Devils Development Camp 2017: 16 Players To Look Out For

This post is just a little late but hopefully not too late.

New Jersey Devils development camp officially started yesterday with both on- and off-the-ice activities, and there will (hopefully) be a recap of days one and two posted tonight. There will be a 3-on-3 scrimmage at 10AM, open to Season Ticket Holders who RSVPed. And even though development camp is underway and this probably should have been posted on Monday, here’s a list of players to look out for at development camp throughout the rest of the week, presented in no particular order.

C Nico Hischier – this one’s obvious. This is the first exposure to Hischier for most Devils fans, who didn’t watch him play with the Halifax Mosseheads (QMJHL) at all last season. Development camp is an opportunity for us to see what he can do, but also for him to grow and learn and get acclimated to the team, the organization, and the area. It’ll be good for him (and the rest of the 2017 draft picks) to meet other young players in the system, some of whom might be teammates down the road.

C Michael McLeod – McLeod has a really good shot at cracking the Devils lineup come September (October?) and he’s someone you should definitely be watching anyway. He had a phenomenal 2016-17 season with the Mississauga Steelheads (OHL), leading them to the OHL Cup Final for the first time in franchise history. He’s played three years in juniors but looks like he could be ready to crack the lineup. If he has an excellent development camp, training camp just became that much more competitive.

C Nathan Bastian – don’t forget about the other SuperBuddy, Nathan Bastian. He’s played four years in the OHL for the Steelheads and will officially enter the Devils’ system this fall. Whether or not he plays in Binghamton (AHL) or in New Jersey, rests in his hands. If he breaks out this year during both camps and throughout the offseason, he could start the season in New Jersey but even if he doesn’t, I would hope that the coaching staff would bring him for at least some games throughout the year.

C Pavel Zacha – coming off of his rookie season, Zacha has to prove that the second half of 2016-17 wasn’t a fluke for him. He’s had a year to adjust to the NHL and to grow, learn, and develop. He’s one of the veterans at development camp and has seemingly taken Hischier under his wing (as have Santini and Wood); he’s getting along really well with some of the younger players. But Zacha has to prove that he can stay in the lineup, night-in and night-out.

D Steven Santini – Hischier’s development camp roommate is also coming off of his rookie season with the Devils and is fighting for his chance to start the season in New Jersey. He was one of the bright spots in what was an otherwise abysmal blue line. He’s young but he’s growing as a defenseman and should take several steps forward during development camp and training camp.

D Michael Kapla – Kapla played just five games for the Devils after UMass Lowell’s season ended and he signed a two-year, entry-level contract in March, a contract that expires at the end of the upcoming season. While I don’t see any reason why the Devils wouldn’t re-sign him, he’s essentially playing for a contract. The Devils’ blue line is getting younger and faster, and with Santini, Damon Severson, and Mirco Mueller also in the mix, Kapla is fighting for a roster spot too.

LW Miles Wood – ah yes. Our team leader in penalty minutes this past season. Wood knows that even though he fights on the ice, he’s fighting for a roster spot too. He told the media three important things yesterday: one, that his end-of-the-season shoulder injury is healed and he’s good to go; two, that Santini is a good roommate; and three, that he said, “I want to be a leader on the team. I’m not afraid to say it”, per Andrew Gross.  That, to me, is incredible coming from a 21-year old. You can see his leadership skills developing here at camp with the younger kids but also on the ice with New Jersey, when he drops his gloves to defend teammates. He may or may not crack the opening night lineup but when he does get called back up, you bet he’s going to make an impact.

RW Joey Anderson – Anderson is one of the only true right wings in the Devils organization right now. We know how severe the situation is at right wing and while Anderson may or may not crack the opening night lineup in the fall, he’s coming off of a good first season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, a good Frozen Four (NCAA) tournament, and a pair of good World Juniors tournaments, representing Team USA. I would expect the coaching staff to take a good look at him, especially if he has a good development and training camp.

