"In his draft year, he is 20th in the WHL in scoring, but more impressive to me is he is seventh in the WHL in plus-minus. That means, as a 17-year-old centerman, he is playing against other team’s number one lines night in, night out. He is a playmaking center who looks to get his wingers the puck and he has very good on-ice vision and creativity."
That was Spokane Chiefs Head Coach Bill Peters commenting on Wahl back in 2008. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think highly of the only player selected in the second round by Darryl Sutter and Peters remarks above highlight – I like guys who can play against the best and excel and Wahl has apparently done that for years for the Spokane Chiefs.
In many ways, the native Californian is the opposite of Greg Nemisz – smaller at 6′, 190, Wahl is an excellent skater and playmaker, but less adept in high traffic areas. However, like Nemisz, Wahl is also defensively responsible. I haven’t had the chance to view Wahl in the WHL, but he thoroughly impressed me the times I’ve seen him at the Flames training camp. He is an extremely smooth, fluid skater and was rather slippery with the puck on his stick.
This season represented a career year for Wahl. He led the Chiefs in scoring with 96 points (including 66 assists), which was good for 7th overall in the WHL. He was also +23, marking the third straight season he finished well in the black by that metric (he finished his junior career at +102). Like Nemisz, I went through Wahl’s game-by-game results in order to add a bit more context:
Spokane Total Offense = 239 goals
Wahl Total Points = 96
PPG = 1.33
ES points = 58
PP Points = 32
EN Points = 2
SH Points = 4
% of Total Offense = 40.2%
% at ES = 60.4%
NHLE = 33
Wahl was far more central to the Chiefs offense this year relative to Greg Nemisz in Windsor. His 96 points reprented about 40% of Spokane’s total offense when he was in the line-up, a fairly impressive ratio. That said, it’s probable that Wahl, as the team’s #1 center, was put in a position to score more often than Nemisz this season, given the Spitfires depth. That said, goals were tougher to come by in general for Spokane, so there’s less chance that the quality of the team in general was inflating his stats.
In addition, Wahl had a very healthy ES/PP production split, with a large portion of his points coming at ES. Both he and Nemisz were well above 50% this season, a strong sign they weren’t dependent on a bunch of time with the extra man to score. Wahl’s NHL Equivalence total comes in just below Nemisz’ thanks to the slightly inferior PPG pace.
After scoring 4 goals and 9 nine points in 7 post-season games, Wahl joined the injury decimated Abbotsford Heat for their playoff run. He managed a goal and four points in the final four games of the AHL regular season before adding another 2 goals and 6 points in 12 post season contests. Small sample size, but those are decent results for a 20 year old kid getting his first taste of pro hockey. The Heat weren’t exactly offensive juggernauts this season, so his 10 points in 16 games are even more noteworthy.
I fully expect Wahl to spend at least a year in the AHL, getting used to the increased speed and strength of the pro game. The major knock against him when he was drafted was his size and a seeming reluctance to engage physically with larger opponents. And while those issues could certainly stand in his way when it comes translating his game at the next level, they certainly haven’t hurt his thus far.
Bonus link – Dobber Hockey’s Ryan Van Horne took a look at Wahl this past February.