Tonight begins the 2022 Prospects Challenge for the New Jersey Devils. They will play Montreal tonight, Buffalo on Saturday night, and Boston on Monday morning. All games will be streamed through the Devils’ website. The Devils’ own prospect roster was announced two days ago featuring 2022 first round selection Simon Nemec and 2021 first round selection Alexander Holtz. Since the games are beginning tonight for the Devils, who are the notable prospects the Devils will face? Let’s go over it for each team:
First Opponent: Montreal
The Roster: Linked here from Montreal’s official website.
The Prospects You Probably Know: Juraj Slafkovsky. Coveted by many of the People Who Matter, he ended up going first overall at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. He’s big. He’s wide. He’s loaded with skill. This will be his second game with the Canadiens as Montreal played Buffalo last night. I’m sure Nemec is looking forward to facing off with him.
2020 first rounder and defenseman Kaiden Guhle will definitely draw plenty of attention. He was someone who was in the Devils’ range for that third first round pick they had that year, which went to Shakir Mukhamadullin. Guhle can play a physical game while contributing on the offensive end.
The Prospects You Should Also Be Aware Of: Justin Barron was part of the trade that brought playoff hero Artturi Lehkonen to Colorado, wherein he continued his playoff heroics. Barron has had a taste of the NHL with 7 total games last season and he did put up 20 points in 43 AHL games in his first full AHL season. I would think he is someone the Canadiens have a lot of hope for the future given his acquisition. I would expect him to get a lot of minutes in this tourney.
I would also pay attention to much of the 2022 draft class as they are mostly on this roster: Filip Mesar (whom Nemec knows well), Owen Beck, Jared Davidson, Cedrick Guindon, and Miguel Tourigny were all just picked along with Slafkovsky a few months ago. With potential spots for the future, I would be interested to see how they get on.
Likewise, I would pay attention to these three forwards from their 2021 draft class: Riley Kidney, Joshua Roy, and Xavier Simoneau. Each were stupidly productive in the QMJHL last season with Kindry dropping 30 goals and 100 points, Roy putting up 51 goals and 119 points, and Simoneau putting up 86 points in 46 games. It is entirely possible that they excelled as one of the older players in their league. But that kind of production makes one think whether they have anything for the next level. A tournament like this is a good place as any to figure out if they do. If nothing else, Utica fans may want to get familiar with either as they could be notable Laval Rocket members in due time.
Anything Else Notable?: Montreal has just three goalies: Two on try-outs, Antoine Coulombe, Riley Mercer, from the QMJHL and a 6’6” Joe Vrbetic who was a seventh round pick in 2021. The Devils should seek to test them out early and often. Of note, Riley Mercer is Dawson Mercer’s brother.
Vrbetic and forward John Parker-Jones are the only ones on the team listed to be taller than Slafkovsky. Parker-Jones is on a try-out from the University of Windsor. Joe Bignell probably played against the massive winger last year.
Second Opponent: Buffalo
The Roster: Linked here from Buffalo’s official website.
The Prospects You Probably Know: Matt Savoie was Buffalo’s first pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. While not large, he was massive for Winnipeg in the WHL last season and has received comparisons to Brayden Point. Which is a big comparison point. He did not appear in their development camp in July, so this is first round of action with the team. It remains to be seen if he is sent back to the WHL for another season or he shows he is ready for the NHL. That process starts with this tourney.
Jiri Kulich was Buffalo’s second pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, picked at 28th overall. He was touted for his speed, agility, and working hard from the boards inward. Kulich was fantastic at the World U-18 Championships for Czechia with 9 goals and 11 points in 6 games and he continued to produce for his country at the WJCs with 2 goals and 8 points in 7 games. He’s still signed with HC Energie Karlovy Vary, but his club has let him appear in this camp and he could showcase why he got into the first round and why Buffalo picked him.
Isak Rosen was Buffalo’s second first round pick last year and he had a four-goal, five-point WJC performance with Sweden. While his time with Leksands was not particularly impressive on paper, he did earn an entry level contract. He will join Rochester of the AHL and become quite familiar with the Comets. I would pay attention to how he acclimates to the North American game.
The Prospects You Should Also Be Aware Of: Oskari Laaksonen and Linus Weissbach are among the older players on this roster. They also each played with Rochester last season. Laaksonen put up 34 points in 71 games, which is quite good for a defenseman; and the winger Weissbach chipped in 16 goals and 37 points in 67 games. While their futures may top out in the AHL, this kind of experience could help the Sabres compete in this tourney and show decently in the beginning of preseason.
I would absolutely keep an eye on how Aleksandr Kisakov performs. He dropped 56 points in 51 MHL games with MHK Dynamo Moscow last season. Kisakov now has a visa and will play for Rochester next season. He may struggle. He may thrive. He may need time to get used to how hockey is played here. But he is a fascinating inclusion on this roster.
Also, look out for Mats Lindgren in a shootout. Per the Sabres’ website, the defenseman has a between-the-legs move.
Anything Else Notable?: Defenseman Zach Berzolla calls Howell, New Jersey his hometown. He came up through the New Jersey Jr. Titans system before going to the USHL with Muskegon and Colorado College. The defender signed with Florida of the ECHL after his time in college ended, joined Hartford but mostly played with Jacksonville of the ECHL last season, and signed an AHL deal with Rochester. The 24-year old is basically making up the numbers and likely competing for a spot on Rochester’s depth chart. What’s the notable part here? He is from Howell. That’s mostly it.
