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Devils' top 10 prospects led by Merrill, defense

by Mike G. Morreale

The last time the New Jersey Devils were forced to dip into their prospect pool in earnest was just last season, when center Travis Zajac suffered a left Achilles tendon injury during an offseason workout. That opened a window of opportunity for Adam Henrique.

The 22-year-old native of Brantford, Ontario, took full advantage, leading all NHL rookies with 35 assists and finishing third with 51 points en route to becoming a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the League's rookie of the year. The Devils always have taken a slow approach to grooming their young players, although defenseman Adam Larsson, the fourth pick of the 2011 NHL Draft, was thrust into the spotlight last season and performed admirably on defense.

It appears as though the Devils' pipeline currently is loaded with quality defensemen and goalies, but there also were several forwards who impressed during July's development camp at AmeriHealth Pavilion in Newark, N.J.

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Here's a look at New Jersey's top 10 prospects:

1. Jonathon Merrill, D: The 6-foot-3, 210-pound blueliner is the organization's top prospect, but reportedly will return to the University of Michigan for his junior season. His poise off the transition, ability to quarterback the power play and consistency in killing penalties are areas of strength.

The only thing seemingly hanging over Merrill's head at this stage in his hockey career is maturity. He missed 22 games last season because of a suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules.

2. Alexander Urbom, D: The 2009 third-round draft pick (No. 73) offers tremendous size (6-4, 215) and strength at the point and likely will get a better opportunity to make the team at training camp this season after playing eight games in 2010-11 and  five last season. He had two goals and 12 points in 50 games for the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Albany Devils, in 2011-12.

3. Brandon Burlon, D: Another solid defense prospect from the University of Michigan, Burlon decided to turn pro following three seasons in Ann Arbor. Injuries and recalls opened up an opportunity for him to earn a regular shift with Albany of the AHL and he had a goal and eight assists in 57 games. Burlon, regarded as a solid puck-mover with some offensive upside, had 13 goals, 47 points and a plus-44 rating in 116 games at Michigan.

"Last year was a maturing year for me," Burlon said. "It was a learning year. Now is the time to just build on it and move forward."

4. Eric Gelinas, D: He not only led all Albany defenseman in goals (16) and points (37) in 75 games last season, but improved his defensive play over the second half. Drafted in the second round (No. 54) in 2009, Gelinas is at his best when he's using his 6-4, 205-pound body to his advantage.

"Eric was one of the kids who developed throughout the year, was a contributor for us in all three zones each and every night," Albany general manager Chris Lamoriello told the Daily Gazette (Schenectady, N.Y.). "He's certainly someone we have expectations to be better [in 2012-13]."

5. Stefan Matteau, C: The 29th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft made a nice impression at development camp last month. Matteau most likely will play for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2012-13. Originally committed to the University of North Dakota, Matteau decided instead to play for the Armada where his father, Stephane, is an assistant coach.

The 6-foot-1-1/2, 210-pound Matteau had 15 goals, 32 points and 166 penalty minutes in 46 games with the U.S. National Team Development Program's under-18 team last season.

"He's a physical player, solid, and he's an 'A' prospect," New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello said.

6. Scott Wedgewood, G: It's a good bet Wedgewood turns pro this season after spending the previous three-plus seasons with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League. The 19-year-old native of Etobicoke, Ontario, played in three games for bronze medal-winning Team Canada at the 2012 World Junior Championship in Alberta, going 2-0-0 with one shutout, a 2.42 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.

He went 28-10-3 with a 3.02 GAA, .911 save percentage and three shutouts in 43 games for Plymouth last season. He has a 61-39-5 mark with six shutouts, a 3.08 GAA and .908 save percentage in 122 OHL games, all with Plymouth.

"I know goalies take time and I've been developing a lot more over the past few years since I've been picked and kind of know what it takes after seeing some guys go through it," Wedgewood said. "Seeing [Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg] signed for two more years kind of gives it a timeline when you should be ready to get up there, so these are two important years for me."

7. Reid Boucher, LW: The 5-11, 195-pound forward joined Albany after completing his first season with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL, where he teamed with Nail Yakupov, the first pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, and Alex Galchenyuk, the third pick. Boucher had 28 goals and 50 points in 67 regular-season games, and two goals and three points in six playoff games.

"I have a little bit of fine-tuning left in my game, but I can work it out," Boucher said. "I'm a little more offense than defense."

8. Keith Kinkaid, G: The 6-3, 180-pound goalie agreed to a two-year, entry-level contract with the Devils last year after spending two seasons at Union College (ECAC).

"I think the future looks bright, but I'm kind of biased," Kinkaid said. "There are a lot of good goaltender prospects in this organization, so one of them has got to have it in him."

Kinkaid went 17-20-3 with a 2.94 GAA and .904 save percentage in 42 games with Albany last season. He finished his college career 37-18-6 in 63 games, with a 2.18 GAA and four shutouts. He was named a 2010-11 AHCA first team All-American and first team All-ECAC, and also won the Ken Dryden Award in 2011 as the league's top goalie after finishing 25-10-3 with a 1.99 GAA.

9. Reece Scarlett, D: The 2011 sixth-round pick is determined to prove he deserved to be drafted higher. As it stands, the Devils now are reaping the benefits, excited with the way he has matured and developed in a very short time.

In his third full season with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League, Scarlett logged major minutes while finishing with career-highs in goals (nine), assists (40) and points (49) in 71 games last season.

"Personally, I felt I really developed as an offensive-defenseman," Scarlett said. "After the draft I really wanted to prove to everyone that I should have gotten a lot higher than I did, so I really took that to heart and went out there and felt more comfortable with myself and my ability. I knew that if I step up in the play that I have the skating skill to get back, so I jumped into play a lot more often."

10. Maxime Clermont, G: Clermont, who signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the team last August, spent much of the 2011-12 season with the Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL following four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Gatineau Olympiques. He went 13-10-3 in 31 games in Kalamazoo last season, with a 3.42 GAA and .891 save percentage.

Born in Brodeur's hometown of Montreal, Clermont also played two games for Albany in 2011-12, going 1-1-0 with a 2.01 GAA and .925 save percentage.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale

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