The Devils prospects are on the road in Buffalo for the 2016 NHL Prospects Challenge at the HarborCenter along with prospects from the Buffalo Sabres and the Boston Bruins this weekend.
After the long bus ride from Newark yesterday afternoon, the fellas hit the ice for 90 minutes today. Leading the group is Rick Kowalsky, head coach of the Albany Devils, and while the coach in him wants to win, his primary focus this weekend is just to find out what these guys can do. Development camp is a way for the players to learn more about the Devils and how they do things and this camp is an evaluation.
There was no serious instruction in this one and only practice before their first game tomorrow night because he wants them to simply play their game and do what comes naturally to them. Kowalsky did give them a loose structure he wants them to work within, but he wants them to just react and not have to think about how the coach wants them to play or trying to remember the system they learned the day before. The real challenge is that many guys are looking to make a positive impression on all the Devils' scouts and management in attendance, which can cause players to attempt things outside their wheelhouse and he is trying to guard against that. He told them to do what they do and do it the best they can.
Kowalsky said he can't help but think ahead to the start of Albany's camp and who might be in his lineup and how certain players might match up together, but he's also not rushing things. AHL camps don't open until the first weekend in October and a lot can happen before then. For now, he sees it as his job to help these players be as prepared as possible to showcase themselves well once they get back to Jersey.
To that point, there have been several staff meetings with the coaches to make sure the players hear the same message from all angles. Part of that has to do with Devils head coach John Hynes representing Team USA as an assistant coach at the World Cup of Hockey and wanting to make sure things run smoothly in his absence, but it's mostly because that's how the organization has been structured ever since Ray Shero took over as general manager last April and subsequently hired Hynes - everyone pulling in the same direction.
The 2016-2017 edition of the New Jersey Devils is not only looking to move forward together, they want to catapult themselves into a playoff position early in the season and never give it up. That's what they've prepared themselves to do this summer with the moves they've made and the real work starts in ernest tomorrow night when they scratch the surface and see what they've got to work with when the Devils prospects take on the Sabres Prospects at 7:30pm.
So, after you're done watching Team USA take on Team Europe in the opening game of the World Cup of Hockey, keep your eyes on Twitter for game updates from Buffalo.