Devils Prospects Honored in Various Leagues

The Devils website today released a list of Devils prospects who have been honored by their various major junior and college hockey leagues.

In the Ontario Hockey League, “Devils prospects finished in the top three of seven different categories in the 2015-16 OHL’s Coaches Poll, which recognizes players in 20 different skill categories within their own conference.”

Sarnia Sting superstar Pavel Zacha was named Best Penalty Killer in the OHL’s Western Conference. He was also second in Hardest Shot. Zacha’s Sarnia teammate Josh Jacobs tied for second in the Hardest Worker category with Jonah Gadjovich of the Owen Sound Attack.

Barrie Colts goalie Mackenzie Blackwood was voted Best Puck-Handling Goalie, tied with Alex Nedeljkovic of the Niagara IceDogs for first place in that category in the Eastern Conference. Blackwood also finished second in the Best Shootout Goalie category.

Blake Speers of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds was voted third for Best Stickhandler in the Western Conference, he tied at that position with Jeremy Bracco of the Kitchener Rangers. Fellow Devils prospect Colton White, also of the Soo Greyhounds, tied for third in Best Defensive Defenseman category with Chris Martenet of the London Knights.

Congratulations to all the Devils prospects who ranked in the coach’s poll in the OHL.

Moving over to the NCAA, Steven Santini of Boston College was named the Best Defensive Defenseman in Hockey East. Congratulations to Santini for receiving this honor from Hockey East.

The Devils future looks to be in good hands, as some of these categories really stand out. Zacha is being tagged as a future superstar in the NHL and to see that he is disciplined enough to be a top penalty killer in the OHL is very encouraging. His hardest shot voting goes along with his 58 points that is second on the Sting (he has 28 goals and 30 assists). According to the Devils’ press release, he also has 10 power play goals.

Blackwood seems to be following in the Martin Brodeur mold with his puck handling ability. Add to that that he is tied for first in the OHL in save percentage (.922), fourth in shutouts (3) and fifth in wins (27) and fifth in goals against average (2.68) and you have a really well rounded goaltender. In a recent interview with Deb Placey on an MSG broadcast, Devils Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald said that Blackwood could easily challenge Keith Kinkaid for the backup spot behind Cory Schneider as early as next season. That is how highly the Devils brass thinks of Blackwood.

Santini, in becoming the seventh Boston College player to be named Best Defensive Defenseman in Hockey East conference history, had 17 points on the season according to the Devils’ website and a plus-23 rating. One of the most telling stats for him is that he had 50 blocked shots in 37 games.

2015 Draft Good to Devils

After drafting Pavel Zacha in the first round in Sunrise, Florida at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, most Devils fans were happy. But General Manager Ray Shero was not done there. Of course there would be six more rounds to go and the Devils still had five or six more picks left. By the end of the second day, the Devils would have three more Draft picks and another new addition via a trade.

In the second round, 42nd overall, the team took goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood of the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts. The six-foot four-inch 215 pound native of Thunder Bay, Ontario is eighteen years-old and “takes a calm and relaxed approach and has excellent positional play. He has a butterfly style with great low net coverage and controlled lateral movements” according to Al Jensen of the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau. He went 33-14-2 last season for Barrie with a 3.09 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. He also posted two shutouts. He compares his game best to a Pekka Rinne or a Mike Smith, although his favorite NHL goalie is Carey Price.

In the third round, New Jersey took center Blake Speers 67th overall. Speers is a five-foot eleven-inch, 180 pound eighteen year-old who played last season for his hometown Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. In 2014-15, he had 24 goals and 43 assists for a total of 67 points which included a 13 points in the first seven games of the season, in which he scored 4 goals and 9 assists. Speers’ favorite NHL team is the Blackhawks, according to his Draft profile and his favorite NHL player is Patrick Kane.

In Round four, the Devils also went to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for their 97th pick overall: Colton White. The 6 foot, 180 pound eighteen year-old London, Ontario native is a left-handed shooting defenseman. According to the Devils’ website, White was the latest defenseman drafted by the Devils since they took Alexander Mikhailishin at 155th overall in 2004. White had 6 goals and 16 assists for 22 points last OHL season in 67 games. He was also a plus-38 for the team.

For their final pick (6th round, 157th overall), the Devils went to the NCAA college ranks when they took Merrimack left wing Brett Seney. At five-foot, nine-inches and 155 pounds, the nineteen year-old London, Ontario native is the smallest player taken by the Devils in this year’s Draft. According to the Devils website, Seney is the first player the Devils have ever drafted from Merrimack College. The left-handed shot had 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points last season to go with 55 penalty minutes in 34 games. Seney, who was named Hockey East Rookie of the Week for the week ending January 19, led Merrimack in points and assists. He also led the Warriors with a plus-3 rating. He just completed his freshman year at the North Andover, Massachusetts-based school.

In between all of that, the Devils sent one of their second round picks (they had an extra second rounder thanks to the Jaromir Jagr trade with Florida last year) and a third round pick in the 2016 Draft to the Anaheim Ducks for Montvale, New Jersey native Kyle Palmieri.

According to Dan Rosen of NHL.com, the team was looking for “a young forward with NHL experience who could fit into the up-tempo style that coach John Hynes wants to play” and Palmieri fit the bill exactly. He is 24 years-old and had 29 points in 57 games for Anaheim last season.

The concern in Anaheim, as Ducks GM Bob Murray told Rosen, was that Palmieri would have to be given a bigger contract after 2015-16. The Ducks have Ryan Kesler coming up as an unrestricted free agent next year and Rickard Rakell, Jiri Sekac, Sami Vatanen, Simon Despres, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Frederik Andersen and John Gibson all as restricted free agents. Palmieri would also be a restricted free agent.

He played most of last season with different linemates up and down the lineup, including time with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Kesler according to Rosen. But Devils GM Ray Shero feels that that shows he can play with different players in different situations. It also helps that he played for new Devils coach John Hynes with the United States National Team Development Program between 2007 and 2009.

But the main draw for Shero was Palmieri’s age and that “he plays with speed and can really shoot a puck.” The Devils also feel his contract situation is the perfect fit for the team right now. His current contract carries a salary cap hit of $1.47 million, as Rosen quoted from war-on-ice.com.

The picks the Devils made in the Draft helped the team plug some holes in their future. The Palmieri deal only made things better for the Devils at the 2015 Draft. As Shero reiterates a few times in the Rosen article, Palmieri is a young, speedy forward who can shoot the puck and who has a decent contract. Overall, he should be a great fit for the Devils for next year and, should things work out, for a few years to come.