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FEATURE: Bringing Bahl into the Fold

Read more about the big, fast defensive prospect the Devils acquired on Monday via trade

by Peter Robinson / Special to NewJerseyDevils.com

In much the same way Kevin Bahl's gigantic frame is difficult to miss, James Boyd makes some obvious but interesting observations about his prized defenseman. 

"I've made this point, especially in the last week or so in interviews," said the Ottawa 67's GM, who has had a direct hand in the development of six current Devils prospects/players, "Kevin is a legitimate NHL prospect. Every year he plays against the other teams' best players and he plays against them a lot. 

"Not only that, we've had some good teams since he's been here, so he's played against a lot of good teams fighting for first place, and their players in important games."

In an interesting quirk to Boyd's comments, one of those "best players" he was referring to was Nate Schnarr, who was also part of the package of prospects/draft picks that was part of the trade that sent Taylor Hall and Blake Speers to the Arizona Coyotes on Monday. 

Schnarr's Guelph Storm met Bahl's Ottawa 67's in the OHL final last spring, with the Storm taking the title in six games.

Boyd was not annoyed but he seemed perplexed that Bahl isn't more appreciated. The 6'6", 240-pound blueliner is currently in Europe, preparing for the World Junior Championship with the rest of Team Canada, a squad that also includes Devils defense prospect Ty Smith. 

Video: Kevin Bahl and Ty Smith comment on Hall Trade

"I'm thankful to the Coyotes organization for their belief in drafting me and the work done together in my development as a player and a person," said Bahl, in a statement through Hockey Canada on Wednesday. "I am very excited to join the New Jersey Devils. The organization has made a commitment to me and the organization has my commitment to work hard on and off the ice and to be a good teammate. 

"I also want to thank the Devils fans for their warm welcome… my focus (right now)…is on our efforts to deliver a gold medal performance at the World Junior Championship."

Bahl's coach in Ottawa, Andre Tourigny, is an assistant with Team Canada and runs the defense. With action slated to start the day after Christmas with a class between the U.S. and Canada, Bahl is on his team's second pairing with Ottawa Senators prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker, a freshman at the University of North Dakota. 

Smith anchors the lead pair with Detroit Red Wings prospect Jared McIsaac, who plays for the Halifax Mooseheads. 

Bahl was selected 55th overall by the Coyotes in the 2018 draft. He has evolved into a minute-munching, two-way blueliner in a leading role with the 67's. Before he left for Team Canada's training camp last week, Bahl had five goals and 15 assists in 28 games. He had 34 points (6G, 28A) last season and another 11 (1G,10A) in 17 playoff games. 

Now having four Devils prospects in the fold, the 67's are one of the Canadian Hockey League's best teams for two seasons running. With Devils prospect Nikita Okhotyuk out with two different injuries - the Russian has played just eight games and will miss the World Junior - Bahl has stepped into a bigger role. 

"Kevin is big, obviously, but he can cover a lot of ground quickly and has a good, long and active stick," said Boyd. "He closes really fast in the defensive zone." 

Boyd said that Tourigny and the 67's staff have worked with Bahl on improving his foot speed. It's not as though Bahl is slow but rather that like so many big men who move well, he sometimes gets caught stationary because "catching up" is relatively easy in junior for such a talented, big player.

Looking down the road, the margin for error will be much smaller in pro hockey. 

"We want his (movement) to become instinctual," said Boyd, adding that Bahl has been much better in that regard and will continue to improve. "He's a lot more effective when he's moving his feet."

Bahl's Devils-connected teammates are Okhotyuk, and forwards Graeme Clarke (injured) and Mitchell Hoelscher, who is in the midst of a break-out season. ,Boyd said that Okhotyuk is close to returning and Clarke is eyeing a return in March from shoulder surgery. 

Both injured prospects have made multiple trips to New Jersey for treatment/assessments. 

"We're not going to rush either one of them," said Boyd, who previously had Devils Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian under his watch while head coach/GM of the Mississauga Steelheads. 

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