D Reilly Walsh – Walsh is another 2017 draft pick whom we haven’t seen much of, except for maybe YouTube highlights. He’s a great defensive prospect and while he probably won’t crack the lineup this year, he’s someone worth watching out for because he could in the future. I like what I’ve seen from him so far and I’m excited to see what he’s capable of doing.

LW Jesper Bratt – Bratt signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Devils last year so he’s “officially” a Devils prospect. He wants to stay with the organization and the organization wants him. He has a shot at cracking the lineup this upcoming season too but that all rests on his development camp and training camp. I would expect the coaching staff to take a look at him (they’re hopefully taking a look at everyone).

C Blake Speers – another Devils center who could potentially crack the opening night lineup. Speers has played four years with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL and is looking to make the jump to the NHL. He played three games for the team in 2016-17 and joined Albany (AHL) for their postseason. He could add speed and energy to the Devils lineup, and I’d like to see him get some consistent playing time. He’s someone you might see playing at the Rock in the fall.

D Colton White – the Devils’ other prospect from Sault Ste. Marie and Speers’s friend, is a great defensive prospect too and has also played four seasons with the Greyhounds. He’ll likely play (at least) one season in the AHL before potentially playing for New Jersey but that depends on his development and training camps, but also on how the Devils blue line evolves this upcoming season. If some of the “older” players are traded (i.e. Ben Lovejoy, Dalton Prout, John Moore), that’ll make way for some younger defensive prospects and White could be one of them.

C Jesper Boqvist – the Devils’ second 2017 draft pick is definitely someone to watch out for. It was a bit surprising that they decided to select yet another center but Boqvist has also played some wing. He’s a great skater and he’s played in the Swedish system his entire hockey career so it’ll be fun to see how his game translates to North America. This will also be a first look at him for many Devils fans who haven’t seen him play before, myself included.

LW Nikita Popugaev – he’s garnered comparisons to Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, another Russian, which is enough to want to watch him play but Popugaev is great on his own. He’s a great prospect and I’m surprised that he fell to the Devils but he’s ours now. Again, this will be many Devils’ fans first look at him, despite the fact that he’s played the past two years in the WHL. He’s definitely someone to keep an eye on.

G Ken Appleby – a goaltending prospect! Devils fans actually got to see him this year, backing up Cory Schneider for a game and playing the rest of the season in Albany (AHL) because Scott Wedgewood missed most of the season with a shoulder injury. He’s someone the Devils are going to groom to eventually take over the mantle when Schneider (and Keith Kinkaid) retire. Wedgewood or Blackwood might be trade bait but none of their futures are set in stone. He had an up-and-down season but with both Wedgewood and Blackwood healthy, Appleby might spend the season in the ECHL with the Adirondack Thunder.

G MacKenzie Blackwood – Albany’s other goalie also had a bit of an up-and-down season but he helped out a team with a severely depleted lineup due to the amount of injuries that New Jersey had this past season. It’ll be fun to see just how much he’s grown as a goaltender and as a person at camp and then in Binghamton (AHL). He’s someone who’s also being groomed to take over the mantle come Schneider and Kinkaid’s retirements but we’ll see what happens.

LW Robert Carpenter and F Nicolas Guay – I guess this makes this list 17 players and not 16. One of two tryouts at development camp, Carpenter is a 20-year old left wing out of Massachusetts who’s played the last seasons with Boston University (NCAA). He’s played in the U.S. developmental system and is someone who could sign a contract with the Devils if he has a good camp. The team could always use more depth at wing. This will be our first look at him and potentially what he can bring to the organization.

The Devils’ second tryout at development camp, Guay is an 18-year old Canadian forward who’s played the last two seasons in the QMJHL. I reiterate what I just wrote about Carpenter. Guay could sign a contract with the Devils. We’re (probably) watching him play for the first time and I’m excited to see what both he and Carpenter can do.

And I know that isn’t a complete list because everyone at development camp is worth watching and taking notes on. I would have added both John Quenneville and Brandon Gignac but they’re out for the week, as is 2017 draft pick Gilles Senn. Senn could return by the end of the week but that has yet to be determined.

The 3-on-3 scrimmage is underway!

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