The New Jersey Devils’ preseason got started off on a losing note last night, as they fell to the New York Rangers 4-3 in overtime. Despite the result, they had a few prospects who helped keep the game competitive. Here are some thoughts on the most notable performances.
Ty Smith Shines in Devils Debut
The hype for Smith has been building since he was selected 17th overall at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Last night, we got to see him in game action for the first time in a Devils’ uniform. He played alongside Sami Vatanen, who figures to be on the team’s top pair once the regular season begins. He finished with two assists and logged 19:25 of ice time, the second most of the team’s defensemen.
Smith showed why the Devils hold him in high regard. He’s smart with the puck and makes good decisions in his own end. He’s a strong passer and handles pressure situations like a veteran. Smith also quarterbacked the second power play unit, where he picked up both of his assists.
The Devils threw Smith into the fire by playing alongside Vatanen, and he responded as well as possible. If someone struggles during exhibition games, it could be Smith’s job to take. His presence should only heighten that battle as the preseason continues. If he keeps performing at a high level, it could change the makeup of the Devils’ blue line.
Don’t Forget About Nick Lappin
Lappin may not be a prospect in the traditional sense. He’s 25 years old and will be 26 on Nov. 1. However, it would be unfair to write him off for an NHL roster spot. Last night, he made his case that he belongs in the same conversation as Quenneville or any other top prospect.
He scored two goals and had three individual scoring chances. He finished the night with 15:31 of ice time, including just over five minutes on the power play. Lappin has spent most of his pro career in the AHL but has shown offensive ability. He led the Binghamton Devils with 31 goals and 53 points in 2017-18.
Lappin has a couple of things working in his favor. He’s a natural right wing, a position where the Devils lack solid depth in the NHL. His offensive ability should also be of interest to the Devils’ coaching staff. He looked comfortable on the power play, where he scored both of his goals. That could give the Devils more firepower on an already strong unit.
He probably won’t be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL, but Lappin could be a pretty useful player for the team, especially if he gives them offensive depth. He also has 49 games of NHL experience. The Devils could choose to have that on their NHL roster if they feel like their lesser experienced prospects need time in the AHL.
John Quenneville off to a Good Start
If there’s a Devils’ prospect who needs a strong preseason, it’d be Quenneville. He’s been a part of the organization for four years but has yet to become an NHL regular. He was one of the team’s top performers up front last night. He finished with a goal, a fighting major, and two shots on goal.
Quenneville made conditioning a focal point of his offseason, and it showed last night. He skated well and looked much quicker than he did last preseason. He drew two minor penalties and caused problems for the Rangers most of the night.
Miles Wood has yet to sign a new contract, so there may be an opportunity for Quenneville. He won’t take an NHL roster spot away from Wood, but he could steal minutes from him when he returns to the team. It’s no secret the Devils need secondary scoring. If Quenneville continues to provide an offensive spark in the preseason, he’ll help give them the scoring depth they need to compete in a tough division.
Michael McLeod Recovers from Slow Start
McLeod got off to a slow start last night. He went mostly unnoticed through the first 40 minutes but picked up his play in the third period, where he had a nice assist on the power play. His speed was also much more noticeable as the game progressed.
He was far from terrible, but McLeod needs to be much better in the team’s remaining games to have a shot at the NHL. He’s competing with the previously mentioned Quenneville and Lappin, both of whom took a step ahead of him last night.
Even if McLeod doesn’t make the NHL roster, it may be to his benefit. He’s still only 20-years old, so there’s no need to rush him. The Devils have solid depth at center in the NHL, so it’s not a pressing need of theirs, either. Playing a top-six role in Binghamton could also help him get better acclimated to the pro level. That would help the Devils in the future rather than stunting his development at a young age.
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