Junior defenseman Jon Merrill has signed with the New Jersey Devils, voiding his final year of eligibility, TSN.com's Bob McKenzie is reporting this morning, and rookie blue liner Jacob Trouba might be next, though there is reason to believe he could return to Ann Arbor.
Merrill didn't speak with the media during Tuesday's post-season press conference, but head coach Red Berenson said it was probably time for the 6-4, 210-pound lefty - a second-round pick of the Devils in 2010 - to opt for the pro game.
"I think it'll be time for Jonny to move on," Berenson said. "The Devils have been really patient. They could have signed him after his first year. Second year he could have left with all the problems. Third year, he had a broken vertebra.
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"I think the kid on one side wanted to come back and finish and the other side is excited about the next step."
A finalist for CCHA Rookie of the Year in 2011, Merrill was an instant sensation with the Wolverines during their run to the NCAA title game (they finished runner-up), contributing seven goals and 18 assists in 42 games.
Merrill missed the first 22 games of the 2012 season, though, after being suspended by the program for a violation of team rules. He returned to the Wolverines for the final 19 games and notched two goals and nine assists.
This year, he missed the first 19 contests after suffering a cracked vertebra in an exhibition match. Over U-M's final 21 games, Merrill again had two goals and nine helpers, and his improved play - and the calming presence he had on senior defensive partner Lee Moffie - helped jumpstart the Maize and Blue.
The CCHA's Best Offensive Defenseman and a finalist for Rookie of the Year honors, Trouba notched 12 goals and 17 assists this past year - his 12 goals the second-best effort by a U-M freshman blue liner and his 29 points third all time. He was, in the words of junior defensive partner Mac Bennett, Michigan's best player all season.
The No. 9 overall selection in the 2012 NHL Draft, Trouba could probably step onto the ice for the Winnipeg Jets today and finish out the season with his parent team, but he's not sure that's the path he'll take.
"I'm just trying to feel it out and get it all sorted out, and however I feel, and what I think is best for me is what I'll do," he said. "Being here is one of the most fun years I've ever had playing hockey. I think I've learned a lot about me as a person, about the game of hockey.
"There's not really a wrong decision to make but there is one that can be more beneficial. I'm just going to wait it out and see how I feel."
Trouba enjoyed his freshman season immensely, even though the Maize and Blue finished 18-19-3 and one win shy of an NCAA Tournament berth. And that postseason absence may just motivate him to return for a sophomore campaign.
"It's not that it's bad, but there is a little bit of unfinished business here for me with how this season went and how it ended so that's something I'm going to think about it," said Trouba, who knows U-M's performance shouldn't factor into his decision, but it just might. "There is a lot more that goes into it than that, but that's who I am as a person - I don't want to be on the team that let everyone down."
If Trouba decides to go pro, he will have Berenson's blessing.
"I've told kids like him in the past that if they're ready to play in the NHL I'll drive them to the airport," he said. "I'm not supporting kids leaving early to play in the minors, but he's done as much as you can do for a freshman. I couldn't deny him if he wanted to leave.
"On the flipside, I could understand completely if a kid like that wanted to come back and grow another year, get a little stronger, get a little more confidence, more mature, and continue to grow his game, and get closer to piling up the hours in school."
While Merrill's decision came quickly - just days after the season ended Sunday - Trouba's will likely take a little while longer.
Berenson considered stepping aside
Speaking of departures, Berenson admitted yesterday that when the season appeared unsalvageable he questioned whether he was part of the problem and perhaps no longer the right man to continue leading the Wolverines.
"If there's a time where I'm in the way, and the team is not responding … like if this team wouldn't have gotten any better, I would have really thought about not coming back next year because I don't want to get in the way of this program doing well," he said.
Berenson signed a three-year contract extension last summer, and if he fulfills the terms of his deal, will finish out the 2016 campaign, but he's not looking that far into the future, taking every season year by year.
"I've told [athletics directpr] David Brandon from day one I wasn't excited about making a commitment about those three years and this year because I want to do what's best for the program," Berenson said. "On the other hand, I like the way the team responded. I like the way our coaches held it together, and thought the group of us did a good job, so I'm good. I'm good for now and good for next year.
"I'm not waiting with bated breath to see what's going to happen. I anticipate we're going to do well next year but I'm not afraid to walk away from the situation be it really good or really bad if it's the best thing for the program."