The Devils finished the Prospects Challenge with a record of 1-2. All in all, for one of the NHL’s better prospect pools, this was a disappointing finish. Yet, it was not completely unexpected. The Devils have a well known deficiency on the blue line in their prospect pool. This was prevalent as the defensive core struggled to stop the opposing Boston, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh forwards from running rampant in the offensive zone. This was only made worse due to the absences of Reilly Walsh (At Harvard) and Yegor Rykov (Still in Russia), leaving Steve Santini and Will Butcher as the only potentially NHL quality prospects playing.
The goaltending also struggled, highlighted by Mackenzie Blackwood imploding in the last game by giving up 8 goals. As bad as the defense was this weekend, it isn’t an excuse for giving up 8 goals.
On a more positive note, Nico Hischier continues to be Nico Hischier. All his skills were evident in the 2 games he played. It is nearly impossible to knock him off the puck and he seems to always make the smart play. If any of his linemates could convert the chances he was giving them, he could have easily had 4+ points this weekend. He is not a player the Devils need to worry about.
Neither is the newly acquired Will Butcher, who looked a cut above his peers, carrying the puck in and routinely creating offense from the back end. His skating was not the problem it was made out to be as he was able to rush the puck up the ice with ease. Butcher was more talented than I expected, but a couple months in the AHL to get him acclimated to the pro game would do him well.
Jesper Bratt had an amazing weekend. The stickhandling and skating I heralded at the time of his draft was on full display. It is looking like he may be a bit more boom than bust. It will be interesting to watch him in the OHL this season with the London Knights.
Michael McLeod had a mixed weekend. Until a goal in the final period of the tournament, the story was McLeod’s lack of finish as he flubbed multiple scoring chances. Yet, he did all the small things you want a center to do, winning faceoffs and dominating possession down low. His signature ability to break the puck into the offensive zone was also prevalent. Whether it be rust or bad luck, McLeod routinely failed to convert his hard work into goals. The combination of this tournament and the World Junior Summer Showcase lend me to feel that McLeod would benefit from another year in Juniors. We will see if the Devils think the same.
The tournament pumped the brakes on all the praise the prospect pool was getting this summer. It brought the Devils glaring weakness, their blue line, to the forefront. The Devils are still a few years away from competing, but that is ok because it will make their return to the playoffs that much sweeter.