Utica overcame a lack luster first period to win game one on the same night that the Devils won the second overall pick in this years draft lottery.
It may only be the AHL, but with how the last decade has gone, I will gladly welcome any Devils related playoff success. In December, I wrote a blog about AHL success not correlating to future success in the NHL, but even with that in mind I am all in on watching the Devils prospects make a run for the Calder Cup.
After a slow first period that saw the Comets muster only 5 shots on goal, and none of them particularly dangerous, they came out looking like a much more inspired hockey team in the second period. Matching their shot total from the entire first period in under 5 minutes, the Comets were pressing hard once the second period began. After Brian Flynn won the face off, Riley Walsh, the Devils third round pick in 2017, moved the puck towards the center of the ice and ripped a shot on goal. Nolan Foote and Tyce Thompson had crashed the net and hacked away at the rebound until Thompson finally put the puck in the net. Thompson battled injuries this year so he was limited to only 16 AHL games and just two NHL games in the regular season. This playoff run could be important for him to reassert himself as one of the Devils top prospects heading into training camp in September. A fourth round pick in 2019, the 22 year old Thompson is still looking to define his role as a professional hockey player after three strong seasons at Providence College.
Tyce Thompson was the only Devils prospect to score. The other goal scorers, Russo, Schmelzer, Gambardella, and Greer, are mostly career AHL players in their mid to late 20’s and are unlikely to develop further into NHL regulars at this point in their careers. However, young players that the Devils are hoping can contribute to the NHL club on a regular basis had big nights of their own. Nolan Foote and Riley Walsh each had two assists in the Comets win last night. Foote was acquired from Tampa Bay in the Blake Coleman trade and is yet to see regular time in the NHL. However, he is still only 21 years old and has made improvements to his game this season.in the 7 NHL games he played in, Foote earned 3 goals goals and 1 assist, including a two goal game against Ottawa in April. Foote is 6 foot 3 inches tall and 196 pounds and is starting to use his size to his advantage in a more physical role. The first Utica goal is a good example, where Foote was crashing the net searching for a rebound. Combining this style of play with his very good shot could make him a valuable power forward in the NHL. Riley Walsh is a 23 year old right shot defenseman that had a fantastic regular season in Utica, was arguably their best player last night, and seems ready to jump into the NHL lineup next year. With the departure of UFA PK Subban, Walsh has a golden opportunity to make the opening night roster next season if he has a strong camp.
Oh, while we are on the subject of players who can help the Devils win games in the years to come, the draft lottery was last night. The Devils entered the night with the number five selection but moved up three spots to number two overall. Prior to the lottery, much of the fan base. myself included, was all in on trading the pick for an established NHL player. However, now that the pick is second overall, I think it is unlikely that the Devils will find a trade package that is worth the selection. That means the Devils will likely end up with one of Logan Cooley, Simon Nemac, Juraj Slafkovsky or Matthew Savoie. There is also the possibility of trading back slightly in the draft so they could still draft one of these players while also acquiring more assets. It will be another interesting off season for the Devils and GM Tom Fitzgerald.