We continue our top 25 New Jersey Devils players under the age of 25 series today. This post will reveal the middle portion of our top 25 ranking. This includes 3 defensemen at different stages of their young careers, one of the top goaltending prospects in the game, and another goaltender that is coming off of a career season last year. Let's take a look at who they are.
#15 - Josh Jacobs - D - Age: 20 - 2015-16 Team: Sarnia (OHL) - 2015 Rank: #13 - Elite Prospects Profile
Jacobs remained in the top 15 for this year's rankings after a solid rookie season with the Sarnia Sting. The Devils selected the 6'2, 200 lbs. right handed defenseman in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft after a strong USHL career with the Indiana Ice from 2012-14. As a member of the Ice he appeared in the USHL All-Star game and would win the Clark Cup Championship in the 2013-14 season. Jacobs also won a World Junior A Challenge Gold Medal with the USA U19 squad that season. In 2014-15 he played his freshman season for a rebuilding Michigan State team. His basic stat line of no goals, 9 assists, and a -10 rating in 35 games doesn't tell the whole story however. As a freshman, he was immediately tasked with playing in all situations and came out of it showing a fair bit of promise. Jacobs showcased his strong skating, mobility, and physical presence on his way to earning Big Ten All-Rookie Team honors. Over the summer of 2015 he decided to make the move to play with Sarnia in the OHL. Once again he found himself in a situation where he had to play in all situations despite being new to the league. I would say the experience helped as he was able to test himself by playing with and against quality talent. He continued to show better decision making in his own end with his positioning and by playing on a more offensively gifted team, he was able to showcase his offensive instincts and passing skills as well as his decent shot that we haven't seen as much of since his USHL days. Overall he put up a respectable 4 goals and 20 assists in 67 regular season games with a +26 rating. He even made his ADevils debut after Sarnia was eliminated from the playoffs. He'll look to start his professional career in Albany this upcoming season and I wouldn't be surprised if he forces his way into some NHL action at some point. He has the tools to be a solid top 4 defenseman, it's now on him to continue to put everything together.
#14 - Vojtech Mozik - D - Age: 23 - 2015-16 Team: Albany (AHL), New Jersey (NHL) - 2015 Rank: #17 - Elite Prospects Profile
Jumping up a few spots on this year's list is another right handed defenseman in Czech Republic native, Vojtech Mozik. The 6'3, 200 lbs. Mozik was signed by the Devils last summer after a strong 2014-15 season with HC Plzen in the Czech Extraliga where he had 10 goals and 19 assists in 51 games. He lead the league in goals by a defenseman and was 4th in points. That same year he also continued to represent the Czech Republic in various international competitions. Last season was his first in North America and it went fairly well. He put up 2 goals, 15 assists, and a +28 rating in 53 regular season games for Albany. He even got a brief stint with the big club appearing in 7 games with an even rating, 4 PIM, and an average ice time of 13:14. Overall it seems that he's made the transition nicely as he seemed to slide into the line up with ease and become one of the stabilizing factors on the blue line for Albany. He seems to be poised on the puck and make solid decisions under pressure. His positioning was solid and he seems mobile enough to be able to play the game at the NHL level. He'll certainly be in a position to earn a long look in training camp as he battles with a few other guys for a spot. It will be interesting to see how he does now that he's accustomed to the North American game.
#13 - Scott Wedgewood - G - Age: 24 - 2015-16 Team: Albany (AHL), New Jersey (NHL) - 2015 Rank: #27 - Elite Prospects Profile
Scott Wedgewood was one of the biggest surprises of the 2015-16 season so perhaps it's no surprise to see him as a huge riser on this year's list. The Devils drafted the athletic Wedgewood in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft out of Plymouth of the OHL. He enjoyed a mostly solid junior career that saw him at times be an absolute workhorse and flash streaks of brilliance for the Whalers. He even earned a spot on the Canada WJC team in 2012 and earned a Bronze Medal for his efforts. His professional career from 2012 to 2015 was anything but outstanding though. He spent the bulk of 2012-13 with the Trenton Titans in the ECHL putting up a .900 SV% in 48 games. To his credit though he was often left out to dry by his defense and did struggle maintaining an appropriate playing weight in his first season as a pro. He would spend the next 2 seasons playing a little less than half of Albany's games and put up SV%'s of .899 and .903. To say that some of his prospect shine had wore off would be an understatement. 2015-16 seemed to be shaping up as another rough year for him as he missed the first few months of the season due to a high ankle sprain. After a tune up game in the ECHL, he finally made his season debut for Albany in mid-December. From that point on he was excellent with a .933 SV% in 22 regular season games. He rightfully earned a call up to the NHL and over 4 starts won 2 games, added a shutout, put up 3 quality starts, and a .957 SV%. While I would personally like to see him replicate some of this success over a longer time frame, I have to give him credit for putting himself back in the conversation for the battle to be Schneider's backup. I'm especially intersted in seeing how he performs in camp and if he can prove that last season wasn't a fluke.
