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August 5, 2011
Top 10 Prospects
New Jersey Devils

by Corey Pronman

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Full list of NHL Organizational Rankings

The New Jersey Devils Top 10 Prospects

1. Adam Larsson, Defense
2. Jon Merrill, Defense
3. Alexander Urbom, Defense
4. Adam Henrique, Center
5. Eric Gelinas, Defense
6. Brandon Burlon, Defense
7. Mike Hoeffel, Left Wing
8. David Wohlberg, Left Wing
9. Seth Helgeson, Defense
10. Reid Boucher, Left Wing*

*Ranking Explanation: I had Reece Scarlett ranked ahead of Reid Boucher pre-draft, but information I've gotten them from sources since then have made me higher on Boucher and lower on Scarlett.

Organizational Ranking: 17th

System Overview: The Devils have a very top-heavy system supported by three very good defense prospects in Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill and Alexander Urbom. After graduating Matt Corrente and Matt Taormina, the depth of this system is very poor and if Adam Larsson and/or Alexander Urbom graduate to the NHL next season, this system will likely plummet to the bottom of the league.

The Devils have an admirable amount of young defenders in their system, considering as well the ones they just graduated, but New Jersey really lacks any threatening scoring prospect. Barring any changes via trade, free agency or a great draft pick, the sources of scoring in this organization are going to remain constant for a while.

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1. Adam Larsson, Defense
Date of birth: 11/12/1992
Age: 18
Height: 6'3''
Weight: 200
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 37 GP, 1 G, 9 P, 18:44 ATOI (Skellefteċ-SEL)
Acquired: First round, fourth overall in 2011 by New Jersey

The Good: Adam Larsson's a solid skater who can flash above-average when moving in a straight line. He has good agility for a big defender and can move laterally and turn well. His puck skills are above-average in both the puck-handling and passing aspect. He regularly likes to rush the puck up the ice and when he identifies the chance to jump up into the offensive play, he doesn't hesitate. Larsson executes well as a passer, be it with quick breakouts or by opening and identifying lanes on the power play. His shot likely won't be as a legit weapon at the next level, although he can really dial it up on his slap shot. He has a great frame and while his physical game was questioned last year, in many viewings this year his strength and willingness to play physical was so notable that it could very likely be an above-average tool by the time he hits his early 20's, arguably even plus. His hockey sense as a whole is an above-average tool as he shows a very calm approach to the game and thinks it well. His defensive game is multi-dimensional in that he uses his positioning, stick and physicality to stop forwards.

The Bad: There isn't really anything to put here. He's the most complete and refined defensive prospect in hockey who just needs a small amount of ice experience at an NHL pace. He isn't really dynamic at anything, but that's not a real knock.

Projection: Likely an average first pairing defenseman who at worst should at least become a below-average first pairing defenseman.

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2. Jon Merrill, Defense
Date of birth: 02/03/1992
Age: 19
Height: 6'3''
Weight: 209
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 42 GP, 7 G, 25 P (University of Michigan-CCHA)
Acquired: Second round, 38th overall in 2010 by New Jersey

The Good: Merrill is a plus puck-moving defenseman with great offensive instincts and distribution ability. His panic threshold is tremendous with the puck and he looks at times like he's sleeping on the ice with the poise he plays with. He makes mid- to long-distance passes seem effortless and can quarterback a power play very well. His hockey sense is plus and he thinks the game at such a high level. Merrill anticipates the play off the puck quite well, sees the ice at a desirable level and can really control a game. He has great physical assets with a big, thick frame and a long wingspan that allows him to be an effective stick checker. He is quite strong and he can be hard to knock off the puck. He's a safe, quiet defensive player who usually makes the right reads and plays his assignments well.

The Bad: Merrill is a below-average skater who moves fine in a straight line, but could use some work on his first few step quickness and his overall movements. He has the ability to physically dominate but doesn't use his body as much as he should. Merrill is also quite suspect to mental lapses, as while his hockey sense is great, he sometimes loses a level of intensity and it leads to a brain cramp type of mistake.

Projection: A below-average first pairing defender who easily projects to be a good top four defender.

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3. Alexander Urbom, Defense
Date of birth: 12/20/1990
Age: 20
Height: 6'5''
Weight: 215
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 72 GP, 2 G, 23 P (Albany-AHL)
Acquired: Third round, 73rd overall in 2009 by New Jersey

The Good: Urbom is a big, physical defender with a thick frame who easily projects to have a plus if not beyond physical game in the NHL. He's very strong for his age, and when he engages in physical battles, he comes out with the puck more often than not. He's quite mobile for a big defender and while he doesn't have an above-average pro top speed, he skates well in all directions and with his wingspan he can cover a lot of ground effectively. Urbom has above-average hockey sense, and is very aware on the ice. He regularly makes good decisions and his steady, yet quick acclimation to the pace of the professional game has been impressive.

