New Jersey Devils Updates: Patrik Elias Retirement Night, ECHL Affiliation Announcement, Beach Bash 2017, And More

Patrik Elias Retirement Night: the New Jersey Devils will retire Patrik Elias’s #26 in a pre-game ceremony before a tilt with the New York Islanders on February 24, 2018. Elias officially announced his retirement from the NHL towards the end of last season but did not play at all during the 2016-17 season. He played his last NHL game on April 9, 2016 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Elias leads the franchise in all-time goals, assists, and points scored, and he will join Ken Daneyko, Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Martin Brodeur in the Prudential Center rafters.

Devils’ New ECHL affiliate: the Devils also announced their new East Coast Hockey League affiliation with the Adirondack Thunder. The two teams had informally worked with each other over the past few years and a number of Devils players played for the Thunder, including Scott Wedgewood, Ken Appleby, and Brandon Baddock.

“We’re proud to announce the New Jersey Devils as our NHL affiliate as we take the next big stride towards the 2017-18 season,” Adirondack Thunder Governor Ed Moore said. “We have already reaped the benefits of partnering with New Jersey in the past, with players such as Ken Appleby playing in Glens Falls before moving on to higher levels. We’re excited to grow that partnership on an affiliated basis and we look forward to working with Ray Shero, Tom Fitzgerald and the rest of the Devils organization moving forward.”

“On behalf of the New Jersey Devils, I am pleased to announce that we have entered into a partnership with the Adirondack Thunder to become our ECHL affiliate,” New Jersey Devils Assistant General Manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “We strongly believe in developing our players on and off the ice. Adirondack will serve as a great first step from here to Binghamton and eventually from Binghamton to New Jersey. I am confident that Adirondack’s staff and community will help our players take the next step in their hockey careers and we look forward to working with them.”

Beach Bash 2017: The New Jersey Devils will host their second annual Devils Beach Bash this upcoming Saturday, August 19. Fans will have access to the beach beginning at 10AM and the BBQ will commence at approximately noon. It will take place at Point Pleasant, around the Jenkinson’s North Inlet area. Michael Kapla, Joseph Blandisi, Michael McLeod, Steven Santini, and Blake Speers will be among the current Devils players present at the event. Select alumni are expected to attend as well.

There are tickets available for the general public and for Devils members. The breakdown is as follows:

Tier 1: $15 admission for the general public, includes Beach Badge and Beach Activities

Tier 2: $40 admission for the general public; includes Beach Badge, Beach Activities, BBQ on the beach (with food and soft drinks), and Beach Bash T-Shirt

Tier 3: $15 admission for Devils Members; includes Beach Badge, Beach Activities, VIP access to players, and Beach Bash T-Shirt

Tier 4: $40 admission for Devils Members; includes Beach Badge, Beach Activities, VIP access to players, Beach Bash T-Shirt, private area at Jenkinson’s with food and soft drinks, drink ticket for spirit or beer, and access to Members-Only bar at Jenkinson’s

Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster here.

The weather looks good for Saturday (high of 87 degrees Fahrenheit and partly cloudy) but in case of rain, Beach Bash will be moved to the following day: Sunday, August 20.

Damon Severson’s contract: where is it?

Taylor Hall, the NHL’s 20th best winger: NHL.com ranked Devils’ winger Taylor Hall the 20th best overall (active) winger in the National Hockey League. Fans felt he should have been ranked higher than he was (he had a down year) and I tend to agree. Here’s NHL.com’s excerpt:

Hall scored 20 goals, led the Devils with 33 assists and tied for the lead with 53 points last season, his first in New Jersey. He also had four game-winning goals. He’s scored at least 20 goals in five of his seven NHL seasons and has had at least 50 points five times.

In 2013-14, Hall set NHL career highs with 53 assists and 80 points, leading the Edmonton Oilers in each category, and tied his NHL career high with 27 goals. The 25-year-old has made the NHL All-Star Game each of the past two seasons and has 381 points (152 goals, 229 assists) in 453 NHL games.

The full list is here.

Schneider’s Top 10 (Active) NHL Goalie snub: NHL.com also announced their list of Top 10 active goaltenders in the league and ranked Devils #1 goaltender, Cory Schneider, #11, just missing the cut. Again, he had a down year and probably should have been ranked higher than he was.

The 31-year-old had a sub-par year for his standards. He won 20 games and had a 2.82 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage. His save percentage was down. 0.16 and his GAA was up more than half a goal (.67) from 2015-16.

“Schneider had a down season, but the Devils improved in the offseason and he can rebound. Let’s not forget his .922 career save percentage ranks third all-time,” Weekes said.

Here’s the full list of the Top 10 goalies and here’s a list of the five who just “missed the cut”.

Henrique is more Kinkaid than himself: the Devils created a “Which Devil Are You?” quiz (I got Kinkaid too!) so of course, a few of the Devils players took the quiz themselves. Unsurprisingly, backup goaltender Keith Kinkaid got himself after taking the quiz but Devils forward Adam Henrique got Kinkaid too. Identity crisis, maybe?

