The New Jersey Devils haven't had too much success with developing and keeping bottom-six caliber forwards in recent years. While it's not exciting or necessarily interesting to hope someone grows into a limited role, a quality NHL team requires quality players up and down the lineup. As it so happens, there are a number of players in the Devils' system that could reach that status someday. Among them is #18 on our Top 25 Devils Under 25 list, former Michigan center, David Wohlberg. (Note: Height and weight are from Windsor's official site; stats are from Elite Prospects.)
#18 - David Wohlberg - C - Height: 6'1" - Weight: 194 lbs. - Age: 22 - 2012-13 Team: Albany (AHL)
From my perspective, Wohlberg had a mostly successful college career. He won the CCHA rookie of the year award in 2008-09, he was part of the 2009-10 CCHA championship winning team, he's contributed at both ends for some strong Michigan teams, and he even finished 2011-12 tied for the team lead in both goals and points. He unfortunately had his junior year cut short due to a broken collarbone, which was the same year Michigan went all the way to the Frozen Four finals and lost to Minnesota-Duluth. While the point totals may not wow you, he was among Michigan's top five scorers with the exception of 2010-11. Even then, his 15 goals were good enough for second most on the team.
One may conclude that he has a kind of knack for scoring. However, the word on Wohlberg is that if he makes it to the next level, it won't be for offense. While he's got strength, speed, and sense, he doesn't have much offensive skill. He won't be devoid of it, but his skill set is more appropriate for a defensive or energy forward role. Yes, I just explained that he produced well for Michigan; but that doesn't necessarily mean it'll translate to the NHL. To put it another way, Jay Pandolfo averaged at least a point for game in every year he spend at Boston University and that certainly didn't carry over to the professional levels.
Jay Pandolfo was a name that came to mind when I read up on Wohlberg. Both the profiles by Corey Pronman and Hockey's Future talk up Wohlberg's speed and how it makes him an effective forechecker. Both talk up his two-way play. Both talk up his lack of finesse. It's a fitting comparison and I don't think it's a disrespectful one. It would be fantastic if Wohlberg turned out to be a 10+ season veteran bottom-six forward in the NHL and play effectively for most of them. Especially if he stays at center, shoring up that position behind the top two lines. It would certainly help NJ on the depth chart, even if "useful bottom-six forward" isn't an impressive ceiling to await in the future.
It's that last point that helps explain the divide in opinion our list. Those who rated him higher than where he ended up - Nate, Karen, Kevin - appreciate his consistent scoring in college and believe he's got a real future in the pros based on what is known about the player. If he can be a contributing player at the highest level, then rank him above those who may not be. I get that. Those who didn't - Jerry, Matt, me - aren't yet convinced that he can take it to the next level. A potential of a bottom-six NHL forward also doesn't command a high rating even if he's likely to turn out to be the kind of player as expected. Especially over those who have higher ceilings despite being possibly less likely to reach them. I get that, which is obvious since that's how I see it. As such, the difference resulted in a ranking in between both sides: 18th overall.
Of course, Wohlberg has some time to establish himself. He'll play his first full season as a pro with Albany after getting a six-game taste after he finished up his hockey career with Michigan last season. How he'll do on a roster filled with other players like him (e.g. Mike Sislo, Mike Hoeffel) , some NHLers, and other AHL-caliber players will tell us whether he's got a future as a two-way forward. If he can stick around and perform well, then he'll surely get a closer look in camp in following seasons. If he struggles with the AHL game and/or loses his spot, then how we view his prospective future has to be dialed back. Short of a disaster, I think he won't be totally out of the mix right away given the Devils' own lack of immediate forward depth in the system.
David Wohlberg ended up at #18 on our list, but I want to know how you view the player. Do you think he should be higher like half of the writers? Or do you think he should be lower like the other half of the writers? Maybe you think this is about right for such a player? What do you expect out of Wohlberg this season in Albany? Do you think a Pandolfo-like comparison is appropriate? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Wohlberg in the comments.