in the New Jersey Devils system:
8. Nick Merkley
When the New Jersey Devils chose to trade Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes, one of the main pieces they were getting back was forward Nick Merkley. The now 23-year-old forward, who was taken 30th overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, has shown he can score at the AHL level, but has been unable to become a regular NHLer to this point. Last season saw him post 16 points in 26 games with the Tuscon Roadrunners prior to the trade, and an additional 19 in 28 games with the Binghamton Devils post trade.
Prior to the trade, Merkley had appeared in just one NHL game with the Coyotes that came during the 2017-18 season. After being traded however, the Devils gave him a short four game stint where he impressed with one goal and an assist. He has played in three games with the Devils to begin the 2020-21 season where he has managed one helper. It is likely that when the AHL season begins, he will be sent down to get more minutes. Given that he is 23 now, he needs to have a breakout season whether it be in the NHL or AHL if he still wants to be considered a top prospect heading into the 2021-22 campaign.
At this time last year, Yegor Sharangovich wouldn’t have been anywhere close to cracking this list. His 25 points in 57 games during his second AHL season last season didn’t seem overly promising. However, because of the AHL season being delayed this year, the 22-year-old returned to his home country of Russia to play. He suited up for a total of 34 games with Minsk Dynamo, where he impressed with 17 goals and 25 points in 34 games. Despite not being with the team for weeks now, he still sits second on Minsk for goals.
Thanks in large part to his impressive performance this season, he was able to not only secure an invite to the Devils Training Camp, but has suited up for all nine of their games to this point. In those nine games, he has chipped in with a goal and an assist to this point. While it remains to be seen whether or not he will stay in the NHL or be sent to the minors once their season gets underway, there is no doubt he has shot up the New Jersey Devils depth chart.