With the preseason set to conclude after this weekend, we’re getting a clearer vision of what the Devils roster will look like to start the season. The initial rounds of cuts saw some of the organization’s top prospects like Mike McLeod, Nathan Bastian, John Quenneville, and Josh Jacobs sent to CHL or down to Albany, most of which were expected. The Devils still have a decent amount of youngsters in the mix, most whose names are familiar with fans like Reid Boucher, Joseph Blandisi, and Pavel Zacha. Among the group of Devils prospects who’ve made it this far and flown under the radar in the process are right wingers Blake Speers and Nick Lappin.
Lappin (23), is an undrafted right wing who the Devils signed out of college. He spent the last four years playing for Brown University, and has several previous seasons where he played in the USHL. Blake Speers (19), was drafted by the Devils drafted in the third round (67th overall) of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He completed his third OHL year with the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, who he led in scoring (74 points) last season. Speers recently signed an entry-level deal with the Devils at the beginning of training camp, after appearing in his second Prospects Challenge tournament.
Both players had wind behind their sails going into training camp. Speers made a strong case for himself at the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo, where he co-led the Devils prospects in goals (three), and was second on the team in points (four) over the two-game tournament. After he was signed last spring, Lappin joined the Albany Devils for their playoff run, and made an immediate impact. He tallied three goals and seven points in 12 regular season contests before getting five goals and seven points 11 postseason games. He played a significant role in the Devils playoff run, and was one of five players on the team with seven or more points.
It’s a known fact the Devils need to vastly improve their offense if they want to compete with the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. They’ve undoubtedly made considerable strides in that department, but still have some glaring holes, namely their depth on the right side. Even at this point so close to the regular season, it seems like Coach Hynes is still evaluating all options on the right wing slot of his top line with Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique. Both Lappin and Speers have played top-nine roles in game scenarios throughout the preseason that included time on special teams and brief trials on the Hall-Henrique unit. It’s all the more encouraging how both players have effectively utilized their playing time this preseason. In four contest appearances, Lappin had two goals and three points. Although Speers only registered an assist, he was regularly used on the second and third line (with some fourth line time) in the five exhibition games he played in.
The way the final roster is shaping out however, it appears Lappin and Speers are destined to respectively start the 2016-2017 season in the CHL and AHL. It’s not to say they didn’t get this far into training camp for nothing, because the long look they were given by Coach Hynes and his staff is a strong indicator to how far they’ve truly come along in their development. It’s also a strong testament to the revitalization of New Jersey’s prospect pool, namely how the organization has replenished their depth up front. With the apparent shortcomings the Devils might enter the season with on the right side, Lappin and Speers have become two important pieces coming up in the Devils prospect pipeline. While most of the Devils fan base and media has primarily focused on the progress of the more household prospects like Boucher, Zacha, and Blandisi, the efforts that Speers and Lappin displayed this preseason have gone to show that both players could be fulltime NHLers with the Devils a lot sooner than expected.