The Bad: Urbom is a little rigid with the puck, and there are questions about his ultimate upside. He's not fringe though in terms of his offensive skills, as he can be a decent puck-mover and in AHL viewings, he looked somewhat effective on the power play.

Projection: An average second pairing defender who safely projects as a below-average second pairing defender.

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4. Adam Henrique, Center
Date of birth: 02/06/1990
Age: 21
Height: 6'0''
Weight: 205
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 73 GP, 25 G, 50 P (Albany-AHL)
Acquired: Third round, 82nd overall in 2008 by New Jersey

The Good: Some may look at just the raw numbers and come away somewhat underwhelmed by Henrique's season, but he played on a poor offensive team, was second on the team in scoring and scouts say he was nothing short of exceptional throughout the AHL season. He's a smooth skater with a good first couples steps. He has solid puck skills, can pull a decent move in tight and is a fine distributor of the puck. Henrique competes hard, works well along the boards and goes to the net for scoring chances. He's versatile in the amount of roles he can play, as he can set up plays, has above-average goal-scoring ability, plays a good defensive game, and can play all the forward positions effectively.

The Bad: Henrique still needs to put on some more muscle and needs a big summer to get himself ready to push for a full-time NHL job. His top speed could be more threatening.

Projection: A below-average second to above-average third line forward who safely projects as an average third line forward with good two-way contribution.

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5. Eric Gelinas, Defense
Date of birth: 05/08/1991
Age: 20
Height: 6'4''
Weight: 201
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 62 GP, 12 G, 48 P (Chicoutimi/Saint John-QMJHL)
Acquired: Second round, 54th overall in 2009 by New Jersey

The Good: Gelinas is a huge presence on the backend, which has scouts thinking he has a chance to be a top-end physical player when he fills out. He easily rubs players off the puck, has quite a strong and sturdy build and doesn't shy from using his physical assets. Gelinas has quite a hard shot and can really lean into some blasts. He has the ability to be a fine puck-mover and is quite coordinated with his hands for a bigger player. Gelinas displays good mobility and moves very well in all directions.

The Bad: His decision-making needs a lot of work, and Gelinas has the look of a project who is several years away. His positional play has shown strides, but he still goes out of his way a little too much to attack his check. Additionally, his defensive decisions need to take a few steps forward. He also tries to go beyond his means at times offensively. He needs to work a bit on his footwork, as he can look a little awkward on his pivots and when he needs to make sharp turns.

Projection: He has below-average second pairing upside, but could end up an average third pairing defender if his development doesn't go as planned.

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6. Brandon Burlon, Defense
Date of birth: 03/05/1990
Age: 21
Height: 6'0''
Weight: 188
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 38 GP, 5 G, 18 P (University of Michigan-CCHA)
Acquired: Second round, 52nd overall in 2008 by New Jersey

The Good: Burlon is an above-average skater who is quite mobile on the back-end, has a strong push off, gets to a desirable top speed and moves pretty freely and easily. His offensive abilities have steadily come along as he's entered his junior season, and scouts praise his ability to move the puck from the back-end and to work a power play effectively. He has a heavy shot which can create rebound chances effectively. His offensive skills don't show truly above pro average, but has a solid skill set. Burlon has a decent physical game, as he's developed a fair amount of strength and holds his own physically.

The Bad: Burlon still looks a few years away, due to the fact that he still looks a little raw and has to improve his decision-making. He's not fringe in that aspect and can be decent at times, but that area needs some attention. One NHL source is optimistic though that he will improve and describes him as a quick study who can find ways to learn the finer aspects of the position.

Projection: An above-average third pairing defender who safely projects to play in the league in some role.

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7. Mike Hoeffel, Left Wing
Date of birth: 04/09/1989
Age: 22
Height: 6'2''
Weight: 205
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 35 GP, 13 G, 24 P (University of Minnesota-WCHA)
Acquired: Second round, 57th overall in 2007 by New Jersey

The Good: Hoeffel has matured well physically; he has all the makings of a fine physical pro forward. He has a very admirable work ethic and plays a rugged power game. Hoeffel doesn't shy from driving the net and putting consistent physical pressure on his opponents on a regular basis. Hoeffel is very strong, and once he plants himself in front of the net or gets the puck down low, he's very hard to move.

