Why 2017 Devils Development Camp has a different feel for coaches and players

Saturday, 15 July 2017, 09:50:23 PM. Players and coaches notice a big difference on and off the ice at the 2017 Devils Development Camp.

NEWARK -- Rick Kowalsky has been with the Devils for eight Development Camps, and he has no doubt the 2017 edition stands out in terms of the talent and skill of prospects.

"Probably the best I've seen in my time, no question," Kowalsky said Friday.

The team's AHL coach, like previous years, has handled the coaching duties with his staff during the camp, getting the first chance to see many prospects for the first time after they get drafted.

Kowalsky has seen what type of players general manager Ray Shero and his staff have tried to add over their three NHL Drafts with the organization.

"This year's draft and the last couple years, some of these kids, you can tell," Kowalsky said. "I think the goal when Ray came in was to get younger, get faster. I know Paul Castron's a big advocate of skill, and they've certainly done a good job of that the last two years."

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In his development camp with the team, Devils head coach John Hynes expressed the same sentiment of Kowalsky. Now more than ever, the Devils prospects pool is filled with the type of players they want in the organization.

"There's lots of speed there. There's lots of compete, good hockey sense, good skills, and those are the things we talked about when we got here that we wanted to try and infuse within our team at the NHL level, but also through our prospect development," Hynes said. "That's what we've seen at our camp, and it's been fun to see it. You're starting to see now the types of personalities we think are going to fit well and also how they play."

Along with the overall talent, the sheer numbers are a change for the Devils. In past seasons, the team used tryout invitees and college free agents to fill out the camp.

This summers, 31 of the 34 players participating in the camp are signed with the Devils already or are unsigned Draft picks.

"My first camp, there were a lot of older guys here," Devils forward Miles Wood said. "Guys 20, 23 years old, college free agents. Shero has said it from the start, he wants to be a young, fast team. We certainly have that now."

Wood and defenseman Steven Santini have seen the evolution of development camps with the Devils since both entered their first in 2013. Santini said along with the talent on the ice, the room has different feel as well.

"This is probably the best character group we've had, and I think that speaks volumes for Mr. Shero, Mr. Fitzgerald, the recruiting they do," Santini said. "I think they have a really group of guys here and they want this to be a Devils camp. There are a couple guys here that aren't draft picks, but it's more of a compliment that they're here, as a opposed to just filling roster spots."

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

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