The New Jersey Devils came into the 2017 Buffalo Sabres Prospect Challenge feeling pretty darn good about themselves and where they were as an organization in terms of prospect depth.
After the first game, the Devils had even more reason to be confident. They were able to hand the hometown Sabres a defeat while showcasing their shiny new toys, Nico Hischier and Will Butcher.
Following that victory, the Devils were demolished by the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins prospect teams and were left licking their wounds.
Anyone affiliated with the Devils however weren’t concerning themselves with the score, but instead focused on the positives from their three games.
All weekend long, the Devils brass were excited by what they had with their two big names, however the two prospects that really stole the show for myself and confirmed by the Devils staff, were Marian Studenic and Jesper Bratt.
GM Ray Shero took some time prior to leaving for New Jersey Monday afternoon to discuss the Devils prospects and the challenge of playing in these rookie tournaments.
Who has impressed you at this tournament?
Ray Shero: Um….
For your team.
RS: Oh! (looks at scoreboard it says 8-3), oh god. I thought Jesper Bratt has been great for us. Studenic has played really well for us. I could say Hischier for the two games but that’s obvious, same with Will Butcher, I thought he had two good games for us. Our first game was very competitive, unfortunately against Pitt not so much and in this game (9-3 Bruins win) we haven’t really had a chance.
Unfortunately it’s not Mac’s day (goalie McKenzie Blackwood) but when it comes to this and I was talking to Jason Botterill and (Boston Bruins GM) Don Sweeney about this and how all of these rookie tournaments are going on and it’s a lot of the same, you know, you see Charlie McAvoy and Charlie’s out there and he’s like what’s going out here? The puck is in the net all the time!
It’s hard to play in these things sometimes because they’re really scrambly and no systems, but there’s a lot of energy and a lot of power plays and stuff happens, but I really like playing in them and I’ve done them for a long time because this is hard. It’s only three games but it’s hard.
Everyone is getting ready for next week and I love doing these things, win or lose. I have no idea what my record is in these things I’m pretty sure I have a winning record, but, I always look back at the tournaments and think they’re fantastic and it’s nice to see the other players on the other teams and I think Buffalo has done a great job hosting it. Did anyone else play well?
Well actually, the guy I wanted to talk to you about was Studenic, I thought he was outstanding
RS: No you’re right, he’s been very good. I’ve been very happy with him today, very happy with him overall. You know, can really shoot the puck, move his feet. He’s been impressive since development camp, here and looking forward to seeing him at the big camp and I think it’s a nice story so far where a guy like him, or Bratt you know aren’t the high draft picks.
To see them doing really well, that’s what you need and again, we’ll see where it goes, but so far been very happy with him.
You talk about the draft picks in the later rounds, it feels like you guys have found a lot of talent later on, whether it’s those two, or Aarne Talvitie, Jeremy Davies, Reilly Walsh. How are you able to identify them?
RS: Out of those five guys, three of them aren’t even here darn it. We could have used them. Certainly you rely on your scouting and that’s part of it.
I like Davies, he was very impressive in his freshman year at Northeastern and really impressive at development camp this summer, but we knew when we drafted him out of the USHL that he’s an offensive player and we knew he was going to Northeastern and was going to play for Jim Madigan and he was going to be three four years (from the time he was drafted) or even Walsh, he’s going to Harvard so you’ve got time with these guys and you’re looking for skill later on and we’re real happy because we’ve found the things we’re looking for.
This year we had eleven draft picks, last year we had 10 (it was eleven and nine) and with that many picks, you have a better chance with these guys. For me, I think it was the first year ever where I had three seventh round draft picks and we think we may have even found something there.
I mean, you always think you’ve found something, but depth wise, you’re trying to use that to get more competitive and to do that you need talent and in this league it’s hard to buy it, so, you have to rely on the draft and the more picks you have the more you have a chance to do that.
The last two drafts in particular we’ve had a real opportunity to do that with 20 draft picks over the last two years so that and Paul Castron and his staff have done a very good job trying to replenish the system
You need young players in the lineup, obviously Nico Hischier is going to be part of it, probably Will Butcher. What impresses you most about these young players who are able to come in now. Let’s face it, Matthews, McDavid, Laine, these are extraordinary athletes, but what are your thoughts on these young players that are able to contribute that much sooner than in the past?
RS: They’re so much more ready than they were 10-15 years ago in terms of training and in terms of skill development, their nutritionists all that stuff. These kids are so far ahead of where they were and that’s why they are able to play at 18. People say it’s because of the salary cap, but really, if you’re good, you’re good.
No one is going to keep a guy just because it’s an entry level contract, you don’t want to ruin a player. You see these guys coming in at a young age and they’re ready for it because some of these kids, lets be honest, Austin Matthews he goes through the US program, playing against college age players, playing against men, he goes to Switzerland and plays there against men for one year, he’s ready. Laine played against men in the Finnish League. There are other guys that played 18/19 years old because they’re ready and very much ahead of where they were 10-15 years ago, off ice training and so forth.
It’s great for the league and it’s nice, but those guys are good players usually.