Two big things happened yesterday in the New Jersey Devils’ world. The first was the signing of Nico Hischier to an entry-level contract. Hischier, the first overall pick in this year’s draft, was very impressive through out the weeks since he was selected by the Devils in Chicago. Both on and off the ice, he has made a positive impression everywhere he has gone. Yesterday was no exception, as he skated, dangled the puck, showed his vision, quick hands and lightning speed during the Development Camp final scrimmage.
The other big thing was said scrimmage, where 30 of New Jersey’s top prospects took to the ice to play against each other for two 25 minute periods. No penalties were called (although at one point toward the end of the game, the red team had six skaters on the ice), no fighting took place, only a couple of open ice hits occurred, and very little defense was exhibited. But it was fun to see the young future Devils show their offensive talent. The final score was 6-5, with team white (Pavel Zacha and company) edging out team red in the final minute of play.
Defensive prospect Reilly Walsh scored two goals for Team White, showing excellent patience and decisionmaking with the puck, and accuracy in his shooting too. It was clear that he has an excellent hockey IQ too (but that should be no surprise–he is going to Harvard this fall, so his academic IQ probably is not bad either). And it actually was Walsh that showed the most defensively all afternoon.
Of course, it was Hischier brought the crowd out of their seats for Team Red, but not to be forgotten was forward Jesper Boqvist, New Jersey’s second round pick last month. With all the attention on Hischier, Boqvist has been somewhat overlooked this camp. But he won’t be for long, if yesterday was any indication of his level of play. He is an excellent skater, with very good hockey sense and puck skills. Boqvist is expected to return to Sweden (where he is under contract for two more seasons), but watch for him, as he could be an excellent playmaker in the future. Not that he can’t put the puck in the net too, given the opportunity. It is true that Boqvist is no Hischier, but in what was certainly one of the weaker drafts in recent years, Boqvist may wind up being a steal in the second round.
Of the four goalies that took the ice, it was Ken Appleby that was the most impressive. He held the opposition to only two goals in the first half of the game and made one outstanding glove save that was definitely showing signs of being NHL-ready. He and Mackenzie Blackwood will once again vie to the number one spot on the AHL team, but if yesterday was any indication, Appleby might just have pulled ahead of Blackwood for that slot.
Joey Anderson had a good game too, playing on a line with Hischier and Miles Wood. When you play with Hischier, its hard to know how good you really are, but Anderson knew how to take advantage of his opportunity and showed both the ability to finish and see the ice well.
And then there is Michael McLeod–the Devils’ first round selection in 2016. He has excellent size, skates really well, has great instincts for where his teammates are, can pass and does not miss the net very often. It seems to me that he should get a very long look this fall in training camp–he may have the tools to start his professional career in New Jersey sooner rather than later.
As to the two Russian skaters on the ice yesterday, both had very good (but different) games. Forward Nikita Popugayev (who played in the WHL last season) has a very big body and can skate extremely well for his size. When his physical attributes and his skating talent are combined with his soft hands, Popugayev has a high upside. Although defenseman Yaroslav Dyblenko is a completely different player, the recently signed free agent also impressed. He went to the boards well to chase the puck in his own zone and looks to be able to keep opposition skaters away from his netminder. It remains to be seen whether he will be on the Devils’ roster this fall, but he certainly brings some pieces to the table that New Jersey would love to have on the NHL team.
As for the camp invitees, there were only two this year. One in particular stood out yesterday–Bob “Bobo” Carpenter. If the name rings a bell, it’s because he is the son of former Devils’ player and assistant coach Bobby Carpenter. Bobo is a winger, a free agent about to begin his junior year at Boston University. He scored one goal and set up two others in yesterday’s scrimmage. He will not be signed by the Devils at this point, but will remain on their radar and should remain on yours, as he was already posting close to a point per game last year as a sophomore.
That’s it for development camps this summer. We will have some prospect info in the coming weeks (including our Top 20s for all three teams) and will prepare you for training camp in September. Is it October yet?