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10 TAKEAWAYS: Camp Continues On

Amanda Stein gives her 10 Takeaways from the week, presented by Ticketmaster

by Amanda Stein amandacstein / NewJerseyDevils.com

NEWARK, NJ - The pre-season is in full swing and the Devils are inching closer to the October 4, opening night at Prudential Center. The internal competition is brewing, and the systems are beginning to be implemented. Believe it or not, we're already into the second week of the Devils pre-season, with two games coming later this week against the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets... But until then, let's take a look at the 10 Takeaways from the first week of the Devils NHL preseason.

1. It had been highly anticipated and certainly deserves the number one billing on a 10 Takeaways from the week. It's the return of Taylor Hall. He stepped out onto Prudential Center ice to play a game for the first time since December 23, 2018. The wait has been a long one, for no one more than Hall himself. 

"Mostly, just not thinking," Hall responded when asked what he's most looking forward to feeling. "In practice, you do a drill and then you have time to think. In a game it's more free-flowing … just not thinking, just going out and playing. Free. For myself, I'm just looking to go out and play, and hopefully, at the end of the game it just whizzes by."

It has been an uphill climb for Hall in his recovery, but to be able to finally be out on the ice, enjoying the game and as he described "being free", is all he could have asked for in the end. 

Tweet from @amandacstein: #NJDevils Taylor Hall was asked whether he felt like he had to prove something to himself, with all the time away and now coming back:"No, I mean... I have a lot of confidence in what I am as a player and just practicing with the guys, I know I still have it." pic.twitter.com/vuJYbcA0sT

2. And free he appeared to be. It took all of 53 seconds into his first game in nine months to register his first point, an assist on a Jack Hughes breakaway goal against the Rangers. At the 11:55 mark, Hall's goal-scoring touch returned in fine fashion with a laser shot on the power play getting by Rangers Henrik Lundqvist. The goal was Hall's first since December 21, 2018.

Video: NYR@NJD: Hall nets laser from circle for PPG

"I felt pretty good," said Hall said after the game. "There wasn't a whole lot of flow to the game at certain points, but it was a lot of fun to be out there and have some success right off the bat was a good feeling. It's kind of the way you'd want to draw it up if you were coming back."

"Just being able to celebrate with the guys is something that you missed doing and to hear the horn go off, especially at home when you're scoring, is a great feeling," Hall added.

Instagram from @amandacstein: He's back.

3. Something I learned this week: The young kids in hockey call breakaways 'B-Ways'. Or, at least Hughes does. Boy did he make me feel old after the game against the Rangers. Hughes had a beautiful breakaway goal against Henrik Lundqvist just 34 seconds into the game, fed by Hall.

When I spoke to Jack after the game about the goal here's exactly what he said: 

"It's kind of the perfect way how you want to start a game, I guess. With a B-Way."

Video: POST-GAME RAW | Jack Hughes

I'm not joking when I say it took me a minute to understand exactly what he was talking about. B-Way = Breakaway. 

Tweet from @amandacstein: And Taylor Hall gets the assist. Get used to it, friends! https://t.co/PoQ8y7dOE4

4. There were Jack Hughes goals, Taylor Hall's return, and several highlight-reel saves - but perhaps no other tweet that I put out last week was more popular than one involving Wayne Simmonds. For days, it kept popping up as retweeted or commented on. In his Devils debut, Simmonds had himself a night, providing not only a screen in front of the goalie on the power play but some fortitude, roughing it up with Rangers Ryan Lindgren. Ever the veteran, Simmonds knows when to choose his battles. Later in the game, Rangers Mason Geertsen tried to goad Simmonds into a fight, with Wayne wanting none of it. 

Tweet from @amandacstein: Welcome, Wayne Simmonds. pic.twitter.com/L6akseHvA2

5. New Jersey made two sets of cuts over the course of the week. After the opening split-squad games against the Bruins and Canadiens, the first round of cuts was made, namely sending several players back to their junior clubs. The first round of cuts involved six players:

Forwards- Mitchell Hoelscher (Ottawa, OHL) and Graeme Clarke (Ottawa, OHL)

Defensemen- Xavier Bernard (Charlottetown, QMJHL), Nikita Okhotyuk (Ottawa, OHL) and Michael Vukojevic (Kitchener, OHL)

Goaltender- Akira Schmid (Omaha, USHL) 

The second round of cuts, made on Sunday, September 22, was more extensive than the first round. This time, the roster went from 43 players to 27. 

