Young Blueshirts no match for experienced Flyers

The third game of the preseason was a doozy. With the Flyers going with mostly starters, the young Blueshirts were no match. They easily could’ve lost by eight or nine goals if not for a strong showing from Igor Shesterkin. He was tested often throughout in a 4-1 road defeat in Philly.

There wasn’t much good out of this one. At least there were no casualties. After a brief get together between Micheal Haley and Chris Stewart, who are both on pro tryouts, things settled down. It didn’t start out that badly for the Rangers, but by the end of the second period, Shesterkin was under siege. The Russian stopped 19 of 20 shots in a messy middle stanza that included several odd man rushes. His best save came on a three on none when he slid across to shut the door on a excellent Flyers chance.

Overall, the Flyers outshot the Blueshirts 40-19. Shesterkin finished with 36 saves in his first full start. It was baptism by fire for the top goalie prospect. He definitely passed with flying colors. The first couple of Flyer goals were deflections from James van Riemsdyk (off Jacob Trouba’s skate) and old friend Kevin Hayes. He also hit a goalpost and was dangerous shorthanded like we saw on Broadway.

Philadelphia seemed to be on a power play the whole second half. The Rangers couldn’t stay out of the penalty box. Considering the large disparity in rosters, that was expected. Especially how much the Flyers dominated territorially. It was a shooting gallery on poor Igor. To his credit, he gave it his all and did well. Blueshirt fans should be excited about the future in net.

There really wasn’t much to say. Outside of a few select players, it wasn’t much to write home about. On that list is Adam Fox, who again distinguished himself with smooth skating and smart puck management. He definitely looks as advertised.

Ryan Lindgren played for a second straight night. He again brought that physical edge that the revamped defense will need. He definitely can play his position well. He reads and reacts to the play. He will finish checks, mix it up post scrum and block shots for the good of the team. If he doesn’t start in the top six, you’re likely looking at the seventh defenseman, who should be given a fair chance by the coaching staff along with favorite Libor Hajek. Hajek has more skating ability. Neither have looked out of place.

Vitali Kravtsov was around the puck in the offensive zone. The KHL import had a strong shift behind the Flyers net to work the puck to Filip Chytil, who eventually got it back to the point for a hard low Trouba shot that Carter Hart stopped. I liked Kravtsov’s simplicity. On one rare offensive sequence, he wisely threw a tricky shot on goal through traffic that caromed out to Chytil, who was denied in tight by Hart. Kravtsov seems to put himself in the right spot. He might not make the Opening Night roster, but it shouldn’t be long before he’s a Blueshirt for good.

The top line centered by Chytil with Chris Kreider and Kravtsov didn’t generate enough. Particularly Chytil, who for a second game in a row, didn’t look as effective as Brett Howden was in preseason game one when he centered Russian combo Pavel Buchnevich and Vladislav Namestnikov. All three didn’t play. Neither did Mika Zibanejad, Kaapo Kakko or Artemi Panarin, who they’re hoping to get back into a couple of preseason games if he recovers from a mild groin strain.

Matthew Robertson made his first appearance on the back end. Wearing number 97, the 18-year old left skating defenseman that the Rangers grabbed in the second round, showed off why. Sure. There were a couple of hiccups with the kid falling on his first shift, and later getting caught in the neutral zone on the third Flyers goal put in by Carsen Twarynski. But he was put in a tough spot without any support.

Jakub Voracek scored another Flyers power play goal in the third off a nice set up. That followed a good block by a diving Lindgren. The Ranger penalty killers were unable to recover the puck.

Philadelphia created so many glorious chances that they hit a few goalposts. That’s when Shesterkin wasn’t stoning them with some very athletic saves.

Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, Hayes, Voracek, van Riemsdyk, Oskar Lindblom, Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Matt Niskanen and Robert Hagg all played for new Flyers coach Alain Vigneault, who looked comfortable taking in the action from above. Hart split duty with J.F. Berube.

Compared to the Rangers lineup that also were without Jesper Fast, Brendan Lemieux, Marc Staal and Tony DeAngelo, it wasn’t a contest. I don’t think Henrik Lundqvist or Alexandar Georgiev could’ve done any better than Shesterkin. Adam Huska backed up after only allowing one goal in relief of Henrik on Friday night.

