Defenseman Damon Severson is just 20-years-old – and turns 21 on August 7. Winger Reid Boucher is 21, until this upcoming September 8. There are at least ten other players among the 40+ in camp that are older, yet these two were chosen by new GM Ray Shero and new head coach John Hynes to come to the New Jersey Devils Rookie/Development Camp despite having a good chunk of NHL games under their belts — Severson is 51 games into his pro career (all last season) and Boucher has 34 (over the past two seasons). Some may wonder why Severson, who would have to seriously regress not to make the team, would be at this camp, but all you have to do is listen to him speak and it becomes evident that he is a natural born leader.
“Not really (surprised) I guess, because I did spend the whole year in the NHL,” Severson said while noting he isn’t one of the older players here when The Hockey Writers asked if the invitation to the camp caught him off guard. “I think that was a big reason why they brought me to this camp — because I did spend the full season in New Jersey; they wanted a guy here that can be a leader, have a good voice in here and just kind of relax guys in here.”
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) July 14, 2015
Last season when we spoke to Severson towards the end of the season he played his first game returning from a foot injury and easily slid back into the lineup replacing the recently traded Marek Zidlicky’s minutes, he said (paraphrasing) that he expected nothing less from himself and it’s his job to be ready to play as many minutes as the team needed him to on any given night. “Growing up I was always a leader; I was always wearing a C or an A on my jersey throughout my hockey and WHL career,” he went on to explain after the third day of camp. “I enjoy that part of the game, I think it’s a good thing to be a leader and let guys follow you as long as you are confident — that’s a good thing to have around.”
Reid Boucher’s first career goal:
To an extent, and unlike Severson, Boucher is still really trying to find his game and niche in the NHL. The kid that broke Steven Stamkos’ season record for goals with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting has yet to find his groove in the bigs — only three career goals. He knows without having to have the coaches tell him what he needs to do to make New Jersey’s opening night roster. “It’s all new (here now) compared to past camps I’ve been at — new GM, new coaching staff — and it’s my first experience with them. I’m just trying to make a good impression, get to know them a little bit; that’s all I’m trying to do this week.”
“(The thing I need to work on the most is) consistency in my game,” Boucher admitted to THW. “I want to play a solid game all year round. The last couple of years I’ve had a lot of ups and downs and I want to find a level to play at and not dip below that level.” There is certainly (at the moment) a roster spot there for the taking and Boucher is basically getting a fresh start with a whole new set of eyes making personnel decisions for the Devils franchise now. His recall at the end of last season was mainly because his two-way game was up to par and he was getting chances despite not registering a lot of points.
Severson almost echoed the same words when THW asked about what he needs to work on heading into September’s training camp. “I think I need to work on the consistency in my game — last year I had a hot start (4g-4a in first 11 games) and then my production slowed down a little bit and then the injury happened (December 15); so that kind of was a little bit of a bummer. That’s just part of the game though. I think consistency is one thing I want to, and a lot of guys want to focus on throughout this year.”
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 3, 2015
Coach Hynes explained that although Severson did spend the entire season on the NHL roster, he still has a lot of growing to do physically and learning to do, which isn’t a bad thing, because he is just 20-years-old. “Damon’s done a good job, it’s one of those situations where sometimes players can look at this two ways: where they can come in and say ‘why am I here and what are the reasons?’ But Ray and I both had a conversation with him over the phone and discussed why and what we were expecting from him, why he was going to be here,” said the coach who will be making his own NHL debut behind the bench on October 9 vs. the Winnipeg Jets. “To his credit he’s come in and he’s been very good off the ice, he’s been good with the younger players; and the thing we’ve liked a lot too is, he’s worked on the ice, and off the ice. Whatever it is, he’s here to get better and he’s done a good job at that.”
Matty and I with the @NHLDevils new head coach John Hynes. pic.twitter.com/hm6hY64ng9
— Mark Page (@mpage64) June 29, 2015
For a coach entering his first NHL season after the last four in the AHL, Hynes clearly has a plan of attack, he has already told us about his mantra (fast, attacking, supportive) and you start to understand why Shero selected him to be the bench boss in hopefully a bounce back year in New Jersey. “That is some of the standard that we wanted to set in this camp,” he said continuing to detail why it was important to have Severson at this camp. “We wanted to be able to have players like that; even though they’ve had good years or young players that maybe played a year in the National Hockey League…he still has to get better. He still needs to learn; he’s a young, single guy. He has to learn how to cook. He has to learn how to take care of his body. Just because he spent the year with New Jersey doesn’t mean that he’s anywhere close to where A) he can be and B) we’d like to see him.”
Severson brushed off the notion that his upcoming 21st birthday was a big deal (he admitted he has no plans yet) and explained that more important to him was getting ready to have a great training camp once September rolls around. “Being hard to play against every time I’m around the net, making sure the opposing team is steering clear of our net — and let Cory Schneider make the saves, and Keith Kinkaid, whoever’s in the net — we have to let them see the puck this year and we have to make sure we are consistent in that,” he said. “I want to make sure I’m consistent on the offensive side of things, not be just a defensive guy or an offensive guy; I want them to know what they are going to get every night and that’s what I am looking forward to proving this upcoming year.”
As we hinted at earlier, it would be a major shock if Severson wasn’t among the top-four defensemen on the opening night roster and it wouldn’t shock this particular writer if one day the native of Brandon, Manitoba was a captain. “I’m not worried about or sure yet whom my partner is going to be and that’s something that will come into play when the season comes around,” he stated. “I definitely want to be that go-to guy: five-on-five, on the power play, wherever they need me. I’m going to give it my all, put on a good show and help this team to get some victories.”
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.