And that’s about it. As training camp and the preseason inch closer (ahhhh!!!), I hope to have more published content out soon. It’s been a busy few weeks but hopefully things settle down soon. You can except to see something from me when Damon Severson signs his new contract.

New Jersey Devils: 2017-18 Regular Season Games To Circle On Your Calendars

The New Jersey Devils released their 2017-18 regular season schedule a few months ago, along with their preseason schedule, and I wrote about games (stretches of games) that could make or break the season for New Jersey. So this one is a bit different. These are games that you wake up excited to watch (the ones that get you out of bed in the morning), the ones that you might buy tickets for, and the ones that you look forward to even before the schedule gets announced. Spoiler alert: rivalry games are included but only specific ones. You know I’ve already circled those in my planner.

Saturday, October 7 – vs. Avalanche: the Devils’ home opener is coincidentally their first game of the regular season too. You should be looking forward to this game regardless. Why wouldn’t you be excited for this game? I’m anxious to see what the opening night lineup could look like, who makes the team, who doesn’t, etc. Will Nico Hischier make the opening night lineup? Will Michael McLeod? Or Nathan Bastian? Or Blake Speers? Has anyone suffered a long-term injury yet? How does Cory Schneider look? How does the rest of the team look? Are they younger? Faster? More physical? More aggressive? Are they shooting more? Is their blue line still on the verge of collapsing? Also, how does Colorado look?

Saturday, October 14 – @ Rangers: besides the fact that this game falls on my birthday (!), this is the first time the Hudson River Rivals face each other during the regular season; they’ll play each other twice during the preseason. And even though the game is at Madison Square Garden, the Devils should cause problems. Especially with the way the two teams played against each other in their last game of the 2016-17 season (a Devils overtime win courtesy of Joe Blandisi), their games are always something special. The rivalry itself has died down a little bit, mainly because the Devils haven’t been competitive (rivalries are made in the playoffs). But New Jersey is slowly getting back to where they should be and whether they win or lose, it’ll be a game worth watching. The two teams won’t see each other again until December 9th.

Tuesday, October 17 – vs. Lightning: hey! The Devils have a game on NBCSN, albeit it’s their only one of the 2017-18 season! It’s their third home game of the season and the Lightning look like a different team from last year. If you don’t have MSG (MSG+) and if you don’t want to listen to the game on WFAN or The One Jersey Network, you can watch the game on NBCSN (if you have it or if someone you know has it).

Saturday, November 25 – @ Red Wings: this game is important solely because the Devils will play at Little Caesars Arena for the first time. They participated in the last ever game at Detroit’s previous home, Joe Louis Arena, and get to visit the new venue in November. This is also the first of three times that the team will be facing the Red Wings all season.

Friday, December 15 – Friday, December 29: for two weeks, the Devils will play six straight home games at the Rock, their longest home stretch of the season so if there was any time for fans to get to a game, this would be it. They play some good teams and it will give the team a chance to make the Rock a tough building to play in as well as build more confidence and momentum going into the new year. They play the Stars (12/15), the Ducks (12/18), the Rangers (12/21), the Blackhawks (12/23), the Red Wings (12/27), and the Sabres (12/29).

Saturday, December 30 – @ Capitals: games against the Capitals are always entertaining; on this day last year, the Devils won in a shootout while they were on their Fathers’ Trip.

Sunday, January 7 – @ Islanders: another rivalry game. The Devils/Islanders don’t face each other for the first time until January (just like last season) but the game will be a memorable one. The Islanders have made key moves, including trading for Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle, and it will mark the first time that Eberle and his former teammate and roomie Taylor Hall play each other in different uniforms (that aren’t the Oilers’).

Saturday, January 13 – vs. Flyers: rivalry games are always on this list. Every single “Battle of the Turnpike” game last season was fun to watch no matter what the outcome is. They’re always more physical, more aggressive, more high-strung than the rest. And this might be the first meeting between the 1st and 2nd overall picks in the 2017 NHL Entry-Level at the NHL level. Nico Hischier, drafted by New Jersey first overall, and Nolan Patrick, drafted by Philadelphia second overall, will hopefully be on the ice for their respective teams when both teams face each other for the first time. And while they may not be rivals off the ice, they will be on it.

Saturday, February 3 – vs. Penguins: it takes until February for the Devils to face their Metropolitan Division rival and defending back-to-back Stanley Cup champions for the first time during the 2017-18 season. How will the Devils stack up against Sidney Crosby, arguably the best hockey player in the world, and the Penguins, arguably the best team in the NHL right now?

Sunday, March 4 – vs. Golden Knights: the Devils will face the NHL’s newest expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights, for the first time in franchise history at the Rock. The Golden Knights are an interesting team to watch because they are in their first year but through the expansion draft, entry-level draft, free agent signings, and trades, their team really doesn’t look that bad on paper. They’ll need time to gel but they’ll fun to watch. And I’m a fan of Marc-André Fleury’s mask.

