In Front Of The Screen: Takeaways From Episode 1 Of 'Behind The Glass: New Jersey Devils Training Camp'
I guess I never really considered how awesome it must have been for a player whose career has so often been called into question by those who were supposed to be supporting it to have the appreciation of his efforts echoed throughout the entirety of a building that's grown to love him. Still a lot of work to do for the Devils to have a rock solid case when it comes to re-signing Taylor Hall long term, but those 'MVP' chants certainly didn't do any damage to it. If last season was as special to its Hart Trophy winner as it was to those that constantly plead his case then it's tough to see him having a change of heart anytime soon.
To me, it was already comfortingly obvious prior to watching some clipped together training camp montage. Fans that automatically target coaching and goaltending whenever they need an answer to the inevitable struggles that occur during a long season might disagree, but look no further than how last year's Devils' team handled stormy waters for proof that they had the right man guiding the ship.
As is the case with an first time NHL head coach taking over an objectively piss poor team, there were some bumps along the way. However, if last night's episode drove one point home it was that John Hynes has his finger on the rapidly increasing pulse of a predominantly young locker room. If you still haven't gotten on board with that then I suggest you walk the scenic route and think about why it is that your dumbass is more difficult to please than an entire team of professional athletes (from veteran captain-to league MVP-to-inexperienced rookie) whose play backed up the glowing words they've constantly spoken of a guy who is anything but easy on them. What you just might find is that you have more issues than the Devils' defense, because it's rare for a demanding disciplinarian on the ice to have earned the players collective ear off the ice when his resume is relatively limited.
Simply put, creating a cohesive culture that's predicated on mutual respect with motivated players that know exactly what kind of effort and excellence is expected out of them is much more vital to success than the divvying up of defensive minutes or the selection of who is sitting in a luxury suite on any one night. John Hynes has his players ready to run through a wall (their words, not mine), and - if nothing else - that should make the fanbase feel better about the inevitability of them hitting one during an upcoming season in which house money can no longer buy them the benefit of the doubt.
I'm not sure all that much was learned of an aging goalie whose battling back from the type of injury that's killed off no shortage of careers at his position, but just hearing Cory Schneider speak of his intention to return to elite form was encouraging. It's easy to forget the high level he was playing at last fall and thus consider his near-perfect playoff appearances too small a sample size to judge. However, if Devils' can eventually get anywhere near that much out of him on any kind of consistent basis then they'll be in much better shape. That's a better big "if", of course, but him having more of a "when" mindset was promising.
Interesting perspective on going from just another piece on a perennial playoff contender to a leader of a group that was the furthest thing from relevant, but my main takeaway? The 35 year old needs to record the clip of him making a play before letting out a "still got it!" (at :40 seconds above) and fall asleep to it on loop if that's what it takes to inspire him back to the level of an adequate top-4 defenseman. He honestly shouldn't be expected to fill such a big role at this stage of his career, but he needs to if the Devils have any shot of having their brutal blue-line grade out around a B-. He seems spry, which is all you can really ask for at this stage of the game, but I would prefer he keep speaking that kind of spirit into existence. Ya know, just in case.
Can't say I expected someone who has underachieved since being selected in the first round so many moons ago to be one of the more viscerally vocal guys on the ice during what stands to be the most telling training camp of his career. This team gave every indication that they are a fun-loving group last year, so he definitely fits in from a personality perspective. Hopefully that intensity and enthusiasm translates in his play, because the Devils' front lines are definitely lacking the type of rifle that John Quenneville has at his disposal. Kid can flat out shoot the puck in a way that can pack a punch to a powerplay whose second unit certainly didn't deserve to be sponsored by an energy company. Special teams helped decide the fringe roster spots last season (See: Brian Gibbons, Blake Coleman), so if he's as rambunctious in rounding out the rest of his game as he is in riling up the boys then he might just get that last chance to prove himself in the show.
In theory, I should appreciate any player who is willing to get punched in the face for the team in which I am so emotionally invested. In execution, I would rather have Kurtis Gabriel punch me in the face than watch his storyline play out during a short, four-episode season in which there are so, so, so many more intriguing things to explore.
There is a lot to like about this Devils' team, but their (fleeting, as he's already been axed) interest in rostering a punching bag is not one of them. I literally got second-hand douche chills watching him plead to pick a fight with an unwilling participant as his main contribution to a preseason hockey game in the year 2018. Hopefully those two minutes of my life (that I will never have back, mind you) are the last two in which I'll be left screaming for the camera to scan to any of the dozen players with which the future of the franchise currently resides, as opposed to being figuratively beat over the head by their irredeemable roster fodder.
It sucks for Kurtis Gabriel that the Kurtis Gabriel's of the world have been phased out of the sport, but the truth is that him talking about it isn't going to leave me feeling sympathetic when I could be watching Nico Hischier share a sheepish smile with Jesper Bratt instead.
Overall, it was nice initial look into an organization that's as fun to follow as it's ever been, but I have my fingers crossed that episode two (and beyond) does a better job of following the development of the young Devils who are crucial to the team's ability to take the next step toward contending.