#12 - Mackenzie Blackwood - G - Age: 19 - 2015-16 Team: Barrie (OHL) - 2015 Rank: #18 - Elite Prospects Profile
After an excellent 2015-16 season, Mackenzie Blackwood jumps up 6 spots and barely misses out on the top 10. The Devils selected Blackwood, the top ranked goaltender for the 2015 draft in the 2nd round. At the time he was coming off of 2 solid OHL seasons with Barrie that saw him play in 45 and 51 games each with a .902 and .906 SV% respectively. He even won OHL First All-Rookie Team honors in 2013-14. Last season he absolutely crushed it with a .921 SV% (great by OHL standards) in 43 regular season games as he won OHL First All-Star Team and OHL Goaltender of the Year honors. He had the chance to represent Canada at the WJC but had a tough go of it after serving a suspension and only putting up a .859 SV% in 3 games. Those things happen even to the best of them, no worries. Blackwood was also fairly solid for Barrie in the playoffs with a .915 SV% in 13 games. The 6'4, 224 lbs. netminder is known for his raw athleticism which allows him to have strong mobility in his crease. Over the past few seasons he's improved his positioning to cut off angles and he excels at switching between a stand up style and the butterfly making it hard for opposing shooters to find an opening to get the puck through. He won't turn 20 until December but is already set to make his AHL debut this upcoming season with Albany where I expect him to get the bulk of the work given his potential and prospect status. I tend to temper my expectations for goaltenders, but I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't excited to see what he can do.
#11 - Jon Merrill - D - Age: 24 - 2015-16 Team: New Jersey (NHL) - 2015 Rank: #4 - Elite Prospects Profile
Falling 7 spots in this year's rankings is Jon Merrill. The Devils 2nd pick from the 2010 draft has had an up and down career since being selected by New Jersey. A product of the USNTDP, he joined the University of Michigan in 2010-11 and had a succesful freshman campaign with 7 goals, 18 assists, and +11 rating in 42 games on his way to CCHA All-Rookie Team, CCHA Second All-Star Team, and NCAA (Championship) All-Tournament Team honors. The 2 time U18 WJC Gold Medal winner even added a U20 WJC Bronze Medal to his trophy case along with being named a Top 3 Player on Team, a feat he also accomplished in the U18's the year prior. Things seemed to be looking up for the defender with a strong two-way game whose potential had him on the radar of Devils' fans. The next 2 seasons wouldn't go to plan as injuries and suspensions would limit him to just 40 games with Michigan as well as 6 with the US U20 WJC team that crashed out of the tournament. Merrill would finish out the rest of the 2012-13 season with Albany with 8 points in 12 games. 2013-14 saw him split time between New Jersey (2 goals, 9 assists, -3 in 52 games) and Albany (2 goals, 8 assists, -1 in 15 games). Merrill averaged 19:14 in those 52 games with New Jersey which seemed at the time as a valuable experience for a player in his age 21 season. He made the full time jump to the NHL in 2014-15 appearing in 66 games with 2 goals, 12 assists, -14 rating, with an average ice time of 20:33. Though he was still prone to mental lapses and inconsistent on a shift to shift basis, it appeared that he was trending upwards in his development towards becoming a solid defensive defenseman. However last season seemed to be a step back for Merrill as he only was healthy and effective enough to appear in 47 games with a decrease average ice time of 16:54. While he still displayed occasions that made you think he could be a decent back pairing defender, he was still prone to mistakes that a player with his experience should be better than more often than not. He'll most likely get a slightly late start to training camp and possibly the season due to offseason shoulder surgery. The time is now for him to really round out his game and solidify his spot or else he may find himself in another organization sooner than later.
Do you have faith in Jon Merrill turning into the defensemen that so many thought he could be when he was drafted? What do you expect out of Vojtech Mozik and Josh Jacobs both in the short term and in the long term? Do you believe that Scott Wedgewood has turned a corner and will be a serviceable NHL goaltender? Are you excited by Mackenzie Blackwood's potential? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!