Do the New Jersey Devils Have the Next Shea Weber and Ryan Suter?
By: Mike Luciano (@MikeLuci)
Aside from covering the ongoing status of the collective bargaining negotiations or speculating where Shane Doan, currently the most highly coveted unrestricted free agent available will sign his next contract, there hasn’t really been much to talk about hockey-wise, especially in the Devils community. They signed winger Bobby Butler to a two-way contract with hopes that he could develop into a top-six forward and signed 2012 first round pick Stefan Matteau to his first professional contract. This news really isn’t groundbreaking and any input I could give has already been exhausted by other Devils writers.
As disappointing as it may be to the rest of the hockey world, Lou Lamoriello has continued to steer the Devils in the right directions with his recent moves.
Now that the future of the Devils has been brought up, it certainly is an encouraging topic to discuss. As bold of a proclamation as it is to say in the wake of seeing the Devils lose a marquee talent in Zach Parise, the organization is going to be competitive for years to come, especially on the back end. With the youngsters Adam Larsson and Mark Fayne slated to play significant roles on the Devils blue line down the stretch, it raises the question if the best is yet to come on New Jersey’s back end.
Coming up the pipeline are two promising prospects, defensemen Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas. Both players were drafted in back-to-back years in the second round (Gelinas in 2009, Merrill in 2010) and exhibit the player qualities and skill set that a top-four puck moving defenseman possesses. Hockeysfuture.com analysis on Jon Merrill has him capable of developing into a Ryan Suter-type player if all goes according to plan. With that in mind, the Devils could potentially possess a future Suter/Weber-type pairing.
Before getting into any further detail, it’s worth saying that this piece isn’t guaranteeing that Merrill and Gelinas are going to turn out the way that Suter and Weber did for the Predators. Exploring the idea that these two prospects could wind up taking the same developmental path is merely speculation based on comparative and statistical analysis.
During this summer’s prospect camp, Merrill and Gelinas were paired together frequently and left an encouraging impression on the organization. While Merrill has opted to return to play in Michigan for another year, and it appears likely that Gelinas will spend another year in Albany because of the Devil’s surplus of defensive depth, there are several notable similarities these two prospects have to the Nashville Predator’s captain and the Minnesota Wild’s latest defensive addition at this stage in their young careers.
Like their counterparts, Merrill and Gelinas possess booming shots and are sound contributors on the power play. Like Suter, Merrill has played stints at the college level and for the US National Development Program. During Suter’s two years playing for the USNTDP, he totaled four goals and 15 assists in 44 games over two seasons. During the one season he spent playing at the University of Wisconsin, Suter tallied three goals and 16 assists in 39 games. Between 2008 and 2010, Merrill played on three under-eighteen teams and an under-seventeen team. He compiled totals of four goals and 13 assists over 67. Since 2010, Merrill has played 61 games over two seasons at the University of Michigan, where he compiled nine goals and 27 assists.
Like Weber, Gelinas took the route of playing juniors before beginning his professional hockey career. Gelinas spent four years in the QMJHL with three different teams. In a total of 244 games, Gelinas compiled 31 goals and 102 assists. Shea Weber spent 190 games in the WHL over the same number of seasons and compiled totals of 26 and 65 assists.
As of now, both players have a year of AHL experience under their belt. During Weber’s stint with the Milwaukee Admirals, he appeared in 46 contests and notched 12 goals and 15 assists. Gelinas, who played in 75 contests with the Albany Devils this past season, had 16 goals and 21 assists.
Just because Merrill and Gelinas are two of the Devil’s most highly revered prospects right now means in no way, shape, or form that their becoming marquee players is set in stone. Their numbers through juniors, college, and minor league hockey have shown some encouraging and hopeful flashes that Merrill and Gelinas are on a similar path. With that said, nothing will be known for certain until they prove capable of securing positions on an NHL squad.