The New Jersey Devils are holding their prospect challenge starting Friday, and there are a lot of interesting names taking part in the tournament. The round-robin against the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins will show Devils fans how their prospects compare to those of their Eastern Conference rivals.
Alexander Holtz might get the most attention in this tournament. He’s on the Devils roster this season, but he needed to prove himself a little more to make it to the NHL. If he doesn’t show something really good, especially in the scoring aspect, he’s going to start the season in Utica. Dawson Mercer is an exciting prospect who might fight for a spot on the Devils’ third line. Chase Stillman was the Devils’ other 1st-round pick and fans want to see what caused Tom Fitzgerald to jump on him seemingly two rounds earlier than anyone else.
The one thing that the Devils’ new AHL affiliate is paying attention to is the goalies. The Devils revamped their goalie situation in the minors. Last season, they had Gilles Senn, Evan Cormier, and Jeremy Brodeur playing for the majority of the season. This year, they have Scott Wedgewood, who spent most of last season in the NHL, Nico Daws, and Akira Schmid.
Those two are the future for the New Jersey Devils and Utica Comets. Cole Brady might push them when he graduates from Arizona State, and the Devils drafted yet another goalie this season when they went completely off the board to take Czech goalie Jakub Malek. Malek is a big goalie, but the consensus says he takes a lot of time to get to the pros.
So for now, we are focusing on Daws and Schmid. They both showed a lot of promise over the last two full seasons. Daws came out of the 2020 NHL Draft with a lot of hype. He was on Canada’s World Juniors roster and he led the OHL in save percentage. Last season, Daws had to change things up since his part of the OHL was shut down. He went to Germany to play in the Deutsche Liga. He ended up backing up ironically former Utica Comets goalie Michael Garteig.
Akira Schmid was dominant last season in the USHL. For the Sioux City Musketeers, Schmid had a .921 regular-season save percentage and a .920 playoff save percentage. He led the league by a pretty wide margin. The best save percentage outside of Schmid was Todd Scott who hit .910, a full 11 points behind Schmid.
The Devils goalies failed them in the strange AHL season last season. Both Cormier and Senn had a save percentage under .900. Their goals-against average was 3.40 and 3.56 respectively. The Devils’ defense on paper was improved, but on the scoresheet, it didn’t do much to help.
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The Devils need to do something with their AHL team. It hasn’t been successful in quite a while. They never made the playoffs while they were in Binghamton. They probably would have made it in 2020 if it wasn’t for the season being canceled. However, it’s time for the goalies to step up in the minor leagues. This starts this week with the prospect challenge.