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Prospect Pipeline: Devils' Walsh turning heads at Harvard

As a senior at Proctor Academy last season, Reilly Walsh had 69 points in 30 games

by Julie Robenhymer @JulieRobenhymer / newjerseydevils.com

As a senior at Proctor Academy last season, Reilly Walsh had 69 points in 30 games to lead his New England prep school team by 18 points. 

As a defenseman. 

A very offensive-minded defenseman, but still a defenseman. That's why Walsh's main area of concern as he joined Harvard University this fall was whether he could actually defend at a higher level. Walsh was selected by the New Jersey Devils in the third round (81st overall) at the NHL Draft this past June.

"I know I can contribute offensively and I want to continue to work on all the skills that come with that," Walsh said, "but defensively, I want to prove to myself that I can actually play defense at such a high level and contribute to my team as much as I can on both sides of the puck." 

According to Ted Donato, Harvard's head coach, the Andover, Mass., native has all the tools to defend - like great feet and a good stick - but that his biggest challenge will be making the right decisions and rounding out his game. Walsh, 18, checks in 6', 183 pound.

"Guys with his kind of talent in prep school hockey can usually out play their mistakes, but as you go up the food chain against better competition, that's not the case," Donato said. "Our league will challenge you to play defense against bigger, more physical guys. Teams will really try to grind it out and that's not as fun for an offensive defenseman like him to do. It's more fun to join the rush and make plays on the offensive blue line, but being able to do the other things is something he'll realize is going to be a big part of his future success."

Just three games into the season (the Ivy League schools' schedules begin several weeks after the other teams'), Walsh has two goals and two assists and, with all four points earned on the man advantage, he's solidified a spot on the top power play unit for the Crimson. He's also turning heads at USA Hockey, which is considering him for the World Junior Championship in Buffalo later this year.

That's no surprise to Donato, even though Walsh wasn't on the 44-man roster invited to the evaluation camp held in Michigan this past August. 

"He's got a lot of things you can't teach and, for a defenseman, he's very comfortable with the puck on his stick at all times," Donato said. "He's very good on the breakout and has great timing coming off the rush and I think he gives us an element on the power play with his shot and playmaking abilities. It's really early on and I'm sure there will be bumps in the road as there are with any freshman, especially an 18-year-old one, but there's a lot to be excited about."

As he settles in on the ice at Harvard, Walsh is also settling into the classrooms. While he's yet to decide on a major, he's fulfilling some core curriculum requirements this semester with classes in writing, sociology, Chinese philosophy and Zulu - a language spoken by about 10 million people, mostly in South Africa. 

"A lot of the guys that have taken it recommended it because it's fun and the teacher is really good," Walsh explained. "It's definitely something that I don't think you could do anywhere else. It's kind of exciting to speak a language you never even heard of before, but I saw an opportunity to do something out of the normal and I'm glad I took it. It's been fun."

• • •

Sophomore Jeremy Davies, who was selected in the seventh round of the 2016 NHL Draft by the Devils, has earned his way into prime-time minutes on Northeastern University's blue line playing in all situations - top pairing, power play, penalty kill, last minute of play. It seems whenever he's had just enough time to catch his breath, head coach Jim Madigan is sending him back over the boards for the Huskies. 

"He's a smart, puck-moving offensive defenseman. He brings us out of our own zone first and foremost," Madigan said. "He's a strong kid in his own zone. He's smart, and rounding out his game defensively. His play away from the puck is much better and he's just so smart with the puck. "We've been encouraging him to just trust his instincts more and he's been doing it. Plus, I think people underestimate his strength and his toughness on a 5'11 frame. He's putting the whole package together."

With nine assists in eight games so far this season, Davies has been helping drive Northeastern's high-powered offense with effective transitions, jumping up into the play, quarterbacking the power play and showing great defensive responsibility. He is noticeable on both sides of the puck in the best possible ways. 

• • •

With the departure of Scott Wedgewood (traded to Arizona last week for a fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft) between the pipes in Binghamton, the AHL Devils are in familiar territory with Ken Appleby and Mackenzie Blackwood sharing duties like they did last season when Wedgewood missed all but 10 games after shoulder surgery. In his first two starts of the season after being recalled from the ECHL, Appleby, the 22-year-old who signed as an undrafted free agent out of Oshawa two years ago, has just one goal against on 54 shots. He has two wins and has earned first-star accolades in both games. At 6'3, 205 pounds, he's a big body who does a great job securing the bottom of the net with a solid butterfly and quick lateral movement. With performances like that, he will push Blackwood, drafted by New Jersey 42nd overall in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft, for more starts as the season continues. 

• • •

The Binghamton Devils have six players on their roster who are making the jump from the CHL or NCAA for their first professional season. Nate Bastian, the soon-to-be 20-year-old, is one of those players and he looks to be making a smooth transition. With two goals this weekend - one where he went streaking down the wing and threw a shot on net at an impossible angle that found a hole; the other by winning the physical battle in the crease, pouncing on a loose puck in the slot and using his hands to find it a home where mama hides the cookies - he now has four on the season plus two assists for six points in nine games so far. What's most noticeable is the grit he's added to his game to use his 6'3, 205-pound frame to his advantage giving him the ability to create more offense from the dirty areas. 

• • •

Playing for the U20 Espoo Blues in Finland, Aarne Talvite, who was drafted by New Jersey in the sixth round this past June, leads his team with 12 goals and is third in points with 21 in 15 games so far this season. He played a big role for Finland's U18 teams last season and, with his strong performance to start the season, is being considered for Finland's World Junior team in Buffalo. He was at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Mich., this past August, and although he's on the short side (5'9), he's got great hands and, at nearly 200 pounds, was almost impossible to knock off the puck. This kid doesn't miss a leg day and it shows. 

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