Lias Andersson stood out due to being active during shifts both defensively and on the forecheck when it presented itself. He’s definitely more of a two-way center than Chytil, who still needs work there after getting outmuscled by Hayes on the Flyers second goal. I’ll be curious to see how coach David Quinn uses Andersson and Howden due to both having stronger camps.

Trouba and Brady Skjei paired up for the second time. They were better than the first game. Trouba showed some edge by going at it with a Flyer post whistle due to a penalty against a teammate. He has that in his game. It’ll be needed.

The Rangers now get two days off before hosting the Islanders on Tuesday. I’ll be there with the family. That should be interesting.

That’s all folks. Until next time.

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Hughes and Hall led Devils too much for Rangers

Adam Huska did a nice job in net relieving Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers in a 4-2 defeat at the Devils. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers Twitter.

It maybe only preseason. Now, we see what all the hype was all about. Making his first appearance against the big Hudson rival, number one pick Jack Hughes delighted the home crowd in Newark with a magnificent game in a Devils win over the Rangers.

The American center played with former league MVP Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri. Let’s just say the deadly combo of Hughes and Hall put on a show. Each had a goal and assist in a 4-2 win over the B Team of the Blueshirts.

If not for some outstanding goaltending from Rangers backup Adam Huska in relief of Henrik Lundqvist, it could’ve been more. Hall you may recall missed the remainder of last season from before Christmas on. He hasn’t missed a beat. Playing in a contract year, the ’17-18 Hart winner could’ve had a hat trick. But he settled for a power play goal and assist.

On the game’s opening shift, a Brett Howden pass attempt went awry to cause a clean breakaway for the Devils’ first overall pick. What Hughes did next took an awful lot of skill and patience. He faked out Lundqvist before going five-hole to electrify the Devil fans at The Rock 36 seconds in. Hall was credited with the only assist.

Hall would add a power play goal from who else but a coasting Hughes, who made a breathtaking backhand pass tape to tape for Hall to release a lethal shot high and far side on Lundqvist for a 2-0 lead.

The way he skates, it looks effortless. Hughes can go from Point A to Point B similar to the game’s best player, Connor McDavid. I’m not about to compare the 18-year old kid to the Oilers wunderkind. Hughes is smaller, but has the same game breaking speed that can drive opponents nuts. He also had other superb chances to score. On one, Lundqvist stayed with him from a sharp angle on a tough low wrist shot. On another, he made a great move on Huska, but he did a great job to close it up.

In between all the excitement for both Hughes and Hall, Blake Coleman scored for a 3-0 lead. That came off a big hit causing a turnover behind the Ranger net. He had a strong game. Coleman reminds me a bit of former Devil Cup hero John Madden. A smart checking type center who makes smart plays both defensively and offensively.

There also was a bit of edge to the rivalry with Ryan Lindgren standing up to newest Devil and former Flyer Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds and Lindgren battled all night. It added a nice element that hopefully will continue on October 17 when the Hudson rivals meet for real. Too bad it’s only four regular season meetings and not six. That’s the NHL for you.

The Rangers got one back thanks to some nice work from the trio of Brett Howden, Pavel Buchnevich and Vladislav Namestnikov. Howden was able to beat Hughes on an offensive draw. The puck came to Buchnevich for a quick shot that rebounded off Mackenzie Blackwood right to Namestnikov, who deposited it for a 3-1 deficit.

Howden had a strong game also redirecting home a Joe Morrow shot for a goal that made it a 4-2 margin late in the third period. He had excellent chemistry with Russians Buchnevich and Namestnikov. They were easily the best line for the Blueshirts, creating numerous chances that Blackwood stopped. He had a good night in net going all the way for New Jersey.

Even though they didn’t play Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin (should be ready for opening night), Chris Kreider, Kaapo Kakko, Jacob Trouba, Brady Skjei, Adam Fox, the Blueshirts responded better the rest of the way. The only mishap was Morrow getting absolutely owned by former Devils first round pick Mike McLeod on their fourth goal. He carried the puck and went outside, inside to beat Huska for the only goal he allowed.

Other impressions:

Filip Chytil was awfully quiet in his first appearance. He mostly centered Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast. I noticed the other two hard working vets more than the second-year center, who coach David Quinn is hoping can center a second line. Having Kreider and Kakko should help.

