Rookie forward Blake Speers sputtered and stalled without enough urgency on the ice and combined with the lack of early playing time, the speedy forward experienced a bumpy ride in his first pro season for the Binghamton Devils.
In 62 games, Speers registered 12 goals, 7 assists for Binghamton which is really nothing to sneeze about coming from a former 3rd round pick in 2015 after he signed a three-year, entry-level contract in Sept 2016.
A look back on the possible hype surrounding the versatile forward in his playing days in the OHL.
Early Success For Greyhounds
Speers was the type of player you couldn’t help but notice with his impressive offensive numbers as a result of four years playing for the Greyhounds at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, CAN.
Throughout his four years (2013-’17) in the OHL, Speers was an offensive juggernaut recording almost a point per game pace with 215 points (84g, 131a) in 217 games despite suffering an opening-night broken wrist that caused him to miss over half of the 2016-’17 season.
In their best outing, the Greyhounds came up short in 2014-15 losing in the Western Conference Finals to the Erie Otters led by Connor McDavid while setting a franchise record with 110 points (54-12-0-2) in the regular season.
Speers served as Captain the following season and was a teammate with current BDevils’ defenseman Colton White for all four years.
Stuck In Misery For BDevils
Yes, as a reminder it’s a rather big leap from the OHL to the AHL, but New Jersey dropped the ball for Speers’ development on a poorly designed offensive club that is owned and operated by Newark with the business end handled through the office’s in downtown Binghamton.
For a player that registered as many points as games in the Juniors, his role for the BDevils had failed to let the 21-year-old native out of Sault Ste. Marie, ONT succeed. Speers would’ve most likely benefited with the right players as proper support to help tap into his offensive abilities, which were the intricate reason why his success for the Greyhounds was achieved.
The 5’ 11”, 185lb. forward in the BDevils’ line-up was rarely up and mostly down in his misuse, as head coach Rick Kowalsky kept Speers on a short leash. Used briefly as a top-six forward before some injuries took it’s toll and limited his time on the power play as Speers slowly worked his way into the line-up as the season marched along, but was used primarily in the bottom six roles throughout the 2017-’18 campaign.
With the lack of support, Speers was used primarily on the right side along with Thomson and Cangelosi as a fourth line option and centering the third line at the latter stages between Lucia/Pietila and Latta/Bastian.
A forward with that caliber and offensive talent, my question would be, was it the best option for him to be aligned with Austin Cangelosi on the fourth line to get the ultimate value out of a player?
His speed, along with strong puck skills, nurtured a solid read resulting for the back of the cage but seemed to come up short in many instances as he lacked the killer instinct like the rest of the team experienced, which I put partial blame on the coaching staff in getting his team prepared. (That, in a nutshell, will be reserved for in a future piece down the road).
Is Blake Speers Over-Rated?
Perhaps. Not sure.
Many of you had Speers pegged for great expectations according to last summer’s poll I ran with a 58% margin in favor of him making the opening night roster for New Jersey.
Although after a reality check, Speers needs another season in the AHL before he is ready for the next step in his career and will likely be passed over again with call-ups, which shouldn’t be a surprise with the over-abundance of forwards depth in the organization.
It happens more than you think once prospects begin their career at the pro level and come unraveled or more than often, overwhelmed at times that otherwise had high hopes they would crack up to the next level.
Speers needs to be more of a complete two-way player for him to get a legitimate sniff but a talented kid nonetheless that lacks physical toughness, as some off-season conditioning while growing into his body will be beneficial for him to succeed to becoming an everyday player in the NHL someday soon one would surmise.
77.11 / C+, 71.12 / C-, 79.25 / C+, 83.12 / B (62 gms, 12g 7a)
A somewhat decent start that took a dip from the first to the second quarter on a bad team before several trades that decisively made a difference in the last two quarters with a final average of 77.65.
But with high hopes, comes anticipation as Speers is young and there’s time for seasoning at the AHL level and with that could break the line-up for NJ with the lack of right wingers, but unfortunately it will have to wait. With his offensive abilities, the focus and reason behind the talented offensive weapon have yet to be unleashed for Speers to succeed next season in Binghamton and beyond.
However, for the upcoming 2018-’19 campaign, it might be a different story in his second term for the Binghamton Devils. There is a need to rebuild his confidence level but only if the Organization has learned from their past mistakes regarding their
highly touted prospect.
My off-season reports roll on featuring my First Impressions of players for the BDevils in their inaugural season in Binghamton. Here are the first four in the series behind Blake Speers;
Next up for First Impressions; Forward Kevin Rooney as one could argue he could be next in line for the Captain’s role of the Binghamton Devils if Kowalsky would simply allow it.