Wednesday, March 14 – @ Golden Knights: New Jersey plays the Golden Knights for the first time at T-Mobile Arena to kick off their California/West Coast road trip. The West Coast/Western Conference road trip is an important one but the game will be fun to watch. Will the ice melt? Are there showgirls? Is there going to be a light show? How big is the jumbotron? Will anyone get lost? The Devils won’t play again until the 17th in L.A., which means that they might spend a day in Vegas so as long as no one’s hungover at practice…

New Jersey Devils: Games That Could Make or Break the 2017-18 Season

It’s a little early to decide what games, or stretches of games, could make or break the New Jersey Devils’ 2017-18 season but as we saw last season unfold, maybe it’s not. I did do a general overview of the 2017-18 regular season schedule when it was first released and there’s a post on the 2017-18 preseason as well.

Each NHL team plays 82 games, 41 at home and 41 away. The Devils play 28 divisional games, four each against every Metropolitan Division team; they’ll play three each against all seven Atlantic Division teams and then two against each Western Conference, including their first two ever against the NHL’s newest expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights.

We all know that the 2017-18 season is crucial for the team. They haven’t made the playoffs in five seasons. They’re in the midst of a rebuild. Yes, it would be nice for them to pull a Toronto and make their way into the postseason even if they get knocked out in the first round by a better team. But here’s my list of games (stretches of games) that could make or break the season for the Devils.

The entire month of October: yeah, I know this doesn’t really count but those first few weeks of the season are important. Last season, the Devils started with a 9-3-3 record and went undefeated in regulation at home for something like 10 straight games, maybe 11. They got off to a great start and the team held a tight grip on third place in the Metropolitan Division but they couldn’t hold on it. And the same could happen this season: they could get off to another hot start or they could struggle to start and string wins together but that’s okay. If they’re playing a ton of new faces plus rookies and “second-year professionals”, it’s okay if the Devils struggle. It’ll give us a good glimpse into the future.

But it’ll also give us a sense of what’s working and what’s not, who’s working and who’s not. If the Devils get off to a great start, great. Hopefully it’s not a fluke and they can play consistently well throughout the season. If they don’t get off to a good start, or an abysmal start, GM Ray Shero may have to change his coaching staff and he might start with Head Coach John Hynes. A lot of Devils fans called for Hynes to be fired this past season and if the Devils fail to win games period, his time in New Jersey could be up.

But we get to look at more than just the coaching staff. Does Cory Schneider bounce back from this past season? Do Taylor Hall, Travis Zajac, and Kyle Palmieri stay on the top line together? Do Adam Henrique or Pavel Zacha move to wing instead of center? Does anyone else? Which Devils prospects actually make the team out of training camp? Where does Nico Hischier play? Those first weeks will give us a chance to see what the team could look like. Who are they calling up? Who are they sending down? There are a lot of questions and not enough answers just yet.

Western Canada road trip: the month of November begins with a three-game road trip to Western Canada to play the Canucks (11/1), Oilers (11/3), and Flames (11/5). It’s too early to determine whether or not it’ll make or break the season but it could be a major confidence boost and it would be nice to get these games out of the way before the second half of the season if the Devils do struggle.

Four-game November road trip: the Devils don’t play a single divisional game during the month of November, which could either help them or hurt them. I picked their four-game road trip against the Blackhawks (11/12), Maple Leafs (11/16), Jets (11/18), and Wild (11/20). Three of those four teams made the playoffs last season, albeit all three of them were knocked out in the first round, but they’re consistently competitive teams and Winnipeg won’t be any different. This trip will be a true test for the team (say that five times fast).

Four sets of back-to-back games in December: in total, the Devils play 13 sets of back-to-backs during the regular season and four of them take place in December. They play the Avalanche (12/1) and Coyotes (12/2), the Blue Jackets (12/8) and Rangers (12/9), the Canadiens (12/14) and Stars (12/15), and the Sabres (12/29) and Capitals (12/30). In general, New Jersey has a weird schedule; the team has a random week off in October that isn’t the NHL-mandated bye week and back-to-back games weren’t kind to the team last year. They tended to do better in the second half but that depended on a lot of different factors.

However, December is a long, busy month for the team and it was a rough month for them last season. You could argue that had they not lost as many games as they did during the stretch, they would have theoretically been in a much better position to make the playoffs come during the second half but that losing stretch probably hurt their confidence and they didn’t look the same afterwards. December could really make or break the team again.

Three December divisional games: New Jersey plays three divisional games in a row, including those two back-to-back games against Columbus and New York. These will be the first divisional games since October 13 and 14 for the Devils, and they could have ground to make up, or ground to lose. The Devils will have already seen the Rangers once but these are their first games against the Jackets, a team that surprised many this past season.

Six-game December home stand: if you were looking for games to go to, these would be it. The Devils play six home games in a row at the end of December against: the Stars (12/15), Ducks (12/18), Rangers (12/21), Blackhawks (12/23), Red Wings (12/27), and Sabres (12/29). Winning games at home is important, we know this. December was brutal for the Devils this past season so it’s crucial for them to defend home ice and make the Rock a difficult arena to play in. I don’t expect them to win all six games but more than three would be nice.

