NEWARK, NJ -The New Jersey Devils locker room is now empty, after hosting a week-long Development Camp with 37 players packed into the team locker room. It was a week of team-bonding, growing and evaluation as the next generation of Devils worked alongside staff as they continue to develop into young professional athletes. Of course, New Jersey's first-overall draft pick highlighted much of the week for fans, but there were plenty of other storylines that made their way into the fold over the course of the week.
Here are 10 Takeaways from New Jersey Devils 2019 Development Camp:
1. If you skimmed through the list of players at development camp, only three will stand out as names of players unassociated with the Devils. Nicholas Canade, Danny Weight and Tyler Young were the only camp invites, compared to six in 2018. It's a testament to the growing internal prospect pool for New Jersey.
Video: RAW | Danny Weight
2. Nine prospects that were selected in the 2019 NHL Draft attended camp, marking the first time these players participated in a Devilsrun activity or event. It was their first opportunity to really get to know the organization and what being a New Jersey Devil means. Many of the players, after their first day, were already comfortable talking using the Devils buzz-words surrounding the culture being cultivated.
"Brotherhood", "compete", "respect", "grit" were all words you could hear players use in their interviews. Most notably, Jack Hughes had this to say:
Video: RAW | Jack Hughes
"There's a logo, obviously, but there's a lot that comes with it," Hughes said. "A lot of responsibility, a lot of things you kind of take with pride. It's really exciting to be a part of the Devils. It's such a tight-knit group, tight-knit organization. It's the kind of place where you treat the janitor with as much respect as you do the president. For me, it's a really great organization to be a part of and I'm just excited."
The way the prospects are embracing the culture is not lost on the management either. Assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald is paying close attention.
"That was our goal from the get-go," Fitzgerald, who is also general manager of the AHL Binghamton Devils said. "Create a culture that these players can grasp, these players can adhere to."
Video: RAW | Tom Fitzgerald
3. One thing I discovered, the chant of "Hughhhhess!" can sound a lot like "booooo!" if you're not paying close enough attention. But, there was nothing but applause and excitement surround the first-overall draft selection's debut at Devils development camp. Fans' first chance to watch Hughes on the ice with their own eyes took place last Wednesday at the 3-on-3 tournament, but it wasn't until the Saturday Red versus White scrimmage where the fans really got to be a part of the Jack Hughes experience. RWJBarnabas Health HockeyHouse erupted with "Hughessss" after the 18-year-old scored his only goal of the scrimmage, giving fans just a small sample of what is to come.
4. Hughes capped off his first Devils development camp experience by signing his three-year Entry Level Contract. Sitting in general manager Ray Shero's office, Hughes put pen to paper on his first NHL contract and with the ink dry, the Devils Den and the NHL began selling 86-Hughes jerseys, which in a matter of hours became NHL.com's three best sellers. #LetsGoBaby
Video: BEHIND-THE-SCENES | Hughes' Signing
5. Jack and Joey. Development Camp veteran, Joey Anderson was roommates with Hughes during the week-long stay in New Jersey. It was a pairing that was no accident. Anderson, who spent time with the Devils last season, is a player the Devils have strongly invested in and admire his maturity for a 21-year-old and was put in that role for a reason.
"You know, it's a great experience," head coach John Hynes said of the two rooming together. "Joey has experienced his first year, last year turning pro. So, he's had kind of both worlds. He spent lots of time in the NHL. He had the injury and then he wound up playing in Binghamton at the end of the year. So, Joey is a leader. He's had a lot of good experiences. He's had a lot of similar experiences to Jack as far as playing on US teams and things like that. So, we just felt it was a good connection. He's a mature kid and I think, you know, sometimes when you're in the room talking about different things, Joey's a guy that can offer him some advice or some answers to what it's like as a first-year NHL player."
6. Personalities were front and center during the week in New Jersey.
Hockey players are generally known to be rather mild-mannered, but the Devils prospect pool is overflowing with players who aren't afraid to put themselves out there. Nate Bastian and Michael Vukojevic stole the show with their axe-throwing, behind-the-scenes play-by-play commentary at one of the team bonding events. The players also chirped each other during the annual Ping-Pong tournament with cameras rolling, and they were unafraid to pump up the crowd after scoring a goal in the scrimmage. These players, you could tell right from the start, felt right at home and comfortable in New Jersey.
Video: BEHIND-THE-SCENES | Axe Throwing Chirps
7. Community outreach is a vital part about being a member of the New Jersey Devils and the Development Camp process gets players accustomed to that notion right off the bat. Mid-week, players took part in a charity event working with non-perishable food items being donated to Newark's Covenant House.
Split into groups and with several kids from the community, had to build a mini-golf course made out of the non-perishable food items. The event brought out the best in everyone in terms of giving back to those less fortunate, while also bringing out the competitive nature that will make these athletes successful.
Video: COMMUNITY | Golf Course Build
8. Taking home the hardware! Brandon Gignac had to fit in an axe-throwing competition trophy into his bag heading back to Canada for the summer, while Joey Anderson and Blake Speers have bragging rights at the ping-pong table. The 21-year-old Gignac, who appeared in one game for New Jersey in 2019 took home the championship in the axe throwing, taking out rookie Case McCarthy in the process.
And it was Speers and Anderson who were crowned the Ping-Pong championship winners after the week-long tournament came to a close on Friday. The Devils locker room turned into the arena for the finals where Speers and Anderson defeated Nikita Popugaev and Mikhail Maltsev in the championship game.
9. Right behind the interest level in Hughes, was the interest in Jesper Boqvist. The elusive Swedish forward will need to learn how to adapt his game to the North American smaller ice surface, but through development camp showed no reason why that won't be able to happen. Boqvist's skating has often been praised, and was certainly on display during the scrimmage, but he also demonstrated what slick hands he has. Boqvist scored once during the scrimmage and again during the shootout with management watching.
There are only two options for Boqvist for the upcoming hockey season. He'll come in and challenge for a spot on the New Jersey roster at training camp and if he does not make the NHL team, he'll return to the SHL for another year, he is not eligible to play in the AHL with Binghamton. Either way, Devils assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald sees it as a win.
Video: HIGHLIGHTS | Boqvist in the Shootout
"We are very excited about Jesper," Fitzgerald said. "We signed him for a reason: because he's a really good player. Whether he starts here in New Jersey or goes back to [Sweden] - because he can't go to Binghamton - we'll play that by ear. But, he's going to get every opportunity, every chance to make this team out of camp. There are area's of his game that will be at the top of this organization: His skating, number one. He's got really good vision, he thinks offense he can create offense off the rush. The areas of improvement? We need him to get into the inside area's a little more at the National Hockey League level to score goals, and he can score some dirty ones too. He will get that opportunity, I think our fans are going to really enjoy watching him float around the ice because this guy floats"
Video: HIGHLIGHTS | Boqvist Buries One
10. This is a bit of a weird one. You may have noticed our "Tough Questions With…" stories throughout camp, some have yet to be released and will be featured throughout the summer. But let me tell you this, the most common answer when asked which actor's life you'd most like to experience would be? On multiple occasions, Will Smith was the answer. And which television character's life would they most like to insert themselves into? Barney Stinson from 'How I Met Your Mother'.