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31 in 31

Top prospects for New Jersey Devils

No. 1 pick Hischier expected to make impact in rookie season

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer is providing in-depth prospect analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the New Jersey Devils.

Rick Kowalsky, coach of the New Jersey Devils' American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, couldn't help but be impressed with the amount of talent at development camp this year. At the top of the list was Nico Hischier, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

"You don't want to get too excited at development camp and obviously there are lots of eyes on [Hischier], but there's no question he's a special talent," Kowalsky said. "The speed at which he does everything is what really stands out to me. This year's group is by far the best-skilled group we've had at a development camp."


[DEVILS 31 in 31: Season preview | 3 Questions | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]


Here are the Devils' top five prospects, according to (revised Aug. 27):


1. Nico Hischier, C

How acquired: Selected with No. 1 pick in 2017 NHL Draft

Last season: Halifax (QMJHL): 57 GP, 38-48-86

Hischier (6-foot-1, 176 pounds) will begin the season at center, according to coach John Hynes. The 18-year-old excelled at every level and there's no reason to think that, following an adjustment period, he won't succeed in the NHL.

"In Nico, you're looking at a player who has high hockey sense and is very competitive, and those are things you're looking for in someone to play down the middle," Hynes said. "They have to have that ability to read and think the game quickly. Now it's trying to find ways to help him be consistent and play at his maximum capacity every night."

Projected NHL arrival: This season

Video: Nico Hischier skates at Devils development camp


2. Steven Santini, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 42 pick in 2013 NHL Draft

Last season: New Jersey: 38 GP, 2-5-7; Albany (AHL): 20 GP, 0-2-2

Santini (6-2, 207) recently participated in his fifth development camp. The 22-year-old has seven points (two goals, five assists) and a minus-4 rating in 39 NHL games. He'll need to perfect his shot and work along the offensive blue line in order to be a consistent top-four defenseman.

"We're expecting [Santini] to come into camp in good shape, compete for a spot on our team and become an impact player," Hynes said.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

Video: MTL@NJD: Santini finds twine through traffic


3. Will Butcher, D

How acquired: Signed as free agent Aug. 27

Last season: Denver (NCAA): 43 GP, 7-30-37

Butcher, 22, became a free agent on Aug. 16 after not signing with the Colorado Avalanche, who selected him in the fifth round (No. 123) of the 2013 NHL Draft. The left-shot defenseman will challenge for a roster spot in training camp and will be given every opportunity to make a difference on the power play.

Butcher (5-10, 190) won the Hobey Baker Award last season as the top player in NCAA Division I men's hockey; he was captain for the University of Denver, which won the NCAA championship. He's capable of playing the left or right point and exhibits poise and smarts with the puck.

"[Will] and his family felt like New Jersey provided a good mix of opportunity, coaching, development, style of play, and returning players," agent Brian Bartlett said. "[Will] has always been an offensive defenseman and felt like if he continues to develop, there could be a chance to help on New Jersey's power play in the future."

Projected NHL arrival: This season


4. Blake Speers, C

How acquired: Selected with No. 67 pick in 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: New Jersey: 3 GP, 0-0-0; Sault Ste. Marie (OHL): 30 GP, 15-19-34

One of the most relentless competitors in the Devils system, Speers (5-11, 185) missed five weeks last season with a broken right wrist but remained a point-per-game player as captain of Sault Ste. Marie. Hynes appreciates his work ethic and how responsible he is in the defensive end, a big reason the 20-year-old played three NHL games last season.

"The goal for me is to prove and show I want to be here all year and, obviously, I got a taste of it last year, but that wasn't enough," Speers said.

The arrival of Speers and other centers could be sped up with center Travis Zajac expected to miss 4-6 months after having surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle sustained during training last week. That timeframe would have Zajac sidelined until mid-December at the earliest.

Projected NHL arrival: This season


5. Michael McLeod, C

How acquired: Selected with No. 12 pick in 2016 NHL Draft

Last season: Mississauga (OHL): 57 GP, 27-46-73

Following a strong regular season, McLeod (6-2, 188) led Mississauga with 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 20 playoff games in his third OHL season. Speed and creativity are his greatest assets. He had three points (two goals, one assist) in seven games to help Canada win the silver medal at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"I think I feel like I'm [NHL] ready," said McLeod, 19. "I've gotten faster and my shot has gotten a lot better. I feel like I've figured out the OHL."

Projected NHL arrival: 2019-20

Video: 31 in 31: New Jersey Devils 2017-18 season preview

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