Next year the Devils will continue their transition period. With older player like Ruutu, Tlusty, and potentially Elias on their way out, more spots are opening up for the Devils prospects. Next year, it will certainly be important for Reid Boucher and Joseph Blandisi to improve on the stellar campaigns they had this year; but just as important to create opportunities for new blood to jump into the lineup. Out of the Devil’s replenishing pool of rising prospects, here are 3 of my most likely players to play their rookie season next year.
Out of the three I’ve chosen, Pavel Zacha has the best chance of making the team out of training camp. A former 6th overall pick, Zacha is the Devil’s best forward prospect and is expected to become an elite scorer. Zacha made his NHL debut in this season’s last game, and immediately made an impact by registering a pair of assists. Zacha would then be sent to assist the Albany Devils in their run for the Calder Cup, and has continued his hot streak with 5 points in as many AHL games. Zacha is physically ready to compete in the NHL, and has the speed and skill to play at that level. His shot is superb along with his skating ability. Zacha’s main shortcomings are his lack of experience on North American ice, and his lackluster rookie season (2014-2015) in the OHL, which was limited due to injury and suspension. Pavel Zacha, barring a disastrous preseason, should more than likely be a lock for the Devil’s opening night roster.
Steve Santini chose to forgo his senior year at Boston College and join the Devils this spring. He, like Zacha, made his debut in the final contest of the season against the Leafs, and immediately showed what he was about: Physicality. In one of his first shifts, he laid a heavy hit on a Maple Leaf forward (knocking him out of the game) and was issued a roughing call. Not since Anton Volchenkov have the Devils had an intimidating force on the blue line. Santini is an excellent skater and is coming off winning Best Defensive Defenseman in Hockey East (NCAA). Santini can best be described as a smart player with the puck and remains calm while he’s in control of it with his stick. There may be a bit of a learning curve as he adjusts to the NHL level so he might begin the season in Albany. Don’t expect it to be a long stay as Santini is very close to becoming a force on the Devils blue line for years to come.
One prospect who has yet to make the jump to pro but who could make the jump straight to the NHL next year is John Quenneville. Playing with the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL, Quenneville has enjoyed a very successful year. Finishing the season with 73 pts in 57 games, Quenneville was an offensive catalyst for the Wheat Kings. He also represented his country at the 2016 World Juniors with Canada. The most common NHL comparable to Quenneville is Adam Henrique and what team doesn’t want an Adam Henrique-type player? Quenneville plays a very solid two-way game and adds an upside of speed and skill. He will definitely need some polish in the AHL but expect Quenneville to be one of the first call ups next year if he doesn’t make the team out of training camp.