Prospects Challenge: Standouts and Strugglers

Last weekend, the New Jersey Devils sent their best and brightest prospects to Buffalo, New York for the second annual Prospects Challenge tournament. The Devils had better fortunes this time around, going 1-1-0 against the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruin squads. New Jersey defeated the Sabres 6-3 on Saturday before falling short to the Bruins 4-3 on Sunday. This year’s roster featured some of the organization’s top prospects like Pavel Zacha, John Quenneville, and Steven Santini, while strongly representing the 2016 draft class with players like Mike McLeod, Nathan Bastian, and Brandon Gignac. Goalies Ken Appleby, Mackenzie Blackwood, and Evan Cormier played two periods apiece. Each net minder received around the same number of shots, while showing a great deal of promise moving forward. Like all three teams that participated in last weekend’s festivities, the Devils had those select players that particularly stood out from their elevated level of play or lack thereof. The Prospects Challenge has certainly shed some light on what to expect out of these kids with training camp around the corner.

 

Standouts

Blake Speers…Drafted by the Devils in the third round of last year’s draft, this was Speers’ second year participating in the Prospects Challenge. The speedy right wing went into last weekend following a huge 2015-2016 season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, which he led in scoring. In both contests, Speers combined for three goals and four points, two goals of which he scored against the Bruins in the event finale. The 19-year old forward has a lot of momentum behind him going into training camp, and certainly turned a lot of heads from the way he played last weekend.

Brandon Gignac (left), led the Devils in scoring at last weekend's Prospects Challenge.- thealbanydevils.com

Brandon Gignac (left), led the Devils in scoring at last weekend’s Prospects Challenge.- thealbanydevils.com

Brandon Gignac…His three goals and five points made him the Devils leading point-producer in the Prospects Challenge, and co-leader in goals scored (shared with Blake Speers). Like Speers, Gignac was a third round pick selected by the Devils in this year’s draft. The pick they used to select Gignac was acquired in a deal with the Ottawa Senators made during the first round. Gignac scored twice in the Devils win against the Sabres on Saturday, and chipped in another goal in Sunday’s loss against Boston. Gignac and Speers certainly stole the show from the more household prospect names in the Devils organization like Zacha, Santini, and Blandisi.

John Quenneville…Playing in his second Prospects Challenge, the former 2014 first round pick followed up last year’s performance with another stellar weekend. Quenneville was awarded a lot of ice time and made great use of it. He had one goal and two points in both games, during which he saw a lot of special team time as well. Quenneville is a dark horse to make the Devils roster out of training camp this year, but his second consecutive strong performance at the Prospects Challenge will certainly warrant a long look at him by the coaching staff.

 

Struggles

2015 first round pick Pavel Zacha appeared in one game at last weekend's Prospects Challenge.- Getty Images

2015 first round pick Pavel Zacha appeared in one game at last weekend’s Prospects Challenge.- Getty Images

Pavel Zacha…Making his second appearance at the Prospects Challenge, Zacha has very high expectations. Granted he recently got over health ailments that kept him off the ice for most of the spring and summer, he didn’t give Devils fans much to rant and rave about last weekend. Zacha only played in Saturday’s matchup against the Sabres, where he failed to register a point. While Zacha was certainly noticeable on the ice whenever he was out, there were instances where he struggled to finish, and seemed skittish in the corners and in front of the net. Zacha is still regarded as the organization’s top prospect, and maybe had to shake some rust off that came at the expense of his performance this weekend.

Josh Jacobs…Some might disagree with this assessment, but in terms of offensive facilitation, Jacobs came up short. Although he appeared in both contests, Jacobs registered no goals or points. He went plus one in the first matchup against the Sabres, but took a costly penalty early in the second game versus the Bruins, which resulted in them scoring a power play goal. Jacobs is largely considered a two-way defenseman that can be effective in all three zones. While he played respectably in special team situations last weekend, he didn’t show the flashes of offensive prowess that many had hoped to see out of him.

Joseph Blandisi…Out of everyone on this list, Blandisi has the best chance of making the Devils opening night roster out of training camp. Like many players, this was Blandisi’s second Prospects Challenge with the Devils. He only played in one game last weekend when the Devils defeated the Sabres. Despite the flurry of scoring, Blandisi didn’t register a point, and took a first period penalty. It was integral for ripened prospects like Blandisi to have had a good showing last weekend, especially considering his degree of NHL readiness compared to the rest of the players on this list. While his play last weekend might not have necessarily hindered his chances of making the team, they certainly didn’t do much to help.

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