The wait is almost over; New Jersey Devils hockey returns starting tomorrow at noon! Okay, so maybe it’s not the main roster, and heck it isn’t even training camp, but this is the first time since early/mid-May that any players wearing New Jersey Devils gear will be hitting the ice for game action. Yesterday, the team sent out a press release with the roster and some tidbits of information regarding some of the participants. As I went through it, there were a few notes that stuck out to me that I though were worth delving a little deeper into. So let’s break down a few pieces of that release right here.
Luke Hughes is Poised for Greatness
Maybe this one isn’t going to turn any heads, but I think I would be doing a disservice to the only player on this roster who was with the Devils NHL team last season if I didn’t mention him. Everyone expects big things from Luke, from his family pedigree, to his college career, to his strong performance in Game 82 against Washington last season. I don’t think he’s going to see big minutes during the tournament; the team probably won’t want to overwork him prior to training camp/preseason, and they’re also carrying eight defenders as well. Still, I think we see Luke in a game or two, and the hope is his game ranges somewhere from excellent to dominant when he’s out on the ice.
Players Specifically Name Dropped
Aside from Hughes, the Devils made mention of four other players before listing the entire roster. Those players are Simon Nemec, Chase Stillman, Graeme Clarke and Daniil Misyul. Now, perhaps it is as simple as the Devils listing the five highest drafted players among the group, but I do think these players are carrying higher expectations than others, and not just because they were all top 100 choices within their respective drafts.
Nemec and Clarke both could push for roster spots in the NHL as soon as this season. If they want a better chance at those minutes, this is their first audition for 2023-24; a good prospect tournament could lead to more preseason appearances to prove they belong with the big club now. Misyul has been spending the past four seasons developing in the KHL and this could be his opportunity to begin showcasing his skills on the North American stage. Stillman, meanwhile, might have the most to prove. Viewed by many as a “low-ceiling” pick that tops out as a Bottom-6 forward, Stillman could surprise with a good showing here. If he doesn’t, he could validate those opinions about him, while demonstrating that he will be a very good Bottom-6 forward.
The Alternate Captains
One surprise to me was the alternate captain choices. I can see the choice of Brian Halonen, as he did have a good first full professional season with Utica and he is one of the older prospects coming into the tournament. I know captaincy isn’t the most important thing for a weekend prospect tournament, but having a player with a full college career and a chunk of AHL games under his belt makes a lot of sense.
I’ll place Nemec and Clarke together into the same discussion again in this section as well. I’m not necessarily surprised by these choices, but rather I think this shows how much the organization values both players. Clarke may not have cracked the NHL roster just yet (and still might not this season, as I’ve mentioned before) but I think this goes back to the Devils long-term development strategy under Tom Fitzgerald. With players ahead of him on the depth chart, there’s no reason to rush Clarke; the team can bide their time until they need him to come up. His game took a large step forward last season, and as long as he is consistent or improves his point totals ad overall game from last season, he will find time in New Jersey in the near future.
Nemec, like Hughes, is another prospect poised to be a difference maker for the Devils. I am impressed with the fact that a player who doesn’t even turn 20 until February is already being entrusted with a leadership role. That speaks highly of the type of player that Nemec already is as a player who has yet to exit his teens. I expect him not to be pushed to the limit with minutes, similarly to Hughes, but I do think we might see a bit more of Simon just to help him showcase his game prior to training camp.
What Interests You for the Prospects Challenge?
These are just the items of interest that stood out to me for this weekend’s tournament, now I’d like to hear what’s on your mind for when the Devils hit the ice at noon tomorrow. Are there any players I didn’t discuss that you look forward to seeing in action? Do you think this tournament will see any of the unsigned players earn a contract with the organization? How much do you expect out of the higher tier prospects? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!