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2019 Prospect Challenge Preview for the New Jersey Devils

The New Jersey Devils prospects will take to the ice for the team’s first set of exhibition games this month against Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Boston in the 2019 Prospect Challenge. This post previews the event and goes over who will represent the Devils.

2019 NHL Draft - Portraits
Jack Hughes will make his Devils debut in exhibition play!
Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

On Friday, members of the New Jersey Devils organization will take part in a competitive game of hockey against an opposition from another team for the first time since April. Once again, the New Jersey Devils will be at the Harborcenter in Buffalo, New York for the fifth annual Prospect Challenge. The 2019 Prospect Challenge features the Devils, Boston, Pittsburgh, and the hosts, Buffalo. The Devils released a 27-man roster for the four-day tourney on Wednesday afternoon. Therefore, this is your preview for the whole event.

The Tourney Location: The Harborcenter in Buffalo, New York.

The Broadcast: The Devils games will be streamed at the Devils’ website.

The Games: From the Sabres’ website, which also has a link to how you can buy tickets if you are in the area.

Friday, September 6: Pittsburgh vs. Boston at 3:30 PM ET; Buffalo vs. Devils at 7 PM ET

Saturday, September 7: Devils vs. Pittsburgh at 3:30 PM ET; Boston vs. Buffalo at 7 PM ET

Monday, September 9: Boston vs. Devils at 9:30 AM ET; Buffalo vs. Pittsburgh at 12:30 PM ET

A 9:30 AM? Did they not do this last year? Yes, they did and that is happening again. In fact, this is the exact same schedule as last year’s Prospects Challenge only with different dates.

The Devils to Appear at the 2019 Prospects Challenge: From the Devils’ official announcement:

Forwards (15): Joey Anderson, Nathan Bastian, Jesper Boqvist, Graeme Clarke, Brandon Gignac, Mitchell Hoelscher, Jack Hughes, Ludvig Larson, Mikhail Maltsev, Michael McLeod, Nikita Popugaev, Yegor Sharangovich, Blake Speers, Martian Studenic, and Fabian Zetterlund

Defensemen (9): Xavier Bernard, Nicolas Canade, Jeremy Groleau, Noah King, Nikita Okhotyuk, Colby Sissons, Ty Smith, Michael Vukojevic, and Colton White

Goaltenders (3): Evan Cormier, Akira Schmid, Gilles Senn

If there is any reason to pay attention to this tourney, then it is to see Jack Hughes put on the red, white, and black in a game for the first time. In these games, The Big Deal gets to start to show why he was hyped up for so long going into the 2019 NHL Draft. I am confident he will do it.

There are also a number of other debuts that are worth your time. Jesper Boqvist was not involved in last year’s tourney; there are high hopes for him head into training camp so this will be a good first test. Mikhail Maltsev, Gilles Senn, and Evan Cormier were not signed and/or in North America so this will be their first appearances at the Harborcenter. In addition to Hughes, there are three other members of the 2019 NHL Draft Class here: Clarke, Okhotyuk, and Vukojevic. Among the signed and drafted Devils, there are eight players that should make their Prospect Challenge debut in the next few days.

That number increases to eleven if you add AHL-only players and invited players. There is one new B-Devil making his debut. Ludvig Larson signed an Amateur Try Out deal with Binghamton after finishing his college career with Penn State last season. He played in seven games and put up a goal and an assist. In May, the 23-year old signed an AHL deal with the Binghamton Devils. A lot of the players on this roster will start Bingo in 2019-20. A tourney like this will be important to him to show how he stacks up with many of his potential teammates.

The two invitees are a pair of defenders. Defensemen Noah King and Nicholas Canade are the only players outside of the organization that will represent New Jersey for this three-game event. Per his Elite Prospects profile, King is a big defenseman at 6’4” and 200 pounds and a veteran of the WHL. He mostly played for Swift Current before being traded to Spokane, which is Ty Smith’s team. With 19 points in 135 WHL games in his career, I would not expect a lot of offense from King. Canade is the opposite of King. Given that King is 20, an appearance like this could do well for his prospects of being signed after he is done with juniors. Per his Elite Prospects profile, Canade is 5’9” and 161 pounds; and he put up more points in his first OHL season (14) than King has done in four in the WHL. However, while he is listed as a defenseman on this roster, he has been a left wing for the Steelheads and even was a forward at the Devils’ development camp from this past July. Maybe they put him as a defenseman just to have him on the roster at all? That’s curious to me. Since he’s a forward with fewer than 40 points in two OHL seasons, I would not expect much out of him. He does have some off-ice qualities; Canade did wear an ‘A’ for Mississauga last season and he did win OHL Humanitarian of the Year. He’ll go back to the Steelheads for the 2019-20 season. Like King, a good showing here may help the Devils (or someone else) remember his name again in the near future.

Of one mildly interesting note, the roster has Joey Anderson wearing #14 and Colton White wearing #2. The Devils confirmed the number changes on Twitter too. Given how the Devils do not stick to low numbers per past tradition anymore (Hughes will wear #86, McLeod and Bastian still have #41 and #42, etc.), I would not necessarily read too much into it. But it’s something different for each of them.

Why You Won’t See These Devils: There are plenty of prospects who will not and actually cannot attend:

College-based prospects cannot attend for risking their eligibility. Hence, Reilly Walsh, Aarne Talvitie, Case McCarthy, Tyce Thompson, Patrick Moynihan, Matthew Hellickson, Cole Brady, and others I may not immediately recall are not here.

The leagues that the European-based prospects are in are either wrapping up their preseasons or their regular seasons have just begun. As such, Nicolas Pasic, Eetu Pakkila, Daniil Misyul, Artemi Gritsyuk, and Yegor Zaitsev are also not attending.

