Prospects Challenge Kicks Off as Devils Fall to Sabres 6-4

Hockey season has officially started! Kind of.

The 2018 Prospects Challenge got underway tonight at HarborCenter in Buffalo as the Devils took on the Buffalo Sabres in the first game of the rookie mini preseason tournament.

The Sabres came away with the 6-4 win as they looked a little bit more physical than the Devils and threw their bodies around, taking advantage of their bigger size overall. The Devils did a good job of responding generally, especially John Quenneville, who was arguably the Devils’ most physical player.

Two other takeaways from the game that I noticed was the Devils’ ability to respond offensively, as the majority of the game would see Buffalo go up a goal and the Devils immediately tie things up. It remained that way until the third period when the Sabres finally pulled away and scored two to take the 6-4 lead that would be the final.

The other thing of note was the debut of the first overall pick in this summer’s NHL Draft: Rasmus Dahlin, who had a pair of goals and an assist. He seemed to be real deal for the Sabres and gave the Devils some fits all night.

Of a minor note was the condition of the ice. It is still hot and humid out in Buffalo and the ice was not in the best of shape.

Regardless of some of the negatives, the Devils who did stand out were Brett Seney and this year’s first round draft pick, Ty Smith. Smith, especially was praised by the Buffalo announcers who were calling the game for putting a good showing in. Seney recorded a goal in the first period, the one that tied it up at one.

Cole Coskey had the first goal of the game for the Sabres, scoring at the 17:31 mark of the first. Seney tied it at one on the power play at 18:53.

In the second period, Victor Olofsson scored at 7:02 before Nathan Bastain tied things up just over 30 seconds later.

Buffalo then jumped out to a two goal lead as Alexander Nylander scored shorthanded at 10:19 and Dahlin scored his first 59 seconds later at even strength. The Sabres crowd gave the first overall pick a standing ovation following the goal, but his night was just getting started.

The Devils would respond quickly to those two goals, as Colton White scored at 11:53 and Fabian Zetterlund scored at 12:01. Seney had the lone assist on Zetterlund’s goal, giving him two points on the night.

In the third period, the Sabres pulled away when Dahlin put them up 5-4 for his second of the night at 4:28. Dahlin would also assist on Tage Thompson’s shorthanded goal that ended the night. It was the second shorty of the night for the Sabres.

The Devils were a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill but failed to scored on any of their seven power plays.

In goal, Mackenzie Blackwood looked pretty good, making 26 saves on Buffalo’s 32 shots on goal for a .812 save percentage. Buffalo’s Jonas Johansson made 30 saves on 34 Devils shots.

The Devils next play tomorrow at 3 PM against the Pittsburgh Penguins prospects.

A Devils-Centric Recap of the World Junior Summer Showcase

The 2018 World Junior Summer Showcase ended this past Saturday with the USA being edged by Canada 6-5 and Sweden defeating Finland 5-3.

The games were played at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops, British Columbia and featured those four teams playing a series of games from July 30 to August 4.

The Devils had five players in the showcase, including Fabian Zetterlund of Sweden, newly-drafted Ty Smith of Canada, Reilly Walsh of the US, Aarne Talvitie of Finland and Eetu Pakkila of Finland. This showcase acts as a kind of warmup to the World Junior Championship, to be played this December and January in Victoria and Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Zetterlund of Sweden played in five games in the tournament, notching two goals and six penalty minutes. Those two goals placed him second on the team in goals, and tied with three other players for third in total scoring with two points.

Canada’s Smith played in all three of their games and notched two assists for two points. That tied him for second in team scoring with seven others. Note that the US and Canada had split squads with Canada having a “red” and “white” team and the US having a “white” and “blue” team in addition to their main teams. Some players got playing time on multiple teams.

Reilly Walsh of Team USA played in five games, netting an assist. The lone assist put him in second place in scoring tied with 11 other players in the short-format tournament.

As for the Finns, Talvitie was the player of the tournament for the Devils, potting four goals in five games to pace all Finnish skaters in scoring. He also had two penalty minutes. Pakkila played in four games but did not register on the scoresheet.

Overall Ty Smith was getting rave reviews from people who saw every game, as was Talvitie. We will find out more about these players as training camp gets underway next month.

The results of the tournament saw USA-Blue fall to Sweden 3-1 and USA-White defeat Finland 5-2 (Talvitie had a power play goal in this one) on July 30. July 31 had Finland get by Sweden 4-3 in a shootout (Talvitie had a goal and missed in his shootout attempt) while USA-Blue beat Canada-White 3-2 and USA-White beat Canada-Red 7-5.

The tournament proper got started on August 2 with USA defeating Sweden 5-4 (Zetterlund scored in the third period of this one for the Swedes) in overtime and Canada notching past FInland 4-3 also in OT. Talvitie scored a clutch shorthanded goal in the third period that tied things up at three, eventually forcing the overtime period.

On August 3, the US beat Finland 2-1. Here, Walsh had the primary assist on a power play goal by Grant Mismash in the second period. Also, Sweden fell to Canada 4-1. Smith had the primary assist on Alex Formenton’s goal with three seconds left in the second period.

