Devils vs. Sabres at Prospects Challenge: Nemec, Clarke & More

The New Jersey Devils took to the ice for their second game of the Prospects Challenge, this time against the hosts, the Buffalo Sabres. They would fall 4-2, but the results don’t matter much in a tourney like this. Instead, let’s focus on individual performances ahead of tomorrow’s finale against the Boston Bruins. 

Nemec & Misyul Stand Out on Defense

Šimon Nemec had an impressive first game of the Prospects Challenge and followed that up with another solid outing against the Sabres. Though he didn’t find the scoresheet as he did against the Ottawa Senators on Friday, his defensive game stood out versus Buffalo. 

Nemec was consistently making plays that broke up Sabres’ scoring chances. In the first period, he knocked down a dump-in mid-air and prevented the Sabres from getting the forecheck going. In the second period, he broke up a Sabres’ 2-on-1 by getting in the shooting lane and deflecting a shot with his stick that went over the glass and into the netting. 

One of Nemec’s weaknesses as a draft-eligible prospect during the 2021-22 season was his ability to defend the rush. It seems that’s come along, but the rest of his defensive game is improving, too. He looks stronger than he was a season ago, which has helped him in the defensive zone in this tournament. These are all encouraging signs entering training camp this week. 

Simon Nemec New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils defenseman Simon Nemec (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Another defenseman who’s stood out thus far is Daniil Misyul. A Devils third-round pick in the 2019 draft, he’s played quite well in the team’s first two games, with last night being his best. He was a bit out of control in the Devils’ 5-2 loss to the Senators, but he played a much more measured and controlled game against the Sabres. 

Misyul didn’t put up many points in the KHL with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, but he’s shown some offensive upside in this tournament and has not been afraid to shoot the puck, which he did against Buffalo. His defensive game was excellent, and he made good decisions with the puck on his stick in the defensive zone. That forced Kevin Dineen, who’s coaching the Devils in Buffalo this weekend, to move up Misyul to Nemec’s pair for the final two periods. 

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Misyul is one of the older players at this tourney for the Devils at 22 years old and already has plenty of pro experience, having played four years in the KHL, and it’s shown a bit this weekend. He’ll be one to watch once the Utica Comets’ (AHL) season begins. 

Clarke Close But Missing That Finishing Touch

Alexander Holtz and Graeme Clarke. That’s who may battle for one of the final spots up front on the Devils’ roster. Holtz is not in Buffalo this weekend, which may be a sign of what the organization thinks of the former seventh-overall pick heading into training camp. 

Clarke has played both games and scored a goal in the 5-2 loss to the Senators. He had a solid outing against the Sabres and once again showed off some of his puck skills, but he couldn’t convert, sometimes just missing the net or getting a shot blocked. 

Graeme Clarke New Jersey Devils
Graeme Clarke with the Binghamton Devils in 2020-21 (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Devils don’t have many of their top prospects in Buffalo, so Clarke is not playing with the best talent he could. He’s played well, but he hasn’t played at a level that makes you think he can seriously challenge Holtz or someone else for a role in the NHL. It’s also just a prospects tournament, so it’s far from the final determinant in making the roster. But he does need to find another gear in the team’s finale against the Bruins.

Devils Quick Hits

  • Santeri Hatakka is ticketed for the Comets, but he could prove valuable as a depth player in the organization. A throw-in from the Timo Meier trade, the 22-year-old defender played well against the Sabres and showed he can add physicality from the back end. There isn’t much offensive upside in his game, but he’s sound defensively and has shown he can move the puck out of the defensive zone without chipping it off the glass all the time. 
  • Cam Squires will return to the Cape Breton Eagles in the QMJHL for the 2023-24 season, but he was noticeable in the third period. He had a couple of quality scoring chances, and earlier in the game, he showed some two-way prowess when he broke up a grade-A Sabres scoring chance on the back check. He could be in line for a big season with the Eagles. 
  • The Devils not having their best goaltending prospects available has shown at this tournament. Tyler Brennan has played, but he struggled against the Senators. He’s only 19 years old and needs time to develop. Meanwhile, Nico Daws is out until December after undergoing offseason hip surgery. Jakub Málek is in Finland, as his season with Ilves in the Liiga is underway. The final score may not matter, but having one of Daws or Málek could’ve given this tournament a different feel for the Devils. 

The Devils and Bruins have an early start time tomorrow, with the puck dropping at 10:15 a.m. EST. The tournament finale can be streamed via the Devils’ website and YouTube channel. 

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