Last season, the New Jersey Devils had seven prospects participate in the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship and managed to sweep the podium for the second year in a row. This year, there are six players in the hunt for a spot on their respective teams at the 2019 World Junior Championship in Vancouver and Victoria starting December 26th. Five of them were in Kamloops, British Columbia last week to participate in the World Junior Summer Showcase, a mid-summer evaluation camp for Teams USA, Canada, Finland and Sweden.
Devils Senior Director of Player Personnel, Dan MacKinnon was there along with European scout Greg Royce and development coaches Eric Weinrich and Pat Rissmiller. Here's what he had to say about each prospect in attendance:
Fabian Zetterlund - SWE - Forward - 3rd round, 2017
He's definitely one of the leaders for Team Sweden. He played great. He's physically one of the stronger guys on the ice, on pucks, great wall play, protecting the puck, winning 50-50 battles - all the things we love about him and why we think he'll be able to play in the NHL one day as a middle-six type forward. He was a bit of a surprise to make the team last year and it was an even bigger surprise to see how they used him as the net front presence on the power play, but he was effective and really created an identity for himself. He'll do more of that for them this year too.
The foundation of his game gives us every indication that he'll be able to play effectively in North America with the smaller ice and more physical play. A great bit of news is that his team in Sweden has given him permission to come over in September and participate in our rookie camp. It will be great to see him in those games at the Rookie Challenge in Buffalo and be able to give him more specific feedback to help put his development on the fast track, even while playing the season in Sweden.
Ty Smith - CAN - Forward - 1st round, 2018
We didn't see as much of Ty because Canada brought enough players to have almost two completely different teams, but when we did see him play, he carried the veteran role even though he's only 18. They have a real young group of defensemen this year and got themselves into some trouble at times, but I thought Ty adjusted pretty well after some rough shifts at the start. His hockey sense and anticipation was real good and he seemed a lot more comfortable as the games went on. We were happy with his performance individually.
What would be valuable for Ty is spending time with our development staff so he can be real clear on the areas of his game that need improvement and the steps he can take to be able to check those boxes off and have a real strong showing at rookie camp in Buffalo and carry that over to main camp and a successful season. He plays a strong transitional game. His hockey sense is pretty elite. His passing is good. He's a little undersized, even though we're in the era of smaller defensemen. He still has a way to go physically, but in the meantime he'll learn how to use his body more effectively on the ice and how to pick his spots better.
I think he's got a real good shot to make that team even as a younger guy - Canada is known for taking mostly 19-year-olds. He's got dynamic skills and the maturity. He's always been one of their leaders on the international stage, so I think he's already held in high regard by the decision makers at Hockey Canada. I don't know that he'll be relied upon to carry the load and have a lot of responsibilities, but I think he'll be on the team and learn a lot to take with him next season as a 19-year-old for them.
Reilly Walsh - USA - Defense - 3rd round, 2017
Reilly does so many things that you can't teach and he does them at an elite level. When the puck's on his stick, he's a very dynamic player. He can go east-west, be elusive, find space and make a play. The biggest area of growth for him will be his defensive play and what he does away from the puck, how he ends plays in the d-zone and gets the puck back up ice and in the offensive zone. Those things take a little more discipline and focus for a player that's so naturally gifted on the offensive side of the puck. We saw a lot of that progress at development camp and I think you'll see it even more this season at Harvard and hopefully with Team USA at world juniors.
The price you pay for your mistakes in college and at world juniors is a lot higher than it was for him in prep school, so it's been more of an education process for him this past year and coming into this year to learn how to be better defensively and maybe not take so many risks and put your teammates in a bad spot and, ultimately, be more effective on the right side of the puck.
He was so close to making the team last year, I've got to believe he'll be on it this year. I definitely see a role for him as another offensive defenseman for them and after being one of the final cuts last year, I know he's extremely motivated to not only earn a spot, but be a big part of their success.
Aarne Talvitie - FIN - Forward - 6th round, 2017
Talvitie's had an excellent camp and was probably one of the better forwards in the whole event from what I've seen. He's just so strong and we knew that from development camp. He's very well put together and he's using his strength to be aggressive, get to the inside and have a lot of puck touches. He looks like a real confident player and seems to have gained a half step of speed and then the one thing that stood out for everybody is how well he shoots the puck. He just has an absolute cannon and gets it off quickly. It's an elite, NHL-caliber release.
I know he's going to be a freshman and there will be an adjustment because it's a high paced game and different playing style in Europe, but I expect him to be a really strong college hockey player at Penn State relatively quickly.
At world juniors, I expect him to have a big role on the ice for the Finnish team, but also as a leader even though he wasn't on this team last year. I don't think they'll be making that mistake again.
(Note: Talvitie wore the C for Finland at this event.)
Eetu Pakkila - FIN - Forward - 7th round, 2018
He was a late addition for Finland at this camp. We didn't know he'd be here, so it was a surprise to see his name in the lineup. He played sparingly, but we saw some great things out of him, especially the improvement in his skating. He needs to mature physically and get stronger as so many of these guys do, but his skating is what makes him a prospect for us. He deceptively covers a lot of ice and does it very quickly. He can really put the defense back on her heels, push the pace, attack the blueline and gain entry. He'll work more on his skills this year back in Europe and eventually make his way to North America, but if he has the chance this fall to play in some of the tournaments that Finland uses to prepare and select their roster for world juniors and can play well enough to earn a spot on this team, it will be really good for him. At the very least, coming over for this tournament was a great experience for him to see where he needs to take his game.
Goaltender Akira Schmid, selected in the 5th round this past June, will vie for the starting job for Switzerland at the world junior championship, but he did not participate in the World Junior Summer Showcase.