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Eye on the Future: New Jersey Devils Prospect Blake Coleman

Matt Christians

Miami senior forward Blake Coleman is often overlooked playing with the dynamic duo of Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber, but he's developed into a solid prospect in his own right.

Coleman was selected late in the 2011 Draft by the New Jersey Devils, who took a bit of a flier on Coleman in the third round of the draft in Coleman's final year of draft eligibility. Coleman is a senior this year meaning that New Jersey will have to sign him after this season or let him go as a free agent.

Coleman is off to a strong start this season, leading Miami in scoring with six goals and five assists for 11 points through his first eight games--good for a tie for third nationally in scoring. While watching Miami play last weekend against Minnesota Duluth, Coleman was the standout player, not just with his 2-1-3 scoring line in the game, but for how he played all over the ice. Here's a closer look at what I saw out of Coleman, and what his upside as a prospect might be.

From the drop of the puck, what caught my eye about Coleman is what a tenacious competitor he is. He's always going hard after pucks and finishes every check. He's only listed at 5-11 195 lbs., but he plays much bigger than his size. He gets under the opponents' skin because he's always around the puck and making plays.

His first goal of the game was a smart play and a good example of his work on the cycle. It's the first highlight on this video. Coleman took the puck high up the boards forcing the defenseman to switch off him and have the forward cover him. The UMD forward had to choose between staying with Coleman who took the puck towards the slot, and staying with the defenseman he was covering. The defender stayed with the defenseman, which allowed Coleman to cut in and fire a shot on goal. Coleman's low hard-wrister found its' way through traffic for the goal.

Coleman would make a very similar play on his next shift. He used body position very effectively to win the puck along the half boards, then made a very similar play by skating north towards the blue line. This time, both the defenseman covering him and the opposing forward followed Coleman towards the center of the ice, so Coleman passed the puck to his defenseman that had slipped free from the coverage. It created a great scoring chance and should have been an assist for Coleman.

Coleman isn't necessarily what you'd call a high-skill player, but he did make a few nice skill plays, like catching a knee-high pass in the neutral zone and continuing a rush rather than turning the puck over. He showed decent vision on the power play, but that likely isn't how he's going to earn his paycheck in the future. It's worth noting that he has six goals to only five assists so far this season, and that's in line with his career totals of 46 goals to 35 assists. He's much more adept at finishing off plays than creating them.

Coleman's tenacity as F1 on the forecheck created havoc all night. He created a couple neutral zone turnovers. The biggest turnover of the night he created was early in the third period when he stole a puck and got in behind the UMD defense. He was hauled down and earn a penalty shot, which he converted on with a nice low shot right underneath the goalie's blocker.

It was pretty clear that Coleman was annoying Minnesota Duluth all night with his in-your-face play. Even after the final whistle, a UMD player went after Coleman to give him one last shot before the weekend was over. But in the post-game handshake line, every UMD player stopped to give him an extra pat on the back after a hard-fought weekend. Other teams may not like him, but they have to respect how hard he plays.

Long-term I think Coleman is a player worth signing by the Devils. As an older prospect--Coleman turns 23 later this month--his ceiling isn't all that high, but the Devils should have a pretty good idea of what they'll be getting from him. He's not going to be the most exciting prospect in their organization, but he's a player perfectly-suited to fill a third or fourth line role in the NHL with his hard work and tenacity. He may not score much, but opposing teams are going to hate to play against them because he's always in their face and making life difficult for them.