The New Jersey Devils improved their offense in a big way this off-season with the acquisition of Taylor Hall, but shipping out Adam Larsson to land Hall means more minutes — and important ones, at that — have opened up on the backend.
One of the defenders who could have potentially taken up some of those minutes, and in turn taken a step forward, is Jon Merrill. However, unfortunately for both Merrill and the Devils, if the 24-year-old blueliner is going to take a major step in his development this coming season, it’s going to have to wait until after he returns from injury.
The Devils announced Wednesday that Merrill suffered a right index finger injury during a pre-season game against the New York Rangers earlier this month, and the ailment is enough that Merrill will be out of action until at least the beginning of November. The cited timeline from the Devils was four weeks, and if Merrill misses the entirety of the next four weeks, he’ll be sidelined through the first eight games of the new campaign.
While the loss may not seem major given Merrill averaged less than 17 minutes per game in 2015-16, he has proven in the past that he can be used up the lineup and take on bigger minutes than he was afforded during the past season. Drafted 38th overall by the Devils in 2010, Merrill hasn’t yet reached his full potential, but there’s still room for him to grow.
New Jersey is already quite thin on defense even after the signings of Ben Lovejoy and Kyle Quincey this off-season, and losing someone like Merrill, who could have stepped in to fill a bigger role, will hurt if another injury hits the Devils blueline.
During the 2014-15 campaign, Merrill averaged upwards of 20 minutes per game and produced two goals and 14 points in 66 games, and he managed one goal and five points in 47 games this past season.
Merrill isn’t the only injury the Devils have to deal with as the season approaches, though, as Luke Gazdic has also been sidelined for at least four weeks with a broken foot. Unlike Merrill, Gazidc was unlikely to have made the Devils’ roster by the end of training camp, but the fourth-line winger could have been a potential call up or replacement player in the bottom-six down the line.
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