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10 TAKEAWAYS: 2019 Prospects Challenge

Team Reporter Amanda Stein recaps the 2019 Sabres Prospects Challenge and gives you the Devils storylines you need to know, presented by Ticketmaster

by Amanda Stein amandacstein / NewJerseyDevils.com

BUFFALO, NY - Every year, the NHL kicks off a new season with teams participating in rookie tournaments all around the league. On September 5, the New Jersey Devils rookies and prospects boarded a bus from Prudential Center to Buffalo to participate in the Prospects Challenge with the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins. With three round-robin games, the Devils players dusted off that summer rust with a 1-2-0 record and worked their way into game-ready shape as the new season approaches.

Here are 10 Takeaways from the 2019 Prospects Challenge:

1. All eyes were on Jack Hughes as he made his debut against another NHL squad in a Devils jersey. He wasted little time scoring his first goal of the tournament in his first game. 

Tweet from @NJDevils: We could get used to this. pic.twitter.com/E3PLkBJxFT

Hughes showed off the skills that got him drafted first overall in this year's draft.

"He's a magician," Executive Vice President & Assistant General Manager Tom Fitzgerald said. "Jack showed signs of brilliance at times. And yeah, he's [learning] times to move [the puck] and when to hold on to it. That's all a learning curve for players like that."

Tweet from @amandacstein: #NJDevils and @BingDevils HC Mark Dennehy on Jack Hughes: "Hes an incredible talent. What I was impressed with was it was 6-3, were on the power play and I think it was a 5-on-3 and he asked me a question that tells me not only is he locked in but that hes a student... pic.twitter.com/izHZnsnP83

"He's going to produce a lot because of the amount of time he touches the puck," continued Fitzgerald. "His motor runs all game. I don't know how he doesn't get tired! Start of shift to end of shift, his speed was the same."

2. Speaking of first-overall picks, Buffalo's Prospects Challenge boasted its third-consecutive year of hosting the first-overall draft selection. In 2017, Nico Hischier had just been selected by New Jersey, in 2018 defenseman Rasmus Dahlin of the Sabres participated and Jack Hughes is the most recent first-overall selection to participate. 

3. While Hughes certainly draws a lot of attention, there's another player on the ice who many were excited to see. For the first time, 2017 second-round pick Jesper Boqvist has been able to attend camp. Boqvist played in all three games, twice on Hughes' wing and once centering a line with Brandon Gignac and Graeme Clarke. Through his efforts, he certainly left an impression.

"I was really impressed with Boqvist," Fitzgerald said. "He just looked very confident. I mean, he looked like, let's face it, you can pick out the NHL players for all the teams, and he's definitely an NHL player in this tournament."

Boqvist finished the three-game tournament with one goal and two assists. His three points shared the third-place lead in the tournament, also tied with teammate Colton White. 

4. Joey Anderson has been used to sporting number 49 in his first 34 games with the New Jersey Devils. That all changed the day before camp opened as he was handed a lower, number 14 to wear this season. The decision came from the team, who simply handed Anderson the jersey prior to camp and came as a bit of a surprise.

"I showed up on Wednesday and they were like 'hey, you're 14 now,'" Anderson said. "The fact that you get a lower number is cool for the moment, but now it's back to work."

Tweet from @amandacstein: #NJDevils Joey Anderson didn't know his number was going to be changed this season. He found out two days ago. "I showed up on Wednesday and they were like 'hey, you're 14 now'."He adds, "The fact that you get a lower number is cool for the moment, but now it's back to work." pic.twitter.com/3pvd0Gmd0d

Anderson wasn't the only player with a number change. Defenseman Colton White has changed to '2' for New Jersey after wearing 68 in his first three career NHL games last season. 

5. 2019 draft selection Graeme Clarke certainly stood out in all three games he played. In the first game, Clarke was positioned at left wing on the second line with Mike McLeod at center and Joey Anderson at right-wing, in the final two games he had worked his way to first-line duty and handled bigger minutes. 

"He's got a skill set about him," said Coach Mark Dennehy. "I thought he played with poise. We moved him, [Friday] night, onto the right wing from the left wing and I thought we saw a little bit of jump in his game. And so, we started him there, and I thought you were able to see his skill, especially on the power play. He's got a lot of poise for a young player."

