Preseason starts on Monday! Hockey is back! That’s right ladies and gentlemen, starting Monday our New Jersey Devils will be back in action, albeit in games that don’t count for anything. Still, it’s hockey and it gives the team a chance to evaluate players while satiating our appetite for a sport that’s been missing since June. With that being said, here are some things to keep in mind as we round into preseason form along with the team:
1.) Are There Even Any Roster Spots Open?
Any projections that have been published regarding the Devils’ opening night roster have seemingly left very little room or ambiguity regarding personnel. While quite a few of the NHL roster spots are guaranteed, I think there could be more shuffling than some people think.
For instance, on defense, the Devils have seven defenders with NHL experience in P.K. Subban, Andy Greene, Damon Severson, Will Butcher, Sami Vatanen, Micro Mueller and Connor Carrick. However, Ty Smith is expected to push for a spot, as he is ineligible for the AHL, but also has nothing left to prove in juniors. While some see the Devils carrying eight defenders, I don’t; I think Mueller or Carrick could be waived to be sent down, or someone could be traded, though with the state of the roster, I don’t know what the team would be looking for.
Up front could be interesting, although that really seems to hinge on whether the organization wants Jesper Boqvist in the NHL or overseas this year; if he stays in the NHL, it could be interesting to see what the starting 12-14 (depending on scratches) forwards look like this season. I would estimate that at least 10 forwards are all but guaranteed NHL jobs, so we might be seeing a fierce competition for the remaining two if the coaching staff doesn’t already have spots filled up.
2.) Getting a Look at Some Young Blood
Including the aforementioned Boqvist and Smith, the Devils will be getting a good look at some youngsters that many pundits and writers feel could have a big impact on the team. Jack Hughes should be the obvious standout name not yet mentioned in this article, but there are some other names (including some with NHL experience) that will be interesting to watch.
I’m personally looking to see growth from MacKenzie Blackwood, Joey Anderson and Kevin Rooney; the latter pair have had their numbers changed into the ranger where you usually expect those guys to make the team, so it will be interesting to see their performance versus how the organization perceives them. Blackwood could wind up being the starter this year, so the direction he trends in could make or break the season. Additionally, after a strong rookie camp, I would like to see Graeme Clarke get in at least one preseason game, just to see how he stacks up against somewhat more established talent.
3.) Combinations and Trios
The preseason is definitely the best time to experiment with what works and what doesn’t work; the game don’t officially count (sorry for fans of teams who were previously Preseason Champions) so up until usually the last preseason game, players are in a state of flux. Taylor Hall might see himself paired with younger players while Travis Zajac might be used in more of an offense-based role; Pavel Zacha could be bounced between center and wing with Jesper Bratt switching between the two wings. While these are not guaranteed to happen, the possibilities, experiments and trials should be on full display.
As I said above, I do feel that the final preseason game will be used to take a look at what should be the mostly opening night line-up; sometimes, there’s still a battle for a spot or two, or a player is being rested, hence the mostly. The experiments should be helpful in seeing which Devils players have chemistry together; by the last game, we should be seeing trios placed together that will at least start the season together.
4.) Some Players Are Here Just For a Taste of the Majors
There are players invited to camp on AHL only deals, and others who are unsigned draft choices. If anyone reading this is unfamiliar with training camp, believe me, this is completely normal. Teams do this to not only give their players a taste of what the NHL is like, but also to evaluate and see if these invitees have skills that the team could use in the future. Not all of these players are guaranteed to see even AHL ice; some may go to the ECHL or see their careers take them overseas. Still, it’s another chance to evaluate talent and give players a chance to prove themselves against a high level of competition.
5.) And What of the New Vets?
Subban and Wayne Simmonds in particular qualify here, but so does Nikita Gusev due to the amount of international experience under his belt. Subban and Simmonds will be looking to bounce back after mediocre and meh campaigns respectively. Gusev will be looking to prove he can hack it in the NHL, and hopefully with the level of talent he has, he will bring a large boost to Jersey’s offense. Any way you look at it, preseason is the first chance for these guys to make an impression with their new club; let’s hope for the season’s sake it is a positive one.
Now I’d like your thoughts on the start of preseason coming this Monday; who are you most excited to see? What combinations would you like to see the coaching staff try? Who do you see making the roster and who doesn’t make it because of this? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!