clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Preseason Games 1 & 2: New Jersey Devils vs. Montreal Canadiens & Philadelphia Flyers

The Devils begin their 2023-2024 preseason with split-squad games in Montreal and against Philadelphia on home turf. After an up-and-down Prospects Challenge, can a split Devils roster build some confidence early and get their season started on the right foot?

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Florida Panthers v New Jersey Devils
Will Alexander Holtz impress enough in the preseason to claim a roster spot?
Photo by Rich Graessle/NHLI via Getty Images

The First Matchup:

Game 1: New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: The New Jersey Devils are tentatively slated to stream this game. Information TBD.

The Opposition: Broad Street Hockey

A Tale of Two Cities

Both the Devils and the Flyers make their preseason debuts in this matchup, with the Devils splitting their squad between this matchup at the Prudential Center and another that will run concurrently in Montreal at the Bell Centre.

We last saw the Philadelphia Flyers back in February, where the Devils’ 2003 Stanley Cup-winning roster was introduced before puck-drop to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their championship-winning run. The ceremony must’ve resonated with the present-day Devils, as they walloped their rivals 7-0.

But that was then. That was the regular season at a time when a young Devils squad was making its final charge to the postseason and the Flyers had been out of the running for a long time.

This is now: the first game of preseason hockey for both teams, the Devils coming off a so-so Prospect Challenge performance, and their roster split by the matchup occurring in Montreal. Without a second concurrent preseason game of their own, the Flyers will bring their full roster of players and prospects to bear against the Devils.

Seasons past, the Devils and the Flyers were companions in misery, cozying up to each other at the bottom of the standings. Philadelphia finished 29th in the league in 2021-2022, right behind the 28th-place Devils. Then everything changed when New Jersey, perhaps galvanized by offseason additions John Marino and Vitek Vanecek, exploded onto the scene of elite NHL teams, finished third in the league, and answered John’s question if a team could improve by more than 30 points with a resounding yes.

The Flyers languished at the bottom of the table again. They finished only marginally better than their 2021-2022 squad, placing 26th in the league after a campaign that saw team owner Comcast fire GM Chuck Fletcher after an embarrassing trade deadline that left several pending free agents (James van Riemsdyk, Justin Braun) untraded.

His successor Danny Briere has not been so idle. Briere, perhaps following Comcast’s example, also cleared house. Gone are Tony DeAngelo, Kevin Hayes, and Ivan Provorov. In come highly-touted prospects such as the 2023 7th overall pick Matvei Michkov, the Russian winger who might’ve gone first overall any other year, defenseman Oliver Bonk, and center Massimo Rizzo, among others.

While the Flyers might ice an anemic roster opening night, this is the preseason, and their prospect pool can stand against any in the league.

But the Devils have enough talent to fill out two rosters tonight.

At the time of writing, we have more information on who won’t play in this preseason matchup than who will. According to Kevin Durso, Travis Konecny has a mild injury and likely won’t make the trip to Prudential Center for the preseason opener.

Depending on your perspective, you’ll find yourself pleased or disappointed knowing Matvei Michkov will not participate in the Flyers preseason, as he’s currently under contract to SKA St. Petersburg and playing six minutes a night in the KHL.

Sean Couturier, after nearly two years since the last time he stepped onto the ice due to several back surgeries, has recovered enough to play this season; Cam Atkinson, who also battled neck and back injuries last season, also expects to play at the beginning of the season.

Regardless of how many vets or rookie prospects the Flyers plan on rostering, the Devils should be able to match them pound-for-pound on talent and experience.

The Devils Lineup

Half the Devils squad will play at home against Philadelphia. Holtz is the player to watch in this matchup, as his performances through the preseason could have a significant impact on his chances of making the opening night roster. Holtz has played alongside Hischier and Bratt at times in camp; if that trio is reunited and successful tonight, expect to see Ruff continue to try and develop that chemistry.

The Second Matchup:

Game 2: New Jersey Devils at Montreal Canadiens

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: RDS Network (Canada only)

The Opposition: Habs Eyes on the Prize

Young Talent Headlines Building Montreal Roster

The Montreal Canadiens experienced an expeditious fall from the top—or a harsh regression to their actual talent level—following their loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals.

The Devils last played the Canadiens in Montreal for a game that saw Nico Hischier notch two points, including the game-winning goal, as New Jersey walked to a 3-1 victory.

The Athletic projects the Montreal Canadiens as the second-worst team in the NHL for the upcoming season, forecasting 70.8 points and a 0.0% chance at the playoffs. Plain and simple, the Canadiens are in the building stage much like the Philadelphia Flyers are and the New Jersey Devils were.

Devils fans can sympathize with their plight. Aside from the lone Stanley Cup Final loss during the COVID bubble year, an outlier, the Montreal Canadiens have not mustered a truly competitive roster since the 2014-2015 season. While they’re veering into get on with it already territory, they’ve not yet burned fans’ goodwill and expect to compete for another top-five pick in the draft this year to complement Juraj Slafkovsky and this year’s fifth-overall pick David Reinbacher.

