Jan 12, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New Jersey Devils right wing Reid Boucher (15) is checked by Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Devils 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Hockey's Future New Jersey Devils Prospect Awards Part 1

Dec 31, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Chris Conner (23) skates with the puck while being defended by New Jersey Devils defenseman Eric Gelinas (22) during the second period at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Hockey’s Future released their Prospect Awards for the New Jersey Devils and had some surprising names thrown into the mix in the Top Prospect Category. Part 2 will have Breakout Prospect of 2014-15, Most Improved, Overachiever, Underachiever, and High Risk/Reward Prospect.

Here is a snippet from each award:

Hardest Worker: Graham Black, C, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

For years, Black has dealt with Graves disease, a rare autoimmune disease that has hampered his development throughout his career. Even with this illness, he was able to perform at a high level on both ends of the ice. His offense was always the question mark due to his inconsistencies, but that might not be an issue anymore. Since he had surgery on his thyroid last February, he was able to put extra work in the offseason to improve his offensive game. It paid off as he recorded a team-leading 97 points, 43 penalty minutes, and a plus-minus rating of plus-18.

The Devils recently signed Graham Black to an Entry-Level contract.

Hardest Shot: Eric Gelinas, D, New Jersey Devils (NHL)

Gelinas represented one of the Devils best offensive options from the blue line. Much of it was due to his powerful shot from the point. He was best utilized as the team’s powerplay specialist as his even-strength play dipped later in the year. He was always a menace to score or generate rebounds for his teammates to capitalize on.

Gelinas was really the most satisfying prospect performance this season. His offensive skills on the powerplay helped out the team in times when they needed it most.

Best Defensive Prospect: Seth Helgeson, D, Albany Devils (AHL)

With respect for Steve Santini, who had a tremendous rookie season at Boston College, Helgeson had similar success at the pro level with the Devils affiliate in Albany. The towering, shutdown defenseman is a physical force that is quite mobile for his size (6’5, 215 pounds), and he is extremely good in his own end. Positioning is one of strengths while he uses his long reach to close lanes and disrupt the puck carrier. His game-to-game consistency is noteworthy as he remains the only Devils player to appear in every game this season.

 

Fastest Skater: Blake Pietila, C/LW, Michigan Tech Huskies (WCHA)

Entering his junior year, Pietila was already a fast skater on the left wing. His coach decided to move him to center, a position he had not played since he was younger. The switch worked out as the new position benefits his high stamina and two-way style of play. Now he can use his speed in a more responsible role that requires him to keep moving instead of stagnating at times on the wing.

 

Prospect of the Year: Jon Merrill, D, New Jersey Devils (NHL)

It should come as no surprise that Merrill has become a full-time player in the NHL. To do so on a veteran laden defense like New Jersey is simply amazing. Through the injuries and mistakes, the Michigan native gained the trust of the coaching staff with his smart, responsible play. The way he uses his stick to disrupt opposing odd man rushes or defend a one-on-one match-up is noteworthy. He can make difficult passes in all three zones and get his shot on the net, even if it is to generate a scrum at the net. He excelled in the second half of the season as his confidence and ice time seemed to rise with each game. By April, he was logging heavy minutes, seeing time additional time at even-strength and special teams. On a few occasions, Merrill was the Devils best defenseman on the ice.

Close behind as an honorable mention is Reid Boucher. He was able to adjust to the pro level and proved to be a threat with the puck in the offensive zone. He recently passed 20 goals as a rookie, but needs more experience before he can become a full-time NHL player.

Tags: Blake Pietila Eric Gelinas Graham Black Jon Merrill New Jersey Devils Reid Boucher Seth Helgeson

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