The Bad: Hoeffel has fair offensive skills, but he's not a pro-average player in regards to puck skills and is quite limited in how he can attack the defense. He's a below-average skater and while he's developed the strength in his lower body that has allowed him to move a little more swiftly, his top speed isn't really threatening.

Projection: A below-average third line to above-average fourth line forward who can likely find some role in the league.

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8. David Wohlberg, Left Wing
Date of birth: 07/08/1990
Age: 21
Height: 6'1''
Weight: 195
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 37 GP, 15 G, 21 P (University of Michigan-CCHA)
Acquired: Sixth round, 172nd overall in 2008 by New Jersey

The Good: Wohlberg is a talented forward with a couple of impressive tools. He's a decent skater with good footwork and while he doesn't show an above-average pro top speed, his skating can play with professionals just fine. He has pretty soft hands and shows the ability to out-angle defenders in open ice. He's a hard-working, gritty player who consistently finishes his checks and does not shy from a physical game. Wohlberg's work ethic translates well into his defensive game, as he shows an exemplary two-way game and is a dedicated penalty killer.

The Bad: Wohlberg is still pretty raw and looks a few years away from pushing for a job due to his decision-making. He's not the most aware player, and when he gets the puck, he often gets tunnel vision or will cough it up. How far his instincts and sense come will define how far he can go in the game.

Projection: An average third line forward at best, and his projection varies all the way down to that of a replacement-level player.

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9. Seth Helgeson, Defense
Date of birth: 10/08/1990
Age: 20
Height: 6'5''
Weight: 217
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 36 GP, 1 G, 7 P (University of Minnesota-WCHA)
Acquired: Fourth round, 114th overall in 2009 by New Jersey

The Good: Helgeson is a plus plus physical player with a big frame who regularly throws his weight around at opposing players. Scouts rave about the physical prescience he provides on a regular basis and on top of being a big hitter, he wins a good majority of his board battles. Helgeson is a hard worker who will do all the little things well in regards to giving it his all in one-on-one battles and in sacrificing his body on the penalty kill. When he's on, he can be a notable shutdown player and there is some fair defensive value to his projection.

The Bad: Helgeson's mobility is decent for his size, but his feet can look a little heavy on his start-ups and faster forwards can give him trouble. His hockey sense has been questioned by several sources, as he is a turnover machine and makes pretty poor decisions with the puck. His puck-moving skills are basic, although they aren't nonexistent either.

Projection: He's got the ceiling of an average third pairing defender, and there's a fair chance of his not becoming an NHL regular at all.

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10. Reid Boucher, Left Wing
Date of birth: 09/08/1993
Age: 17
Height: 5'10''
Weight: 192
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 57 GP, 32 G, 54 P (USA Under-18-USHL/NCAA/International)
Acquired: Fourth round, 99th overall in 2011 by New Jersey

The Good: Boucher is a sniper, pure and simple, and he lives and dies by his plus plus shot. It's a very well-rounded tool, as he can get his shots off quickly, requires only a short wind-up on one-timers, and can pick corners from well beyond the slot area with a notable amount of zip. On the USA power play, Boucher's role was basically to hover around the slot area and wait for a chance to develop so someone could feed him the puck. He has solid-average puck skills, and it's most evident when he needs to rely on his hand-eye coordination to corral the puck or when the puck is loose in front of a lot of legs. He can make a quick move or decent pass, but you don't see it that often.

The Bad: His physical game is below fringe level, despite the fact he does show notable work ethic along the boards and does go hard to the net; he's going to be man-handled at the next level. Boucher's skating is fringe, and for a small guy that hurts his stock big time as he isn't going to be able to elude checkers. His defensive game needs a little fine-tuning though—while he's shown the ability to be decent on the PK, at even-strength his positioning is a little off and he flies out of his defensive zone a little too quickly.

Projection: A below-average second line forward in a perfect world, but there's a decent chance that he ends up as a career AHLer.

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The Sleeper: Goaltender and 2010 third round pick Scott Wedgewood has yet to have the big season save percentage-wise in the OHL, but there's a lot to like in terms of his athletic tools and his ability to make the tough saves.

Extra Notes: My report on Reece Scarlett can be found here.

Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Corey by clicking here or click here to see Corey's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Front Office Focus (08/04)
<< Previous Column
Top 10 Prospects (08/03)
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Top 10 Prospects (08/09)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Illegal Curve (08/08)

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