The Canadiens, much like the Flyers, are not playing a split-squad game today as they too make their preseason debut against the Devils. They’ve added some talent in a trade with Colorado for Alex Newhook, and they added Reinbacher through the draft—but they’ve shed some talent too, sending Joel Edmundson, Mike Hoffman, and Rem Pitlick out the door in trades largely for picks and prospects.

One notable addition that may see the ice tonight is Nathan Legare, the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect who joined the Canadiens as part of the three-team trade that sent Erik Karlsson to the Penguins. The 22-year-old winger and Montreal native scored eight goals and 19 points in 68 AHL games last season and projects to return to the AHL, but a strong preseason could give him an inside look at a depleted Canadiens roster—or at least walk him back into the discussion as a legitimate NHL prospect.

Newhook, Kirby Dach, Cole Caufield (and his new 7.85 million dollar extension), Justin Barron, Filip Mesar, and Reinbacher all represent the upcoming youth movement in Montreal and should see preseason games as the Canadiens look to define which youngsters are ready for the NHL.

Devils to Watch:

According to Lindy Ruff, Erik Haula, at least, will play in one of the games. He also expects to play the starting netminders for two periods, then give their backup a look for the final period of each game.

Ruff also said, “When you’re playing a split game, it gives a lot more players the opportunity to get into a preseason game. We want to see where some guys’ games are at.” Clearly, the Devils want to use these games to evaluate their young talent as much as possible before training camp ends.

You can watch the full Ruff interview here.

I would be surprised if the Devils below don’t play in one of the split-squad games, whether at the Prudential Center against Philadelphia or in Montreal versus the Canadiens.

Šimon Nemec

Nemec is still only 19 years old. Last year, he put together a very solid season for Utica, scoring 34 points in 65 games while also serving as Slovakia’s captain in the World Juniors. He was killer in Utica’s playoffs, too, notching 12 assists in 19 games.

Nemec rose two stops from last year’s Top 25 Under 25, settling in 5th place overall. If he looks comfortable against his preseason competition, I think he has the inside track to fill the hole that Damon Severson left on the defense’s right side.

Check out Gerard Lionetti’s article weighing Nemec’s chances of making the team.

He also got contact lenses this offseason. With his newfound 20/20 vision, the sky is the limit for the former 2nd-overall pick.

Alexander Holtz

It’s not dramatic to say that Alexander Holtz is running out of time to make his mark in New Jersey. As the Devils shift from building to win now, Holtz’s name has already been floated in nearly every trade rumor Tom Fitzgerald has been linked to.

He’s also received good-to-great reviews through the first few days of Devils training camp. He’s faster, determined, and being given every opportunity to make the Devils’ opening night roster, even garnering significant praise on his skating from Lindy Ruff himself.

The preseason isn’t the be-all-end-all, but Holtz needs to show against NHL or near-NHL competition that he’s ready for a larger role on the main roster.

Graeme Clarke

Clarke elevated his game last season with a 25-goal, 58-point campaign for Utica in 68 games. He’s been on the cusp for a couple seasons now and might serve as the next batter-up should Holtz fail to secure a spot in the lineup.

Kevin Bahl

Ruff: “For him, confidence is a big deal. [. . .] There’s been parts [in scrimmages] where he’s been mature enough to just move the puck and be that fourth guy to get involved.”

With the departure of Ryan Graves, Kevin Bahl has the inside track on claiming that left-hand defense spot. For Ruff, a quiet, mature preseason game or two from Bahl might be exactly what the veteran coach is looking for.

Why does the preseason matter for the 2023-2024 New Jersey Devils?

Well, in some ways it doesn’t. Not in the points column, at least. If they lose tonight, no problem. The regular season is still weeks away, and there’s time to fine-tune systems and special teams, and there’s time to get acclimated before the points start counting. If they win, great! Victories will only build confidence—for roster players expecting to compete for a Stanley Cup, and for prospects looking to build their skillsets and catch the attention of Devils’ management.

Any momentum they build tonight can only be positive. Anything that’s ugly can still be fixed.

It’s an opportunity for prospects to prove themselves and veterans to settle in, get comfortable, and begin thinking ahead toward a regular season where they’re expected to seriously contend for the Stanley Cup. And if they don’t win tonight, it doesn’t matter—yet.

Final Thoughts

First preseason game, first game preview. I’ve been a longtime reader and commenter on the site (formerly as Veron) and am thrilled to join the All About the Jersey staff as a game preview and recap writer! Cheers, everyone. Here’s to what hopefully will be an incredible 2023-2024 season, and praise be that hockey has finally returned.

How do you think the Devils will split their squads today? Is this the year that Alexander Holtz finally becomes a mainstay on the NHL roster? Does Šimon Nemec build on a very strong AHL rookie campaign and replace Damon Severson immediately, or does he need more time to develop? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!