On August 4, the final day of the tournament, Canada defeated Team USA 6-5 while Sweden took out Finland 5-3. In the Canada-USA game, Smith had the secondary assist on a first period power play goal by Nick Suzuki and Talvitie had a first period power play goal in the Finland-Sweden game.

As you can see, this is a very evenly matched series of games which bodes well for the competitive nature of the World Juniors this winter.

Devils Round Out the 2017 Draft with Ten More Picks

Day two of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, rounds two through seven, saw the Devils add ten more prospects to their pool. Let’s get down to looking at who they picked and what sources say about them.

With the 36th pick overall in the second round, the Devils took Swedish center Jesper Boqvist. Boqvist, who is 5-foot, 11-inches tall and 165-pounds, played last season for Brynas of the Swedish Hockey League. He represented Sweden in the 2016 Under-18 World Championship – where they won a silver medal and the 2015 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. His profile on NHL.com says that he had six assists in 16 games for Brynas last year and that he models his game after Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals.

With the 63rd overall pick in the third round (which the Devils acquired from Colorado in the Eric Gelinas trade), New Jersey took Swedish winger Fabian Zetterlund of Farjestad Jr. The 5-foot, 11-inch, 195-pound native of Karlstad, Sweden had two penatly minutes with Farjestad of the Swedish Hockey League in 14 games. He played the majority of last season in the Swedish Junior league where he played 40 games and had 16 goals and 20 assists for 36 points and 18 penalty minutes.

The Devils’ next pick was 81st overall in the third round (acquired from San Jose when they signed head coach Pete DeBoer). With that, they took Reilly Walsh, a defenseman from Proctor Academy out of New Hampshire. The 5-foot, 11-inch, 184-pound blueliner from Andover, New Hampshire played in four games for the USA at the 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tourament. According to his profile on NHL.com, his dad, Mike Walsh, played “in 14 games with the Islanders from 1987-89.” He has also committed to play at Harvard University in 2017-18 and plays his game in the style of Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Devils took Russian left wing Nikita Popugaev with the 98th overall pick in the fourth round. He is 6-foot, 5-inches and 219-pounds and played last season with the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League. He had a total of 29 goals and 40 assists for 69 points over 71 games split between those two teams last year in the WHL. The 18-year-old (who turns 19 this November 20) native of Moscow won a gold medal in the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. He had three goals in six games played. According to NHL.com, his favorite player (who he wears number 71 in honor of) is Evgeni Malkin.

Popugaev was one of the few players with a full, detailed scouting report on him online. NHL Central Scouting says of him: he is a “good package of size, skills and smarts – excellent vision with hockey sense to support teammates and make good choices on the play – utilized in all situations and plays the point on the power play at times – unselfish game with the puck – repsponsible two-way game – vision and thought process often a step ahead of teammates – doesn’t like to lose a battle in any situation and plays to win.”

That moved the Devils to the fifth round, where they were scheduled to pick fifth, the 129th overall pick. With that, they took Swiss goaltender Gilles Senn. He is 6-foot, 5-inches tall and weighs 191-pounds. He played last season with HC Davos of the Swiss league where he played 34 games and compiled a 2.64 goals against average and a .910 save percentage in 2000 minutes of ice time.

The Devils had another pick in the fifth round, 143rd overall, via San Jose (the Mirco Mueller trade) and they used it on Slovakian right winger Marian Studenic of the Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League. In 58 games with the Bulldogs last season, he had 18 goals, 12 assists for 30 points and 23 penalty minutes. He lists SIdney Crosby as his hockey idol on NHL.com and dreams of “winning the Stanley Cup.” A noble wish for any aspiring hockey player, to be sure.

Moving to the sixth round, the Devils took Aarne Talvitie 160th overall. The 5-foot, 10-inch, 198-pound native of Espoo, Finland played for Blues Jr. last year of the Finnish Junior league. He had 13 goals and 24 assists for 37 points and 36 penalty minutes in 46 games for them last year.

New Jersey took a Canadian for the first time this draft by selecting defenseman Jocktan Chainey 191st overall in the seventh round. He is from Asbestos, Quebec and was a teammate of Nico Hischier on the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. With Halifax last year, he had four goals and 20 assists for 24 points and 44 penalty minutes in 55 games skated in.

The Devils’ final two picks came via the Sharks and they used them both on defensemen.

They took Russian d-man Yegor Zaitsev 205th overall in the seventh round. He is a 6-foot, 180-pound native of Moscow who played 19 games for Dynamo Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League last season. He had 1 assist and ten penalty minutes in those 19 games. He played the bulk of his season with Balashikha of the Russian second tier last year, potting two goals and four assists for six points to go along with 44 penalty minutes in 24 games.

The Devils used their final pick of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft (214th overall in the seventh round) on Rogers, Minnesota-native Matthew Hellickson. He is a 6-foot, 184-pound defenseman out of the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League. He had six goals and 22 assists for 28 points and 30 penalty minutes in 52 games played for Sioux City last year.

Overall, it was a good haul for the Devils. Of course, netting Nico Hischier at first overall skews that quite a bit, but if you can get an NHL player out of any of the lower rung of picks, that will be gravy. Good luck to all of the Devils’ draftees as they set out on the next phase of their hockey careers.