This week the New Jersey Devil’s prospects descended upon the Barnabas Health Hockey House to take part in development camp. With 9 new players coming in from the 2016 draft class and a couple try out players there were plenty of new faces trying to prove their worth to the organization. The Devils are quickly putting together one of the best farm systems in hockey and most of the credit for that goes to Ray Shero and his scouting department. They have built this program basically from nothing. The new emphasis on speed and skill is apparent in the play of these prospects at this camp.
The best player at this camp is Michael McLeod. No questions asked. Seeing him dominate play in the 3 on 3 tournament was very refreshing after the mixed reviews he got out of the draft. He lead his team to the final and won the championship with a shootout goal. His speed is electric as with two to three strides he is past the defense and is gone. He showed off his skill as well with a couple fine dekes and moves. At this point McLeod might be the best prospect in the Devils system.
Yet when people think of the best prospect they tend to think of Pavel Zacha. Zacha will not skate at camp due to an injury. It is a little disappointing to see Zacha battling yet another injury. Zacha is trending in the right direction after 2 seasons in the OHL but many expect more from the former 6th overall pick.
The big question that needed to be answered at this camp was where does the Devil’s prospect pool stand in regards to defensive depth? With the departure of Adam Larsson a sizable hole in the organization was created. Seemingly the next man up was Damon Severson. While he has shown flashes of greatness Severson has never held a top pairing role for the whole season like Larsson did. He is also not nearly as defensively refined as Larsson. Yet he has grown out of this camp so what this means is there is a spot open for one of our young defensemen.
Steve Santini is a seasoned defenseman. He spent the better part of 3 seasons defensively backing one of the best teams in college hockey. He also made his NHL debut in the last game of the season last year. He did not look overwhelmed and showed off the physical aspect of the game he brings to the table. At camp he has shown some leadership as he is one of the older players returning. Part or all of the season in Albany would probably help him adapt to pro hockey but if he can prove himself in camp theres a good chance he is on the Devils opening night roster.
Yohann Auvitu is also battling for a spot on the NHL team. Auvitu had a strong season in the SM-Liiga last season scoring 21 points in the regular season and adding 13 more in 18 postseason games. He was brought in due to his offensive prowess as he also led the whole league in goals by defensemen. He also won the Pekka Rautakallio award for best defenseman. Outside of Severson the Devils don’t have a lot of defenseman who contribute routinely on offense. Auvitu would be a welcome addition if he can translate his offensive skills to the North American ice. Him and Santini seem to be the front runners to win a spot on the big club.
A later round forward pick who has looked exceptional through camp is Brandon Gignac. A center from the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL, Gignac has shown the skill and speed he brings to the table. Coming off a productive year in the Q where he scored 61 points in 67 games Gignac’s best abilities are his hands and skating. This has shown in the 3 on 3 tournament where, like McLeod, he was able to take the puck and dominate the other team and score. He stood out the most besides McLeod on the ice.