Nevertheless, those that are going to Buffalo are not short of hype and attention. That Hughes, Smith, and Boqvist will play in this tourney are reasons enough to pay attention.

The Opposition Rosters: Buffalo’s preview on their official website helpfully compiled links to all the other rosters for the teams participating in this tournament. Starting with them, the Sabres are bringing 25 players to the Harborcenter. Unfortunately for the Sabres, Dylan Cozens is not on this roster. He did suffer a hand injury in their development camp this summer; it is possible that they’re keeping him away until training camp. That is just speculation. In terms of Sabres to look for, there are a few. Defenseman Henrik Jokiharju comes with some experience (38 NHL games with Chicago last season) and will likely be a Buffalo player in 2019-20. Forward Victor Olofsson is expected to make the NHL roster too; there’s a good post about that at Die by the Blade. And Matej Pekar will be a gamer to say the least.

Boston’s 27-man roster was also released on Wednesday. There are plenty of invited players on this roster, as per Stanley Cup of Chowder. Among the Bruins’ prospects in their system, two names stand out to me: forward Jakub Lauko and defenseman Urho Vaakanainen. Lauko came to the QMJHL for the first time last season and he was a standout player for Rouyn-Noranda as the Huskies won the QMJHL Championship and the Memorial Cup. The 19-year old should may get a long look in Boston’s camp. Vaakanainen made the jump to North American hockey last season as well, primarily playing with Providence with a short appearance with Boston. The 2017 first round pick figures to be one of the stand out players on Boston’s roster and, again, could get a long look in Boston’s camp this year.

Pittsburgh’s 24-man roster is available through a PDF file through Buffalo’s preview, so beware of that. Buffalo’s preview highlighted defenseman Calen Addison, who had a very, very productive season in the WHL last season. In my view, the more interesting appearances will be by their recent draft picks of Sam Poulin and Nathan Legare. They are the only members of their 2019 draft class appearing at this tourney for them and both were very productive players in the QMJHL. It will be a good test to see how they stack up immediately against a roster full of players that do not even have a lot of experience in Wilkes-Barre. Continuing the trend of prospects from the ‘Q’, defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph was one of the returns from the Kessel trade. He should garner interest if only because his development will go a long way to whether that trade was really worth it - or mitigate the damage of trading Kessel away. Whichever works.

On paper, the Devils likely have the strongest roster. I may be biased - this is a Devils blog, after all - but they do have the top pick from 2019, they have two other near-NHL prospects on the roster, and they are not filled with plenty of invited players only two out of nine defensemen. Of course, they play the games on ice and not paper.

Who in Particular to Watch for the Devils: Obviously, look (and hope) to see Hughes, Boqvist, and Smith seem like a player above most of their peers’ level. Hughes will be in the NHL and Boqvist and Smith are likely to carve out a roster spot with good training camp performances. It should be expected that they are ahead of the others in these games.

I would also pay close attention to the play of the three goalies. On paper, Cormier and Senn figure to be in a battle for appearances in Binghamton. While they will get chances in preseason and Binghamton’s preseason to figure it out, the competition really starts here. With three games, I expect each goalie to get a start in each one. I’m more curious about Cormier’s and Senn’s chances than Schmid’s, who will likely go back to Omaha in the USHL this season.

Similar to that, notice that there are a lot of Binghamton forwards on the roster. I do not think most of them have a real good shot at cracking New Jersey’s lineup on paper, so games like this could start the competition on where they end up on the depth chart in the AHL. As most of them like Anderson, McLeod, Bastian, Speers, Studenic, and Gignac have at least a significant part of an AHL season under their collective belts, I do hope they demonstrate progress for the coaching staff that will be watching them.

A Potential X-Factor: I mentioned him on the latest episode of the Garden State of Hockey podcast and I still feel it is true. My X-Factor is Fabian Zetterlund. I am happy he is on the roster as it means he is healthy enough to play. I think his skillset from Sweden should bode well for his future; shooters that tend to shoot the puck quite a bit are propsects I have time for. It was telling that he was on the 2018 Prospect Challenge roster whilst still signed with Farjestad. It was a sign to me that the Devils are interested in him. Now that he is on an entry level contract with the Devils, these three games will be a good place for him to show off what he can do on this side of the Atlantic. Zetterlund finished 18th in our 2019 Top 25 Under 25 list, so there is some hope among the writers here and the fans that voted that he can be somebody. I hope we start to see that this weekend.

The Goal: These are all exhibition games before training camp and preseason begins for the NHL teams. Therefore, the ultimate goal is safety and health. If all four teams have no injuries by late afternoon on Monday, then all four teams can be pleased with that.

The secondary goal would be to perform well for the coaches. For the likes of Hughes, Smith, and Boqvist, this will yield confidence that they can be given a more prominent opportunity in the Devils’ preseason games later this month. For most of the rest of the roster, performing well will help them out in the future. Those who do extremely well may get an opportunity much sooner than they may have expected. No one is going to make the New Jersey roster out of these three games. However, a player can help their cause in getting in an additional preseason game or getting a better opportunity in Binghamton at the start of the season.

I am not expecting the Devils to stomp all over Buffalo, Pittsburgh, or Boston. As long as they do not get dominated, the top players showcase why they are top players, and no one is hurt, I will be fine with whatever happens. These are exhibition games at the end of the day.

The Coverage Here: We will have a Gamethread for each game. We will have a recap for each game. This is your only preview, though.

Your Take: We will have Devils hockey returning on Friday night. Are you excited for the 2019 Prospect Challenge? Who in particular do you want to see perform well? Who has the most to gain? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the 2019 Prospect Challenge in the comments. Thank you for reading.