The New Jersey Devils kept us waiting for a bit, but yesterday saw them publish the roster of players who will appear at the upcoming Prospect Challenge. John covered the announcement yesterday while also providing some details on the less familiar names to Devils fans. Today, I’m moving a bit in the opposite direction, looking at players who are more familiar to those who follow the team, but maybe we should be keeping some extra vision on and why when the team hits the ice
Who Should We Watch?
Kevin Bahl and Nikita Okhotiuk
Let’s start with these two defenders who I’m going to group together for the sole reason that one of them could be on the Devils opening night roster. While they have three other Utica defenders on the prospects roster, as well as a couple of other highly touted defenders (more on at least one of them later), I think many fans see one of these two making the team. The team did add Brendan Smith, but I don’t think anyone envisions him as an every night player at this point in his career, so if either Bahl or Okhotiuk outplays him in camp, look for the winner of that contest to slot in behind Jonas Siegenthaler and Ryan Graves on the left side.
Consequently, a poor showing at this challenge could spell disaster for one or both of these players. I’m not saying it’s the end of the world, or even the end of their chances to prove themselves as NHL material, but outside of maybe one other name, if these two are getting outplayed by prospects (be they on the same or opposing team) it won’t instill much confidence in them. If Bahl or Okhotiuk (or both) perform poorly here, making the team during training camp might go from being an uphill climb to an insurmountable mountain.
Nemec might be the least surprising name on this list, as highly chosen players always draw eyes to them during these prospect tournaments. Nemec has the benefit of having played against men during his time in Slovakia, so it will be debatable as to whether the competition is a step up or a step down for him. More importantly, however, will be seeing how he plays on North American ice as well as how he gels with his fellow Devils prospects. The expectation and hope is that within a few years, at least a handful of these names will be joining up with the Devils’ current core to round out the roster, so seeing what chemistry some of them have at this early stage could help the team in the long run.
I expect strong games from Nemec, at least in terms of making the correct play. He’s known for his offensive game, so seeing him contribute points will be desired as well. As long as he makes himself known this weekend, I would chalk up his time at this tournament in Buffalo as a success.
Okay, maybe Holtz is even less surprising to see on this list than Nemec, but for a different reason. Holtz has a few games of NHL time under his belt and he did very well in the AHL last season; again like I mentioned with Bahl/Okhotiuk, a poor showing here is not the end of the world. However, considering his experience and how highly touted he is, the expectations on Holtz going into this tournament should be through the roof. Once play begins, I want to see him dominate; I want him speeding by guys, I want goals going in, I want to great passing.
Again, Holtz being outplayed isn’t necessarily a death knell for his career, but with his development path so far, I want to see him be in control of any game he appears in over this weekend.
Nolan Foote and Graeme Clarke
Another pair in a similar boat, Foote and Clarke are a pair of 21 year old prospects who if they do not make the roster (both are looking like long shots right now) may find themselves as call-ups at different points this year. While they’re not the highest on the depth chart, they are two of the forwards who have some experience in the organization that the fans have high expectations of. I think a strong showing from either or both of these players would bode well as training camp approaches and could also give them some momentum to try and push for a main roster spot.
Nico Daws and Akira Schmid
Okay, might not be fair to focus on both of the goalies that are expected to start the season in Utica, but here they are on this list nevertheless! Schmid and Daws both saw games in New Jersey last season due to injuries, and that could be the situation again if someone ahead of them on the depth chart goes down. While it’s still early in their careers and the hope should be that both don’t get pushed into more NHL action, it will be interesting to chart the growth of both of these young goalies. I wouldn’t say I expect one or both to dominate, but I’d love to see strong showings from both to demonstrate that the pipeline for those in net is on track.
As the Devils prospects jump into action tomorrow night, we want to hear from all of you as to your thoughts about the tournament. Do you think these players are the most important names to watch? Is there anyone left off of my list that your focus will be on? How important do you think it is to get results from players we have high expectations of during this tournament? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!