We continue the reveal of your choices for the top 25 New Jersey Devils players under the age of 25. Weeks ago, Brian sent out the call for you to rank the 35 different players in the organization by a survey. With the 2014-15 season right around the corner (and already begun for a few leagues), we're now putting up the results. This post will reveal the beginning of the middle of the list. The group that's not quite high up but not so low to be like an afterthought. The players that some of you have decent hopes in, for lack of a better term. There's a new addition the organization in addition to two new additions to the Top 25 itself. Let's get right to it.
#20 - Joshua Jacobs - D - Age: 18 - 2013 Rank: NR - 2013-14 Team: Indiana (USHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
You can call him Joshua Jacobs or you can call him Josh Jacobs. Just know that he is expected to be a Spartan. The Michigan State committed defender was the Devils' second round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. While I can't say I was in love with the selection, it became apparent that it may become a solid choice. In my post-selection article about Jacobs, I learned that he displayed that he was a very good skater and passer in the USHL. The main concern was his consistency, which was in terms of making the right decision on where to be on the ice and when to make a pass. Expect Jacobs to become a mainstay of his Top 25 list for years to come. The Devils can afford him playing in the Big Ten for a while. By the time he's ready, the opportunities on defense may be there for him. Good luck to him at Michigan State.
#19 - Seth Helgeson - D - Age: 23 - 2013 Rank: 29 - 2013-14 Team: Albany (AHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
In our initial Top 25, back when it was just us writers doing it, Seth Helgeson cracked the Top 25 at #23 in 2012. When we opened it up to the community in 2013, he fell right down to 29. He's back in the Top 25 and much higher up than before. The second biggest gain among all players from last year, actually. A full year of Albany, I think, opened up people's eyes to him. His call-up last season didn't yield his first NHL game. However, being the one picked after Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas helps his cause as to where the organization thinks he is in the system. Helgeson doesn't provide much in the way offense. He provides plenty in the way of being big (6'4", 217 pounds) and nasty (100 PIM in first season with Albany). I'm not sold on an actual future. I'm not a fan of defensemen who's calling card is to take a lot of penalties. I will let those who saw more of him in Albany state whether he's got more than just that. But he's at least not just making up the numbers. That's not necessarily a bad place to be in.
#18 - Blake Pietila - LW - Age: 21 - 2013 Rank: 13 - 2013-14 Team: Michigan Tech (WCHA) - Elite Prospects Profile
Last year, I can understand the bump in hype for Blake Pietila. He was part of a shut-down forward line for the United States' gold-medal winning team at World Junior Championships in Ufa. The word on Pietila is that if/when he does go pro, it'll be his defensive skills that will help him thrive. (Related aside: Is there value to having defensive-minded wingers given what we know now about possession?) That was on display against the best young talent in the world. With no WJC tournament to play in, Pietila's play at Michigan Tech didn't garner as much hype. His goal scoring dropped from 14 to 8, though his overall points increased from 24 to 28. His penalty minutes sky-rocketed from 44 to 84. For those expecting a big year from the then-junior Pietila, then you likely didn't get what you wanted. I think that's not too bad if he has a big year as a senior.
#17 - Ben Thomson - LW - Age: 21 - 2013 Rank: 26 - 2013-14 Team: Kitchener/North Bay (OHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
I was really surprised that you all thought so much of Ben Thomson. Apparently, many of you were thrilled with his play with North Bay. Brian recently asked the OHL Prospects guru Brock Otten about him. He described it as a tale of two seasons for Thomson, as he was a down-low threat with North Bay, which also yielded some good production - particularly in the postseason. Otten thinks that he could be a role player in a bottom-six spot provided he's able to get used to the speed of the game and get faster himself. Given that I thought he was just a pair of fists when he was drafted, the reality is that there's a chance he could be more than that at the next level. Perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised at the gain he had in this year's rankings. We'll see whether he can reach that next level with Albany soon enough.
#16 - Blake Coleman - C/LW - Age: 22 - 2013 Rank: 19 - 2013-14 Team: Miami (NCHC) - Elite Prospects Profile
No one actually asked, but I would say Blake Coleman is the most difficult player to think about in a ranking like this. He's not all that young, he'll be 23 when he finally goes pro. He's been playing at a good college and set college-career highs in goals (19) and points (28) last season. Yet, he only played 27 games last season due in part to a collarbone injury. That time lost certainly hampered his development among other matters. Coleman is expected to play a significant role as a senior, but what will that mean for the larger picture? If he's rather productive, is it a function of being able to play a full season against competition not as developed as him? Or is it a sign of things to come at the pro level? How you feel about that will drive where one would rank Coleman. Given all this, the Devils' lack of forward prospects, and prior rankings of 19 and 17 in past years, I think being just below the middle part of the rankings is about where he belongs. The wisdom of this crowd certainly agrees.
That just about does for those outside of the middle part of the Top 25. Later today will be the actual middle fifth of the Top 25. It'll include who all think is directly in the middle among the under-25 Devils players. It will also have the one player who made the biggest jump compared to last year's rankings. One last hint: you'll likely see all five of them in Albany next season. As that will come later, please feel free to give your thoughts about these rankings, Jacobs, Helgeson, Pietila, Thomson, and Coleman in the comments. Thank you for reading.