To hear his college coach talk about him, the Islanders may be justified in their faith that Devon Toews will be an impact defenseman this season and for many to come.
"Devon's going to be a Corsi king - a top possession defender," said Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold, who took over the program in 1994 and is third among active NCAA Division I men's hockey coaches in victories. "Some people are going to be surprised about him, but not us. We know how good Devon is, and how good he's going to become."
Toews played for the Bobcats for three seasons, from 2013-2016, with an appearance in the Frozen Four in his final season. Pecknold identified Toews as an intriguing prospect and recruited him to attend the university in Connecticut with the guidance of a good connection: Matt Erhart, who played for Pecknold at Quinnipiac in the first four years of this century, was Toews' coach as a teenager with the Surrey (British Columbia) Eagles.
In the words of Pecknold, Toews ascended rapidly from quality college defenseman to, "Oh man, he's so good, he's probably going to leave us early."
Toews did, signing with the Islanders after the Frozen Four in 2016. He played the last two seasons in Bridgeport, but likely would have been called up to make his NHL debut if he had not sustained a serious shoulder injury on Dec. 30. Toews was sidelined for the season, but is expected to be 100 percent for Camp Barry Trotz in September.
In search of intel on the under-the-radar Toews, here is some more from our conversation with Pecknold...
Devon was first eligible for the NHL Draft in 2013, but wasn't taken until the Islanders grabbed him in the fourth round after his freshman year at Quinnipiac. How did he slip through?
I can't speak for that, but I can tell you a lot of teams have regretted it. It's not an exaggeration to say scouts and management types from at least 12 NHL teams have said something to me to the effect of, "We should have taken Toews when we had the chance."
Did the Islanders - being so close by, not just on Long Island, but also with the AHL club in Bridgeport - keep regular tabs on him?
Absolutely. The Islanders did a great job of tracking him and eventually drafting him. [Development coach and scout] Eric Cairns was a regular at our games, and I'm sure he gave Devon a big recommendation.
When did you realize you probably wouldn't have Toews as a Bobcat for the full four seasons?
Deep down, we knew it was inevitable he'd leave school early. His freshman year was great, and then he got better. When Devon was on the ice for us, we had the puck all the time. His junior season, we were the No. 1 team in the country for most of the year. We only lost four games. We knew that would be it, and we understood his decision.
What does Toews do best?
It's all about his instincts. They're outstanding. He understands the game better than most players. He has talent. He can skate. He won Fastest Skater at the AHL All-Star Game as a rookie. But it's his ability to see plays develop that sets him apart.
How did he improve from his first day in your program to his last?
He came to us as strictly an offensive defenseman. I have to give credit to my assistant coach, Reid Cashman, who was with us for Devon's time here before becoming a coach at Hershey and now with the Capitals. Reid really helped Devon on the defensive side. Devon also got stronger working with our strength coach, Brijesh Patel. By the time he got to Bridgeport, he was ready for the pros.
Toews has just the season and a half in Bridgeport under his belt, but just signed a two-year, one-way contract, so the Islanders appear to have him ticketed for the NHL. Do you believe he can jump right in and excel?
He's got the ability and, more importantly, the proper mindset and hockey IQ. We're really proud of him here. I have no doubt he will play for the Islanders. The coaches are going to really like him.