Tweet from @NJDevils: .@gclarke_92 with the wrister pic.twitter.com/meDgfSe4sU

Clarke finished the tournament with a goal and an assist, and the moment of making an impression was not lost on the 19-year-old who plays for the Ottawa 67's of the Ontario Hockey League. 

"I think throwing on the Devils jersey and playing against different NHL organizations is definitely a really good experience and you definitely get chills when you step out there for the first time," he said. "I think now I've kind of settled in and I'm just looking forward to [Monday's game] and we'll definitely try to get the win."

6. And win they did! New Jersey posted their lone victory of the tournament in the final game, a 3-2 overtime victory against Boston.

With a 9:30 a.m. start, things got underway early and it was Ludvig Larsson who scored not only the game-tying goal with eight seconds left on the clock but also the overtime winner, making sure the bus ride back to New Jersey was a happy one.

"It's always nice to score a goal and the team get a win before we leave rookie camp here," said Larsson. 

It was especially exciting for Larsson, who learned right after the game that he has been invited to main camp starting later this week.

Tweet from @NJDevils: LUDVIG LARSSON pic.twitter.com/2BVi9gptMz

"Obviously it's a confidence boost for me as well, so now I'm just excited to get to main camp," he said.

The former Penn State centerman signed a one-year AHL contract with Binghamton in May of 2019, after joining the club on an amateur tryout in March.

7. Always with a watchful eye over the Devils prospects, Binghamton general manager and EVP/AGM of New Jersey, Tom Fitzgerald was happy to see the way the team came together throughout the five days. After the first game of the tournament, defenseman Colton White shed some light on how Fitzgerald felt about their 6-4 loss to Buffalo. Fitzgerald addressed the group after the game. 

"[Coach Dennehy] and Fitzy said: 'just unacceptable'", White shared. "It falls on everyone, like not bringing an effort that's honest and respectable, especially if it's your first game with all the Devils brass watching and it's not a good first impression."

The message was heard loud and clear, as by tournament's end, the mood had changed for Fitzgerald, who had the following to say: 

"You can see the guys getting better and better and really playing to the foundation and what we want as an organization. Brotherhood, playing hard, playing fast, and you saw that. It's tough not to get a little excited about a couple of those kids out there. That was really exciting to watch."

8. Nathan Bastian dropped the gloves twice in three games, taking on a physical role. On Monday, Bastian was sent to the box for fighting after he stepped up in defense of Hughes who was hit into the boards and subsequently into a referee.

Fitzgerald was asked post-game how he felt about Bastian fighting and whether he was 'philosophically okay with it'. 

"I was yeah," he said. "I think there was a message on Friday after the Buffalo game, we preach a certain culture and this is our expectation. These are the standards we want our players to play with, and that's a brotherhood, sticking up for one another. So, yeah, I'm okay with it."

9. Of the 27 players at the tournament, two were held out of game action. Forward Fabian Zetterlund continues to rehab from a knee injury and surgery from last season. The good news is, is that Zetterlund was able to participate in the two practice sessions held by New Jersey over the course of the tournament.

Tweet from @NJDevils: #NJDevils news: Fabian Zetterlund (recovery from Januarys right knee surgery) will practice with team but not participate in the Prospects Challenge and Nikita Okhotyuk (surgery for a right index finger fracture last week, out 6-8 weeks) will not practice or participate.

Similarly, recently drafted defenseman Nikita Okhotyuk was unable to participate due to a right index finger injury. During the off-season, Okhotyuk, who plays for the Ottaway 67s in the OHL, had to have surgery on a broken finger that will keep him off the ice for six-to-eight weeks. Okhotyuk still joined his teammates in Buffalo where he participated in all off-ice activities. 

10. Not all the happenings happened on the ice, the team made some news off it as well. On Saturday, it was announced that two members of the Hockey Operations department had been promoted. Tom Fitzgerald now holds the title of Executive Vice-President and assistant general manager of the Devils, while Dan MacKinnon assumes the role of assistant GM. MacKinnon had been New Jersey's Director of Player Personnel prior to the promotion. 

Tweet from @FriedgeHNIC: NJ facing PIT at the prospects challenge today in Buffalo promotes Tom Fitzgerald to Executive Vice-President & assistant GM; Dan MacKinnon to Senior Vice-President & assistant GM.

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