Lindgren was solid all game, playing the same hard-nosed physical style we saw when he came up last season. He definitely plays with that necessary edge most of the roster lacks. He should make the team and alternate with higher thought skating D Libor Hajek on the third pair.

Pluggers Micheal Haley, Steven Fogarty, Vinni Lettieri and Gabriel Fontaine all worked hard throughout. Fontaine being the only young player of the four who will be closely watched with the Wolf Pack in his second pro year. Lettieri hustled back to negate a Devils scoring chance. He’s an AHL caliber player who just doesn’t have the scoring touch to make it.

Huska was the story once he took over for Lundqvist, who settled in following a tough start. Huska is the overlooked young goalie, who’ll likely split time with highly rated Russian import Igor Shesterkin at Hartford. He definitely helped himself out with a strong showing.

Marc Staal also made his first appearance of the preseason. He was fine. I wonder once his contract expires if he completes the final two years if he’ll also retire like buddy Dan Girardi. Staal has always battled hard and continues to be a unquestioned leader.

Joey Keane took three minor penalties. He isn’t close to ready. Figure him to be sent down.

Devils power play had a scary look that featured Hughes, Hall, Palmieri, Simmonds and P.K. Subban. Yikes. They were dangerous connecting once on plenty of opportunities. Travis Zajac also got a great pass in the slot that he sent over the net whizzing by Huska.

McLeod scored on a nice power move, beating Morrow to the net to boost his chances of making the New Jersey roster. He and John Hayden have looked good so far. Pavel Zacha didn’t do much because he didn’t play! He’s still having visa issues. Thanks to Hasan for the hot tip.

Devils have to be pleased with how both Blackwood and Cory Schneider have looked. They each have been sharp. It could be a good tandem.

That’s all for now. The Rangers have the Flyers next. I’ll have more tomorrow.

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Jack Hughes lights up Lundqvist on first shift

AP Photo via Getty Images

We already know how good Jack Hughes is. He wanted to remind the Rangers. On the first shift of his preseason debut versus the Devils’ top rival, he announced himself to Henrik Lundqvist.

Wait until the regular season when these Hudson rivals meet. You’ll have Hughes and Kaapo Kakko battling it out all year long.

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DeAngelo finally re-signs

On the same day former Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi announced his retirement from hockey, the Blueshirts took care of a little business by finally re-signing key defenseman Tony DeAngelo.

He basically accepted the one year qualifying offer and will make $925,000 for the season. He had no choice. Honestly, his holdout was silly because it made no sense. He got bad advice from his agent. At least he is back in the fold like Brendan Lemieux. Now, both can play for a raise next summer.

Last season, DeAngelo responded to many benchings from coach David Quinn by improving his play to become a trusted member of the defense. In a year he was scratched 21 times, the former Lightning first round pick from New Jersey began to show some of the potential he’s had.

He registered new career highs in games played (61), assists (26), points (30) and plus/minus (6). His splits were good with 20 even strength points (4-16-20) and 10 power play points (all assists). He also played with a chip on his shoulder getting into a few scraps by registering 77 penalty minutes.

With DeAngelo, who’s still only 23, it’s about channeling his emotions so he can become consistent. The skating and ability is undeniable. Quinn isn’t afraid to make an example of him or other players to get his message across. That’s good for development.

DeAngelo isn’t skating today. It’ll probably be a few days before we see him get into a preseason game. Hopefully, he can get the rust out. Especially with what Adam Fox showed on Tuesday.

The good news is the right side is finally revamped. Jacob Trouba headlines it as the anchor followed by Fox and DeAngelo. They could interchange on the second and third pairs depending.

It’s definitely encouraging to have everyone re-signed and in camp unlike a few other teams, who are still scrambling to get some of the big unsigned Group II free agents re-signed.

The rebuilding Rangers can move forward. Tonight will be their second game of the preseason. It’s again the Devils, but in Newark. Here’s the projected lineup.

No Kaapo Kakko tonight. I think Jack Hughes is playing for the Devils. It’s almost as if a game is being played between both teams. They don’t want to draw much attention to exhibition. We’ll have to wait.

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True Warrior Dan Girardi retires

After 13 years, Dan Girardi called it a career today. Once undrafted, he became a fixture on the Rangers defense.

One of Glen Sather’s best signings, he developed into a shutdown defenseman who did whatever it took to help the Blueshirts win games. For 11 years, Girardi wore the Rangers jersey with pride and passion. He would frequently sacrifice his body for the cause. Whether it was a huge hit or death defying block, number 5 was a true warrior.

