After months of waiting, we’re finally in the thick of preseason hockey. The New Jersey Devils have already played a split-squad game with the Montreal Canadians and Philadelphia Flyers and a game at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers.
While many starters are focusing on improving their overall individual game, there are also players battling for starting spots. Alexander Holtz, Graeme Clark, Nolan Foote, Curtis Lazar, Tomas Nosek, Tyce Thompson, Cal Foote, Colin Miller, Simon Nemec, and Brendan Smith are all fighting to make the opening night and everyday roster.
While some players have a greater path to making the team than others, it’s evident which players need to have a standout preseason. Today, we’re going to discuss three players who have stood out and looked to have improved their game over the offseason.
Three Devils Standouts Through Beginning of Preseason
Through two games, I’ve been very impressed with his play. Bahl seems to have worked on improving his skating. For a guy as big as he is, it seems he was flying in last night’s match against the Rangers. Bahl got up ice quickly through the neutral zone before saucing a pass to Jesper Bratt which led to a goal.
Against the Flyers, Bahl played very well defensively. He finished with a 62.58 xG%, mainly matching the Sean Couturier line. Bahl played a very impressive defensive game shutting down opponents with his body.
Don’t expect Bahl to be flying through the neutral zone this year and making skill plays with the puck like we saw last night, but it’s nice to know Bahl’s offensive game has clearly improved. Bahl’s development has come a long way on both sides of the puck and he’s going to be an important asset to this 2023-24 Devils roster.
Simon Nemec –
Nemec might be the most intriguing story of the preseason. When GM Tom Fitzgerald bought in Colin Miller in the offseason, it made Nemec chances of making the opening night roster much more difficult as it seems coaches would like to see him get one more season in Utica with top ice time.
All Devils fans and the coaching staff are watching closely to see if Nemec can force his way onto this roster. I’d say it’d be a good problem to have. Through two games, Nemec looked very poised with the puck. He was attacking space to open lanes causing multiple problems in the offensive zone. Last night, Nemec got up in the play and hit Tyler Toffoli for a nice cross-ice pass to give the Devils a goal.
Through two games, we’ve now seen Nemec run both power play units and I’d say he’s looked very impressive. What sticks out most to me is rather than sitting around and waiting for something to happen, he makes it happen himself with his high hockey IQ. Look for Nemec to get many more opportunities to showcase his abilities before the preseason concludes.
It was tough to list Mercer considering such a small sample size since he didn’t play last night against the Rangers, but I was very excited to write about his play from the Canadians game. The Devils decided to use Mercer at center and boy did he showcase his versatility to play multiple positions.
What I loved to see most from Mercer was the fact he was constantly driving the puck to the net which led to two goals. Mercer seemed to mesh very well at times with Clarke and Hughes. He seemed to be having fun out there as he was making flashy skill plays all over the ice all while still taking on extra responsibility and doing the heavy lifting on the puck.
Though Mercer won’t be used at center much if at all, it’s nice to see that he can step into the center role if Lindy Ruff is forced to move the lines around due to injury.
Given such a small sample size, I expect to see more positive improvements from other players going forward through the remainder of the preseason. It’s going to be exciting to see who will make a major push to steal a roster spot on such a competitive team.