Five divisional games in a row in January: up until this point (coming into the New Year), the Devils have only played six of 28 regular season games against divisional points and hopefully that works out in their favor. In January, starting on the 7th, New Jersey plays five games in a row against divisional opponents, facing the Islanders and Flyers for the first time this season. They’ll play a pair of games against the Isles (1/7, 1/16), both away games; a pair against the Flyers (1/13, 1/20), one home and one away; and one against Washington at home (1/18).

These games fall around the team’s NHL-mandated bye week (January 8-12); every other divisional team (except for the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, and Capitals) will have the same bye week. Hopefully it won’t put them too far behind the others.

The entire month of February: I know, I’m doing it again. But the entire month of February is going to be important for the Devils, regardless of whether or not they’re in a playoff position. If they lose most of their games, you can pretty much guarantee that they won’t make the playoffs but if they win, they still have a chance (depending on just how far down the standings they are).

But February’s important for more than just playoff picture, it’s important for confidence and momentum heading into the final stretch. Remember how I mentioned that the Devils only played six divisional games heading into the New Year? And then they played five more in January which brings our total up to 11 out of 28? The Devils play nine games against divisional opponents in the month of February out of 14 possible games. Five of those nine games are at home, they only play two away games in a row once, and only one of those 14 games is against a Western Conference opponent. I can’t emphasize enough just how critical February is.

The team will play the Flyers, Penguins, Blue Jackets, and the Hurricanes twice, and the Islanders once. They’ll have a three-game homestand from February 18-22 against the Blue Jackets, Wild, and Islanders. And February is made that much more important because March is Western Conference-heavy.

Four-game West Coast road trip: New Jersey plays six straight games against Western Conference teams from March 8-20 and five of those games are part of a six-game stretch away from home. They’ll play four teams in six days: Golden Knights (3/14), Kings (3/17), Ducks (3/18), and Sharks (3/20). The team tends to struggle in California so this stretch will be important especially if they’re hovering right below the wildcard teams. Winning three out of four games is a must if they’re still in the conversation. This is also their last big road trip of the season. After this, only three of their remaining nine games are away from the Prudential Center. Which brings us to our last stretch…

Last nine games: this is a broad stretch of games but you’ll see why. From March 23 until April 7, the Devils will play nine games to close out the 2017-18 regular season. Six of those nine games are at the Rock and those include a four-game home stand to close out the month of March. Fan appreciation will probably be those home games in April, against the Rangers on April 3 and the Maple Leafs on April 5.

But more importantly, all nine games are against Eastern Conference opponents. Six games are against divisional opponents. Four of those six games against divisional opponents are at home: Hurricanes (3/27), Penguins (3/29), Islanders (3/31), and Rangers (4/3). The other two are against the Penguins (3/23) and the Capitals (4/7), the last game of the regular season but hopefully not the last one for the Devils.

Here are the complete nine games: @ Penguins (3/23), vs. Lightning (3/24), vs. Hurricanes (3/27), vs. Penguins (3/29), vs. Islanders (3/31), @ Canadiens (4/1), vs. Rangers (4/3), vs. Maple Leafs (4/5), and @ Capitals (4/7).

The Devils, theoretically, hypothetically, if they’re still in the playoff conversation come mid-March, this is their chance to make one last push. I hope their season comes down to the wire because it means that they weren’t eliminated from playoff contention in March.

And there you have it! You could argue that every single game is important (because it is)  because a few points here or there could make the biggest difference in April.

I am out for the week so this is a scheduled post (and I apologize for not posting in a while) but there will hopefully be another post up on Thursday about the Devils’ schedule (about games that you should mark on your calendars and go to if you can).

Devils Re-Sign RFAs Noesen, Coleman, Pietila, Rooney, and Thomson

The New Jersey Devils announced today that they re-signed restricted free agents Stefan Noesen, Blake Coleman, Blake Pietila, Kevin Rooney, and Ben Thomson. Pietila is today’s only signing with a two-year, two-way deal; the rest signed one-year, two-way contracts.

Noesen and Coleman’s contracts are both worth $660,000 while Rooney and Thomson’s contracts are worth $650,000 apiece; Pietila’s is $1,335,000.

The organization may not anticipate keeping any of them around longer than one or two years. They could be using the upcoming season for evaluation purposes. All five of them will likely get some NHL time if there are enough injuries (and there hopefully won’t be) just as they did this past season. Noesen spent most of the season in the NHL while the others played mostly in Albany (AHL), and will play with Binghamton in 2017-18.

The Devils have now signed eight RFAs; they signed five today and three yesterday (Scott Wedgewood, Mirco Mueller, and Joseph Blandisi). The only RFA remaining who has to be signed is defenseman Damon Severson; the only hold-up I can imagine is contract length. The Devils may or may not want to offer him a long-term contract. A bridge deal seems most likely.

Devils Re-Sign RFAs Scott Wedgewood, Mirco Mueller, and Joseph Blandisi

The New Jersey Devils announced earlier today that they re-signed restricted free agents G Scott Wedgewood, D Mirco Mueller, and F Joseph Blandisi. Wedgewood signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000; Mueller signed a two-year, one-way contract worth $1.7 million; and Blandisi signed a two-year, two-way contract worth $1,360,000. All three of these moves were anticipated and have now been complete.

