Today marked the end of the Devils’ summer prospect camp for 2017 and with it came the end of a brief flurry of hockey activity in Newark. The next time we’ll see the Devils hit the ice will be the open of training camp for the 2017-18 season in September. To cap off this midsummer week of fun though, the Devils held a full 5-on-5 scrimmage with all of the camp attendees. I had the opportunity to be at the RWJ Barnabas Health Hockey House (which, yup, they’re still going with that name) for the game and get a look at the future for the New Jersey Devils.
It’s important to not read too much into an event like this, but there was certainly an encouraging amount of skill on display for New Jersey. Some of the bigger names shined on the ice, while a few unexpected players also made their mark. Perhaps one of the most encouraging things about this season’s camp was that the Devils were able to largely fill it with their own prospects instead of having a bunch of spots left to outside invitees. The Devils have only been opening events like this to the public for a few years now and this was my first time in attendance, so most of all it was just fun to see a bunch of potential Devils of tomorrow going at it on a Saturday in July.
The size of the prospect camp isn’t quite big enough to field two full rosters, so the two squads consisted of 13 skaters and 2 goalies a piece. The game was split into two 25-minute periods, which makes sense with the truncated rosters. Aside from that, they pretty much just let ‘em play. Penalties and icings weren’t called and pucks in the netting didn’t stop play as long as they ended up back on the ice. It was basically a glorified game of shinny with a little more structure, but it gave everyone a chance to showcase their skills. A scan of the sheet with the lineups for Team Red and Team White is below:
The results of the game obviously don’t matter too much, but Team White ended up coming out on top by a score of 6-5. It was a fun back-and-forth contest that featured some pretty plays in transition, some (to-be-expected) disjointedness, and even a few big hits to go around. Team Red jumped out to a 1-0 lead on the opening shift of the game on a goal created by, who else, Nico Hischier. Hischier, after some great work with the puck deep in Team White’s zone, got some space above the right circle and ripped a shot that was deflected in by Santini. It was a good start for Team Red, but Team White would answer in a big way.
First, 2017 third-round pick Riley Walsh would score after a puck squirted out to him during a pileup in front of the net that included pretty much every other player on the ice. He’d follow it up with another goal off a nice feed from Michael McLeod on the rush to make it 2-1. The other third-round pick from this year, Fabian Zetterlund, would follow it up not too long after with a shot through traffic after some good work behind the net by Pavel Zacha to make it 3-1. Hischier would answer, potting a goal from the slot to make it 3-2 on a play created by 2016 seventh-rounder Jeremy Davies, who looked sharp all day. Team White would tack on two more goals before the intermission, though, first with a nice pass from Nikita Popugaev on the rush that McLeod hammered home to make it 4-2 and then on a broken play with camp invitee Bobo (yes, Bobo) Carpenter, former Devil Bobby Carpenter’s son, getting free and beating Mackenzie Blackwood to make it 5-2.
In the second period/half, Team Red would mount a comeback though. The first 10 or so minutes of the period were a bit messy on both sides, but Team Red got it going when another invitee, Austin Cangelosi (no, before you ask, no relation to Steve Cangialosi) set up a (2017 seventh-rounder) Jocktan Chainey point shot that got through to make it 5-3. Next, Miles Wood, who had an interesting day, set up a nice goal on the rush with a drop pass to (2016 third-round pick) Joey Anderson that he blasted home to make it 5-4. Team Red would tie it up with about three minutes to go when Cangelosi beat Josh Jacobs to create a breakaway. He was initially stopped by Gilles Senn (2017 fifth-rounder), but Ryan Kujawinski was able to clean up the rebound to make it 5-5. Team White would answer back less than a minute later, though, when Nathan Bastian scored to make it 6-5 (I was looking away when this one happened, so I don’t have a description). Team Red would pull their goalie to try to tie it back up, but the game would end with a 6-5 Team White win. They followed it up with shootout that involved everyone on each team shooting at least once. It was enjoyable. Jesper Boqvist scored two nice ones for Red, but White would end up winning that too, [something] to [something less].