Imagine going from not even drafted to a key piece of those teams that went deep in the playoffs. They made three Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup appearance between 2012 and 2015. They don’t get there without Girardi, who frequently paired up with Marc Staal and then Ryan McDonagh.

The Rangers paid tribute to him in a special video tribute with praise from Henrik Lundqvist, Chris Kreider and Staal. They know what he meant.

Girardi was like having a second goalie. How many times would he lay out for the good of the team? Some of the blocks were insane. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for his teammates. It’s no wonder he became such a popular Ranger with appreciative fans, who loved the heart he played with.

It’s still hard to believe he finished his career with the Lightning. But that’s where all former Rangers seem to wind up. In Tampa at Rangers South. Ryan Callahan recently had to retire too due to injury. He was a lot like Girardi. I guess it’s just ironic. I knew this day was coming.

Staal made sure to talk further about what he admired most about his former partner. When you really think about it, that’s how it started. With 18 and 5 on the blueline. They both are warriors.

One day when Staal reaches this point in his career, Garden Faithful will feel similarly. All the criticism will go away like it did for Girardi. Deep down, these guys are revered for what they give.

The end of the old Black and Blueshirts Era is coming soon. Staal and Lundqvist are the only remaining members. Both have lasted a long time. They still have more to give. Kreider too even though I don’t think of him that way due to arriving during the Spring of 2012. He has a lot more left.

Thank you to No. 5, Dan Girardi for becoming one of my favorite players to represent this city. Enjoy your retirement.

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Roenick has a point on these risky long-term investments

Truth be told, it’s a young man’s world in the NHL. If you are a player completing your entry level contract, there’s a good chance that if you perform well or show promise, you’re gonna get paid.

For every Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman, there’s a Clayton Keller, Jakob Chychrun and Brady Skjei, who aren’t established stars. Their teams are basing it on potential.

That’s why I’m in agreement with Jeremy Roenick. When the Senators handed defenseman Thomas Chabot an eight year extension worth an average of $8 million, I gulped. It’s not that he won’t be worth it, but based off one good year in which his production dipped in the second half? Yikes.

Some contracts are wise investments such as the Canucks with Brock Boeser, giving him a reasonable three year contract for a $5.875 million AAV through 2022. That might be one of the best contracts if Boeser scores goals the way he can.

The best contract currently belongs to Nathan MacKinnon, who somehow is signed by the Avalanche thru 2023 for a bargain price tag of $6.3 million AAV. By the time he hits unrestricted status ‘if’ he does, MacKinnon could be a Stanley Cup winner and own a Hart and Conn Smythe. He’s that special.

In Boston, somehow Brad Marchand has a cap hit of $6.125 million through 2024. David Pastrnak is at an AAV of $6.66 million thru 2023. Patrice Bergeron gets $6.875 million on average over the next three years. Charlie McAvoy is a bargain over the next three years with an AAV of $4.9 million.

Some teams know how to do business. Others don’t. That is Roenick’s point. Should more players have to prove themselves before getting rewarded? Absolutely. Go look at the Coyotes roster and ask yourself if they should have more cap space. The answer is obvious. In another year, Keller will be on that cap for $7.1 million.

Did the Wild overpay a solid skating defenseman in Jared Spurgeon ($7.75 million AAV beginning in ’20-21)? You bet they did. Matt Dumba is better and gets $6 million on average over the next four years.

If you want your team to succeed in the cap era, they must manage their roster well. Risky contracts to unproven players can hinder you over the long haul.

Choose wisely.

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Devils take preseason game 4-3 over Rangers

In the first preseason game at MSG, the Rangers fell short in a entertaining 4-3 loss to the Hudson rival Devils. It was technically the Devils’ third game of exhibition with a split squad on Monday resulting in a home win on a overtime winner from top pick Jack Hughes, and a loss at Montreal.

Among the notables who took part for the Blueshirts were newcomers Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba. Igor Shesterkin also saw his first action after relieving Alexandar Georgiev. Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Brady Skjei, Lias Andersson and Boo Nieves also played. So did Libor Hajek.

On the flip side, the Devils played Nico Hischier, Miles Wood, Nikita Gusev, Jesper Bratt, Brett Seney, Damon Severson, Sami Vatanen, Ty Smith, Nathan Bastian and Cory Schneider, who got the first two periods of the game.

