The NHL season is a week away and Blake Speers, the New Jersey Devil’s 67th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, is still at training camp. There are no guarantees that he makes the team, but his performance during thus far has caught the attention of fans, and most importantly the Devils’ front office and coaching staff.
“Blake has been one of the better forwards noticeably every day since camp started,” coach John Hynes said of Speers, who was one of two players with Junior eligibility left that survived the first round of roster cuts. “If you look at the start of his year, he was one of the most effective players in the rookie tournament in Buffalo (3g-2a in two games). He’s come here and every day he’s caught our attention; whether it’s been the exhibition games, scrimmages, practices. He plays with speed, he has great hockey instincts, understands the game; he’s real strong on the puck. He’s a guy that’s played his way into staying here so we’d like to see him be able to continue to do that.”
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) September 18, 2016
Following the Devils’ second preseason home game, The Hockey Writers spoke with Speers to find out a little more about how he thinks he is performing thus far, his season last year with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and a few other topics:
The Hockey Writers: You played in two preseason games this week, did you feel more involved in the flow of the game tonight than Wednesday night in Philadelphia?
Blake Speers: Yeah, I’m really just taking things in stride right now; every game I get into I think I’m going to get a little more comfortable. Right now, I’m just trying to make sure that I’m moving my feet, be reliable all over the ice and then obviously the skill parts of my game will come.
THW: Were you surprised that the coaches used you on the penalty kill tonight and were you expecting that responsibility?
BS: Like I said, I’m just taking things in stride. Whatever responsibility they give me I’m going to take with open arms and do my best with it. If penalty killing is going to be what it is, then that’s what I’m going to do and I’m going to go out there and be really detailed.
— Albany Devils (@AlbanyDevils) September 19, 2016
THW: The Devils made a lot of roster cuts today (October 1) and you’re still here, that has to make you feel good, right?
BS: Yeah, I was happy with my camp up to this point, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when the cuts came around. Obviously, I’m thrilled to still be around, but there’s still a lot of work to do if I want to stay.
THW: A lot of Devils fans likely don’t get to watch a lot of OHL hockey, can you tell them what your season was like last year as captain of Sault Ste. Marie?
BS: Starting the year I was coming off my first mini-camp experience here with the Devils and I had a really slow start, didn’t score for my first ten games. I think I was trying to do too much. I expected a little too much from myself and wasn’t using my teammates enough. Then as the year progressed I kind of felt more comfortable in my role and then I was named the captain and things started to come together near the end of the year. I was fortunate enough to put up some pretty decent numbers (26g-48a-74p) and I think I’m going to look to build on that if I’m back there this year. And if not, I’ll be here (smiles).
— SooToday.com (@SooToday) September 22, 2016
THW: Your teammate with the Greyhounds, Colton White, is also a Devils prospect. Do you guys talk at all about the idea of winning together at the pro-level during the season?
BS: Wherever you are you’re focused on winning for that team, so, for now, I’m focused on winning for the Devils. If and when I’m back there then my focus will shift back to them. In hockey, I’m all about winning.
THW: Last season you played against some other Devils prospects – Pavel Zacha and Joshua Jacobs – both in the regular season and postseason, guys that you have been teammates with here at these camps and prospect tournaments. Is that weird or strange at all?
BS: Both of those guys are tremendous competitors and you see the skill that Pav has out there, he’s quite the handful to deal with and you really gain a whole lot of respect for him when you play against him. When your down in Juniors you don’t really think about those guys being your teammates in future years. You’re just thinking about what you can do to help your team win. When we’re competing against each other there are no friends out there and now it’s nice to compete with him.
Blake Speers ties the game seconds later!!! Brandon Gignac & Kevin Rooney with the helpers at 17:53 pic.twitter.com/nOeEndnDWF
— Albany Devils (@AlbanyDevils) September 18, 2016
THW: You got a small taste of AHL hockey at the end of last season with the Albany Devils as a practice player, what was that like?
BS: Anytime you’re up with the pros as a younger guy you are just trying to be a sponge, it’s just a time to take everything in from what all these guys are doing. A lot of them have been in the league forever and there’s a reason for that. I think going to Albany was a really good experience for me and it’s going to help me when I turn pro in the future.
THW: Has there been any one or two players here at this camp, a veteran that you have really latched onto and has helped you out the most to be comfortable?
BS: I think coming into this first game after the cuts, I was on a line tonight with Mike Cammalleri and he was really good just calming me down and telling me to play my game. He definitely helped me feel comfortable out there – that was really helpful for me. That’s a guy that has been in the league for almost a thousand games (779) or something like that. That’s a guy who you kind of tail him and watch what he does around the rink and mirror that — you’re probably going to be pretty successful.
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.