The news that New Jersey Devils top prospect Jonathon Merrill would return to the University of Michigan for his junior season this fall wasn't too surprising.
After all, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound defenseman has some unfinished business to attend to after sitting out 22 games of the 2011-12 campaign due to a suspension.
During Devils development camp last month, Merrill told the media he was "committed to school right now." It was rumored that Merrill, New Jersey's second-round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, might turn pro.
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On July 30, the 20-year-old blueliner instead decided to spend at least one more season under the tutelage of veteran Wolverines coach Red Berenson. Berenson, 72, recently signed a three-year contract extension to remain Michigan coach, a deal which runs through the 2015-16 season.
One player excited to see Merrill back in the fold is incoming freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba, who was chosen by the Winnipeg Jets with the No. 9 pick at the 2012 draft. Trouba and Merrill were teammates on the U.S. team at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship.
"I was excited to see that Jon was coming back for another season," Trouba told NHL.com. "He is obviously a pretty special player and is only going to help the team. He was a great teammate at World Juniors, and I'm looking forward to playing with him again."
Before Merrill's suspension was lifted Jan. 6, he had four assists in six games as the U.S. team finished seventh at the WJC in Alberta. He had two goals, 11 points and a plus-11 rating in 19 games for Michigan.
"Johnny talked with me and indicated he'll be coming back," Berenson told the Detroit News. "He definitely had some dialogue with New Jersey. Jon realized he only played half of the season and he wants to be ready when he makes the move. He wants to be competing for an NHL job when he does. He doesn't want to be playing in the minors. I think it's the right thing for him."
As a freshman at Michigan in 2010-11, Merrill led all Wolverines defensemen in points (25), assists (18) and blocked shots (70), helping lead the team to the 2011 NCAA championship game.
He sat out last season due to an unspecified violation of team rules.
"I think it was a time where I made mistakes and had to deal with them and learn from them and move forward," Merrill told reporters during Devils development camp. "I'm happy where I'm at now."
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