Goaltenders:  Evan Cormier and Gilles Senn

Defensemen:  Michael Paliotta, Colby Sissons, and Colton White

Forwards:  Joey Anderson, Brandon Gignac, Ludvig Larsson, Mikhail Maltsev, Nikita Popugaev, Ryan Schmelzer, Brett Seney, Yegor Sharangovich, Blake Speers, Marian Studenic and Fabian Zetterlund

In addition, the club also placed Brandon Baddock, Ben Street, Josh Jacobs and Dakota Mermis on waivers. All four cleared waivers and will report to Binghamton. 

6. Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment announced on September 19, 2019 that Jake Reynolds has been appointed the role of President of the New Jersey Devils. Reynolds takes over to oversee all business, revenue, strategy, and operations of the club after spending time as Chief Revenue Officer of HBSE. 

Video: 1-ON-1 | Jake Reynolds on Goals & Culture

Reynolds takes over for Hugh Weber who has been elevated to a leadership role within HBSE. In his new role, Weber will play an integral role in the structure of the organization and its continued growth.  

Reynolds strives to create a 'fan-first' culture around the Devils, with the belief that the fan is essential to everything the Devils do. Building an emotional connection between the team, players, the content we put out and our fans, is of primary importance to Reynolds in building an ongoing relationship with our fans and to make sure we are connecting with you with the Devils brand. 

7. Attend a Devils pre-season game and you never know who you might bump into. Whether it was at Championship Plaza, on the concourse or buying your brand new Devils jersey, you may have been lucky enough to bump into a player or two en-route to your seat on Saturday. Players who were not dressed for the pre-season game against the Rangers were still at Prudential Center taking part in activations in and around the arena creating memories for our great fans.

Video: DJ P.K. on the Ones and Twos

A couple of notable moments: Jack Hughes was manning the register at the Devils Den, helping fans purchase their latest Devils gear. One fan, in particular, was taken aback when he walked out of the store with a brand new 'Hughes-86' jersey.

Video: Hughes Works the Devils Store

Ryan Lorello attended the Devils Fan Fest in June during the NHL Entry Draft. So confident that New Jersey would select Hughes, he purchased a Hughes Devils jersey with 43 on the back. 43 is the number Hughes wore with the national team development program. Lorello met Jack last weekend in the team store before the game and relayed the story. It was then when Jack told Lorello to go take a 'Hughes-86' jersey off the shelf, signing it for him and letting him walk out of the store free of charge. Needless to say, Lorello was thrilled and shared his unforgettable moment on social media:

Tweet from @rlorello97: Made this Hughes jersey for the fan fest in June (Thinking he was gunna be 43) Tonight he was signing in the store before the game. I told him that was me. HE SAID GO TAKE AN 86 OFF THE SHELF!! And signed it too! Thank you so much Jack !!! I cant stop shaking ! pic.twitter.com/3EVMO5bIsC

On the Prudential Center concourse, music was blasting, greeting fans trying to get to their seats. That music was provided by none other than P.K. Subban who - dressed to the nines - took over the DJ booth, pumping tunes and greeting fans before taking a quick jaunt down to the ice surface to hop on the 'Fan-boni' and shoot T-Shirts out of cannons at fans already in their seats.

8. No matter who you talk to on the Devils training camp roster, everyone will tell you they're fighting for their spot on the team. Even veterans. But at the end of the day, the core players have been carved out over the last couple of years and have secure spots. There are players, however, who are on the bubble - trying to make that impact that forces management's hand to make the tough decisions and keep them with the NHL club. 

One of those players is Jesper Boqvist. I mentioned him in last week's edition of 10 Takeaways, but it's this week where he really made an impression. Against the Islanders on Saturday night, Boqvist book-ended the Devils scoring with the opening goal 2:39 into the game, and the game-winner with just over four minutes to play. The 20-year-old Swede was all smiles after the game, but he was also matter-of-fact. 

