Forwards make up the bottom fifth of the 2013 In Lou We Trust Top 25 Devils Under 25 List. Yes, forwards, that position the New Jersey Devils don't have a lot of high-end talent in the system. Yes, forwards, those sorts of players the Devils seemingly need help in one way or another. Yes, forwards. And since this year's list was determined by a survey for readers like you to fill out, you chose them all. Yesterday, I revealed who didn't make it. These are the first five you all put in the top 25. So let's get right to it.
#25 David Wohlberg - C - 2012 Rank: 18 - Age: 23 - 2012-13 Team: Albany (AHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
The Michigan Man had a trying time in his first season in professional hockey. Due in part of the lockout, he was a healthy scratch early on in the season. Once he was able to get into the lineup, he suffered from a lower body injury and ultimately only played in 36 games. It's hard enough to judge players who aren't easily seen, it's even harder if they don't play regularly. The thing about injuries that even if someone is cleared to play, it may take time for them to get back into form, where they could contribute more on the ice. I suspect that was the case for Wolhberg.
Adding to the difficulty factor is that Wohlberg just isn't all that of an offensive player. He was a good producer at the college level but as I noted last summer, he wasn't expected to do all that much at the next level. Injuries and scratches aside, Wohlberg put up four goals and five assists on 51 shots last season. Averaging less than a shot and a half per game isn't a good indicator that a player is meant to be offensive, nevermind the low amount of points. Even if he was touted to be a defensive-minded forward, not getting into games when healthy undercuts that point.
To that extent, I understand the ranking at 25th. It's arguable he could be placed a little bit lower, but the possibility exists that a full season at the minor pro level would better show his worth. His main goal is to be a regular throughout the 2013-14 season with Albany - injuries notwithstanding. If he can play significant minutes while being fairly productive, then he may still have a future. Time's running out for the pivot from Michigan, though, so I'd hope for the best.
#24 Ryan Kujawinksi - C/W - Age: 18 - 2012 Rank: NR - 2012-13 Team: Kingston (OHL) - Elite Prospects Profile
The Devils picked up a third round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft when they traded down a few spots in the second round. New Jersey used that pick at 73rd overall to select Ryan Kujawinski of the Kingston Frontenacs. After he was drafted, I looked for what I could find on him and ultimately opinions on the player varied. He broke into the OHL as a 16-year old and had a good year; but he didn't really break out as a 17-year old. Some saw flashes of talent but not much at other times, which got him the label of "needs to be more consistent." Kujawinski has skills for both ends of the rink, he's got good size, and he skates well; but he just needs to put it all together more consistently. If that means getting his mind right than there's that too. He's got plenty of time to figure it out at Kingston in the coming season.
With respect to where he was ranked on this list, I'm sort of torn about his placement at 24th. There were ranks well into the middle of the top 25 and plenty at the lower end. Since he is a third round pick with numbers that don't jump off the page - 48 points in 66 games - I can see why some of you would skeptical of the player. I'm admittedly heartened by his skills and I'd like to think that since he's a young 18 - he was born on May 30 - he has a bit more time to utilize them more. Should he do that, then the Devils would have a forward prospect that's a little less of a long shot to look forward to in the future. He wouldn't be the first to have that hope, though, so I can see why some readers want to see a strong season before getting excited.
The Devils drafted the 5'11", 172 pound over-aged junior after a 50-point season with Swift Current. In this past 2012-13 season, Black suited up for the Broncos in 68 games and put up 50 points. That's not really an improvement that one would expect from an older player. He did increase his goal scoring from 17 to 24, so there's that. Plus, his 50 points were good for third on the team in points and second in goals. Last year, he didn't make the Top 25 but it appears enough of you felt highly enough of his skills that he would make it this time. He can play a two-way game so the production that comes with it really helps and he's apparently a good skater. There's some tools to like, though it's not clear how they'll translate at the professional level.