Third Opponent: Boston
The Roster: Linked here from Boston’s official website.
The Prospects You Probably Know: Fabian Lysell was Boston’s first round pick in 2021. He’s fast, he skates well, and he has a good touch. He also switched from Sweden to Canadian major junior hockey last season, playing for Vancouver of the WHL after signing an ELC with Boston. The 19-year old’s options are going back to the WHL or making the NHL (he turns 20 in mid-January). Expect him to make it a difficult choice for the Bruins decision makers starting with this tourney. It will be interesting to see if he is still with Boston by the time the Devils play them in preseason (October 8).
If you follow Luke Hughes (and, to a lesser extent, Ethan Edwards), then you probably know about John Beecher. The Michigan Wolverine struggled to produce in college. However, after signing with Boston after his junior year, he did put up 5 points in 9 games with Providence and added an assist in a playoff game. The 2019 first rounder may have a limited ceiling but it may still be a NHL-caliber ceiling. This coming season will likely see him with Providence, but his performances in this tourney and preseason may push him up the depth chart at forward.
The Prospects You Should Also Be Aware Of: College hockey fans probably know Marc McLaughlin pretty well. The 23-year old forward was not drafted, but improved his production in each of his four seasons at Boston College. He was also BC’s captain for the last two seasons with 24 points in 24 games as a junior and 32 points (21 goals!) in 33 games as a senior. Boston signed him right out of college and actually played for the NHL team. 11 games, 3 goals, and 12 shots on net. Not bad. He did end up with the P-Bruins for a bit and he may start there. That he got an extended stint in the NHL right after college suggests that they like him a lot. I would not be shocked if he plays a bunch in Boston next season. He will be a focal point in this tourney along with Lysell and Beecher at forward.
College enthusiasts may also be familiar with goaltender Brandon Bussi. The 24-year old from Sound Beach, NY was signed by Boston after an excellent junior season with Western Michigan. He posted a 91.2% overall save percentage in 39 games for the Broncos. Bussi was a key reason why they made the NCAA Tournament at all last season. In 5 games with Providence, Bussi posted a 92% overall save percentage, which an encouraging sign. The other goalie for Boston at this tourney, Reid Dyck, will likely be heading back to Swift Current. Bussi will go to the AHL and, who knows, could claw out an appearance with Boston.
Anything Else Notable?: One of the oldest, if not the oldest, player at the 2022 Prospect Challenge is defenseman Kai Wissmann. He is 25 and will turn 26 next month. The German signed with Boston back in June after a very productive World Championships tourney with 7 points in 8 games. Wissmann also set a career high in points in the DEL for Eisbären Berlin (yes, the Berlin Ice Bears) with 20 points in 55 games. Wissmann is quite large at 6’4” and 207 pounds and has plenty of pro experience. The question is whether he can get going and quickly in North America. This tourney may focus on younger players, but teams do use it for fliers they have taken on interesting, older prospective players. Wissmann is an example of the latter.
So Do the Devils Have the Best Roster On Paper Over Their Opponents?
Maybe? Possibly? I guess? Well, that’s like your opinion, man.
More seriously, it is a hard question to answer because everyone’s roster is filled with prospects with bright futures, prospects who have been grinding it out in the AHL, and try-out players and other guys making up the numbers hoping to get any kind of pro contract. New Jersey has them, Montreal has them, Buffalo has them, and Boston has them. In terms of high-end talent, I think New Jersey’s Nemec and Holtz may be among the best and having Daws with NHL experience is a massive plus in a short tourney like this. However, Montreal does have Slafkovsky, Guhle, and Mesar in terms of prospects with bright futures at the tourney. If Stillman was better, then sure, I’d go with New Jersey. But even Montreal’s roster has four players on try-outs - including two of their three goalies - and a bunch of shots in the dark.
(Aside: The other two teams at this year’s challenge, Ottawa and Pittsburgh, are not going to play the Devils. Ottawa has a very strong group of young talent, but those players - Stützle, Tkachuk, DeBrincat, Batherson, Norris, etc. - are not likely going to be in this tourney at all. So I would not factor them that much here. Pittsburgh has Sam Poulin and Owen Pickering - which is not super impressive either.)
This is pre-preseason and so these games are going to mean different things for different players. Those on try-outs are in a first step in trying to earn a contract. Those in the AHL are looking to impress for future call-ups or perhaps a better deal down the line. Those with more NHL aspirations may use these games to leave a good first impression for this campaign going into preseason games. The only common hopes one could have for all of them on each of these teams is that no one gets hurt and people do what they are asked to do by the coaches.
Of course, the true star for this tourney is Aarne Talvitie given his mustache and developing mullet, which is in the bottom right corner of this Tweet. It’s facial hair you can set your watch to - assuming you still use a watch. It’s a look that few can compete with on any level. So, with a tongue in my cheek, the Devils have the best on paper quite possible for that alone.
Getting down to business. pic.twitter.com/G2uBT1QdVM— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) September 15, 2022
What do you think of the Devils’ opponents for the 2022 Prospects Challenge? Should the Devils prospects do well against them? Anyone else on Buffalo, Boston, or Montreal stick out to you? Why does Talvitie look like that again? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the tourney in the comments. The Gamethread will be up an hour before the game begins. Thank you for reading.