The 2011 NHL Draft may pan out to be a successful class for the New Jersey Devils. Defenseman Adam Larsson is in his second year with the big club. He is young but continues to get better as his hockey IQ and maturity helps the New Jersey blueline. Left Wing Reid Boucher has been the benefactor in Sarnia due to the graduation of numerous prospects. As a result, the Devils fourth round selection is having a career year in the OHL. Boucher leads the league with 49 goals in 54 games played. (Read more about the Michigan native in a previous article, and why he could become a top six winger for New Jersey in a few years).
There is promise in the Devils stockpile of future defensemen. Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas, Alexander Urbom, and 2012 2nd rounder Damon Severson should continue the tradition of the franchise’s quality play from the blueline. What makes the team competitive is their ability to find players in the draft that fit the system.
With their sixth round pick in the 2011 draft, the Devils selected defenseman Reece Scarlett. He was originally pegged to be taken in the late 3rd round, but he slid down to the later rounds, where the franchise picked him 159th overall.
Scarlett’s game revolves around transition. He can start the rush, or join it, thanks to his skating ability. As his confidence grows, so too has his assertiveness in the offensive zone and ability to possess the puck. The Alberta native also has good stick work and awareness in the defensive zone. He will have to add weight to survive the toughness of the pro game, but he has plenty of time to get bigger.
Scarlett came on the radar in 2010-2011. The 6’1, 180 pound defenseman played in 72 games for the Broncos, notching 6 goals and 18 assists, along with 59 penalty minutes. He took part in the CHL Home Hardware Top Prospects game, finishing with a goal in his team’s 7-1 win. Scarlett played for Canada at the U-18 World Junior Championship, but recorded no points in seven games.
His third season with Swift Current was Scarlett’s breakout year. He led the team’s blueliners with 49 points, along with increased playing time for one of the conferences weaker teams. He finished with 9 goals with 40 assists in 71 games and was a minus-14 with 74 penalty minutes. However, the Broncos would miss the postseason.
This season, Scarlett has taken his game to another level. Through 52 games in the 2012-2013 season, he has 38 points (7 goals, 31 assists) with 46 penalty minutes and a plus-6 rating. Hockey’s Future has him penned as one of the top defensemen in the WHL. Despite his lack of postseason experience, he has become a leader on the blueline.
Scarlett signed his three-year entry-level contract with New Jersey in September 2012. He will be eligible to play with the Devils affiliate in Albany at the conclusion of his junior hockey career.
Potentially penned as a future top 4 defenseman, Scarlett has proved he is skilled, but has to show he can transition to the pro level. He will need to work hard over the off-season to add size. 180 pounds can’t cut it for a defenseman in the NHL. With Merrill, Urbom and others ahead on the depth chart, the Devils are in no rush to push Scarlett to the NHL. He should have plenty of time to learn and adjust to the pro game in Albany.
Scarlett’s transition game can excel in the pros. Getting back on defense has been a struggle in the past, mostly due to fatigue or confidence in his teammates. However, that is not the case this season as the Broncos are in the playoff hunt and Scarlett’s teammates have stepped up their game. He is a lot better on odd man rushes and quick breaks by the opposition. Jon Merrill and Andy Greene are better standing defenseman in the offensive zone, but Scarlett’s speed could make him an end to end threat. Those two have a better shot, but like Merrill, Scarlett is comfortable passing the puck effectively. He won’t have to lead or carry the load as a rookie, but his game can be simplified to avoid doing too much.
Adjusting to the pro game will be his next challenge when this season is over. The Devils hope Reese Scarlett can gain playoff experience. He is highly regarded by his teammates with Swift Current. His leadership and skill might push the Broncos into the postseason. If that can carry him to an NHL career will be for another time. For now, Scarlett’s outlook as a two-way defenseman will keep his value high in the Devils organization.
About the Author: Sports Reporter by day, puck stopper between the pipes at night. I was the Locker Room Reporter for the Islanders for WRHU-FM. Currently, I cover the New Jersey Devils on HockeyIndependent.com and Metro Area Hockey on BrooklynFans.com Follow me on Twitter @John_A_Iadevaia