Every season is pivotal when it comes to the development of prospects but I think that is especially true of the upcoming 2018-19 season for the goaltenders in the Devils prospect pool. This group will include two returning prospects in Binghamton Devils netminder and former highly rated prospect Mackenzie Blackwood as well as HC Davos goaltender Gilles Senn. It will also include recent University of North Dakota product Cam Johnson who was signed as an undrafted free agent in March as well as Akira Schmid, a 2018 5th round pick whose bound for the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Departing from last year’s group is Ken Appleby who had a rocky season with Binghamton though he managed a three game cameo for New Jersey. Also, departing is Evan Cormier who went unsigned after a tough junior career mainly with the Saginaw Spirit.
Before jumping into the prospects, I want to note where the Devils stand at the NHL level. Cory Schneider is coming off of a tough season due to injury and sub-par performance. When he’s healthy and on his game he’s proven himself to be one of the best goaltenders in the league. Schneider’s age 27-29 seasons from 2013-16 were very strong on a weak Devils team as he put up a .924 SV% and 62.7 Quality Start% in 172 games played according to Hockey-Reference. Unfortunately, he’s struggled in his age 30-31 seasons the past 2 years with a .908 SV% and 46.5 QS% in 100 games played. He’s still under contract through 2021-22 so the Devils will hope to have one of these prospects ready to break through by that time. Ideally, I think you would hope one of these prospects could split time with Schneider in his final seasons before taking on the job full time.
Also on the NHL roster is Keith Kinkaid who is coming off of a career season in 2017-18. He managed a .913 SV%, 50.0 QS%, and was worth 0.55 Goals Saved Above Average according to Hockey-Reference. Prior to last season he had a .912 SV% and 53.6 QS% in 68 games as a serviceable back up from 2014-17. Kinkaid has firmly locked down his roster spot in New Jersey and has a year remaining on his current deal. It will be interesting to see how his age 29 season pans out and whether or not he has to step in for Schneider once again.
I should also note that the Devils have retained the services of 30 year old Eddie Lack for one more season to serve as the #3, a guy that can play in a pinch at the NHL level but should really spend most of it pushing the young goaltenders in Binghamton. Now, let’s take a look at the prospects.
Up first is Mackenzie Blackwood, a 6’4, 215 lbs., former 2nd round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. Blackwood doesn’t turn 22 until December and already has 82 professional games under his belt between the AHL and ECHL. Blackwood was a highly touted prospect and was able to be a top OHL goaltender due to his great athleticism and large frame. Those attributes haven’t been enough for him to find success at the professional level as he still hasn’t developed his goaltending skills to the necessary mark. Overall, in 68 AHL regular season games he has a .895 SV% and hasn’t been able to lock down the starting role full time. He even saw quite the drop off from his rookie season in 2016-17 where he had a .907 SV% in 36 games compared to last season where he put up a .882 SV% in 32 games. Blackwood did seem to find himself at the ECHL level in the second half of last season with a .920 SV% in 5 regular season games and a .964 SV% in 5 playoff games. He’s still young and even has 2 seasons left on his entry level contract so time is still on his side. According to EliteProspects he was 1 of 9 under-22 goaltenders to receive regular playing time in the AHL last season. I feel that this season will be absolutely crucial for him to cement the starter’s spot with Binghamton and put together an above average season from start to finish. Hopefully he can thrive in the competition for playing time that he’ll face with Eddie Lack and Cam Johnson. Obviously, putting together a solid season is easier said than done, but Blackwood still has the opportunity to get himself back on the map for New Jersey long term.
Up next is Cam Johnson, a 24 year old, 6’1, 205 lbs. goaltender signed out of the University of North Dakota back in March. Due to his he could only sign an entry level deal for one season. While the Devils will still retain his rights after this season, it’s very much a “prove it” year for Johnson as he needs to show the Devils he has what it takes to succeed in professional hockey. For as much “prospect fatigue” some may feel over Blackwood’s lack of results, it’s important to take age into account when comparing these prospects. Johnson needs to get off to a good start to solidify his position within the organization. The first challenge Johnson will face is playing time as he’s used to being a #1 goaltender. He started his sophomore through senior season for North Dakota from 2015-18. He had an incredible season in 2015-16 with a .935 SV% in 34 games as he led UND to a National Championship. He wasn’t able to replicate that magic in the next two seasons posting a .903 SV% in 37 games in 2016-17 and a .910 SV% in 29 games in 2017-18. He managed to get into 3 games for Binghamton after signing last spring but 2 bad starts and 1 great start left him with a .876 SV% overall. I think due to their experience and in Blackwood’s case, upside, Lack and Blackwood are set to battle for the top spot in Binghamton. Johnson could very well see himself spend a fair amount of time in the ECHL this season until potential injuries/call-ups in the organization necessitate him moving up to the AHL with Binghamton. Given his up and down NCAA career, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing as frequent playing time at pro level could really help him make a smooth transition. A solid ECHL showing this season could inspire the Devils to bring him back after this season and battle for a full time role in Binghamton in 2019-20.
An interesting prospect to keep an eye on in 2018-19 is HC Davos goaltender Gilles Senn. The 6’5, 192 lbs. Swiss international was drafted by the Devils in the 5th round of the 2017 Draft. What makes this season so interesting for the 22 year old is that he’s in the final year of his contract with HC Davos (expires on 4/30/19). Senn broke through with the first team at HC Davos on a full time basis with a .911 SV% in 34 NLA games in 2016-17. That was enough to earn him NLA Youngster of the Year honors. He followed that up with a .905 SV% in 30 NLA games last season. 2017-18 also saw him put up a 50.0 QS%, -5.52 GSAA, and -0.19 GSAA/60 so there is certainly room for improvement. In addition to NLA action he’s participated in Swiss Cup action since 2014-15 and Champions Hockey League and Spengler Cup action since 2015-16. Overall, Senn has been about average at the NLA level and has been the #1 goaltender for HC Davos over Detroit Red Wings’ prospect Joren van Pottelberghe. Those two players will once again man the net for HC Davos with Senn the favorite to continue as the #1. After being good enough to hang as a young netminder in the Swiss top division the past two seasons, I hope to see Senn put in a season as one of the top goaltenders in the NLA. Ideally, he would then look to make the switch to North America for AHL hockey in 2019-20, though he has to take care of business in 2018-19 first.
Finally, let’s take a look at Akira Schmid, a Swiss goaltender that is making the move to play for Lethbridge of the WHL. The Devils drafted Schmid in the 5th round of the 2018 Draft. The 18 year old stands at 6’4, 165 lbs. so he definitely will need some time to fill out his frame over the next couple of seasons. Schmid is known as being a cerebral goaltender whose body is still catching up to his mind. He reads the game well and understands positioning. He rose through the junior ranks in Switzerland both at a club and international level. Last season saw him make his professional debut for SCL Tigers in a Swiss Cup game and he also saw action in a NLA relegation game. He also had a brief stint with second division EHC Thun. The move to Lethbridge is an ambitious one as he will have to test himself against some of the best junior players in the world and acclimate himself to a new league and culture. As I wrote back in July, I’m in favor of this move as the challenge could really accelerate his development. It is a risky but it can also offer great reward. Lethbridge also has two open goaltending spots on the roster and no set #1 as of right now so the opportunity will be there for Schmid. Hopefully he succeeds and can develop nicely over the next few years since the Devils really need one of these prospects to take that next step.
What are your opinions on these prospects? What expectations do you have for them in 2018-19 as well as beyond? Which goaltender are you looking forward to following the most? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!