Wedgewood’s contract is one-year, two-way, which means that the Devils don’t necessarily see him continuing with the organization at the end of next season. They probably going to use this upcoming year for evaluation purposes to see whether or not there’s a place for him in New Jersey (or in Binghamton (AHL)) or they could decide to trade him during the season.

With both Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid still with the organization, they’ll serve as New Jersey’s starting and backup goaltenders. Wedgewood will likely spend most of the upcoming season in the AHL alongside MacKenzie Blackwood and Ken Appleby; he would be the likely call-up if either Schneider or Kinkaid get hurt.

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But they likely don’t see Wedgewood as a long-term solution in net, especially with the organization’s up-and-coming goalies in Blackwood, Appleby, Evan Cormier, and now Gilles Senn. He could be a good backup or even a solid starting goaltender for a team if given the chance; he’s proven that he can play at a high level in the four NHL games he played with the Devils in 2015-16.

Mueller, a defenseman, signed a two-year, one-way contract, which means that the Devils expect him to play in the NHL next season. A two-way contract (which we’ll get into soon) would imply that he can be moved in between New Jersey and Binghamton without having to be placed on waivers.

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Blandisi signed a two-year, two-way contract, which implies that he’ll be splitting time between New Jersey and Binghamton. He’ll be one of the many young forwards competing for a roster spot when training camp arrives and he is a reliable, versatile forward who has shown that he’s capable of playing both center and wing, he can play a gritty game, and he can score (and create) goals.

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All three signings were moves that had to made in order to allow for some depth and some flexibility. Now we wait for the rest of the RFAs to be re-signed…

Devils Development Camp 2017: Reilly Walsh, Jesper Boqvist

This is my 200th post on this blog! It’s been a great seven months and I can’t wait to see what the next few years have in store. Now that that’s out of the way…

2017 draft picks Reilly Walsh and Jesper Boqvist attended their first New Jersey Devils development camp this past week and had quite the impression on the Devils coaching staff and fans alike. Twitter was raving about both Walsh and Boqvist.  Let’s start with Boqvist, who was drafted 36th overall in the second round of the draft, and then move on to Walsh, who could be a huge steal for the Devils after he fell to them at #81.

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Here’s a link to Boqvist’s first shootout goal on Saturday and here’s a link to his second. I know it’s too early to make rash judgements but he could be the Devils’ shootout specialist in the next few years.

 

Boqvist is a phenomenal skater and he’s fast. He’s really fast. He also has a powerful shot and is going to become someone who can consistently produce offensively on a nightly basis. He does have some consistency issues but when he’s on the top of his game, he’s unmatched on the ice. Boqvist is also technically a center but he’s played some wing as well.

Walsh also had an excellent development camp. He scored a pair of goals in the scrimmage on Saturday in addition to a shootout goal. He’s a great defenseman as well but he’s an offensive-minded, puck-moving defenseman.

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Here’s Walsh’s shootout goal to end the scrimmage:

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Here’s an article from nj.com about Walsh and his offensive prowess; he says:

“I think I read the ice pretty well coming up from the back end, finding soft spots,” Walsh told NJ Advance Media. “I think I did a pretty good job obviously today kind of finding those late passes. Definitely helps playing with smarter guys. I think guys looking to make that late pass helps my game out, for sure.”

When asked what he has to improve, he said:

“My skating and strength,” Walsh said when asked what he wants to improve. “I’ve got a month or maybe a little more before I go to school, so I’ve got to try to work my hardest to get bigger and stronger, and with my skating just to be a little more powerful. Going into Harvard as prepared as I can is going to be the best thing for me to have success.”

And Walsh will get plenty of chances to grow and learn and develop as he is committed to play for Harvard (NCAA) in the fall. Harvard comes to town when they play Princeton on December 2nd.

And when asked about Devils draft pick and Harvard hockey alum Alexander Kerfoot, he said:

 

So let’s see how that goes. He’ll play the next few years in the Harvard program, pay well, learn a lot, and hopefully sign with the Devils when he feels he’s NHL-ready (and when the Devils feel he is NHL-ready). Boqvist will return to Sweden to play in the SuperElit and SHL. If he does sign a contract with the Devils, I’d like to see him play in Binghamton (AHL). Boqvist seems a little closer to joining the organization than Walsh does, not based on skills or talent, but based on the fact that Walsh is playing college hockey and probably won’t join the team until he’s played a few years.

Both Boqvist and Walsh have very bright hockey futures in front of them. They’ve shown glimpses of NHL-caliber skills and talent, and they both have the dedication, passion for the game, and the work ethic to stand out. Even though this was their first Devils development camp, they found ways to stand out. People were raving about them throughout the week and I think they could be huge pieces of the future.

Don’t forget to check out the previous posts on Nico Hischier; Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, and Steven Santini; Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian; and Blake Speers and Joey Anderson.

Devils Development Camp 2017: Blake Speers, Joey Anderson

The New Jersey Devils still haven’t uploaded any sort of footage from Development Camp and I’m beginning to think that they won’t so we’re going to continue anyway. Today, I turn my attention to a pair of Devils prospects, one who could very well play most of the upcoming season in New Jersey while the other will probably play college hockey for another year or two: Blake Speers and Joey Anderson.

