2011 has been a very eventful year for Jon Merrill. While all his achievements in 2011 (Bronze medal at the WJC U20s, NCAA All-Rookie team, NCAA Second All-star team) have been impressive, it's his actions off the ice that have made the headlines- which is the indefinite suspension he's received for violations of team rules (which haven't been disclosed yet, and probably will never be). His character issues are making some wonder if he has any future with the Devils. David Conte and Lou Lamoriello haven't given up on him yet.
Perhaps my biggest concern with giving up on Merrill right now has to do with the team's prospect pool. Yes, the team's very deep in terms of defensemen. That's good and all, but the team's lacking in high end prospects right now. Last season saw Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson graduate. This year Adam Larsson and Adam Henrique have already established themselves as NHL regulars. Merrill is one of the few high end prospects and the team's top prospect. If Merrill's gone, the Devils prospect pool will go from respectable to bad. Which isn't a great thing, considering the team's in somewhat of a state of limbo. They do have draft picks, but draft picks don't always end up working out. If they had reliable goaltending and competent defensemen, then they might consider trading Merrill because of that. If they were legitimate contenders, i'd have no problem with trading Merrill. However, as of now, their goaltending is inconsistent, the defense isn't a strong point and they're a bubble team right now, so... yeah. Being a bubble team with a barren prospect cupboard isn't fun, just ask Flames fans.
Another concern would be what the Devils would be giving up. Merrill isn't a chump on skates. He's a very capable player. He hasn't played a meaningful game in over 6 months, and he's considered to be USA's top defenseman by some people. We're not talking about an average player who doesn't have a bright future as a hockey player here. He does have the potential to be a top pairing defenseman, which aren't something that grow on trees. Would we feel the same way about Jon Merrill if the team didn't win the draft lottery and Adam Larsson? Probably not. Merrill's going to be part of the solution and isn't the problem here.
My last issue has to be with where Merrill plays- defense. The team's defense isn't exactly full of All-stars. Trading Merrill gives the Devils one less option to replace the veteran defensemen like Bryce Salvador who won't be staying around after their contracts expire. Having someone like Merrill to replace them is good. It beats having to sign a stopgap defenseman or continue to play some defensemen in roles that they shouldn't be playing in (Mark Fayne wouldn't be Boston, Vancouver or Chicago's top 4).
Sure, Merrill hasn't proven anything yet. He hasn't played an NHL game. For all we know he could end up being another Matt Corrente. However, hasn't got the chance to prove anything. Really, the only thing the Devils can do is play the waiting game. If Merrill's problems get worse or they're able to obtain a solid defensive prospect via the draft (i.e. Cody Ceci, Griffin Reinhart, Derrick Pouliot) or trade that makes him expendable, then I wouldn't mind losing Merrill. But right now, I won't be happy if the team gives up on him right now.