To the dismay of almost the entire Devils fanbase, the team selected the 6'2" 192 lbs defenseman, Josh Jacobs with their second round pick (41st overall) in the 2014 Entry Draft. I too was surprised that we didn't go with a forward, but our track record with drafting defensemen the past few years had been very impressive, so I was hopeful. Josh Jacobs was drafted out of the Clark Cup-winning USHL team (Clark Cup is the USHL championship trophy), Indiana Ice...the same team that we drafted forward, Blake Coleman, from three years before. Many of us didn't know too much of what kind of a player we were getting since the USHL is a tough league to find streams to. (On another note, I might have to get a subscription to FastHockey.com...although I'm not too happy about having to spend $23 a month for it...that's the only way I can think of to get streams for the USHL games.) So we just had to go with some initial scouting reports to see who Josh Jacobs was, and the term that kept popping up was "two-way defenseman".
His draft stock significantly improved in his draft-eligible season though, as he played a key role in helping the Indiana Ice win their USHL championship, scoring 5 points (3G 2A) in 12 playoff games.
This following report is based off of my viewings of Jacobs as he played for Michigan State in the NCAA as well as my live viewing of him when Michigan State came to play Princeton University (anybody near the Princeton area should really really go see a game there in Hobey Baker arena...even though the team is struggling they just hired a new coach and the arena is one of, if not, my favorite arenas to watch hockey in):
I will start off by saying that Josh Jacobs is absolutely a prospect with Top-4 potential. His skating is fantastic. He excels at it, and has very high top-end speed. His acceleration and long, fluid stride are key to his fantastic skating ability. His skating is in every since of the word, smooth. His agility helps him play better defense in terms of his positioning. He's also not afraid to hit, and make a big one as well. On that note, while he's not nearly as much of a hitter than Steve Santini, Jacobs is still able to lay down a big hit on an incoming attacker. When I saw him live, he didn't make any big or hard hits, but he was physical in his play along the boards and did a great job stopping opponents from entering the defensive zone.
It should be known at this point that Jacobs was playing on the top defensive pairing for Michigan State University, as a 19 year old true freshman. He was also named to the Big 10 (B10, B1G, or however it's supposedly spelled) all-freshman team, along with 4 other players, including notable NHL draft prospects, Zachary Werenski (drafted 8th overall in the 2015 draft by Columbus) and Dylan Larkin (drafted 15th overall in the 2014 draft by Detroit). Needless to say, this is extremely promising for everybody involved. Anyway, during this game I was at, Jacobs had a bad giveaway to start the game off (the opening face-off was won back to him, where he tried to gather in the puck so he could control it and ended up giving it right away to an opposing forward) but completely cleaned his game up after that. His initial scouting reports have said he tends to have some mental lapses and can go on cold streaks (rather streaky in general), I already saw a difference in his thinking and overall consistency (even if it was just for one game live). His ability to recover from his initial rather large mistake really stood out to me maturity-wise. Not only was Jacobs playing on the top defensive pairing for his NCAA team, but he also played (not only in the live game I saw of him, but the entire season) on key powerplay and penalty kill units, switching back and forth between the top and second units. However for the most part, he found himself more on the top units.
The unfortunate thing is that Jacobs did not score a goal last season. I don't want this to change anybody's perception of his shooting abilities, because he has a bomb of a slapshot...not quite near Gelinas level, but getting towards Mozik's level. With his shot, he just needs to work on his accuracy. One time during the game, while play was still going on and MSU had a powerplay in Princeton's zone, I turned to speak to my father who was next to me about what I liked and didn't like from Jacobs that game and we heard a massive boom sound. It was a puck hitting the wall, but it was significantly louder than any other boom sound of pucks going into boards that game. It was Jacobs' shot. I know sound isn't the only measurement in shot velocity, but his shot's boom was consistent, as in he always hit the puck hard, but it usually missed the net.
When he's not shooting, Jacobs displays some very keen vision with the puck, and is able to make a fast break-out pass when he's in his own zone. In the offensive zone, you can see how well Jacobs sees the play around him, and how well he can pass through lanes and pick apart defenses. While he's not a pure offensive talent, there is still significant promise in that department.
A great player comparison (stylistically) would be Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers. A scout for the Indiana Ice describes him as a "hybrid of Jay Bouwmeester and Mike Green"...which is a very large compliment.
A little over two months ago, I think...it may have been more, we got news that Josh Jacobs was leaving the Michigan State University ice hockey program to sign with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League (they owned his rights after drafting him in the 4th round of the OHL Priority Draft). This is a pretty big decision for him and while we don't necessarily know exactly why he left, we do know that Shero supports it and calls it "an absolutely, positively personal decision". On a fun note, there was once a defenseman who played at Michigan State University and left early on to play in the CHL...his name was Duncan Keith. While this is certainly not a real comparison between the two, it's fun to hope right?
Either way, we'll get to see Jacobs play for Sarnia next year in the OHL, which is a much easier league to watch games for me, despite not being able to view them live...I might have to drive up to Canada again like I did earlier this summer. Additionally I think it's fair to say that Jacobs will slot in on the top defensive pairing for Sarnia (I know he has to earn it, but it everything goes as planned he should) where he will be playing along top draft-eligible defenseman, Jakob Chychrun. This will be huge for Jacobs because he gets an extremely talented defensive pairing partner that he can learn from and can work to communicate well with. (If Zacha heads back to Sarnia to continue development, it will be all the more reason for me to watch and follow Sarnia.)
I don't believe Jacobs has top-pairing NHL potential, but he most definitely has top-4 potential. It will be wonderful to track his development in the OHL, but I think his stats will be padded a little by having Chychrun as a partner, so that's something to keep in mind. He's solidly built, plays a great all-around game, and has, in my opinion, already made some significant progress in his development, despite what the stats may say (MSU got off to a really slow start to the season, but was able to pick it up at the end).
In the end, though, I'm very happy with this selection, and while I was hoping we would have drafted a forward like Brayden Point or Christian Dvorak instead, I am actually very happy with Jacobs and I wish him all the best in his development in Sarnia.
I'm very happy to have seen Jacobs play live, and wish to do this with all of our prospects. I look forward to seeing Jacobs at development camp this year. I'm excited as to what he'll do if he plays in the 3-on-3 tournament. While he still needs to work on his hands and stickhandling, he should still be a good threat.
Follow me on Twitter @DTJ_AHockeyBlog for more updates, or so we can chat, or feel free to DM me! Sorry if I can't get to all of your comments or questions, I'm still working on my responsiveness, but I'd love to hear any questions, comments, or suggestions you may have.
Thank you so much for your support, and thank you for reading this. I hope you enjoyed it!