3 Observations From Day 1 of Devils Training Camp

Temperatures have now dipped into the 60s, and shades of yellows and reds are slowly creeping into the tree lines. Signs of the new season are just as evident inside RWJBarnabas Health Hockey House as yesterday was the first day of New Jersey Devils training camp. I opened the door to the rink and was immediately met by a blast of cold air and the sounds of skates gliding over the ice. Pucks ricocheted off the glass, and head coach Lindy Ruff’s voice echoed throughout as he gave instructions to his players. 

Hockey is here, and the battle to make the team’s opening night lineup has begun. I spent yesterday morning soaking in the excitement of a new NHL season, and before I get to my biggest observations, let’s first break down the team’s roster and the designated groups.

The Devils 2022-23 Training Camp Roster

Yesterday morning, the Devils released their 2022-23 training camp roster that includes seven goaltenders, 18 defensemen and 31 forwards.

Forwards: Nathan Bastian, Jesper Boqvist, Jesper Bratt, Graeme Clarke, Jack Dugan, Josh Filmon, Nolan Foote, Joe Gambardella, Mason Geertsen, Brian Halonen, Erik Haula, Nico Hischier, Alexander Holtz, Jack Hughes, Andreas Johnsson, Sam Laberge, Michael McLeod, Dawson Mercer, Ondrej Palat, Xavier Parent, Brian Pinho, Zach Senyshyn, Yegor Sharangovich, Nolan Stevens, Chase Stillman, Aarne Talvitie, Tomas Tatar, Tyce Thompson, Garrett Van Wyhe, Miles Wood, and Fabian Zetterlund.   

Defensemen: Kevin Bahl, Filip Bratt, Jarrod Gourley, Ryan Graves, Jeremey Groleau, Dougie Hamilton, Thomas Hickey, John Marino, Simon Nemec, Nikita Okhotiuk, Robbie Russo, Damon Severson, Jonas Siegenthaler, Brendan Smith, Topias Vilen, Michael Vukojevic, Reilly Walsh, and Tyler Wotherspoon.

Goalies: Jonathan Bernier, Mackenzie Blackwood, Tyler Brennan, Nico Daws, Isaac Poulter, Akira Schmid, and Vitek Vanecek.

New Jersey’s Three Practice Groups

Three groups practiced yesterday afternoon, and it seems the players will be kept in these groups over the next couple of days. It is worth noting there is one player who did not participate in yesterday’s practice: 23-year-old Fabian Zetterlund. He is not listed in any of the below groups, and hope to have an answer for his absence in the coming days.

Group A

Palat – Hughes – Holtz

Tatar – Boqvist – Clarke

Gambardella – Talvitie – Senyshyn

Van Wyhe

Siegenthaler – Hamilton

Okhotiuk – Walsh

Hickey – Vilen

Blackwood

Brennan

Related: Devils 2022-23 Training Camp Battles: Wingers

Group B

Sharangovich – Hischier – Bratt

Johnsson – McLeod – Bastian

Geertsen – Stillman – Halonen

Parent

Graves – Severson

Wotherspoon – Russo

Vukojevic – Groleau

Vanecek

Schmid

Related: Devils 2022-23 Training Camp Battles: Defensemen

Group C

Wood – Haula – Mercer

Foote – Pinho – Thompson

Filmon – Stevens – Dugan

Laberge

Smith – Marino

Bahl – Nemec

Gourley – Bratt

Daws

Poulter

Bernier

1st Observation: Jonathan Bernier Is Progressing

Fans have not seen Bernier play a game since Dec. 3, 2021. A week later, the team announced the 34-year-old was placed on injured reserve due to a hip injury. At the time, Ruff expressed concern over the long-term effects, and when the season wrapped up last spring there were a lot of question marks surrounding what his future would look like.

Yesterday around noon, Bernier stepped onto the ice and started working on some drills with a member of the staff. He worked on his movements, both in and out of the crease, sliding from post to post and really focused on his positioning before the skaters jumped onto the ice to join him.

For the one-hour practice, he shared the crease with Poulter while Daws had full control on the other side of the ice. In addition to completing drills, he faced shots from his teammates and seemed to be in the blue paint more than the 21-year-old once practice officially began. It’s a great sign, even though there are still questions about when he can return. Devils reporter Amanda Stein asked the team’s general manager Tom Fitzgerald if he was surprised by Bernier’s progress.

“I was surprised to see how well he was moving and I know he’s feeling better, ” said Fitzgerald. “He looked great.”

2nd Observation: Haula and Mercer Can Be an Intriguing Duo

After practice, Mike Morreale of NHL.com asked Mercer if he has a preference playing center or on the wing this season, and in typical Mercer fashion, he gave an easygoing response with a smile.

“No, I like both, to be honest… right now, I’m practicing out there on the wing, and I’m really happy with that,” he said. “That’s kind of what I have been working towards this summer and had my mind focused on that I’ll more than likely be a winger this year.” 

Dawson Mercer New Jersey Devils
Dawson Mercer, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)


Yesterday the Newfoundland native was on a line with Miles Wood and Erik Haula. As they skated around, working their way through drills, I saw the two laughing, which could be the start of great on-ice chemistry. Haula is a veteran who, like Mercer, has displayed versatility at both center and on the wing. It is expected that the former Boston Bruins forward will be the third-line center, and if Holtz makes the team and can consistently prove he belongs in the top six, Mercer can be a very nice complement to the 31-year-old.

3rd Observation: Players Know What’s on the Line

I understand it has only been one day, but it was easy to tell how serious the players are. There are 31 forwards vying for 12 spots and there is an understanding that many of those are already taken. During his media availability, Ruff stated “There’s a lot of guys that I like, there are some guys that I didn’t.” There is a lot of pressure to perform over the next few days, and it does not seem like any of the guys are taking it for granted. Throughout each session, I witnessed multiple players throw their heads back in frustration if they missed the net or a pass. The level of competition is evident and all 56 players are looking to make an impression on the coaching staff.

Today Group A will practice at 9:00 AM for an hour before the first scrimmage begins at 10:50 AM Group B will face off against Group C and will be followed by media availability. Be sure to follow me on Twitter to get all your updates as the Devils’ training camp carries on, and the season opener continues to inch closer.


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