Miles Wood is already one-step ahead of the other New Jersey Devils’ prospects that will be vying for a roster spot on the NHL club this September, and it has nothing to do with him playing in the final game of the 2015-16 season. Granted as the roster looks today there aren’t many spots available for forwards, but it will be an interesting battle to see who fills out the roster. One of the bigger questions will be: would it be wise to keep a player like Wood (who turns 21-years-old on September 13) on the roster as a spare forward, or would it be better off for his development to play top-line minutes in the AHL with the Albany Devils?
Here are all of the forwards that on this day we will assume to be locks on the opening night roster:
Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Devante Smith-Pelly, Mike Cammalleri, Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri, Beau Bennett, Vernon Fiddler, Sergey Kalinin, Jacob Josefson.
That’s ten forwards, leaving three possible spots left, and here’s where it gets dicey: Does last year’s top-pick Pavel Zacha make the roster, which some assume is an automatic? Do Reid Boucher and Joe Blandisi have enough knowledge and experience to hold off the others on the rise? Where does this leave players like Wood, Luke Gazdic, John Quenneville, Blake Pietila and Nick Lappin? Especially if they have outstanding camps. What if there is a player invited to camp on a PTO that excels?
No Easy Way Out
Obviously, the Devils feel good enough about Wood that they burned a year of his entry-level contract to get him into the last game of the season in April, so maybe he does have an inside shot to avoid starting in Albany. As he told The Hockey Writers following the final day of Development Camp in New Jersey, the AHL is not something that is on his radar right now. “My goal is to make this team. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid; my goal is not to play in the minor leagues,” Wood said confidently. “I’m a very competitive kid and I’m going to do whatever it takes to make this team.”
Competitive seems like an understatement, as he told THW that he was resuming his training one week following the end of the Development Camp. “For me, it’s continue to skate, workout with my dad. Just prepare for this upcoming season and training camp. I’m going to compete for a spot.” His dad would be former NHLer Randy Wood, who was born in Princeton, New Jersey and most notably played with the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres during his career (1986-97).
Ahead of the Curve
Wood admitted to THW that in his one-game stint with the Devils it was nearly impossible to truly learn the system that coach John Hynes has been implementing throughout the organization. He signed his contract the day after his Boston College Eagles were eliminated at the Frozen Four, and was in the lineup in New Jersey 48-hours after the loss, so it was all a blur really. But that’s no longer the case as Wood was selected to represent his country at the World Championships in May over in Russia — Team USA was coached by Hynes and Wood appeared in ten games.
“That one game, I really didn’t get down the system that coach Hynes wants to play, but I definitely got more of a taste of that over in the World Championships. Now I know what to expect, how he wants me to play the game…how he coaches the game, and the players,” Wood explained. “Overall I think it was a step forward in what I want to do with my career and I’m really excited for it.”
He continued on, “It was a crazy experience for me; it was my first time over in St. Petersburg, and to represent the United States it’s such a great feeling to do that. Having (coach) John Hynes over there, having Mr. Shero over there, guys like that; I really got a taste of what they want to see in me. How Hynes wants to play the game, what he wants me to do – overall I think it was almost a head start for me heading into (September) training camp and I’m very fortunate I got the opportunity to do it.”
Miles Wood, on the right, is a dead ringer for actor James Franco, in my opinion:
Mothaaaahhhh Russia pic.twitter.com/6R57fUXbPG
— Miles Wood (@MilesWood44) May 8, 2016
Of all the players that were at the Devils Development Camp, Wood has the physique of an NHL player more than any of the others. It wouldn’t be a shock to us if he finds his way onto the roster over a player like Boucher, Blandisi, or maybe even Josefson. Whoever wins those final forward spots, this will certainly be one of the most interesting storylines and battles during training camp in September as New Jersey continues to reshape its roster into a consistent threat in the Eastern Conference.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.