Last night, Michael McLeod made his NHL debut for the New Jersey Devils. The MSG broadcast made a point to bring it up at the start of the game, showing his parents and discussing his amazing 100 point season for Mississauga in 2016-17. As for his production, I am typing this up as the game is on (Washington just scored to make it 1-0), so I cannot give a breakdown of that.
However, production aside, it is clear that the Devils organization is intent on bringing up a bunch of prospects and giving them extended looks in the NHL this year. Just look at the young guys who have seen the ice in the NHL this year, especially those who do not have considerable NHL experience at this level:
Jean-Sebastien Dea – 20 games
Brett Seney – 20 games
Joey Anderson – 11 games
Egor Yakovlev – 6 games
John Quenneville – 5 games
Kevin Rooney – 4 games
Michael McLeod – 1 game
This list, of course, only looks at players who had minimal NHL experience before entering the season. If you wanted to strictly look at young players, there are so many more to add to the list. JSD might no longer be on the team, but even still, the list of raw talent being given a shot on this team so far is not a short one, and the season is not even two months old.
Mike made a point the other day that in terms of pure production down in Binghamton, McLeod was not the guy to bring up for yesterday’s game. John Quenneville, who was up with the big club earlier in the season, has been performing considerably better in the AHL. However, while I would not have minded seeing Quenneville have another shot, I also don’t mind the direction that they went in. It is clear to me that the Devils are making a commitment to seeing what they have down on the farm, and giving many different guys a chance to show that they can and do deserve a lineup spot in the NHL.
I do understand the counter point to that position. As CJ wrote the other day, the Devils are not some powerhouse team who can afford to let a struggling goalie get his game back in the NHL. The similar argument here would be that the team is not good enough to put someone in the lineup who has a strong chance to be some dead weight. If McLeod turns out to be a pure dud over the next several games, that would be detrimental to the team’s chances of winning games, and given where the Devils are in the standings, hugging the bottom of the Metro and seemingly losing ground daily, trying out youngsters who might not be ready could be deadly to a potential playoff run.
However, the one thing I would say to that is who else would you really think gives New Jersey a significantly better chance to win some of these games? Would Quenneville be better than McLeod? The odds are likely, yes, but how much better? Enough that you would not want to give a former 12th overall pick a shot at some NHL action to see how he has progressed and what he has to offer at this point in his career?
To me, there seems to be a sweet spot in the third line where Hynes can theoretically try several different forwards to see who the best fit is at this point in time. This is especially true with the combined loss of JSD and the injury to Joey Anderson, who is out for a while with the ankle. The bottom 6 is decently solid with the likes of Travis Zajac, Blake Coleman, Brian Boyle and Miles Wood. Why not try out some raw, young talent alongside two of those veterans and see what they can do? Especially with the way Zajac has been producing offensively this season, it is not like there is seemingly zero production from the bottom 6 like there was last year. The forward group is still definitively top heavy, but it does not seem like the scoring exclusively comes from the top line like it did for stretches last season.
From what I see, I like the Devils trying out different skaters to see what clicks. Who would have thought that Jesper Bratt would have clicked like he did last year? Yes he stood out in practice and training camp, and none of the skaters we have seen this year did quite the same, but still, the parallels are there. If someone like McLeod or Seney can prove they can play quality bottom 6 hockey for New Jersey, then let them play in the NHL and improve at their craft at the highest level. There is something to say for playing both with and against the best out there in order to get better. And at least where Seney is concerned, it seems like Hynes and Co. may have reached that conclusion. I am not sure they love him, but he has received regular, consistent playing time this season, and has not been brutal. If this level of competition helps him to get better and better to the point where he becomes a truly valuable bottom 6 player like Coleman is, then that is great. I mean, his breakaways last night were awesome to watch, and he drew the 5 minute major from Tom Wilson right after the second one. Those types of plays are what can keep someone around long term.
In the end, is it a little bit of a risk to have such inexperienced talent continually grace the forward corps? Absolutely, especially for a team that needs all the help it can get to move up the rankings and compete for a playoff position this season. This is a promising team moving forward, but there is no reason it cannot also compete this year. However, I also think it is not a huge detriment to try a skater or two on the bottom six and see what they can do, especially since they are playing alongside quality players who can pick them up, namely defensively. And the potential upside of having a young player break out and up their game is worth it in my opinion. And over the next several weeks or months, we can only hope that one of the younger guys steps up and solidifies their spot in New Jersey.
What do you think about what the organization is doing with getting in lots of young, raw talent? Do you like the idea of seeing what the prospects have to offer, or would you prefer to see a veteran hold those positions at this point? Who do you think has the best chance to end up with a strong hold on an NHL roster spot sooner rather than later? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.