As ranked by readers like you, we are revealing the top 25 New Jersey Devils players under the age of 25 ahead of this preseason. It's an exercise in determining where we perceive these young players. I make a point of it to leave out what drives the rankings. For some, it's raw potential of the player. For others, it's where they are in the system. For even others, it's a combination of both with other factors like team needs. Regardless, we're relying on the wisdom of crowds for a second straight year and this year's crowd is bigger than the last. Here, I will reveal who made up the middle fifth. From the very middle of the Top 25 to the spot below #10. The five players that can be considered a cut above most of those in the system but not enough to be exceptional. This is a group of mostly those who rose compared to last year's ranking. That group had players leave the organization or be too old for a Top 25 U-25 list, so they filled in the gaps at a minimum.
#15 - Myles Bell - RW - Age: 21 - 2013 Rank: 22 - 2013-14 Team: Kelowna (WHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
Myles Bell converted from defenseman to winger in 2012-13. The then-19-year old exploded onto the WHL scoring leader chart with 93 points in 69 games. The Devils drafted him in the sixth round due in part to that performance. Bell did not top the 90-point plateau, but he did top 40 goals with 42. With 14 and 15 goals as a defenseman to go with his impressive numbers as a forward, it's not a surprise that Bell's shot is his main asset. Brian asked Regan Bartel about Bell recently and he stated that it would be beneficial Bell's feet can move along with his hands. He also seems to think Bell is still adjusting to forward. I'm not as convinced since he's been one for two seasons, but I see where he's coming from as Bell had the advantage of being physically more developed and more experienced than his competition in junior. As Bell will join Albany in 2014-15, how he acclimates to the pro game will go a long way in determining his future. I can understand the excitement from the fans. He didn't just have one awesome year and fell apart as an over-aged junior. He is also a forward with a scoring pedigree going to the next level, which is something that I think is lacking to a degree in the system. I was a little surprised that he was as high as #15, but I think around there is just right.
#14 - Scott Wedgewood - G - Age: 22 - 2013 Rank: 14 - 2013-14 Team: Albany (AHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
Scott Wedgewood is the only player in this group of five that fell in the rankings from last year. Wedgewood did make Albany and stayed there all season. However, his numbers with the A-Devils were not at all encouraging. In 36 appearances, Wedgewood posted an overall save percentage of 89.9%. That's a value that includes four shutouts. To be blunt, that's a poor percentage, even for a rookie in that league. For his sake, I hope he gets better. The loser of this year's training camp battle between Keith Kinkaid and Scott Clemmensen will join him in Albany so it's not a guarantee he'll become the #1 in Albany. If a miracle happens and Maxime Clermont moves up, then that's another fight. Wedgewood is 22 so there's some hope of improvement. From the perspective of how far he can go in his career, that improvement has to happen soon. From the perspective of the 2014-15 Albany Devils (especially with last season in mind), it's got to happen now.
#13 - Reece Scarlett - D - Age: 21 - 2013 Rank: 18 - 2013-14 Team: Albany (AHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
A lot of you like yourselves some Reece Scarlett. The plurality of his votes were in this section, actually. On the one hand, Scarlett did put up 20 points as a rookie defenseman in the AHL. He finished second among A-Devils defensemen in scoring, one point behind Raman Hrabarenka. That's pretty good. Considering the Devils don't really have too many defensemen who are productive, someone who has shown signs of it in Albany will get some extra notice. However, he only played in 48 games. Albany was loaded with defenders and so he was often an extra man. I don't follow Albany enough to know whether he was solely a victim of the numbers game, not necessarily good enough to play regularly, or not in the coaches' favor to play regularly down the stretch. I think need drove this ranking, but I defer to those who follow Albany more closely to state whether this ranking is more or less appropriate.
#12 - Ben Johnson - LW/C - Age: 20 - 2013 Rank: 20 - 2013-14 Team: Windsor (OHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
Ben Johnson is a swift skater and he sped up the rankings for this year. In his final season with Windsor, he was a few points shy of a point-per-game average - a massive increase over his last two season with the Spitfires. He got an ATO with Albany for a few games last season and will join Albany this season. Brian had a few questions for Brock Otten of OHL prospects about him. Otten highlighted that his assets make him suited for a forechecking, energy styled role. His production last season was also a function of playing on a top line as Windsor's power play was poor. So based on that, I'm not seeing a scorer in development. Later in that same post, Otten suggested he may fit well with Thomson in that regard. I'd like to see that in Albany and see where that goes. Again, I think need (lack of forwards in system) combined with a fine season in juniors drove this ranking.
#11 - Graham Black - C - Age: 21 - 2013 Rank: 23 - 2013-14 Team: Swift Current (WHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
Graham Black is the biggest riser on this year's Top 25 U-25 list. He's arguably dealt with a bigger challenge than anyone else on this list: Graves' Disease. He's had it since 15 and he suffered from it significantly during the 2012-13 season; making his 68 appearances absolutely remarkable since the disease prevented him from sleeping and keeping weight on at times. He's overcome it and had a big breakout season in 2013-14: 34 goals and 63 assists (!) 69 games. That he's been hampered by Graves' in the past may lead one to think the best is yet to come from Black. He couldn't perform to the best that he could in past seasons, so there may be more to develop than what has been seen. That notion along with the strength of his 2013-14 season, I think, propels his perception ahead of most of the other junior players joining Albany. Brian talked with Shawn Mullen recently about Black's prospects. Mullen, who does play-by-play for Swift Current, had plenty of detailed insights on what he's done so far. Black isn't so bad on defense; just that he has some areas to get more work in, which is encouraging. That he's been quick on the ice is also encouraging. That Black got plenty of secondary match-ups lessens the impressiveness of his scoring numbers, though. Still, the team has lacked forward prospects who have been quite productive, so there is a lot of you hoping that Black could turn out to be somebody. I hope so too.
Now that's the middle fifth of the list, the top ten are left. The top ten young players in the New Jersey Devils organization as ranked by you. These include those who made it in the NHL and those who are expected to make it at one point or another. Brian will reveal these players on Tuesday. In the meantime, please discuss the rankings, Bell, Wedgewood, Scarlett, Johnson, and Black in the comments. Thank you for reading.