BUFFALO — For the second straight season the New Jersey Devils young guns are participating in a rookie tournament ahead of the start of the 2016-17 season. A group of first and second year players along with recent draft picks and tryouts have arrived in Buffalo for the 2016 Prospect Challenge.
The Devils will play two games: Saturday at 7 pm against the Buffalo Sabres and Sunday at 7 pm against the Boston Bruins. Both games will be played at Harborcenter – Buffalo’s practice facility.
Albany Devils Head Coach Rick Kowalsky and Assistant Coach Sergei Brylin will be behind the bench. Management, development staff and scouting staff will be absorbing it all from above the playing surface.
“The word ‘compete’ has certainly been used enough within the last year and I think that is the biggest message that we’ve given to these kids: we want to see them compete,” Kowalsky said. “We haven’t put a lot of systems in place. It’s pretty basic stuff and we don’t want them to overthink. We want them to go out and play their game and see what type of players they are.”
It’s easy to tag New Jersey’s recent draft picks as “players to watch.” John Quenneville, Pavel Zacha and Michael McLeod — the Devils last three first round draft picks — are participating. However, there are nine players who played with Albany last season. With a full offseason to recharge and improve, it will be interesting to see how the summer months have effected development.
Blake Pietila, who had 17 points with Albany last season, is one of the oldest players on the Devils’ Prospect Challenge roster. He turns 24 in February and falls into the category of players with professional experience (58 AHL games and seven NHL contests). His play this weekend will allow him to start making a case as to why he should be on New Jersey’s roster come Oct. 13.
“I’m glad I was able to come here this year and get a game or two under my belt before training camp starts,” Pietila said. “I think that will help a lot.”
For other players like Kevin Rooney, who signed an AHL contract this offseason, the trip to Buffalo is part of an acclimation process. He is placed in the category of players who recently turned pro and need to adjust to a new lifestyle and the demands of a seven-plus month schedule
“I just want to have fun and go out there and do what I do,” Rooney said. “I think the biggest thing is just having fun with it and I’m not trying to do anything crazy. I’m not trying to do anything outside of my game. I’m trying to stick to my game and have fun with the weekend.”
The team held a 12:30 pm practice Friday to prepare for the back-to-back games, which mark the beginning of hockey season for everyone involved. Next week the majority of these players will be back at Prudential Center for the start of Training Camp.