The Devils’ rise can pretty much be traced through their development camps. Four years ago, New Jersey had one single impressive prospect at camp—John Quenneville. The Devils then started to turn things around, adding the likes of Pavel Zacha and Blake Speers in 2015. The team improved as we saw the additions of Nico Hischier, Michael McLeod, and Jesper Bratt. The Devils are now coming off their first playoff appearance in years, and their development camp is looking more promising than it has in quite some time.
When watching the final scrimmage, it seemed like both teams were struggling to find scoring chances. This wasn’t because the Devils prospect pool is devoid of talent (it is actually the opposite), but because everyone was playing so good. The Devils have targeted guys who exhibit some high-end skill so the talent level is through the roof. It is hard for good players to score on other good players. It was a pretty tightly-contested game but here are a few prospects who were able to stand out.
Ty Smith…The hat trick was nice, don’t get me wrong, but that isn’t what really caught my eye. Smith is just the perfect defenseman for the modern NHL. Nobody on the ice handled the puck as well as Smith. The way he moves the puck under pressure and controls the play is just amazing to watch. Once he has control of the puck in his own zone, it is almost a guarantee he is going to move it up ice and facilitate an offensive rush—whether it is with his skating or vision. Smith is going to earn himself a long look at training camp and with the Devils’ lack of left-handed defensemen, it wouldn’t be insane to suggest he maybe gets his nine games.
Brett Seney…When I was going through the Devils prospects looking for guys who had a shot at making the Devils I glanced over Seney’s name. I never really thought of him as a possibility. Watching him play at camp has made me a full-blown believer. Seney is exactly the type of player the Devils love. His game can be described in three words: fast, attacking, supportive. When Seney has the puck, he is too fast and agile for defenders to keep up. Some of that is him playing against other teenagers, but his speed is at least on par with McLeod—if not better. I would even go as far to say Seney could be the fastest prospect the Devils currently have. Seney could do significant damage on the Devils third line if given the opportunity. If he doesn’t make the team, he is going to tear up the AHL next season.
Nathan Bastian…I have been anti-Bastian since the moment the Devils picked him over Jonathan Dahlen. That being said, he looked like a different player on Saturday. He has completely overhauled his skating and was flying up and down the ice. Bastian used his size to bully players as well as protect the puck. He and McLeod created offense every time they were on the ice. Bastian will never be a star in the NHL, but he is definitely an NHL-quality player, something I was doubting at this time last year.
Michael McLeod…McLeod did exactly what he needed to do on Saturday—dominate. He would demand the puck in the defensive zone and then fly up the ice. For McLeod, zone entries are as easy as just walking down the street. He had so much confidence with the puck and didn’t make many mistakes. On the broadcast they said that McLeod had added a lot of muscle in the offseason and I think that is the main reason for his added confidence. He could no longer be pushed around when he was playing the puck along the boards. He was doing the pushing this year. If these traits translate to the NHL McLeod will be an absolute nightmare for opposing teams to deal with.