Camp was an interesting one for the Devils, a bit more than their 3-5 preseason record would suggest. There were some surprising outcomes in position battles both up front and on the blueline with a couple of unexpected breakouts. While players had to go through waivers by this afternoon to be off rosters before the deadline tomorrow afternoon, that certainly doesn’t mean rosters are final before the Devils’ season opener in Florida on Thursday. It just means teams have to have a cap-compliant roster.
Perhaps the only predictable outcome was in goal, where Keith Kinkaid‘s experience beat out Scott Wedgewood‘s youth for the backup job behind Cory Schneider, and as such Wedgewood was put on waivers this afternoon. Either he’ll be in Albany to start the season or with another team, though I find it unlikely he’ll be claimed you never know considering he’s still only 24 years old, a former third-round pick and did well in his limited time last season after a plus season in the AHL. While camp tryout Anders Lindback is still hanging out on a PTO, it’s likely he’s only AHL insurance if Wedgewood gets claimed.
Defensively the Devils underwent some changes in camp with the signing of ex-Red Wing (and NJ native) Kyle Quincey on a one-year deal to give the D another established vet to help smooth things out. Quincey’s signing proved doubly important with the injury to Jon Merrill, on IR to begin the season after a broken finger resulted from a blocked shot in the preseason. However, the D’s also been bolstered by the most surprising breakout of camp – French native and Finnish league import Yohann Auvitu – picture above. Auvitu opened fans’ eyes with a three-assist performance in the team’s 5-4 preseason win over the Rangers at the Rock, and from the few highlights I saw, he certainly appears to be a dynamic puck-mover that we could definitely use on the blueline. Coach John Hynes has certainly taken notice:
“If you take his two greatest strengths – offensive instincts and skating – they’ve been factors,” Hynes said. “He’s good on the power play. He breaks pucks out of the zone. He joins the rush. He led the team in points in the preseason. He’s stronger defensively. He understands the system, seeing how the game is different from the European game. In that aspect, we’ve seen steady growth.”
Not only does it appear that the 27-year old Auvitu (pronounced OV2) has made the team as one of eight defensemen remaining, but he also may well have won a spot in the starting six. With Quincey, captain Andy Greene, FA signing Ben Lovejoy plus holdovers Damon Severson and John Moore seemingly five of the top six, it appears to be down to Auvitu and fellow rookie – though a much younger one – Steve Santini for the last spot in the Opening Night lineup unless Quincey’s lower body injury lingers or coach Hynes throws another surprise at us on Thursday. With Lovejoy and Quincey still getting acclimated, and Severson, Moore, Santini and Auvitu all still on the youthful side of the ledger, the D will continue to be a work in progress.
Up front there were fewer surprises but still a couple of intruiging players remain – 2015 third-rounder Blake Speers, who’s still 19 but precocious with his ability to play a two-way game among the things that’s impressed the staff. Speers had 74 points in 68 OHL games last year, and may make the jump all the way to the NHL for at least the nine-game tryout junior players get permitted before the team has to decide whether to send them back to juniors or keep them.
“When you see him, he’s an impact everyday. His hockey smarts and instincts are excellent, he has speed, he has compete, and he has strong puck skills, and we feel like we can use him, up the lineup, down the lineup, wing, power play, penalty kill.”
Another younger player that’s impressed has been recent college import Miles Wood, just 21 himself, who’s also impressed enough to stay through this point, not only with his play through camp but also in his one-game cameo at the end of last season. Wood could be sent back to the AHL still, with at least one roster cut remaining before Thursday night (perhaps more if the Devils claim/trade for another player) since the team’s currently carrying 14 forwards and eight defensemen.
While the younger players are making noise, there’s still no word yet on what will become of franchise icon Patrik Elias, who’s not ready to skate or make a decision on his future just yet. Hopefully even in a younger, faster NHL there’s still a place for my favorite Devil, but his body might not cooperate once he gets past his offseason surgery. With or without Elias, hope and optomism of a new day is certainly in the air…of course that’s the case for just about everyone before the games start for real.