Goal scorers included Hischier (tip in), Mikhail Maltsev, Gusev and Seney for the Devils. Panarin tallied in his Broadway debut on a wicked one-timer on the power play, but as noted in a previous post, left the game due to a mild groin strain. The other Blueshirts who scored were Micheal Haley and Lias Andersson.

It was a rough night for Skjei and Trouba. The much discussed new Rangers top pair was awful, finishing minus-three. They were bad throughout and got victimized. In particular, the third goal from Gusev was butchered by both Trouba and Skjei following a turnover. The fourth from Seney wasn’t much better. They both were caught out of position.

Hopefully, they’ll get it sorted out. Given the state of the NYR blueline, it’s imperative that Skjei and Trouba succeed. Otherwise, all bets are off.

At least Fox showed why they are so high on him. He looked poised with the puck by making several good reads. Both in his end and on the attack, Fox was smart with the puck and did a solid job.

Libor Hajek also didn’t do anything to hurt himself. At this point, he’s on the roster barring something unforeseen.

Until Tony DeAngelo wakes up and re-signs, he’s only hurting himself. It also won’t help the team, who can use the good skating, offensive defenseman as part of a revamped right side. That spot is open for now. Maybe a Yegor Rykov claims it.

For now, your top two left D are Skjei and Marc Staal. Hajek would likely be number three in the early going. We’ll see if anyone can surprise in camp.

Georgiev got the first part of the game. Due to how poor the D was, none of the three goals he allowed was his fault. Hischier scored on a nice tip after being unchecked during a sustained forecheck.

The goal from Maltsev was a complete screw up by Brendan Smith and partner Brandon Crawley, whose blind pass put Smith in a bad spot. Maltsev abused both Smith and then Georgiev for the goal of the game.

Filthy. A perfect Trouba pass across to Panarin got the Rangers on the board. He went high bar on Schneider with a stunned Kreider looking back at him in amazement. The power play could be fun to watch if Bread Man is ready for the start of the regular season.

The Devils responded to his goal by taking advantage of a turnover and lousy coverage from Skjei and Trouba. That resulted in key Russian import Gusev finishing for a 3-1 lead.

Some hard work from former Hurricane grinder Greg McKegg resulted in him feeding a wide open Haley for a tap in that made it 3-2. McKegg is a gritty depth forward with character, who doesn’t have much skill. But just outworks opponents. I liked the signing due to what I saw with Carolina during their run. He could be plugged in on the fourth line or an extra forward. That type of experience is never bad to have around a young roster.

Seney restored the two goal lead for New Jersey by beating Shesterkin due to more bad defense from the top pair. It’s better left unsaid.

A nice effort from the combination of Kravtsov and Boo Nieves resulted in Andersson cutting it to 4-3 on a rebound past Devils replacement Evan Cormier. I liked the move by Kravtsov to throw the puck on goal from a sharp angle. It led to a rebound with Nieves getting one chance and eventually Andersson cashing his in.

Kravtsov got some time with those two and a bit with Kreider prior to Panarin leaving. He had a breakaway on Schneider, but wasn’t quite able to beat him. He’s wearing number 74 in camp.

Trailing late, Kakko had some good pressure behind the Devils net. He tried a wrap-around on his backhand. That seems to be his go to move with his strong skating. It almost tied it. He took a stick tap from Severson and limped to the bench. I don’t think it’s too serious.

Shesterkin made one very good save through traffic on a redirect and heard some, “Igor, Igor,” chants.

One Devil who helped his cause was John Hayden. Acquired from Chicago for John Quenneville, he made a couple of nice blocks. That kind of hustle is appreciated.

That’s all for now. Cya later.

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Panarin scores, but is out with mild groin strain

In the first preseason game for the Rangers against the Devils at MSG, Artemi Panarin debuted wearing his new number 10 jersey.

While the electrifying Russian scoring forward showed excellent chemistry with Mika Zibanejad and top pick Kaapo Kakko, by scoring a power play goal on a rocket of a one-timer past both Chris Kreider and Devils goalie Cory Schneider, it wasn’t all good news for the newest big name Blueshirt.

He missed the last few shifts of the second period. Apparently, Ranger fans won’t be seeing the Bread Man for a while. He’ll likely be out the remainder of the preseason due to a mild groin strain.