However, he's going into his overaged season so the expectations at Swift Current should be higher. He should improve upon 50 points along with being one of the team's top scorers. He should be one of the team's top players by virtue of being older than most of them. It'd be great if he had a leadership role too as he's entering his third full season with the team. A strong last season in juniors could help him make that transition to professional hockey in the future. I wouldn't get too hopeful for the future just yet, since he didn't exactly dominate as a 19-20 year old last season and dominating as a 20-21 year old isn't that impressive from a prospect standpoint. Let's see if he improves as he should first and then we'll cross that bridge.
#22 Myles Bell - LW/D - Age: 20 - 2012 Rank: NR - 2012-13 Team: Kelowna (WHL) - Elite Prospect Profile
Like Black in 2012, the Devils drafted another older forward out of junior in 2013. In the sixth round, the Devils chose Myles Bell out of Kelowna. Unlike Black, Bell was actually a defenseman throughout his career as a player until this past season. He was converted to a left winger where he was able to utilize his shot and offensive abilities closer to the net. He's been a productive defenseman at the junior level when he was younger. A few years later and position change that puts him on the attack and it's not much of a surprise it was a success. Bell led the Kelowna Rockets in scoring with 38 goals and 55 assists and he finished sixth in the WHL with 93 points. If you're going to pick an older player out of juniors, then someone who really lit it up seems to me to be a good idea.
As far as why he was available after two years of draft eligibility, an auto accident he had in 2011 where his passenger was killed likely had plenty to do with it. Bell was given two years of probation (I think that may be done now) and has been restricted from driving for five years. Since it's not clear whether he was a great defender at the junior level - he only made one all-star team and that was this past season - then teams likely shied away from that. Bell will have to carry that burden for far longer, but from a hockey standpoint, he's got a way forward. I don't believe he's been a part of Kelowna's preseason so he really could be lined up for a move to professional hockey. Should he be at the Devils' training camp, then he could very well be angling for a spot on Albany. With that in mind, I can understand a low selection in the top 25 from readers like yourself. We'll know quickly whether there's a future. His great season at wing last season does endear him to an organization that would benefit from it.
I was surprised to find Kerfoot so high on the list. When I got the results, I saw a handful of votes for third. By default, Alex Kerfoot was third on the list as all the under-25 players were organized in alphabetical order. That actually helped him get ahead of Bell. But the thing is that 73 responses to the survey put him somewhere in the top 25. He had more variation in ranks than any other prospect with 28 individual rankings. His most common rank was actually 28th (16 votes) so cracking the top 25 wasn't that far out of the realm of possibility. Alas, plenty of you think highly of the young forward of the Junior A British Columbia Hockey League.
Adding to the surprise is that Kerfoot didn't have a good 2012-13. He started off great for Coquitlam as he put up eight goals and eleven assists in sixteen games. Kerfoot had a good outing for Canada West U-19 Team at the World Junior A Challenge with two goals and three assists in four games. Only Wade Murphy put up more points on Canada West. In December, Kerfoot suffered a serious shoulder injury. The surgery and recovery forced him to miss the rest of the regular season. So even though he was inactive for much of 2012-13, you all thought better of him as a prospect. To be fair, he's quite young since he just turned 19 last month. Kerfoot will attend Harvard in the fall. Hopefully, he'll get stronger as he's listed at 5'10" and 174 pounds and he's able to continue to score at a higher level of hockey. If he can be one of Harvard's top players, then there's something to look forward to from a prospect perspective. Apparently, many of you already are for one reason or another.
Now that you've learned who the first five players within this year's Top 25 Devils who are under 25 years of age, I want to know what you think of, well, what you all have collectively decided. Who's too high? Who's too low? Who from yesterday should be in this bottom five of the Top 25? On Tuesday, we will reveal who came in at spots #20 through #16. As a tease, there will be at least one defenseman. Please leave your answers and discuss these five prospects in the comments. Thank you for reading.