For a team in the New Jersey Devils that should probably still be looking for offensive production after their first and second round picks, Blake Speers would be someone to keep an eye on. The speedy, somewhat small right winger is known for producing points. Hailing from Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario, he plays for his hometown team, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL. The Greyhounds are sure happy to have him: in 119 regular season games over the past two seasons, Speers has produced 107 points. That is quality production from a 16-18 year old, and it is why he projects to do well as an offensive forward in the NHL. He is the #49 ranked North American skater in the upcoming draft.
The question, of course, is whether or not the Devils would have any interest in drafting him, and where he would be best taken by New Jersey. Let's see what he is all about and come to some conclusions.
Who is Blake Speers?
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As I mentioned above, Speers is a little bit small. Standing 5'11" and weighing 185 pounds, he could use a little more weight so that he will not be muscled off of pucks at the NHL level. It would obviously also be nice if he were a couple inches taller as well, but 5'11" is not tiny by any means. If he can turn 185 into around 205, he will have a much greater ability to perform at the next level.
As you can see from the stats, the best part of his game has arguably been his offensive prowess. That ability, however, is not secluded to just scoring goals or just generating assists. He is adept in both aspects. In his first season with the Greyhounds, Blake found the net 19 times, but also had 21 assists. That is pretty equal distribution between the two. This past season, he was a better distributor than scorer, with 43 assists to only 24 goals, but that equated to 67 points in only 57 regular season games. That is 1.175 points per game, which is definitely a good number.
Overall, in his OHL career, Speers has averaged 0.90 points per game in the regular season, which again is quality given his age. Another positive to note is his +25 this past season while playing for the Greyhounds. They were a dominant team, going 54-12-0-2, so obviously that +25 needs to be taken within the context that Speers played for a really, really good team, but it is still good to know that he doesn't take a net negative on a good team.
Finally, the last thing of note is his playoff performance. In 23 playoff performances with the Greyhounds, Speers has 12 points, 3 goals and 9 assists. That is just okay, nothing crazy. This past season, however, he scored 9 points in 14 games, which is a much better .64 points per game. Considering the improvement from last year to this one, the hope is that he continues to become a better playoff performer as he progresses.
What Others Have Said About Speers
Blake's play has drawn some positive comments from hockey scouts and experts. Over at Elite Prospects, Joe Curtis had these positive comments:
"Offense is the best defence. Has slick hands and good overall puckhandling skills. Great passing ability and a very accurate shot. Plays a puck possession game."
There are a couple things I like about what Curtis said. The most important, in my opinion and probably for the Devils, is the fact that he plays a strong possession game. This past season, the Greyhounds had an excellent 56.12% close score Fenwick. While I cannot find specifically what Speers had on the team, the fact that he has been given praise for his ability to control possession, plus knowing his team's high Fenwick, means that he most likely is a factor in why the Greyhounds did so well in this facet of the game.
Over at The Hockey Writers, more praise was given to Speers. Specifically, Shawn Reznik had this to say about him:
"Speers is lightning quick on his skates which helps him get out of the way of checks. At top speed, his hands are as fast as his feet and he can dangle with the best of them. I was most surprised by his shot. Speers looks for the perfect opening before wiring a wrister past a goalie. When he is not shooting, Speers is equally talented at dishing off the puck to his teammates."
There are several positives to take from these comments. First is that he is quick, and works just as well when going fast. The Devils are not a fast team at all, and an injection of speed from someone like Speers would be incredibly helpful. Also, I like that he is really talented at both shooting and passing. Yes the Devils need goal scorers, not distributors, but having the ability to do both will be extremely helpful for the team down the line.
Reznik also had a major criticism of Blake: his size. He says that his weight will be a serious issue in the NHL if he does not bulk up some. As he said, "it's just that he doesn't have the muscle to stand his ground against bigger opponents." Overall, however, Reznik predicts that Speers will go in the 3rd round of the draft, but could potentially be taken in the late 2nd if a team decides to reach for him.
Another website, Future Considerations, again had almost nothing but positives to say about Speers. And it is not just random positives either; what they say are things that the Devils respect and need. According to them:
"A solid two-way winger...elite level speed...good lateral agility...lacks strength and can get knocked off the puck...deceptively good hands...makes crisp, accurate passes...does all the little things to succeed...has good leadership qualities."
Again, the one knock against Blake rears its head again. He is not strong enough to make it at the next level, he needs to bulk up. Otherwise, what they say is great. He is a two-way winger, so he is at least somewhat defensively aware which has always been an important factor in NJ. I also like the fact that he does all the little things to succeed and has leadership qualities. Those are vital as well. As a potential third rounder, it is not always a guarantee that you will make it to the NHL. If he is willing to do the little things, however, and can become a leader, then he has a much better chance of success.
Finally, Draft Site has Speers projected to go #75 overall to Boston, and has this to say about him:
"Plays with a short stick and still manages great control of the biscuit and superb accuracy to his shots. Dangerous due to his elite speed. Lets go strong snap shots, using defensemen as his screens. Needs to increase his work ethic and stay fully involved and be less of a passenger."
This is the first mention of needing to increase his work ethic, and is in fact somewhat contradictory of what Future Considerations had to say about doing all the little things to succeed. As I have read, some feel that Speers got along easy this season because he was playing on such a powerhouse club. Playing with guys like Justin Bailey, Anthony DeAngelo and Darnell Nurse can make others think that for sure. However, if he is willing to do the little things like Future Considerations mentioned, then I feel like the knock on his work ethic will disappear soon.
This first video here is an interview with Blake. There are not major highlights, but it is still a nice video to get to know him a little bit:
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This next video is all of Speers' shifts against the Guelph Storm in a game back in December. Speers is #18, and this video is great at showing the type of hockey that he likes to play. It is hard to follow him sometimes, but give it a shot:
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Blake Speers is someone that I would definitely be happy with on the Devils. He fits two important needs on this team: scoring ability and top-line speed. However, unlike others where they are pure goal scorers and nothing else, Speers has more of an all-around game. He is just as happy dishing the puck around as he is shooting it, and gets a good amount of assists to go with his goals. He also attempts to get back and play a two-way game, which is something the Devils do prioritize, or at least always did under Lou Lamoriello.
The best part about Speers is that he could be had in the 3rd round, mostly because of size concerns. Weight is something that can be gained; the ability to score goals, and speed cannot be taught quite the same way. If Speers can can a little weight, and he keeps a strong work ethic like Future Considerations mentioned that he had, then there is good reason to expect him to break into the NHL at some point. The Devils pick at pick #67 in the third round. It is the team's fourth pick of the draft. I would be extremely pleased to hear that with the #67 pick, the New Jersey Devils select Blake Speers.
Now that you have heard my opinion, what do you think? Is Speers someone that the Devils should target in the third round? Or is there something about him that scares you away? If so, what scares you? If you would not want Speers in the third round, what sort of player would you prefer taken at that point? Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.