Undoubtedly, not the news you want to start with in the first preseason game. However, better off now than later. It is September 16. So, there is time for Panarin to recover. The Blueshirts are banking on it. $11.6 million is quite a investment on the former Blue Jacket.

Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go for the season opener at home versus Winnipeg.

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Hughes scores in preseason debut

Jack Hughes delighted the Devils fans who came out to see him at The Prudential Center. In his first preseason action, the top pick scored a goal.

Of course he did. The new face of the franchise is going to bring smiles to many who bleed red and black in Newark.

Here’s how it looked and sounded courtesy of the Devils website online broadcast as called by professional radio play by play man Matt Loughlin.

It was a power play goal with 2018 first round pick Ty Smith drawing the primary assist with a perfect dish across for the Hughes one-timer that tied the score against the Bruins.

While Hughes will certainly be on the roster as the likely number two center behind Nico Hischier, Smith is vying for a spot on the New Jersey blueline. He nearly made the roster last year after getting drafted. Smith has good potential as a puck moving defenseman with great offensive capability.

The Devils are also playing a split squad game up in Montreal. They were trailing the Canadiens 2-1 at last check. Will Butcher had the lone goal.

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Devils training camp preview

Although it’s been a busy summer for GM Ray Shero and the Devils, it’s been a long one for us fans.  Apart from the surprise Nikita Gusev trade a few weeks back, there hasn’t been much to comment on or dissect about the team from Newark.  Last weekend’s prospect challenge involving us, the Penguins, Bruins and Sabres was good for the young players involved to get more game action than even just the seven-game presesason will allow.  I can’t say that I watched a minute of any of the games though.  Maybe I will at some point this week since the Devils graciously posted the streams online.

Sounded like our kids did okay for the most part other than the horrendous beginning to the first game that had them down 6-0 to the Sabres last Friday before a furious rally late where they came up short 6-4, then the kids lost the second game against the Penguins the next day despite outshooting them by a wide margin before concluding with a dramatic third-game OT win against the Bruins on Monday when winger Ludwig Larsson not only scored, but also won himself a camp invite after that game.  That’s pretty much the extent of what I know about last weekend, but personally I’d rather see the kids play with and against the guys they’re going to have to compete with at the NHL level, and in an actual system as opposed to just a All-Star tournament type format.

In this blog I’m only going to look at camp and the young kids looking to make their mark as opposed to a full season preview, so no comments on Taylor Hall or the extension that looks like it’s going to be a regular season decision at this point.  To start with, the Devils invited 56 players to camp – none of them vet PTO’s – and most should get an opportunity this week with five games in six nights (including a split squad outing on Monday to open up the exhibition slate).

Looking at the preseason schedule it’s actually somewhat interesting in that almost all the games this week (other than the split squad road trip to Montreal) are local before next week they conclude the preseason with games at Boston and Columbus in what seems like a mini-road trip to bond the team before the season – since by then the roster should be close to pared down to the final twenty-three players, most of whom are already locked in and will just be playing games to get in shape for the regular season.

It’s hard for me admittedly to even get into the preseason proper, although unlike the NFL at least the NHL games resemble real hockey with real players making appearances, especially in the second week after the young kids usually have the run of the first week when evaluations are made.  Not to mention instead of being cut outright, most of the camp fodder who doesn’t make the roster will at least be in the minor leagues and in theory a callup away.  This preseason should be more interesting than most, however.

Sure part of that reason is seeing the new vet acquisitions in a Devil jersey for the first time – P. K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds and Gusev chief among them, not to mention Hall playing his first minutes since last December – but that only goes so far and ultimately all you want of the vets is to stay healthy until October.  Of course that’s true year round but particularly in games that don’t count, it’s always deflating to see guys get hurt then.  Even with an improved roster there is still room for kids or role players to make an impact and that’s where this preseason has some actual meaning for the Devils.

Among the kids looking to make an impact you have to start obviously with the #1 overall pick in Jack Hughes.  Though he did play two games in the prospects challenge last weekend, most of the crowd who goes to the preseason games he plays will likely be watching him for the first time in a Devils jersey.  While he’s all but certain to make the team, it’ll still be interesting to see how he performs with and against pro players for the first time.  There might even be a Hughes-Kakko preview with the two top picks in the draft meeting up at some point during one of the two Devil-Ranger preseason games next week.  If not, we should get plenty of chances to see them match up during games that count in the years ahead.