With that full (and probably completely unnecessary) recap out of the way. I’ll offer some brief thoughts on the game and who I thought stood out:
- Getting right to it, Nico Hischier certainly looks the part of a top prospect. He didn’t necessarily take over the entire game, but it’s clear when the puck is on his stick that he can do things that most others simply cannot. His first shift when he shook at least three or four players in the same sequence deep in the zone to set up the opening goal was beautiful.
- Michael McLeod looked sharp as well. He didn’t really get a chance to display the speed he’s renowned for, but he showed some very good vision and comes across as a smart player when you watch him.
- Zacha, as you would hope, looked a step above most of the other players when he was on the ice. This will probably be his last camp, so it’s good he looked ready to graduate.
- Nikita Popuguaev is a very large young man. His skating leaves a little to be desired, but he clearly has plenty of skill (and size) to overcome that with.
- Miles Wood is still big and fast and still... a bit of a work in progress otherwise. He did have a nice setup on the rush for Joey Anderson’s goal but he still seems to need more control in his game. I’m admittedly grading him on a bit higher curve than others but he was in the NHL last year, so that’s how it goes.
- I thought the Jespers, both Boqvist and Bratt, had some nice flashes out there. Boqvist clearly has lots of skill and I thought showed some good vision and I felt Bratt used his speed effectively.
- Props to the two invitees Austin Cangelosi and Bobo Carpenter, who both had some impact on the game. Cangelosi is small, but he is a little lightning bolt. He walked Josh Jacobs to create a breakaway and was involved a lot in the second frame using his speed to create opportunities. Carpenter beat Blackwood on a partial breakaway for a goal and also assisted on Bastian’s winner. Cangelosi has an AHL contract so he should be a part of things in Binghamton next season.
- It was tough out there for the defensemen, given that both teams only had two pairings to roll during play, but a couple definitely stood out to me.
- The surprise performer of the day to me was Jeremy Davies, a 2016 seventh-round pick and soon-to-be sophomore at Northeastern who felt like he was everywhere at times. He looked good on defense and was very active in transition and in the offensive zone. He’s a bit older at 20, but it was a good day for him, regardless.
- Steven Santini did his best to make sure the other prospects are very aware of his presence. He laid down some big hits on his prospective teammates and even mushed one of Team White’s players faces into the ice (playfully, maybe?) at one point. I thought he got caught flat-footed a couple times, maybe focusing just a little too much on finishing checks, but he did work to get involved in the offensive zone, which I liked. Decent day for him.
- Reilly Walsh had a good day as well. The two goals were an obvious feather in is cap, but I thought his play all around was solid. It’s not the most prestigious title to hold, but he already feels like he could be the Devils’ best defensive prospect outside the NHL.
- Not too much else jumped out for me among the defensemen. Michael Kapla had a day to forget, I’d say, but the others were varying degrees of “okay” for me.
- It’s pretty tough to grade goalies in a situation like this so thoughts will be brief.
- Ken Appleby looked generally sharp and had a standout save on a shot from Jesper Bratt during a Team Red odd-man rush.
- Mackenzie Blackwood finished up with a .444 sv%, but I’m going to cut him some slack as he had like four people laying on top of him for one goal and a few others were unbeatable cross-ice type situations. Not a great day, but whatever.
- Gilles Senn and Evan Cormier looked decent, I guess. Again, this probably isn’t an ideal situation to evaluate goalies.
With that, I’ll leave it there, since this is already entirely too many words to dedicate to this event (these are lean times for a hockey fan). For anyone else who was at the game, feel free to go ahead and share some of your thoughts and/or disagree with my comments. It was a good day in Newark and one that has me feeling, at least momentarily, pretty good about the team’s future. Until next time, go Devils.