The second part of the rookie defensive duo, Jon Merrill had a very good season for the New Jersey Devils. He wasn’t as good on the offensive side as Eric Gelinas, but he seemed to play very well defensively.
It was clear that head coach Peter DeBoer favored Merrill over Gelinas. One was a must start for him while the other was often a healthy scratch. Merrill showed that he could be a reliable defense while also attempting to generate offense.
Merrill may have been a little tentative on offense, only taking 45 shots in 52 games despite being on the team’s power play. There was a rough stretch of games in the middle of the year when he felt a few bumps in the road — he missed a few assignments and let up a couple breakaways. But he worked hard to get used to the speed of the NHL game and those mistakes ended by the end of the year.
Merrill’s defense improvements can be seen in his plus/minus numbers. In his first three months, he was a paltry -8. In the next three months, he was a +5. He showed patience on both sides of the puck and improved everything on the defensive side.
Merrill does everything with finesse. He only had 27 hits on the season and was able to block 41 shots, a number expected to go up in future years.
When he did decide to score he was extremely clutch. He only had two goals on the season, but both of them were game-winning goals in one-goal games. His first career goal came in overtime against the Edmonton Oilers at the tail end of four straight OT games for the Devils. His second goal gave the Devils a 3-0 lead in a game the team ended up holding against the free-falling Toronto Maple Leafs.
Overall, Merrill’s season was very good for a rookie. He will forever be compared to Gelinas since they both started at the same time. I think that his season was slightly worse than Gelinas’ — they both went through growing pains, but one was much more developed on offense. Either way, the Devils have an awesome D pair for years to come.
Season Grade: B