While the available offensive prospects in New Jersey are few and far between, there are plenty of potential defensive prospects waiting for their chance to make the jump to the NHL. With the recent trade of Henrik Tallinder to the Buffalo Sabres, Lou Lamoriello stated that it made room for a young defensemen to make the team out of training camp. With that statement, there were four names Lamoriello mentioned specifically that were ready for the next step - Alexander Urbom, Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill, and Damon Severson. Let's take a look at these four players and what they could bring to the Devils and how the recent resigning of Marek Zidlicky could affect their chances of making the team.
Urbom was drafted by New Jersey in 2009 in the 3rd round, 73rd overall. He began playing with the Albany Devils in 2010 and has been called up to New Jersey on a few occasions. In 14 NHL games, Urbom has scored two goals and has no assists. In his time with Albany, he has played a total of 190 games scoring four goals and thirty-nine assists while racking up 161 penalty minutes. He had just eight assists for Albany in the 2012-2013 season and played only one game with New Jersey.
While Urbom is solid defensively, he is not a very productive player. With the current defensive corps in New Jersey, the team might be better served by someone with a little more offensive up-side. He isn't the fastest skater and while he is reliable and wouldn't make the current New Jersey defense any worse, I don't know that he would add anything, either.
Like Urbom, Gelinas has spent the most recent part of his career in the AHL. He was the Devils' 2nd round pick, 54th overall in the 2009 NHL Draft. While he is a large player, he also has an impressive skill set, which includes offensive ability. In two seasons with the Albany Devils, Gelinas has scored twenty-two goals and thirty-seven assists in 132 regular season games. He made his NHL debut at the very end of the 2012-2013 season.
Gelinas has an offensive flair that could provide some scoring from the back end in New Jersey. He was the highest scoring defenseman in Albany during his two seasons there and he is strong on the powerplay. He is also good for getting the puck on net with 160 shots on goal in 2011-2012 and 137 in 2012-2013.
In the 2010 NHL Draft, the Devils selected Jon Merrill in the 2nd round with their 38th overall pick. Merrill has been one of the most talked about prospects in New Jersey's system for both good and bad reasons. In his sophomore season at the University of Michigan, Merrill was suspended for breaking a team rule and missed half of the season. The following year, he was injured missing the first half of the 2012-2013 season. When he is on the ice, Merrill is a productive defensemen who has scored eleven goals and added thirty-six assists in eighty-two NCAA games. In just twelve AHL games last season, he had a goal and seven assists.
While Merrill doesn't have the same amount of professional experience as both Urbom and Gelinas, his potential is through the roof. He is often listed as one of the Devils' top prospects, and this season could be the one in which he breaks through and proves himself. While I think he could use some time in the AHL to give him a chance to develop more and learn from the pros, he does have the natural talent and offensive ability the Devils could use immediately.
Severson has been playing with the Kelowna Rockets for the past three seasons and has improved each year. In 2012-2013 he put up an impressive fifty-two points with ten goals and forty-two assists in seventy-one games. He also played two games with the Albany Devils after the Rockets were eliminated from the playoffs and had two assists in that time.
Severson is slated to play another season in the WHL and was recently invited to the Canada's World Junior tryouts. He is the youngest of the four defensemen listed here and could likely use more development but he has a high ceiling and could be a threat offensively.
As I was writing this, defenseman Marek Zidlicky resigned with the Devils for one year, setting the current New Jersey defense to seven players. I don't think it is a bad signing for just one year - he has been an effective offensive defenseman in New Jersey, which John talks more about here. Although I am content with the signing, this makes it less necessary to bring another defenseman from Albany into the mix. While Lou may have another move up his sleeve, if one of those four players are brought to the NHL, that would bring back the awkward eight-man defense from last season which left many players unhappy after being healthy-scratches for multiple games.
Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti that the trading of Tallinder and making room for a younger defenseman had nothing to do with resigning Zidlicky. With that said, to bring any of these players to New Jersey right away with the resigning of Zidlicky could stunt their development. If there isn't room for them in the lineup, there is no need for them to watch night-in and night-out from the press box. Instead, these players would benefit more from playing regular minutes in the AHL (or WHL in Severson's case).
Of these four defensemen mentioned by Lamoriello to make the opening lineup in October, Gelinas would be my pick. He provides an offensive spark but is also responsible defensively. While Urbom is a solid defenseman, the team really needs someone who can chip in some offense. While Merrill and Severson could also offer a scoring touch, Gelinas has had the most time to develop and has shown he can be an asset.
In contrast, I think Severson would be the worst choice to add into the lineup. At just 19-years-old, he still has a lot of developing to do and I don't see any need in rushing him. While he is a very talented player, his game is still raw and he has a lot to learn. I do believe that, in the long run, Severson and Merrill will be stronger defensemen than both Urbom and Gelinas but they shouldn't be rushed into the NHL when there are other capable players available.
As I noted above, I don't see the need to rush any of these players if Lamoriello is done tinkering with the defense for this season. There are currently seven defensemen signed, and adding any of these four players to watch from the press box would be a bad idea. On the other hand, if he is working on another trade to move a current defenseman, I think Gelinas should get his chance on the Devils blue line this season. It was noted by Tom Gulitti last night that it sounds as though Lou may have another trade brewing.
Lou has stated that he believes all four of these players are NHL ready. While I don't entirely disagree with him, I do think that some of them are more ready to make the jump than others. However, these are the top four defensive prospects at the moment and we could potentially see any of them in a Devils jersey next season. Do you think Urbom, Gelinas, Merrill, or Serverson should make the Devils opening night roster? Are there any prospects you think should get a chance before the four mentioned? What are your thoughts of carrying eight d-men for another season? Do you think Lou has another trade up his sleeve? Feel free to discuss your thoughts on the topic in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!