After an eventful summer of significant roster and personnel changes for the New Jersey Devils, the lengthy offseason is finally drawing to a close.
This weekend, we’ll get an early look at the organization’s youth crop. A team comprised of their young up and comers will travel to the Queen City to participate in the first Prospect Challenge tournament, hosted by the Buffalo Sabres. The three-team event will also feature the Boston Bruins, and will be played in a round robin format, where every team will play each other once. While the upcoming Prospect Challenge isn’t as recognized as the Traverse City tournament, it’s established a solid foundation, and should only grow in the coming years.
For Devils fans, seeing their team participate in an event like this is new and exciting. It’s definitely not something we would have seen during the Lou Lamoriello era.
The Devils’ roster features two goaltenders, seven defensemen, and 15 forwards. Noteworthy prospects like Reid Boucher, Pavel Zacha, John Quenneville, and Raman Hrabarenka will get to showcase their skills ahead of training camp, which gives them an opportunity to make some early impressions on the coaching staff and management.
The Devils’ first game is Saturday, September 12th against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. They wrap things up on Sunday against the Boston Bruins at the Harborcenter (a sizable venue on Lake Eerie, normally used for festivities like concerts and other shows).
Along with the opportunity the young guys have to individually showcase themselves, the whole team has an even bigger opportunity to demonstrate their worth as a prospect group, whose overall quality has been put into question in recent years. The team’s prospect core has been ranked as low as 29th or 30th, an assessment that correlates very accordingly with the lack of impactful homegrown players coming out of the organization.
With the youth movement in full swing, it’s basically implied that a few spots on the Devil’s opening night roster are reserved for some of the players participating in this weekend’s tournament. Since head coach John Hynes may be relying on players like Boucher and Hrabarenka to start the season as full time NHLers, the Prospects Challenge should give him and his staff some valuable insight on how capable these players are of being attaining these roles.
Hynes and Co. will surely be looking for the more tenured prospects to step up in the coming games this weekend, skill-wise and as leaders.
Perhaps the most highly regarded Devils prospect playing this weekend is center Pavel Zacha, the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft. Zacha is among a few Devils prospects this weekend, who will get their first taste of NHL gameplay, and are believably on the cusp of making the opening night roster.
Zacha will be in the same boat as forwards Joseph Blandisi, Blake Coleman, and defensemen Vojtech Mozik and Josh Jacobs:highly regarded youngsters who need to show they can help the Devils now in order to attain a full-time roster spot. While this weekend’s festivities won’t have the actual pace or feel of an NHL game, the readiness of the rookie hopefuls to play at the NHL level, will be indicated by how they perform.
The Devils are playing against some stiff competition this weekend. The opposing teams will feature perennial talents like Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart on the Sabres, while the Bruins have notable names in Dan Vladar and Jakub Zboril. It should be a compelling pair of games where the Devils prospects that we expect to step up awe us by their play, while others that we’re overlooking fly under the radar and take everyone by surprise.
Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the games, as we will be providing updates of major plays during both games.