Speers and Anderson both had a really good development camp. Speers was drafted in 2015 and this was his third development camp; Anderson was drafted last year and has now attended two. Both scored throughout the week. Anderson looked really comfortable on a line with Nico Hischier and Miles Wood.

There was a ton of praise for Speers:

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Speers has a really good shot at cracking the Devils lineup in the fall. The team desperately needs right wingers and Speers, despite also playing center, can play right wing. If he’s comfortable there, he could really have an impact. He’s not shy offensively. He’s a good skater. He could easily play on the third or fourth line for a consistent amount of time as long as this year doesn’t go like the last…

Here’s an article from nj.com about Speers and his “up-and-down” 2016-17 season; he says:

“That was the most up and down year of my life, to go from such a major high to a huge low,” Speers said. “I think everyone goes through some adversity in there life, and it’s how you come out of it. I did a pretty reasonable job getting through that and having the opportunity to play for my county in World Juniors, coming off of that. And kind of just continuing to work my way through the rehab with the wrist coming into now.”

And then you have Anderson, who had an incredible season with the University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA) and is a true right wing. He’ll stay with the Bulldogs for a few years but when he does make the jump to the NHL, the Devils will be ready to have him. He had quite the impact on his team in his rookie season and is only going to continue to grow and develop.

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Here’s another article from nj.com about Anderson and his development camp; here’s what he had to say about what he can bring to whichever team he plays for:

“I do whatever I need to do,” Anderson said. “I can be a fourth-line winger. I can play on the first line, powerplay, penalty kill. I make smart little plays all over the rink. I have a great release on my shot, so that’s where you see the shooter in me.”

And here’s an article from The Hockey Writers about Anderson, that was coincidentally published today. Dan Rice wrote:

Anderson was rested and ready to go when he arrived at Development Camp in the second week of July in New Jersey and it showed on the ice as his skills, speed, and hockey IQ was on display. Playing on a line with Miles Wood and Nico Hischier gave season ticket holders in attendance a brief glimpse into what the future may hold in New Jersey; and whoa, were they fast! Last season in his first go round at Devils camp he was maybe a little hesitant and finding his way following the whirlwind that is known as draft day.

And Anderson talked about development camp:

“It’s been awesome, I think my overall comfort level here in New Jersey this year has been a lot better,” he told THW. “I know everybody now and made a couple of really good friends the first year. Now, being able to come back and expand on that and make even more friends – has been great. It helps when you’re playing on the ice and things like that when you’re more comfortable, you know the guys in the locker room. It made for a fun and enjoyable week overall.”

I’m excited about both of their futures, wherever they may end up. I love college hockey so I’ll be paying close attention to what Anderson does next year (and the year after that) but it’s difficult to find college hockey games being broadcasted. On the other hand, we’ll have a much better chance of seeing Speers play more often because if he doesn’t play for New Jersey straight out of training camp, he’ll be with the Binghamton Devils (AHL) until he does get called up (and I’m sure he will).

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And be sure to check out my other posts on Nico Hischier; Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, and Steven Santini; and Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian!

Devils Development Camp 2017: Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian

2016 first-round draft pick Michael McLeod and second-round draft pick Nathan Bastian are two of the most anticipated (possible) additions to the New Jersey Devils lineup in the fall but before they get to opening night, they to go through training camp and before that? The Prospects Challenge. And before that? The offseason. And what happens during the offseason? Development camp.

McLeod had an excellent 2017 development camp. It was his second one and he’s taken several gigantic steps forward. Fans were a little skeptical about drafting him last year but I think their worries are gone. He had an excellent 2016-17 season with the Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) and I was really looking forward to seeing what he could do at development camp.

McLeod didn’t disappoint. He looked like an NHL player throughout camp; he scored goals and tallied assists. He seemingly looked disappointed every time he had to get off of the ice when his shift was up. He’s a phenomenal skater, one of the best in the OHL. He’s an offensive juggernaut with the Steelheads and has the capability of becoming one in the NHL. His passion for the game is unparalleled.

 

Bastian, on the other hand, wasn’t as noticeable on the ice but he looked good this past week. His physical presence is one the Devils do desperately need. He has excellent hockey sense as well. He has the versatility of playing either right wing or center. He’s shown that he’s willing to learn and he’s made improvements over his years in the OHL.

His 2016-17 season also got off to a slow start, just like McLeod, but both of them picked up the pace midway through. Bastian then suffered a knee injury in the middle of the season but I’ve watched enough Steelheads games to know how he and McLeod play. He didn’t contribute offensively as much as McLeod did but he’s not a super offensive guy.

Because he’s already played four years with the Steelheads, Bastian will play with the Binghamton Devils (AHL) in the fall and potentially get some face time in the NHL. One of Bastian’s other advantages is that he’s played right wing, a need that the Devils are desperately looking to fill.

McLeod and Bastian had a memorable Snapchat takeover when the Devils prospects were treated to a dinner cruise on the Hudson River. They also scored back-to-back shootout goals after the Red vs. White scrimmage on Saturday.

