What Devils prospect Blake Speers quickly realized in AHL

May 23, 2018 - The Star Ledger - View Full Article

Devils prospect Blake Speers saw how difficult playing in the AHL can be. Watch video

Devils prospect Blake Speers sat down for his end-of-the-season meeting with the Binghamton Devils, ready to look back on his first professional season in the AHL and ahead to an offseason of training.

Comparing his AHL expectations vs. the reality of the league, Speers' perspective took a 180-degree turn.

"The first thing he said to me, 'I had no idea how hard this league was,'" Binghamton coach Rick Kowalsky said. "'I literally thought I was going to come down to the American League for two weeks or a month, then be an NHL player.'"

Speers never got an NHL call-up during his first pro season. He played three NHL games at the start of 2016-17 before going back to junior hockey, so he set his own bar high for 2017-18.

Seeing a prospect fall short of his personal expectations could be concerning, but Kowalsky viewed Speers' self evaluation as a positive.

"I was so impressed that he said that. That's the stuff you want to hear from these guys," Kowalsky said. "To his credit, he was on the other side of it and realized he needs to get better. When you have a kid identify that at that age, it's a good sign."

Devils' biggest AHL surprises

The 21-year-old finished with 12 goals and seven assists for 19 points over 62 games. The goals started coming for Speers in the second half of the season as he adjusted to the time and space given to him by faster, more physical defensemen.

Early in the season, nearly everything Speers threw at the net got blocked. He adapted and got the puck off his stick faster as the season progressed.

Despite being listed as a wing, Speers spent some time playing center, where he held his own defensively and got the chance to access his skating more. 

"He's not a fluent skater, but he is quick. He's got to work for all his ice," Kowalsky said. "Time and space got taken away quicker than he expected. It's something that I worked on with him, quite a bit through video and practice. Playing that give-and-go hockey and not hanging on to the puck, getting that shot off."

Chris Ryan may be reached at cryan@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisRyan_NJ. Find NJ.com Devils on Facebook.

Why timing was right for ex-Devils GM Lou Lamoriello to join Islanders

May 22, 2018 - The Star Ledger - View Full Article

Former Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said he is in the right place personally and professionally to return to the New York City area as president of hockey operations for the New York Islanders. Watch video

Lou Lamoriello hasn't really processed what it will mean to run another NHL team in the New York City area.

The former Devils general manager and president was officially named president of hockey operations for the New York Islanders on Tuesday, less than three years after Lamoriello ended his 28-year tenure with the Devils by becoming general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

After being transitioned out of the GM role in Toronto in April following three seasons, entertaining the idea of running another team so geographically close to the Devils became more of a possibility for Lamoriello.

"I think it's a lot easier just because of the three-year window that I wasn't (in the New York area), and the direction I am right now personally and professionally," Lamoriello said. "This is not like it would be if it were from say, the Devils to the Islanders."

Lamoriello hired by Isles

The former Devils architect will turn 76 in September. Between the Devils, Maple Leafs and now the Islanders, he has been in charge of the hockey operations for a team for every season since 1987.

After being moved to a special advisor role with the Leafs following the season, that run could have ended. But Lamoriello said he still has the passion to take on a new project.

"If I didn't have it, I wouldn't be here today," he said. "First of all, you have to look in the mirror and feel good about what you're doing. Make sure physically you feel good, and do the right things. If I didn't feel good, I wouldn't be."

Lamoriello took over as Islanders president for Garth Snow, who remains in place as the team's general manager. Since Lamoriello has the final say over all hockey operations, he could make changes at GM or on the coaching staff.

For now, he plans on evaluating what is currently in place.

"Right now, I have no preconceived notions," Lamoriello said. "I've certainly spoken to the people there. As I've done in the past in a situation like this, I take a step back and see exactly what the people who you have in place have to offer, what their thoughts are, what their vision is, and then make decisions as I go along."

Chris Ryan may be reached at cryan@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisRyan_NJ. Find NJ.com Devils on Facebook.