Today is the final installment of the third annual ILWT Top 25 Devils Under 25. This year's top 5 includes three members of the top 5 from the previous two years and two players that have climbed the ranks from last year's top 10. Before we reveal the top 5, here is a reminder that you can see all the posts in this series right here. Now, on to the best of the young Devils.
#5 - Reid Boucher - LW - Age: 21 - 2013 Rank: 6 - 2013-14 Team: Albany (AHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
Boucher has enjoyed a steady rise on the ILWT Top 25 Under 25 list, moving from 12th in 2012 to 6th in 2013 and now cracking the top 5 in 2014. The former 4th round selection of the Devils in the 2011 draft has improved every year since being drafted, giving Devils fans a lot of reasons to be optimistic about his future.
Boucher split his first professional season between New Jersey and Albany after a standout junior career with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL that saw him set the Sting single season goal scoring record with 62 goals in 2012-13. Boucher showed glimpses of his potential with the big club, putting up 7 points in 23 games with New Jersey. He excelled with 22 goals and 38 points in 56 games with Albany last year. According to Quant Hockey, Boucher's points-per-game of 0.679 was above the 75th percentile amongst AHL players while his 0.393 goals-per-game was close to the 95th percentile.
Corey Pronman recently ranked Boucher as the Devils fifth best prospect. With a crowd of forwards in New Jersey, it's unlikely he starts the year with the Devils, but a strong start to his AHL season could force his way to the big club as the season progresses.
#4 - Eric Gelinas - D - Age: 23 - 2013 Rank: 9 - 2013-14 Team: New Jersey (NHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
Perhaps no young player excited Devils fans more than Eric Gelinas last season. It showed in the voting as he moved up five places from last year's rankings. The 6'4, 205 lbs. defenseman has an absolute rocket for a shot that he used to put up 7 goals in 60 games with New Jersey last season. The Devils 2nd round pick from the 2009 draft is poised to earn a full time role after parts of three seasons in the AHL that saw him put up a 0.44 points-per-game rate in 145 regular season games. As John mentioned in his post yesterday on Gelinas re-signing, he really improved the Devils in 5v4 play. Of course Gelinas is still raw when it comes to defending as he is prone to mental lapses and errors in positioning.
This season will allow Gelinas to come into camp with a strong chance to make the New Jersey roster. He's on a one way deal now and the Devils may be reluctant to pay him all that money to play in Albany. It will be interesting to see how he performs with Tommy Albelin now taking over defensive coaching duties for the Devils from Scott Stevens.
#3 - Adam Larsson - D - Age: 21 - 2013 Rank: 2 - 2013-14 Team: Albany (AHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
After two consecutive years in the #2 spot, Larsson fell down to third after a disappointing year that was interrupted by injury and saw him sent to Albany once he was healthy. It is worth noting that the voting was extremely close between second and third and that Larsson's fall was minimal.
It almost seems that Larsson has been in the Devils system for a long time, but it was only three years ago that the Devils selected him fourth overall. While Larsson has had a tough time earning the full trust of Peter DeBoer, he is still just 21 years old and has shown plenty of glimpses of talent to be an above average NHL defender for a long time. After an impressive rookie campaign with New Jersey in 2011-12 where he appeared in 65 regular season games and 5 playoff games, he split 2012-13 between Albany and New Jersey due to the lockout, and did the same thing last year due to injury and the defensive logjam. Larsson has been able to show offensive production at the AHL level that suggests he can contribute in that manner in the NHL as he progresses over the next few years. In 66 AHL regular season games, Larsson has 38 points for a 0.58 points-per-game rate. According to Quant Hockey, Larsson has been around the 75th percentile in points-per-game in the AHL, which is impressive for a defenseman.
Like Gelinas, Larsson will have the opportunity to work under Tommy Albelin this year in New Jersey after working with him in Albany in recent seasons. With the defensive logjam being a thing of the past in New Jersey after the departures of Fayne and Volchenkov, Larsson will have a huge opportunity to prove himself to DeBoer.
#2 - Jon Merrill - D - Age: 22 - 2013 Rank: 4 - 2013-14 Team: New Jersey (NHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
After finishing fourth in the first two ILWT Top 25 Under 25 lists, Merrill finds himself ranked second this year. Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft, Merrill is another one of the Devils mobile, large defenseman, at 6'4, 205 lbs. Merrill has been highly touted for years and impressed in his rookie season with New Jersey, appearing in 52 games and averaging 19:14 in ice time.
It wasn't an easy rode for Merrill to get to this point. He was ranked as the 21st skater by Central Scouting in 2010 but a suspension in his draft year for an off-ice incident hurt his stock. Merrill had a solid freshman season for Michigan in 2010-11 with 25 points in 42 games as one of the team's top defenseman and earned a spot on the USA U20 World Junior Championship team where he had 5 points in 6 games. In that year he would earn CCHA All-Rookie Team honors and a Bronze Medal for Team USA. His sophomore year was turbulent with him being suspended for about half the season due to off-ice related issues though he did once again represent the USA U20 team at the WJC. His junior season was his final year of college hockey but he once again missed about half the season after suffering a cracked vertebrae in an exhibition game.
People love comeback stories and all of those struggles made Merrill's successful rookie season in the NHL that much more satisfying. You can really choose from a solid list of defensemen for who will lead the Devils blue line in the future, and for a lot of people, Merrill is the top man on that list.
#1 - Adam Henrique - C/LW - Age: 24 - 2013 Rank: 1 - 2013-14 Team: New Jersey (NHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
With 95.4% of the first place votes, Adam Henrique has three-peated as the ILWT Top Devil Under 25. This comes as no surprise as the former 3rd round pick of the Devils in the 2008 draft has just produced in every way imaginable since being drafted.
In the span of three full regular seasons in the NHL, Henrique has put up 110 points in 194 games for a points-per-game rate of 0.57. He equaled that point-per-game rate during the 2012 run to the Cup Finals where he had 13 points in 23 games, including dramatic overtime goals against the Panthers (YouTube) and Rangers (YouTube). According to Quant Hockey, Henrique has been pretty much above the 75th percentile in points-per-game and goals-per-game in his NHL career for his age 21 to 23 seasons. Progressive Hockey notes that he has been a decent possession player in his career with a 53.4 CF% and 53.3 FF% in 5v5 play.
It is for good reason that the Devils locked Henrique up thru the 2018-19 season with just a $4M cap hit. His ability to play either center or the wing and be responsible in all zones to go along with his production has made him a valuable asset. I know I certainly look forward to watching him anchor the Devils forward group over the next few seasons.
Just like last year, this year's list was crowd-sourced. While there has been some debate over the rankings in the comments, I feel like the community selected the appropriate players for the top 10. Not necessarily in the order that I would've chosen them but the right players nonetheless. I want to thank everyone for participating in the survey and voicing their opinions. Please leave your comments on the top 5 below and thank you for reading!