Here’s what Bastian and to say about McLeod, via NHL.com:

“He’s the real deal,” Bastian said of McLeod. “You could tell after his participation for Canada at the [2017 IIHF] World Junior Championship that he took another step. No one could really stop him in the second half and he was lights-out in OHL playoffs.”

And here’s what McLeod had to say about Bastian:

“He’s good at both right wing and center,” McLeod said of Bastian. “He’s good down the middle and is able to use his speed more and is good on faceoffs. I liked playing with him when he was on wing in my draft year because he was so good at getting the puck off the boards and at protecting the puck.”

Both prospects are eager to learn and ready to make the team. And where one of them goes, the other follows. Both of them have been OHL All-Stars the past two years. Bastian is the “A” to McLeod’s “C”. They even use the same stick. McLeod might be a little closer to making the jump to the NHL than Bastian is but both can play at that level eventually and they’re both legitimate NHL prospects.

The OHL really doesn’t have much left for McLeod and he really, really, really wants to play for the Devils; he told Mike Morreale (NHL.com):

“I think I feel like I’m [NHL] ready,” McLeod said. “I’ve put on weight, have gotten faster and my shot has gotten a lot better. I feel like I’ve figured out the OHL. I’m hoping I could get to the NHL as soon as I can.”

And Bastian knows he still has (a little) room for improvement:

“I think I need to be quicker and be able to get 200 feet up and down the ice faster in order to play center in the NHL,” Bastian said. “I’m working on it. I’m gaining strength in the gym and on the ice, and that’s the most important thing.”

Here’s a pair of articles about McLeod and his feelings about next season, one from nj.com and one from NBC Sports. Hopefully both of them can make the jump to the NHL. McLeod would have to make the team straight out of training camp because otherwise, he would be returned to the Steelheads and would have to play out the full year there before returning to New Jersey. Bastian, as mentioned earlier, will be eligible to play in the AHL, regardless of whether or not he cracks the opening night lineup. But either way, it will be nice to see them wearing red and black, and playing on the same line again in the future.

Note: don’t forget to check out my posts on Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, and Steve Santini!

Devils Development Camp 2017: Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, and Steven Santini

New Jersey Devils development camp saw some familiar faces this week: Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, and Steven Santini, all of whom played their rookie NHL seasons this past year. This was Zacha’s third development camp but Wood and Santini’s fifth and while all three of them are familiar with the Devils system, they added a “veteran” presence to the camp and helped the younger prospects get acclimated. Wood even referred to himself as an old guy but don’t get ahead of yourself there, buddy.

Santini and Wood roomed with Nico Hischier (who I wrote about yesterday) and Michael McLeod, both of whom could crack the Devils lineup this fall. Hischier and Santini went out to dinner with some of the older Devils veterans, while Zacha accompanied a few of the other prospects to dinner at Dinosaur BBQ in Newark. All three of them have really developed their leadership skills despite being some of the youngest in the Devils locker room.

And these three aren’t afraid to say what’s on their mind and make bold statements either. Zacha told the crowd at the open scrimmage on Wednesday, per Andrew Gross, that “we have to make the playoffs next year.” And while Wood didn’t mention the playoffs, he talked about something that’s slightly more important: “I want to be a leader on the team. I’m not afraid to say it.” They’ll both have a chance to deliver on their statements. Even Zacha, who couldn’t participate in last year’s development camp because he was recovering from an injury, is spending the offseason training in New Jersey. If that isn’t dedication, I don’t know what is.

Zacha had this to say to NJ.com:

“I feel better that I can work out, not worry about injuries,” Zacha said. “I can do full body workouts, stay here. I have everything here. I have coaches that I work with all season, so they know what’s best for me. Here I can go on the ice whenever I want, I’ve never had anything like this. I’m really happy to have the opportunity to stay here the whole summer.”

So how did these three do at development camp? Pretty well actually. Let’s start with the 2015 first-round pick. Zacha, coming off of an up-and-down season in New Jersey, looked much better during the second half of the season but looked like a totally different player at development camp. Whatever he’s doing this offseason is clearly working. He’s gone a little under the radar as of late with all the buzz about Hischier and some of the other draft picks but don’t forget about him. He led his team (Team Daneyko) to victory during the 3-on-3 scrimmage last Wednesday, going undefeated in all three matchups.

Zacha has a lot to prove this upcoming season. Can he be the top-six center that hockey analysts have chalked him up to be? Can he become the offensive juggernaut that fans were hoping for when the team drafted him? Maybe. He had a steep learning curve last season but hopefully his rookie struggles are behind him.

Wood also hit his rookie wall in January of this past season after getting off to a fast start, pun completely intended, but he looked good at development camp too. He looked good with Hischier and they both could be on the same line to at least start the season; imagine how much trouble they could cause opposing defensemen. Just imagine. I’m getting giddy just thinking about it.

He looks like a better skater and can actually stop on the ice when his feet are going faster than his mind. His defensive game has improved a little. He hasn’t had significant improvements like Zacha has but like Zacha, I think Wood has found his confidence.

