COLUMBUS, OH - On Monday morning, New Jersey Devils goaltending prospect Mackenzie Blackwood received the phone call that he had been recalled to the NHL. On Tuesday night, Blackwood made his NHL debut in the final 20 minutes of the Devils loss to the Maple Leafs, in relief of Keith Kinkaid. On Thursday night, Blackwood will make the first NHL start of his NHL career.
"It's cool," Blackwood said. "To start a game and have a chance to play the whole thing. I've been getting mentally prepared for it. This is a great opportunity."
It has been a whirlwind week for the Thunder Bay, Ontario native who will start for New Jersey when they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets, a first meeting with their Metropolitan Division opponent this season. Blackwood has seen his career fast-tracked over the last week.
"Anytime you come to camp you want to give yourself a chance," the 22-year-old added. "Being a realist and looking at the situation there wasn't really room [on the NHL roster]. I expected to go to the American Hockey League this year and just work on my game, it was about giving myself the chance to develop and work on my game. Strange things happen all the time, so I guess this is just one of them!"
The Devils are on the first half of a back-to-back, so it's no surprise that Blackwood is making a start, giving Kinkaid the night off - he's started in 25 games this season - as the Senators await the Devils at Prudential Center Friday night.
"We have to go through this stretch with two goalies," Hynes noted when deciding to start Blackwood against Columbus.
The Devils have three games in the next four nights.
"It also gives Keith another day of rest," Hynes added. "We'll have him come back against a high-powered Ottawa team [on Friday] that are a little bit different than the team we're playing [Thursday]. We feel for Keith to be at his best, we give him another day where he doesn't have to be under the stress of playing and he can come back and give us some real strong performance tomorrow."
The rest of the Devils lineup will look equally different and while the short answer is that head coach John Hynes put his lineup through the blender, it's a methodical decision by the coaching staff based on several elements.
"When you look at the combinations, they're not just thrown together," Hynes said. "They're based on the past, based on pairings that have played well together and it gives us a bit of a different look on the road."
On defense, Steven Santini will draw back into the lineup. It's only a second appearance for Santini this season, in his season debut on October 20th he suffered a fractured jaw on his opening shift and hasn't played since.
"It's been a long road," Santini said. "There's been a lot of adversity these last couple of months. To finally get in tonight is very exciting and it almost feels like my season debut at this point - it's been so long. I'm excited and happy I get to play with [Andy Greene], we have some familiarity playing together last year. It should be a fun night."
As for what Hynes is looking for from Santini, he explains as follows:
"Steven has to get in and find a role for himself," Hynes said. "He comes in drafted as a strong physical, shutdown d-man. That needs to be prevalent in tonight's game. The box-outs, defending hard, end plays in the D-zone and move the puck simply. He's not a guy that's going to make dynamic plays, but a strong first pass D-man is the identity he needs to be an everyday NHL player. We'll give him that opportunity tonight."
New Jersey Devils Lineup In Columbus: