The Prospects Challenge concluded on Monday, with the Devils tallying 16 goals in three games. They had notable performances from a few top prospects, as well as some less familiar names, that bode well for the upcoming season. Here are some key takeaways from the tournament, as the Devils prepare for training camp.
Blake Speers Shows Improvement
After a tough training camp in 2017-18, Speers is off to a good start this season. He was one of the highlights for the Devils at the Prospects Challenge, finishing with a goal and four assists. He broke out in the team’s finale Monday, tallying three assists in a 6-2 rout of the Boston Bruins.
Speers is a natural right wing but played center in the final game. There are more openings along the right side of the Devils’ NHL roster but having that versatility can’t hurt. He also saw regular ice time on the power play and penalty kill, which should help him during the preseason.
Part of the reason for Speers’ success had to do with his approach to this offseason. Rather than working on being game ready, he put in more work on improving his skills.
“I put most of my emphasis strictly on being in game shape coming into camp, in terms of my skating and my cardio and that stuff, instead of working on my skills and making sure I was a good enough hockey player to come into this league,” Speers said to Chris Ryan of NJ Advance Media. “Come training camp and exhibition games, I kind of felt my game wasn’t up to snuff. Obviously, I could skate forever, but when I had the puck, I didn’t necessarily feel all that comfortable with it.”
Is Brett Seney the Next Jesper Bratt?
Many fans seem to be asking “who will be the next Jesper Bratt?” after his performance last season. It’s tough to come by late-round picks who are significant contributors in back-to-back seasons. However, Seney seems to fit the bill the most of the team’s prospects.
He was a sixth-round pick of the team in 2015, while Bratt was a sixth-round choice a year later. Bratt is listed at 5’10” and 175 pounds, while Seney checks in at 5’9″ and 156 pounds. Their similarities continue on the ice, too. They’re both fast and shifty players who have some offensive punch.
Seney’s speed and creativity were on full display at the Prospects Challenge. He was one of the fastest skaters on the ice and did a solid job of drawing penalties. He also added some offense and got steady minutes on the power play.
Bratt used last year’s Prospects Challenge to make a name for himself. Seney may not have been as flashy as Bratt, but he had a strong showing after a solid performance at the team’s development camp in July. There’s still a long way to go before earning an NHL gig, but after a great summer, Seney is right where he wants to be heading into the preseason.
Michael McLeod Finishes Strong
McLeod got off to a slow start in the Prospects Challenge. He played on the Devils’ top line in game one with John Quenneville and Joey Anderson but wasn’t able to get much going. He sat out game two against the Penguins but returned Monday, playing on the top line once again.
It was in that game where McLeod really shined. He showed off his speed, drawing penalties and creating problems for the Penguins. He capped off the game with two goals in the third period to help seal a 6-2 win for the Devils.
McLeod is still a top prospect, but he needed a good showing this past weekend. He struggled last season, where he saw his OHL scoring rates fall from 2016-17. His game three performance should send him into training camp with confidence, where he’ll be a contender for an NHL roster spot.
Other Notable Devils’ Performances
He was one of a few Devils’ prospects who had pro experience, having played for Dinamo Minsk in the KHL last season. He had a strong tournament and showed some offensive upside. He also has the size to handle the physical play of the NHL. It may take some time to get used to North American ice, but he could see NHL action sooner than later if he performs well in Binghamton.
He showed why the Devils made him the 17th overall selection this past June. He makes smart decisions with the puck and is a solid passer. The Devils also gave him time on the power play, which he handled well. Smith may need another year in juniors, but there’s no doubting his potential. He should be a significant contributor to the Devils’ blue line in the not-too-distant future.
The Prospects Challenge marked the first time Gignac had seen game action since tearing his ACL last December. He responded well, scoring two goals in the team’s 6-2 victory over the Penguins. Gignac won’t be on the Devils’ NHL roster come opening night. But it is good to see the 20-year-old back to health. He should be able to give Binghamton some depth scoring once the season begins.
With three goalies on the roster, the Devils split starts between each of them. Mackenzie Blackwood got the nod in game one but struggled to make saves. He showed off his athleticism but was out of position on a few goals against. A starting job is far from guaranteed in the AHL, so he’ll need to rebound quickly.
Cam Johnson started game two and had an impressive performance. He allowed just two goals and made this flashy save on a Penguins’ prospect.
— Binghamton Devils (@BingDevils) September 8, 2018
If Johnson’s performance is a sign of things to come, he could take starts away from Blackwood in the AHL. That should make for an intriguing storyline once Binghamton’s season begins.
Akira Schmid got the start in the team’s 6-2 victory of the Bruins. At 6’5″ and 204 pounds, he’s a large presence in net. He also showed good movement for a goaltender his size. Schmid has spent his young career playing in Switzerland, so he needs time to adjust to North American ice. Playing for the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL should help him do so in 2018-19.
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017