Santini, too, is developing into the NHL-caliber defenseman that the organization hoped he could be. He’s taken a few steps forward during development camp and throughout the 2016-17 season but he’ll still have to earn his roster spot in the fall. If the Devils do acquire another defenseman before the conclusion of the offseason, Santini will have to fight for a roster spot with the addition of Mirco Mueller. Andy Greene, Damon Severson, John Moore, Ben Lovejoy, and Dalton Prout are all stay a part of the team’s blue line.

All three of them made their NHL debuts in that memorable game against Toronto on April 9, 2016, and now all three of them are looking to take another step forward and have a bigger impact on the team during their sophomore seasons. They’ve already shown glimpses of their leadership skills in the development camp locker room and are going to continue to develop into NHL mainstays.

Zacha, Wood, and Santini have all taken steps forward but even after completing their rookie seasons in the NHL, they still have plenty to learn. They’re going to translate their development camp success into training camp and regular season success, and help this team get off of the ground. It’s hard to imagine any one of them not spending most of the upcoming season in New Jersey, especially if Hischier and McLeod need familiar faces in the Devils locker room (but I’m getting ahead of myself).

Devils Development Camp 2017: Nico Hischier

New Jersey Devils Development Camp officially ended yesterday and it offered our first look (for many) at some Devils prospects, as well as a better look at some of the older ones. Some of these players have a chance to crack the lineup in the fall (there will hopefully be a post on that sometime soon) while others, especially some of the younger ones, still need some development. Overall, I was truly impressed by all of them but even after watching the Devils’ first overall pick Nico Hischier in several Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) games, I’m still surprised at what he can do, and how he carries himself on and off the ice.

I haven’t been able to get my hands on too much footage from development camp so I hope that changes but for now, I’ll write about what I do have.

Here is some footage from NJ.com, courtesy of YouTube:

First and foremost, I absolutely love watching Nico skate; he’s such a fluid skater and it’s like poetry in motion. His turns are sharp. He doesn’t have any problems starting or stopping. But second, you’ll notice that he’s fast. Watching him and (Miles) Wood play together was fun, and if he and (Michael) McLeod ever play on the same line together, you might not even see both of them on the screen. They’ll just be blurs. With his speed and his ability to maneuver on the ice, Hischier could also be responsible for a few beautiful breakaway goals next season.

Third, he likes scoring goals. He’s not afraid to shoot the puck if he has it regardless of whether or not he can actually score. He didn’t offensively breakout during development camp which is fine because we didn’t expect him to. He scored a couple goals over the course of the week, including one posted down below. Having a “shoot first” mentality really isn’t a bad thing considering that the Devils really haven’t done well putting shots on goal over the course of the past few years.

But as much as he likes scoring goals, Nico likes creating them too. He isn’t afraid to pass the puck either. He’ll make the pretty plays. He’ll make the difficult plays but he’ll still make them. No matter who he plays with in the fall, he’ll make them better players and better scorers.

The following video isn’t exclusive to just Hischier but he does score at about the 2:04 mark:

I really like the way Nico plays and the way he handles himself on and off the ice. He’s a well-spoken kid with a good head on his shoulders and he hasn’t given Devils fans a reason not to like him. He did seem a little out of breath, according to multiple people on Twitter, but that’s not something that concerns me. He still has time this offseason to put on some more muscle (if he chooses to do so). He hopefully learned a lot this week not just about hockey but about himself, the team, the organization, the city, and the fans.

Here’s an interview he did with MSG Network:

GM Ray Shero had this to say about Hischier after development camp:

“He’s been everything I had hoped he would be; I know this isn’t an evaluation but certainly his on-ice skill set is really fun to watch,” Devils general manager Ray Shero said. “He’s a really respectful kid and the way he carries himself I think is really nice to see and he has interacted well with the younger players and the veterans that came in. That’s his upbringing, but it’s been a great learning week for him and it’s been nice to see the type of person he is as well.”

And here are a few articles from NHL.com, one talking about how Hischier knows he has to earn a spot on the team this fall and one discussing the 10 things you might not know about the first overall pick. I’m also currently struggling to find the article but one of my favorite tidbits about Nico is that if he could meet any athlete, it would be fellow Swiss countryman and 19-time Grand Slam Champion, Roger Federer. That makes my hockey/tennis heart happy.

And before heading back home to Switzerland for a bit, Nico made sure to get some official business out of the way:

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He signed his three-year, entry-level contract with the Devils on Saturday and will wear #13, only the second Devils player in team history to do so (the other: Michael Cammalleri). He wears the number because he idolized Red Wings’ legend Pavel Datsyuk as a kid and says that he models his style of play after him.

(Edit: Nico actually chose #13 because his older brother Luca wears the same number. Andrew Gross talks more about it here.)

I’m really excited for Nico to put on the Devils uniform (officially) in the fall. I don’t know if he’ll make the team out of training camp or not but I hope he does. I’m glad he gets to wear #13 and I hope he’s a New Jersey Devil for life but before that, he’ll have a good offseason and he should be ready to go come August and training camp. We’ll hopefully get to see him play a little more at The Prospects Challenge in Buffalo in September as well as at camp. Development camp was far too short but I’m already impressed. October should be fun.