Nathan Bastian, New Jersey Devils, Tyce Thompson

3 Takeaways from the Devils 6-5 Victory Over the Islanders

The New Jersey Devils headed into the Oct. 2 showdown against the New York Islanders undefeated in preseason play. With three games in five days this week, head coach Lindy Ruff deployed a lineup consisting of two lines of NHL sure bets and a bottom six made up largely of hopefuls. The Islanders instead chose to ice close to their full roster yet the Devils controlled the game and tallied five goals on Vezina Trophy candidate Ilya Sorokin in just two periods.

Thompson Making His Case

Coming into camp, most were keeping a close eye on the potential battle between Alexander Holtz, Nolan Foote, and Graeme Clarke for one, perhaps two roster spots. Through his play and Ruff’s usage, Holtz appears to have solidified his place on the team. What few counted on was the emergence of forward Tyce Thompson. He has thus far outplayed both Foote and Clarke with two points in three preseason contests and a strong showing on the penalty kill.

Tyce Thompson New Jersey Devils
Tyce Thompson, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Against the Islanders, Thompson held his own. While he didn’t find the scoresheet he did contribute on both the power play and the penalty kill and continued to impress his coach. “I thought Tyce gave us another strong game,” Ruff said after the game. With cuts looming and Thompson needing waivers to be sent down, the Devils will have a difficult decision in the coming days.

Defensive Pairs Taking Shape

For the second straight game, the Devils utilized pairings of Kevin Bahl and John Marino as well as Luke Hughes and Colin Miller. While the situation is undoubtedly fluid, there is every reason to believe that these will be the bottom four defensemen come Oct. 12. Bahl returned to camp ready to seize the playing time void left by the departure of Ryan Graves and become a pillar of the team’s penalty kill. He showed up noticeably more agile and has been aggressive at both ends of the ice. Allowing Hughes to begin the season with Miller would permit the Devils to shelter the pair against other teams’ third and fourth lines where the duo should feast with their offensive skillset.

Simon Nemec New Jersey Devils
Simon Nemec, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The one remaining wild card is Simon Nemec, who has staked a claim to make the NHL roster. Ruff tried pairing Nemec and Hughes for stretches throughout the second half of the game to very mixed results. He reflected on the pair after the game, “I thought maybe my two young defensemen struggled a bit, they did some good things obviously, but there are areas of the game where they weren’t quick enough.” He also felt that Miller had a tough game as well. With two goals, Marino continued his strong preseason and Bahl recorded his third and fourth assists of the preseason, just two away from his total in all of last season.

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With Cal Foote’s stock apparently plummeting, it seems that the spot for the seventh defenseman will go to veteran Brendan Smith. His voice and leadership are respected throughout the dressing room and Ruff has comfort with Smith having coached him in a previous stint with the New York Rangers. Smith plays an “old-school” hard-nosed game that at times can translate into penalties but is often offset by his versatility and steady play.

Bastian’s Back

After sitting out all the prior preseason games, Nathan Bastian made his return to the lineup. He will fight for playing time on the fourth line with Curtis Lazar and Tomas Nosek. He had a significant impact last season despite playing most of the year with a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. Bastian is the biggest forward on the team but has deceptive speed and plays with a physical edge to his game. In the past, Ruff has utilized his unique skills on both the power play and the penalty kill. He was a difficult player to replace.

Nathan Bastian New Jersey Devils
Nathan Bastian, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In his first game back he was reunited with center Michael McLeod and played his trademark physical game while showing his speed to chase down pucks. He played just over 17 minutes total and was given shifts on both the power play and the penalty kill. Ruff was happy with Bastian’s performance and how he managed his first game back. “He played a strong game, he was strong on the walls and quick on the pucks.” Look for the team to continue to build up Bastian’s stamina with an eye toward him being ready for opening night.

The Devils will next face off against the Rangers on Wednesday in a rematch of last year’s first-round series. With the Utica Comets officially opening training camp earlier this week, it would not be a surprise to see the Devils make another round of cuts soon and try to use the final two preseason games to get their regulars some ice time together, especially on special teams.

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