Wingers having standout seasons among Detroit Red Wings junior prospects

By Adam Schnepp

Tyler Bertuzzi - Guelph Storm

Photo: Tyler Bertuzzi, a second round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, has already set a new career-best with 32 points this season for the Guelph Storm (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

While it may seem as though all of their prospects have moved up to the professional level, there are still quite a few bright spots among the Detroit Red Wings prospects playing junior hockey.

Detroit's junior prospects are disproportionately 2013 draft picks, but that does not mean that they are any less talented than some of their professional counterparts. Anthony Mantha has been a particularly surprising prospect, scoring at a torrid pace and showing no signs of slowing down. Others who have exceeded expectations include Zach Nastasiuk and Tyler Bertuzzi, both second round picks in the 2013 NHL Draft who have shown why they were held in such high esteem by Detroit.

QMJHL

Anthony Mantha, LW, Val-d'Or Foreurs
Acquired: 1st round (20th overall) in 2013

Few prospects not named Gustav Nyquist have received the kind of hype that Mantha has thus far received, and perhaps none in recent memory have caused such a stir so quickly after being drafted.

The reason for the hype is well-founded and statistically oriented. In only 28 games, Mantha has netted 30 goals and 32 assists for a total of 62 points. He has also answered the criticisms of his inconsistent play this year, demonstrating a greater game-to-game effort. An additional facet of Mantha's game that has shown more polish in 2013-14 is his ability to deal with physical play. Mantha has been able to absorb hits while maintaining the play, which allows him to utilize his incredible on-ice vision to set up teammates. If Mantha continues to improve the subtleties of his game, then he could develop into a top-six NHL forward.

Philippe Hudon, C, Victoriaville Tigres
Acquired: 5th round (145th overall) in 2011

Though he has previously bounced around the hockey landscape a bit, Hudon is now playing his third season with the Victoriaville Tigres. Hudon's eight goals in 22 games is impressive, but his three assists make for a lackluster total of 11 points. Hudon will need to prove that he is more than just a physical sniper if he hopes to be offered a contract by the Red Wings; the team has until 2015 to sign him.

WHL

Mitch Wheaton, D, Kelowna Rockets
Acquired: 5th round (139th overall) in 2013

Wheaton may only have six points on the season (all assists) through 12 WHL games, but that low point total should not concern Red Wings fans. Detroit's expectations for Wheaton are for him to be a big, physical defenseman who can read the ice and pass well, and that is exactly what he was early in the season. He has been out of the lineup of late due to a broken nose, an injury which looked much more serious at the time; Wheaton was stretchered off the ice after the hit from Seattle’s Roberts Lipsbergs on November 20.

Wheaton stands 6'4 and 230 pounds, and he is able to move well for his size. The Red Wings have one additional season to watch Wheaton develop, as he does not have to be signed to a contract until 2015.

Marc McNulty, D, Prince George Cougars
Acquired: 6th round (169th overall) in 2013

Though he may stand 6'6, McNulty's biggest asset is not his height; it is his stick checking skill. The surprisingly nimble defenseman needs to work on his defensive positioning, but his stick skill allows him to be out of position and still make a play on the puck. McNulty has six goals and 14 points in 26 games, leading the Cougars defensemen in both goals and points. Like fellow 2013 draft choice Mitch Wheaton, McNulty has until 2015 to be signed to a contract.

BCHL

David Pope, LW, West Kelowna Warriors
Acquired: 4th round (109th overall) in 2013

At 6'2 and 187 pounds, Pope has the size needed to play professionally and his offensive skills are nothing to disregard. Pope recorded 39 points in 42 BCHL games last season, and he had 10 points in 10 games in 2013-14 before going down with an injury. Pope missed 14 games due to injury last season, and his inability to stay healthy is starting to become something of a concern. Luckily for Pope he has not only the rest of this season to get healthy and impress the Red Wings brass; since Pope will be playing NCAA hockey at the University of Nebraska-Omaha next season he has until 2018 to be signed.

OHL

Zach Nastasiuk, RW, Owen Sound Attack
Acquired: 2nd round (48th overall) in 2013

The Red Wings knew that they were getting a good two-way forward when they drafted Nastasiuk in 2013, but they had to learn about his leadership capabilities. Nastasiuk was voted captain of the Owen Sound Attack this fall, and the leadership experience should prove immeasurably valuable in the future. More easily measurable, however, are Nastasiuk's statistics: 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points in 28 games. Nastasiuk has shown offensive skill to go with his leadership, though he is also very adept on the forecheck. Detroit has been very impressed with Nastasiuk's development, so much so that they signed him to a three-year, entry-level contract in November.

Andreas Athanasiou, LW, Barrie Colts
Acquired: 4th round (110th overall) in 2012

Athanasiou has harnessed the speed and skills that he has always had and pulled them into a more consistent, cohesive package in 2013-14. The Red Wings organization seems to agree with this sentiment, as Athanasiou was signed to a three-year, entry-level contract in November 2013.

The 2012-13 season saw a sort of rejuvenation in Athanasiou's career after being traded from London to the Barrie Colts, as he produced 67 points in 66 games. Athanasiou is on an even more torrid scoring pace in 2013-14, netting 12 goals and 20 assists in 26 games. His world-class speed is his best asset and is responsible for creating some of his offensive opportunities, but Athanasiou does have good, balanced offensive instincts. He can shoot and set up teammates, skills that should serve him well when he turns pro.

Tyler Bertuzzi, LW, Guelph Storm
Acquired: 2nd round (58th overall) in 2013

Many questioned why Detroit would take a player ranked 207th by Central Scouting with the 58th overall pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, but the potential that the Red Wings saw in Bertuzzi is already starting to shine through.

Bertuzzi is an agitating winger, and as recently as Detroit's summer development camp, he showed that he sometimes crossed the line and picked the wrong spots to display his penchant for physical play. That has changed over the course of the regular season, as Bertuzzi has shown a far more well-rounded game. Bertuzzi is a good passer, and while his shot is not spectacular, it is sufficiently powerful. The staple of his game is still forechecking, but Bertuzzi's offensive upside has been readily apparent in 2013-14. Offensive and defensive skills have come together nicely for Bertuzzi, who has seven goals and 25 assists in 26 games.

Jake Paterson, G, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 3rd round (80th overall) in 2012

Paterson embodies the "more than meets the eye" cliche, or at least his statistics do. A cursory glance at Paterson's numbers seem to indicate a serviceable but unspectacular player. In 2013-14, Paterson has a 10-8-1 record, 3.53 goals against average, and .903 save percentage.

Yet Paterson's talent is betrayed by his statistics. He is a big, athletic goaltender who plays aggressively. Paterson has some technical flaws but no more than would be expected of a junior prospect in his third OHL season. In 2012-13, Paterson was selected to Canada's World Junior team, an honor indicative of his true talent. He is once again in contention for a spot on Canada's 2014 World Junior team.

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