Newark, N.J. — New Jersey Devils Head Coach Lindy Ruff has enjoyed the pace of his teams scrimmages thus far. The Devils know the expectations have been set higher this year, resulting in a more intense training camp. New Jersey’s Group B victory over Group A certainly pushed the pace that much further.
“These last two days of scrimmages, I found the speed in the scrimmage has been great,” Ruff explained Sunday afternoon. “Some of the veteran players showed out. I think some of the young guys showed up with their speed. The compete in all scrimmages was ramped up from day one. I think it just took really took a day to get into it.”
Group C hit the ice early and received the rest of the day off on Sunday. Group A & B were set to face off later in the morning. Let’s take a look at three takeaways.
Kevin Bahl has big shoes to fill. Whether he plays on the second or third pair doesn’t matter too much. He’s expected to replace what Ryan Graves provided.
Thus far, a few scrimmages have revealed Bahl looks a little bit faster in both body and mind. The 23-year-old defenseman’s feet are moving quicker both forward and backward. As a result, Bahl’s decision-making looks up to par, too.
Bahl was paired with newcomer Cal Foote or Colin Miller on Sunday. Once or twice while Foote got caught pinching, Bahl did a good job closing gaps and helping retrieve the puck from the opposition. In the offensive zone, Bahl has been unafraid to step up in the play, receive passes at the top of the circles, and get shots on net for scoring chances. He’s even done an excellent job handling the puck down low in the offensive zone and distributing.
“He’s one guy that confidence is a big deal,” Ruff explained. “Can you build confidence from just getting better from year to year? I think last year was a big year for that. I think he knows when he can get involved offensively. He knows he has to play well defensively. There’s parts of that scrimmage where you really notice his puck handling and there’s parts where he’s been mature enough just to move the puck and be that fourth guy to get involved.”
Bahl has been adamant about not being complacent in his status as an everyday NHLer and is proving that by continuing to show growth in his game on the ice.
Brendan Smith is Behind a Step
Brendan Smith believes he still has something to offer in the NHL.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Smith said at the end of last season. “I’m just going to continue to do what I’ve done in the last previous years and just get myself ready and prepared for the season. I liked my year. I was I was happy with how I played. You get what you get with me it’s, pretty simple. And I’m not going to change that I just kind of bring it every day and hopefully next year I’ll be as good and maybe better. But, that’s the interesting question. Something that I’ll try to work on in the summer is to keep getting stronger and be prepared.”
As of now, he’s projected to be the Devils’ seventh defenseman. He plays an important role on the bench and in the locker room as a vocal leader. However, it hasn’t exactly been a strong week for the veteran. Smith looks like he’s a bit of a step behind and visibly frustrated about it.
On more than one occasion, Smith has allowed a puck carrier behind him, has had passes intercepted when trying to leave the defensive zone, and hasn’t won many of his puck battles.
He did take advantage of Isaac Poulter, scoring on the screened goaltender. However, if Smith wants to play a little more than he did last season and in the playoffs, he’ll need to have a strong preseason.
All Systems Go for Luke Hughes
Whatever was nagging Luke Hughes is evidently behind him. He skated as a full participant on Saturday and participated in his first scrimmage on Sunday.
“I thought overall he got through and felt good,” Ruff explained. “I really noticed his skating out there. Overall, it was a good day for him.”
The 20-year-old defenseman remains paired with John Marino. Hughes is the puck carrier between the two and has done a decent job in doing so. He’s had no problem retrieving pucks in the defensive end, slowing the play down, and starting breakouts with his first pass out of the zone.
He hadn’t done anything flashy like his brother Jack , until Sunday’s overtime. During 3v3’s, Luke handled the puck skating it over Group A’s blueline, created space, found Nico Hischier open at the right circle, and lasered a pass for the OT goal. All the little things have been there, too. He’s positionally sound, gets sticks on pucks, and limits opposition to perimeter chances.
It’s easy to forget he’s only 20 years old.
- Eric Haula did not practice on Sunday receiving an “off day.” Ruff confirmed he will play in one of the split-squad games on Monday.