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Youth movement ready to make an impact

by Mike G. Morreale / New Jersey Devils

New Jersey Devils coach John Hynes knows the importance of having faster and more creative players on his roster.

"We believe with the way the League is going, you have to be able to develop from within your own organization and develop your own draft picks," Hynes said. "I think [general manager] Ray Shero has gone on and talked about how we believe in our young players. We have some competition left open on our team, and there's opportunity for some of the kids turning professional to come in and compete for a spot."

Here are the Devils' top five prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Pavel Zacha, C

How acquired: Selected with No. 6 pick of 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: New Jersey: 1 GP, 0-2-2; Albany (AHL): 3 GP, 1-2-3; Sarnia (OHL): 51 GP, 28-36-64

Zacha, 19, established career highs in the Ontario Hockey League last season before he had two assists and a plus-4 rating in his NHL debut on April 9. He had one goal and two assists in three regular-season games for Albany of the American Hockey League and had one goal and two assists in five AHL playoff games before sustaining a hip pointer that limited him to off-ice workouts during Devils development camp in July.

Zacha (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) will be a full participant in training camp in September when he battles for a full-time role.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

2. Steven Santini, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 42 pick of 2013 NHL Draft

Last season: New Jersey: 1 GP, 0-0-0; Boston College (NCAA): 41 GP, 1-18-19

Santini, a 6-2, 207-pound right-handed defenseman, rebounded nicely last season after missing 11 weeks for Boston College in 2014-15 with a right wrist injury that required surgery. The 21-year-old was named Hockey East Best Defensive Defenseman and could earn a spot in the Devils lineup with a solid training camp.

"He has a knack for catching guys with their head down, and that's a staple of his game," Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said. "I saw him play at the [2016 IIHF] World Championship and thought it was a great experience playing for Hynes. He should be a rock-solid defenseman with an ability to end plays, get the puck back and go the other way."

Projected NHL arrival: This season

3. Michael McLeod, C

How acquired: Selected with No. 12 pick of 2016 NHL Draft

Last season: Mississauga (OHL): 57 GP, 21-40-61

McLeod, 18, will attend Devils training camp and may even remain on the roster for a short period, but it is expected he will be returned to Mississauga, where he'll serve as captain and first-line center. McLeod was one of the fastest skaters of the 2016 draft class.

"If you look again at what we want to build here in New Jersey, Mike has it with his speed and size (6-2, 188)," Hynes said. "We want to be a team that can play fast, and Mike is like that. He's pretty impressive to watch, having that quickness with his size."

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

4. Scott Wedgewood, G

How acquired: Selected with No. 84 pick of 2010 NHL Draft

Last season: New Jersey: 4 GP, 2-1-0, 1.24 GAA, .957 SV%; Albany (AHL): 22 GP, 14-3-1, 1.55 GAA, .933 SV%; Adirondack (ECHL): 1 GP, 1-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .951 SV%

Wedgewood (6-2, 195), who turns 24 on Aug. 14, is third on New Jersey's depth chart and likely will begin the season in Albany. He joined the Devils when Martin Brodeur was the No. 1 goalie, with the hope he would one day be his successor. When New Jersey acquired Cory Schneider in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks at the 2013 draft, those plans changed.

When Schneider was out with a sprained MCL in his right knee late last season, Keith Kinkaid and Wedgewood each was given an opportunity. Wedgewood made 39 saves in a 3-0 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 24, his second career NHL start. Hynes said Wedgewood and Kinkaid will compete for the backup role in training camp. Wedgewood could gain a few more starts this season in New Jersey but might need a bit more pro experience in the AHL before becoming a full-time backup behind Schneider.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

5. John Quenneville, C

How acquired: Selected with No. 30 pick of 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Brandon (WHL): 57 GP, 31-42-73

Quenneville (6-1, 195) helped Brandon to the Western Hockey League championship last season with 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists) in 21 WHL playoff games. The 20-year-old finished his fourth season in Brandon with career highs in goals, assists, points and plus/minus (plus-28), was signed to an entry-level contract on July 13, and will begin his professional career in Albany this season. He is a second cousin of Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.

"[Quenneville] is a very intelligent hockey player, a solid 200-foot player," Devils director of amateur scouting Paul Castron said. "He's shown [at development camp] that he can make skill plays and play with skill players on the top two lines. I think right now, everyone sees him as a player with second- or third-line potential, a guy who will start in a checking role and work his way up."

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

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