The temperatures are beginning to dip and the leaves are slowly preparing to change color. This is nature’s way of saying hockey season is upon us. Training camp is in full swing for the New Jersey Devils, and the first of two scrimmages took place on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. Team Red’s top line consisted of Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha and Janne Kuokkanen. Team White’s forward core was led by Andreas Johnsson, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt.
The sounds of thunderous hits and crisp stick-to-stick passes filled an empty Prudential Center as the scrimmage continued throughout the afternoon. A handful of players impressed the coaching staff including rookies and one specific player on a professional tryout. Let’s break down the standout performances of Team White and Team Red at the first Devils scrimmage.
It’s hard to not notice Mercer when he is on the ice. The 19-year-old is making a strong case for himself, and has as good a chance as anyone of making the opening night roster. He stood out in the rookie’s prospect challenge, and is continuing to show confidence in all areas of the ice.
“Every time I am out there I want to play my game and not get away from it. I was happy that I ended up getting the goal. I thought I played a good two-way game in all three zones,” Mercer said to media after the scrimmage. “We played with three lines and had the power play and penalty kill every period, it was a nice bit of action. It was fun, it was a good set up out there and I thought everyone really played a strong game.”
Mercer scored a goal in Saturday afternoon’s matchup for Team Red. He was able to get into the slot and get the puck past goaltender Jonathan Bernier. The Newfoundland native again displayed that he can be successful in the defensive zone, faceoff circle and has the ability to score.
Vesey was offered a professional tryout on Sept. 14, 2021. He split the last NHL season between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks appearing in 50 games. The 6-foot-3 forward forward registered 10 points between the two teams, and is looking to earn a contract with the Devils.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” said Vesey. “I had Lindy [Ruff] as a coach in New York, and he knows what I can do. I am very appreciate of him bringing me in here.”
Vesey had an impressive outing by scoring a goal and adding two assists on the afternoon for Team White. He skated alongside Tyce Thompson and Michael McLeod. Thompson opened the scoring after receiving a pass from Vesey. In the second period, he snapped the puck past Bernier, giving Team White a three-goal lead. He concluded the afternoon with three points, adding one more assist in the third period.
“He’s got lots of NHL experience. Physically he’s a strong player,” Ruff said after the scrimmage. “Sound positionally. He tried to play the game the right way. He didn’t make any big mistakes. I thought he managed the puck well. His energy was good.”
Ruff explained that overall there were things he liked, but there were also thing to dislike about the first scrimmage. The Devils will hold another scrimmage this afternoon, and the players will have another chance to prove themselves to the coaching staff. Jack Hughes along with the newly acquired Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves will take part in today’s scrimmage and battle Mercer and the rest of Team Red.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.