Devils Prospect Update: The Michigan Wolverines trio of Jon Merrill, Brandon Burlon and David Wohlberg

Seriously, who thought these pictures were a good idea? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The New Jersey Devils minor league affiliates are the Albany and Trenton Devils.  Most know this already but what I recently realized is that the Devils have an additional developmental squad that bears notice, which is the Michigan Wolverines. The Wolverines (as I noted in a recent posting) currently have three Devils prospects playing major roles on a team many expect to compete late into the collegiate year.  Comparing the talent levels of the players at Michigan versus that of the Trenton team, it is more than likely that the Michigan players will have a long term impact on the NHL Devils than the ECHL team, especially considering that only a handful of former ECHL players make it to the NHL.  Although this year's NHL Devils squad is apparently trying to set a new team record in that regard.

Two of the Michigan players you probably have heard about.  Jon Merrill, the Devils second round pick in 2010 (38th overall) and Brandon Burlon a second round pick in 2008 (52nd overall) are defensemen who log major minutes for the Wolverines on even strength and special teams.  To get a more in depth look at Merrill and Burlon, John wrote a profile about Merrill after he draft and I wrote a prospect profile about Burlon during the summer.

The player you probably haven't heard of is David Wohlberg.  Drafted in the sixth round in 2008 (172nd overall) he hasn't been highly regarded as a prospect.  Listed in most places as a center he currently plays right wing on the top line for the Wolverines.

After the jump I will give you a more detailed background on Wohlberg, and updates on the progress of the three Devils prospects.

Merrill -who committed to Michigan when he was 14- is one of three freshman defensemen on the team. He is, however, the only freshman defenseman that has played in every game so far this season. Referred to as a 'puck moving defenseman who has room to improve on offense' by Coach Red Berensen Merrill currently is third on the team in scoring. He is also tied for first for all defensemen scoring in CCHA conference play.  He currently plays on the first pairing with CCHA Preseason second teamer Chad Langlais. Playing on the first pairing as a freshman is impressive but it's important to note that Berensen tends to match up freshmen with experienced upper classmen per Michael Spath of the Wolverine Blog. He also leads all Michigan defensemen with 5pts (1g-4a) on the power play.


Burlon took a step back (maybe more of a lateral step?) last year after an impressive freshman year. He seems to have bounced back at the right time as Michigan came into this season losing two top defensemen to graduation. So far in this young season he already has 1/3 of his point total from last year. Like Merrill he gets power play time and is one of the team's penalty killers.   While overshadowed by the arrival of Merrill and the senior Langlais, Burlon plays 'second pairing' minutes (more like pairing 1A or shutdown pairing) and is quietly erasing the memory of a rough sophomore year.  If Burlon stays through his senior year (likely) he and Merrill will go into next year as Michigan's top defensemen.

David Wohlberg's Michigan Career State (courtesy of Wohlberg's player profile on the Michigan website)

 

  GP G A P +/-
2008-09 40 15 15 30 7
2009-10 44 10 17 27 15
2010-11 8 5 1 6 2
Career 92 30 33 63 24

 


Wohlberg, has been the most interesting of the three to me so far, mainly because he isn't highly regarded. Coming to the Michigan team with little fanfare in 2008-2009 he had a great freshman year, ending up on the 2009 CCHA All Rookie First Team, the Hockey News CCHA All Rookie First Team and the overall CCHA rookie of the year.  On the CCHA Rookie Team Wohlberg was joined by teammate and Devil prospect Brandon Burlon.  Also getting the First Team honors were NHL prospects Chris Wideman of Miami (2009 4fourh round pick, 100th overall-Ottawa) Zac Dalpe (2008 second Round pick 45th overall-Carolina) on the team.  Other freshmen playing in the CCHA that were also drafted highly by NHL clubs included Daultan Leveille (2008 first round pick 29th Overall-Atlanta) and Will Weber (2007 second round pick 53rd Overall-Columbus). 

After being demoted to the under-17 US Development Program after struggles at the under-18 level, Wohlberg's initial collegiate success surprised even him.

 

"They told me that I'd be a defensive player killing penalties, and I thought that was fine for me," the soft-spoken Wohlberg said after practice Wednesday at Yost Ice Arena. "But, I don't know. I guess my roles have changed a little bit so far."

Since his burst onto the scene as a freshman he has been a highly valuable player for Red Berensen's team, as I mentioned above.   His sophomore year wasn't as statistically productive as his first, however, he still played on special teams and either the first or second line.

In Wohlberg's 'Talent Analysis' section on his player profile page Hockey's Future says the following:

Wohlberg's fantastic two-way play makes him a prototypical Devils player. He compliments that by playing an abrasive, in-your-face style of hockey. While his forte at first glance might appear to be that of a player who is adept at playing a shut-down, defensive style of game, upon closer inspection you see a very well-rounded player. He possesses a lot of overall offensive skill, and is able to put the puck on the net on a fairly regular basis.

While I am starting to hate the term 'prototypical Devils player' he does seem to fit the bill.

He certainly doesn't seem (in most scouts’ view) to have the potential of a Merrill or Burlon but he has been a highly productive member of the Wolverines. Playing on the first line once again this year he has generated 5 goals in 8 games. I have linked to his goals (that I could find via video on the Michigan website) for you to view.

 

Scorer Time on Video Link Notes
Wohlberg :41 Video Link Stole puck and flew in past dman on breakaway
Wohlberg 2:20 Video Link Came up alone on wing and banked it off of goalie
Wohlberg 1:16 Video Link See Wohlberg's description of the goal below

 

"[The puck] was bouncing around a ton. I went in and I stopped and I thought I was going to kick it in. I know the rule is you can stop as long as you don't do a kicking motion. But I guess it ended up hitting the goalie, coming back out and I hit it with my stick. It was too fast, I didn't even realize it."

 

That's the recent progress on the Michigan players.   Up next week I will look at the other prospects in the NCAA and the Canadian Junior Leagues.  I have to say that one of the positive things about writing on the Devils prospects is that I can focus on the team's future as the present hasn't been easy to watch.   I will have the InLouWeTrust top 20 prospect list up tomorrow, and I am hopeful that can provide something to take our minds off of the Devils poor start.  Sound off below and thanks for reading.

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