New-Look Devils May Be a Force to Be Reckoned With

Jesper Boqvist had every right to be excited about his performance against the New York Islanders in a preseason game in which he potted two goals. That performance may have catapulted the highly touted prospect onto the New Jersey Devils opening night roster. But after the game the 20-year-old from Stockholm, Sweden was having none of that and knows he still has work to do over the next two weeks before the Devils open their season against the Winnipeg Jets.

“No. Not yet,” Boqvist told The Hockey Writers when we asked if he thought he had done enough to secure a roster spot in the NHL. “I have to create more chances I think, play the game without the puck more, and win more battles. Not yet.” There is a spot for the taking as some of the players that are assumed to have a roster spot sewn up have not performed to their best during the first two weeks of New Jersey’s training camp. 

Jesper Boqvist
Jesper Boqvist is interviewed on the ice by Matt Loughlin at intermission of scrimmage at New Jersey Devils 2017 Development Camp. (Photo Credit: New Jersey Devils/Patrick Dodson)

The Devils second-round pick in 2017 (36th overall) opened the scoring with a power-play goal in the final home preseason game at Prudential Center and then netted the game-winner on another power-play marker with under five minutes left in regulation and the game tied 3-3. “A dream come true for sure, to score over here (in North America)” Boqvist said with a smile when asked what it felt like to score his first goal in a Devils’ uniform. “It was nice to get the win too.”

The Goose is Loose

Another newcomer that isn’t necessarily fighting for a roster spot in Nikita Gusev who was acquired in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights in late July. But he will be making his NHL debut after leading the KHL in scoring last season (82 points in 62 games). For Boqvist, it was a treat to play with the Russian winger who he was already familiar with as an adversary.

“That’s a dream come true too,” Boqvist said with a chuckle of playing alongside Gusev who has four points (2g-2a) in three preseason games. “I played against him on our National Teams, it’s nice to be able to play with him (and not against him).”

Goaltender Cory Schneider has noticed that the team in front of him has changed too. They are faster. Quicker. And they added a few players who are a pain in the butt to play against. “It’s been a good training camp. I think individually we have a little more speed (this year), but you also have to play fast,” said the veteran goalie. “You have to move the puck quickly, you have to make quick decisions, good plays, and allow guys to access their speed.”

New Jersey Devils Cory Schneider MacKenzie Blackwood
Goaltenders Cory Schneider and MacKenzie Blackwood will be the Devils 1a and 1b tandem this season. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

“Oftentimes, like tonight, we got bottled up or we slowed ourselves down with execution or decision. It’s good to have those kind of guys because when you get in those situations where you need the speed – we have a lot of it. It’s up to us to be able to figure out how to use it, and take advantage of it.”

Former Rival Turned Teammate

“I’ve seen a lot of Wayne Simmonds in front of me (over my career),” Schneider said with a laugh. “He’s similar to that guy Anders Lee on the Islanders that we played tonight. There are a handful of guys who are really elite around the net front and Wayne is one of them. When you get one of them on your team it’s nice to have the other goalie have to try to find a puck around the crease with him nearby. He’ll bring a lot more than just that too, I think we’re excited to have him (here) for a lot of reasons.”

John Hayden New Jersey Devils
John Hayden is in a battle for one of the last roster spots on the New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Another newcomer who will add a physical presence is John Hayden who was acquired in a draft-day trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. The 24-year-old played parts of three seasons with his hometown team and comes to New Jersey with 113 games of NHL experience under his belt. 

“I thought he really made a statement tonight,” said head coach John Hynes of Hayden’s game against the Islanders. “We want guys to play to their identities and when you look at tonight John Hayden certainly had an impact on the game.”

Battle Royale

Hayden is in a battle for one of the final roster spots, just like Boqvist but each is bringing something different to the table – if they ‘play to their identities.’ Safe to say at least one of the two will be on the opening night roster, maybe even both will be with a good showing in the final two preseason games for New Jersey. Hayden and Simmonds add big bodies to the mix while Gusev, Boqvist, and Jack Hughes (who we haven’t even mentioned yet) will make the Devils a more dynamic offensive team.

Others still in the mix for a roster spot by virtue of a strong camp are Nathan Bastian, Michael McLeod, Ty Smith, and Kevin Rooney. Hynes has mentioned that some players who think they are on the team may not have as much job security as they think. Is it coach speak? Maybe. But it should be enough to put players like Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha, and Mirco Mueller on notice during the final days of camp.