I think the rest of the league is beginning to take notice. Blake Coleman is a heck of a hockey player. We've seen it for the last two years in New Jersey, but I'm not sure he resonated throughout the league. But now, you hear Coleman's name when the pundits are taking about the best of the best on the Devils roster, particularly when it comes to diversity in a single player.
And perhaps there was no greater stage to make a statement than with a first career hat trick in Toronto, in front of Canadian media. In a game with dueling hat tricks, no less.
Unfortunately, Blake's three-goal night wasn't quite enough for the Devils to earn a victory against the Leafs, but it was a milestone moment.
Not only did the Plano, Texas native record his first career hat trick, he took over the leads in team goals with 19 on the season, surpassing Kyle Palmieri who has not played since January 11th with a left foot injury.
"It's a little bitter-sweet, obviously," said Coleman. "It's not the game you want to score it in. But I'm the kind of guy, I'm never going to quit, I'm never going to give up. I told Travis when they got a four-goal lead that we're going to keep pushing. We made it a game but too little too late."
Coleman became just the second Texas-born player to record a hat trick, joining former Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch. Leetch scored three in a 1995 playoff game for New York.
One of the great things about having so many young players on the Devils NHL roster is just watching how the players have all become friends and enjoy chirping each other, especially when the camera is rolling in front of them. Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt sit close in the home locker room and were once against sitting close to each other in Toronto's visitor's room.
With a first opportunity to talk to Nico about his All-Star nomination (he had to cut part of his trip to Miami short in order to make it to St. Louis on time) and ask him about the skills competition. At the time, Hischier still didn't know what event he would be asked to participate in, but when I asked him about what he'd like to try, he mentioned the saucer-passing in a relay race.
Well, his friend Jesper Bratt had other ideas.
"I want to see him in fastest skater," Bratt said with a huge smile, knowing his buddy was in earshot. "I just want to see him out there on the ice all alone!"
The two then jabbed at each other back and forth for the next few minutes. And then Pavel Zacha walked into the locker room and joined in as well.
So, Jesper didn't get to see Nico in the fastest skater competition, but when I asked him about it after he said he thinks Nico could definitely have competed with the numbers. But what we did see what Hischier representing the New Jersey Devils with a ton of pride.
Hischier had the 'A' on his jersey as he was introduced and competed during the skills competition with his Devils jersey on.
During the skills competition, Nico hit his five targets in 19.550 seconds. But, I personally think he got iced out. Nico steps up, ready to shoot his shot, and then a change in the accuracy shooting technology has to be made. Like, no pressure kid.
"I think it's just more mental," he said. "You should be able to hit those targets but if you miss the first couple it's going to mess with your head and then it's kind of over. But it doesn't matter. It was fun! I enjoyed it. You're obviously a little bit nervous in the beginning but at the end I hit them, so that's all that matters."
But there appeared to be zero nerves when it came to the actual game itself, because that's where Nico showed he does belong with the lengthy list of All-Stars. Two goals and an assist was his final tally.
The Metro team lost 9-5. So, not a bad contribution from our All Star, two of his teams five goals.
I've received this question a lot: Why isn't Jesper Boqvist called up after the All-Star Break? It's really very easy to love a guy and a player like Boqvist and all the talent he has. And that's exactly why he's spending some time in the AHL right now, it's what's best for his current development. The rookie has bounced around the Devils lineup this season and while we've seen flashes, now in the AHL he'll have far many more minutes to work with, different situations to play in as well.
"He's done a lot of good things at this level with us since the start of the year, but for him, you can't have a young guy like that just playing minimal minutes," Nasreddine said. "His ice time, I'm sure he would like to have more. For us, it's more about his development going down there. Not saying he had no confidence, but maybe not as high as it should be or could be."
Word on the street is that Mackenzie Blackwood will receive his new teeth this week!
The Devils had a couple of special visitors at Canadian Tire Center in Ottawa watching them beat the Senators in the shootout: Four members of the OHL's Ottawa 67ers, who all happen to be Devils prospects as well. Nikita Okhotyuk, Graeme Clarke, Mitch Hoelscher, and Devils-newcomer Kevin Bahl all were at the game and came down to the locker room after the victory.
This was the first time Bahl had been around the Devils, traded to the team from Arizona in the Hall trade.
The flu bug certainly made its way through the Devils locker room over the last two weeks. Some players WERE more willing to talk about their experiences than others. I think my favorite was the way Jack Hughes was so blatant about it.
"It was kind of after pre-game meal," he said. "I didn't feel good. And then after warmup…. Puked…. After the first… puked… in the second it was kind of a little bit of a blender."
We've had some good illness quotes this season.
Mackenzie Blackwood started if off earlier in the season when I asked him about how he was feeling after battling the flu:
"I felt like I was going to die," he said at the time.
That one has stuck, and I see it pop up a lot.
One of the more difficult things to watch over the three-game road-trip prior to the break was right after the loss in Columbus. Cory Schneider was replaced when the game was 4-0 by Mackenzie Blackwood against the Blue Jackets and I had to ask interim head coach Alain Nasreddine about the situation.
Everyone is rooting for Schneider to find his game and get back to being the goaltender of old. It hasn't quite happened yet, but the questions still need to be asked. And when I asked Nasreddine about having to pull Schneider from the net, you could see a wave of emotion on his face as he sighed before answering.
"It's the last thing I wanted to do tonight," Nasreddine said. "That was actually, you know, tough to visualize it. But, you know, at that point, it's 4-nothing, you just try to change the momentum. I'm not going to be up here and blame Cory, that's not it at all but at that point we needed a change."
Nasreddine is an emotional guy, who cares immensely. You could see, it was not an easy choice, not something he wanted to do, but he knew he had to.