While for many fans the preseason will be in large part about getting a first look at the golden boy, the staff and diehards will be looking as much toward other potential kids that can make an impact on the 2019-20 Devils.  Technically, Mackenzie Blackwood still counts as a rookie with only 23 games played last year but realistically everyone knows after a promising beginning to his career last year that he’ll be on the big club full-time this year, the only question is whether he or star-crossed goalie Cory Schneider will get the bulk of the starts.  Early camp speculation has it being anywhere from a 50-32 to a 55-27 split, but as of yet it’s too early to say who will head that split.

All the other goalies in camp are playing to see who’ll man the net for Binghamton with 2017 5th rounder Gilles Senn and 2016 4th rounder Evan Cormier probably dueling to be the main man in net for the baby Devils.  Senn played the last few years in Switzerland while Cormier got his feet wet in the AHL with fifteen games last season.  It’s probably too early for 2018 fifth rounder Akira Schmid to go pro but he had good numbers in the USHL last year so who knows.

While our defensive lineup seems set for the most part it’ll be interesting on a couple fronts, the main one being how much will 2018 1st rounder Ty Smith play?  Big things are expected after he narrowly missed making the team straight out of the draft last fall, then lit it up in the WHL with 69 points in 57 games for Spokane.  Our ideal lineup probably has him in it, but the teen wonder is competing for a spot with other still-young defensemen themselves in Mirco Mueller and Connor Carrick.  Carrick will certainly make the team, being signed to a two-year deal this offseason after his late-season audition at the end of last year following a trade from Dallas, but his role is a bit of a question mark at this juncture.  Mueller’s role is even murkier on a one-year deal after two seasons in New Jersey full of dissapointment and untimely injuries.

Given our top five seems to be set more or less, these three are jockeying for spots #6-8 on the roster, and with the composition of the roster and all the young forwards who can be sent down to play, it’s quite possible the team keeps eight defensemen.  It’s also near likely all eight will be needed at some point.  Although it’s unlikely anyone else makes the team on defense it’s slightly noteworthy that Colton White and Matt Tennyson got low camp numbers (2 and 7, respectively), which if you read between the lines mean they could be among Binghamton’s top defensemen and the first callups if ones are needed.  While Tennyson is a vet who’s likely just AHL depth and roster filler at this point, White was a 4th round pick in 2015, just 22 himself and coming off a season where he played well for Binghamton and even debuted with the Devils late in the season.

Up front if you count Hughes, the Devils have eleven forwards that are sure to start the season on the NHL roster barring injury.  I’m not going to list them all, anyone can look at the camp roster and do the math.  Which, if my calculations are correct leave exactly two forward spots (maybe three) to earn out of camp among a group of guys including 2016 third rounder Joey Anderson who made the team last year and played thirty-four games, despite sandwiching them around a gruesome leg injury that kept him out the majority of the time.  Also the forward hopefuls include physical, gritty John Hayden who was acquired this offseason in a trade for one time first-rounder John Quenneville.  Center Kevin Rooney could be another late bloomer in the role of Blake Coleman but with the team’s depth at center he’s likely to be a fourth-liner at most.  If you were to forecast leaders in the clubhouse for spots based on uniform numbers and/or previous time spent in the NHL, Anderson, Hayden and Rooney do have numbers 14, 15, and 16 in camp.

Not that the Devils are exclusively a low-number domain anymore.  2016 second rounder Nathan Bastian looked promising in his last-season callup with three goals in seven games, while skilled but drastically undersized Brett Seney got into 51 games last year as injuries hit in the second half.  However, perhaps the most promising non-Hughes youngster up front is 20-year old Jesper Boqvist, a 2018 second round pick who did well last year playing in Sweden’s pro league as a teenager with 13 goals and 35 points in 51 games.  If any one of the aformentioned kids can take a spot in the top nine it’s Boqvist.  Others like 2016 first-rounder Michael McLeod are also fighting for a spot but he’s still probably on the outside looking in after an unimpressive pro debut last year both in the AHL and NHL.  Playmaking Brandon Gignac debuted late last year and could also compete for a spot.  I’m sure still other forwards will make their presence known throughout camp as well.  We’ll see how it all shapes out starting Monday.

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