Defense reigns in New Jersey Devils prospect awards

By Jared Ramsden
Photo: The diminutive Reid Boucher remains one of the top goal-scoring prospects in the Devils system. (Photo courtesy of CHL Images)

Below is the inaugural edition of the New Jersey Devils prospect awards. It should come as no surprise that several defensemen garnered awards, as that remains a position of great strength for the Devils organization.

Most Improved Prospect: Reece Scarlett, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

Scarlett's development improved dramatically over the 2011-12 season. He fell all the way to the Devils in the sixth round of the draft last summer and made them look very wise for investing in his future with the numbers he put up this year. He played upwards of 25 minutes a night in all situations for the WHL's Swift Current Broncos, doubled his point total (24 to 49) and drastically improved his plus/minus from the year before (-37 to -14). As he continues to bulk up and get stronger, expect even bigger things from Scarlett going forward.

Best Defensive Prospect: Jon Merrill, D, Michigan Wolverines (CCHA)

Sure Merrill has been dogged by character concerns that caused him to miss half of his sophomore season at the University of Michigan, but there is no denying the bundle of talent he possesses. It's no coincidence that the Wolverines played some of their best hockey after Merrill returned to the lineup mid-season. Calm, cool, and calculating, Merrill at times looks like he's not even trying that hard, but that is simply because he makes it look easy. He oozes hockey sense and has top-notch puck skills that he uses to distribute and shoot the puck. Simply put, he's not just the best defense prospect in the Devils organization, but he's the best prospect in the organization.

Prospect of the Year: Scott Wedgewood, G, Plymouth Whalers (OHL)

There were a lot of good candidates for this award, but given his meteoric rise through the system, Wedgewood gets crowned as the Devils Prospect of the Year. Wedgewood, who recently signed his entry-level contract with the Devils, posted nearly identical numbers to his 2010-11 statistics in 12 less games and helped Canada win a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships. Wedgewood thrives under a heavy workload and the bigger the game, the better he plays. He's the Devils goaltender of the future.

Fastest Skater: David Wohlberg, C, Michigan Wolverines (CCHA)

Wohlberg is a powerful skater with a great second gear. With the puck on his stick, he often uses his speed to drive to the net and create scoring opportunities for both himself and his teammates. While defending, Wohlberg uses his speed to relentlessly forecheck the opposition and create turnovers.

Hardest Shot: Eric Gelinas, D, Albany Devils (AHL)

While this award can't be based solely on stats, it's hard to ignore what Gelinas has done as a first year pro with the Devils AHL affiliate in Albany. He scored an astounding 16 goals, including eight on the power-play where his shot quickly became a feared weapon. At 6'4, 205 lbs, it's not surprising his shot packs a lot of punch and he's not afraid to use it as his 160 shots attest. He may have a long windup but his shot connects with a lot of force.

Overachiever: Blake Pietila, LW, Michigan Tech Huskies (WCHA)

Pietila didn't get a chance to play on a scoring line with the USNDTP, but when given the chance to play in that role at Michigan Tech in his freshman season, he responded very favorably. He doesn't have a ton of upside, but he looks to have the skills and make-up to eventually develop into a useful bottom six forward. Pietila gets the most of his skill-set.

Underachiever: Matt Corrente, D, Albany Devils (AHL)

It's tough to label Corrente as an underachiever given his propensity to injury, but just when it looks like he is about to get his development back on track, he gets hurt. He's had opportunities to play at the NHL level, but it just seems like his development is stuck in neutral and in an organization that is loaded with defense prospects, he is falling down the prospect ladder.

Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Reid Boucher, LW, Sarnia Sting (OHL)

 

Boucher has a wicked shot and lethal release. However right now he's just a one-trick pony and though it's a really good trick, he's going to have to improve a lot of other areas of his game if he's going to want to make it in the future. You can't teach the instincts and skills Boucher has when he gets the puck on his stick, but one-dimensional players like Boucher are often hit or miss at the NHL level. He has to become a better all around player if he wants to advance as a prospect.

Hardest Worker: David Wohlberg, C, Michigan Wolverines (CCHA)

Capable of playing both wing and center, Wohlberg was an alternate captain in his senior season and provided the team with boundless energy each and every time he hit the ice. He was relied upon by Wolverines Head Coach Red Berenson to play in all situations, and was a key cog on both the penalty kill and power-play. It's also worth noting that he tied for the team lead in scoring with 33 points.

Breakout Player for 2012-13: Blake Coleman, C, Miami Redhawks (CCHA)

When the Devils selected Coleman in the second round in 2011 after he tore up the USHL, many were skeptical of how he would adjust to the NCAA. He adjusted just fine, putting up 23 points, 56 penalty minutes and a plus-13 rating in 39 games as a freshman for the University of Miami (Ohio). With the departure of 30 goal-scorer Reilly Smith (DAL) to the pros, Coleman will be one of the handful of Redhawk sophomores that will be counted on to shoulder more of the offensive load. He should see more ice-time and responsibility, so his numbers could sky-rocket next year.

 

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