To put it bluntly, when asked if he thought he had done enough to make the Devils roster, there was no hesitation with 'no' his first word. 

"I think I'm not there yet, but I'm getting better and better," Boqvist continued, "and I'm getting more comfortable in the game and can do more stuff with the puck every game, and hopefully I can build on that."

Tweet from @amandacstein: Jesper Boqvists first NHL preseason goal, assisted on by his good friend Jesper Bratt, as well as Nico Hischier. pic.twitter.com/pOuHfPTPhA

 And while Boqvist is being humble about his impressive night, his performance did not go unnoticed by John Hynes who noted that Boqvist adjustment from the Swedish Hockey League to NHL-style play has developed at 'an accelerated pace.'

"You're starting to see him feel a little more natural with the way the game is played, and I think in the competitive areas of the ice, he's done a good job of getting into and utilizing his skill and speed," Devils coach John Hynes said. "But also understanding in the NHL or these types of games, you have to be able to play in the hard areas of the ice, and he's done that."

In the game against the Rangers, Boqvist was the leader in ice-time among Devils forwards with 18:07.

9. With the roster now down to 27 players, there will be far less to-ing and fro-ing for some of the younger players who remain on the training camp roster. You see, when training camp opens the Devils use two separate locker rooms to house all players in an effort to make everyone has their own stall. Veterans and core players remain in the official Devils locker room, while rookies and prospects are posted up in the former game-day locker room around the corner. 

So, when Jack Hughes arrived at the Prudential Center on Monday morning, he made his way to the official locker room to sit in his stall for the first time. He, along with Ty Smith and Jesper Boqvist were located in the secondary locker room up until Monday morning.  

"It's just really exciting for the group," Hughes said. "To be in [one] locker room and start to develop more of a team aspect. For us it's really exciting and just shows that the season is right around the corner."

Jack's excitement was palpable, his smile big, but there's much more of a purpose to reuniting the team in one place at this point of training camp. Most of these players will make the Devils opening night roster, this week altogether is a chance for bonding and gelling together as a group. 

"It's about getting that tight group," Blake Coleman said. "As a team you want to bond together and spend some time together now and really become close. The closer you are off the ice; I think it translates on the ice. 

10. There was one other thing quite noticeable about the move from two to one locker room: the placement of stalls. It caught my eyes instantly; Hughes was sitting next to Taylor Hall. It was purposeful too. 

"Taylor really actually mentioned it to me," coach Hynes said. "Which to be honest with you is a good sign. He said, 'Eventually when Jack comes in, you can put him next to me' and I think that shows - Taylor's, I think a good role model for him. Taylor's gone through a lot of things that he's going through. You just look at what Taylor's accomplished in his career, being a first overall pick and being a young player in the league. So, I think it's a good mix and hopefully, that helps create some conversation and some talk. So it's nice to have a young guy be able to play with Taylor, and it's even better that he requested it."

"It's exciting," Hughes said. "It's really nice to get in the big room, finally I have a stall here. Especially being beside Hallsy, a guy I can probably lean on this year, it will be good and I'm sure it will help me a lot."

ONE MORE TAKEAWAY:

I couldn't help but noticean article by NBCSports.com's Sean Leahy that popped up on my Twitter timeline. Leahy attended the NHL Media Tour in early September and polled NHL players on their 2019-20 'sleeper teams.' Some high-powered NHL players took notice of the work Shero did over the summer and pointed it out to Leahy.

Toronto star forward Auston Matthews had this to say about the Devils roster: "I'm not really sure they're a sleeper team but they've made a lot of really good acquisitions this summer. They've got the first overall pick, [Nikita] Gusev from Vegas, P.K. [Subban], and they've got some pretty good young guys that have been there for a while like [Nico] Hischier and [Taylor] Hall. They missed the playoffs last year but they're always a tough team to play against. They play fast and they're going to be a team that surprises some other teams."

Defenseman Jaccob Slavin of the Carolina Hurricanes also had the Devils in mind: "There was a lot of big off-season moves but I think one team that really improved is the Devils. Their additions on the back end, forward end, they're going to be a pretty good team this year."

And finally, a great rival on the ice and in the Devils Metropolitan division, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin kept his answer simple: "New Jersey."

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