Red Wings Top 20 prospects, Spring 2008

By Adam Danter

The core of the Detroit Red Wings prospect system stays in tact since the fall rankings, as none of the prospects reached graduation status.  There has been some movement within this segment of the Top 20, but goaltender Jimmy Howard continues to be the best prospect in the Red Wings organization. 

Jan Mursak, Justin Abdelkader and Jonathan Ericsson have been shining, and have moved up the Top 20 list as a result.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (1)    Jimmy Howard, G
2. (2)    Jakub Kindl, D
3. (4)    Jan Mursak, W
4. (5)    Justin Abdelkader, LW
5. (4)    Brendan Smith, D
6. (8)    Jonathan Ericsson, D
7. (3)     Johan Ryno, W
8. (10)  Kyle Quincey, D
9. (9)     Dick Axelsson , W
10. (11)  Darren Helm, C
11. (12)  Daniel Larsson, G
12. (13)  Cory Emmerton, C
13. (15)  Joakim Andersson, C
14. (7)    Igor Grigorenko, RW
15. (17)  Mattias Ritola, C
16. (16)  Derek Meech, D
17. (14)  Evan McGrath, C
18. (18)  Logan Pyett, D
19. (NR)  Randy Cameron, C
20. (NR)  Zach Torquato, C

1. Jimmy Howard, G

Acquired:  Second round, 64th overall, 2003
Height:  6’1, Weight:  208 lbs

As expected, Howard spent the majority of the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL.  Howard’s third season was very similar to the previous two, posting a record of 21 wins and 28 losses, a 2.83 GAA and .907 save percentage.  These numbers did not translate into similar results in the standings for the Griffins though, who missed the postseason.

On Feb. 11, Howard was called up by the Red Wings to replace an injured Dominik Hasek.  During his tenure with the Red Wings, Howard played very well posting a .926 save percentage, with a 2.13 GAA in 197 minutes played.

Howard is ready to play a more prominent role for the Red Wings and should get that chance next year if Hasek retires as expected.

2. Jakub Kindl, D

Acquired:  First round, 19th overall, 2005
Height:  6’3, Weight:  217 lbs

Kindl’s first year with the Griffins was one to forget.  In 75 games, Kindl was only able to scrape together three goals and 14 assists for 17 points.  Kindl also had by far the Griffins’ worst plus/minus rating at -34.   More was expected from him offensively.

Kindl is able to give and take hits and is not afraid to drop the gloves.  But the poor plus/minus rating demonstrates trouble in the defensive zone.  The 21-year-old has shown at times that he can put it all together and be the complete defenseman that the Red Wings envision.  But it is not often enough.

The 2005 first-round pick has the tools to be a top-two defenseman in the NHL, but more time in the AHL is needed to work on his game.

3. Jan Mursak, W

Acquired:  Sixth round, 182nd overall, 2006
Height:   5’11, Weight:  191 lbs

Mursak is a slick playmaking prospect who any goal scorer would love to have on his wing.  Mursak’s excellent speed and well-developed hockey sense make him a threat at any time.  His soft hands cradle the puck and his quick-release passes leave opponents staring at his empty stick. 

All of these superb hockey skills enticed the Belleville Bulls to make a trade with the Saginaw Spirit to get Mursak early this season.  Mursak contributed immediately, helping the Bulls go on a 12-game winning streak and move comfortably in the top spot of the Eastern Conference of the OHL.

The 20-year-old Mursak had 17 goals and 47 assists for 64 points in 57 games with both Saginaw and Belleville.

Mursak, a Slovenian, is looking like another late-round steal for the Red Wings.  He was signed to an entry-level deal by the Wings before the start of the season.

4. Justin Abdelkader, W

Acquired:  Second round, 45th overall, 2005
Height:  6’2, Weight:  215 lbs

One of the most impressive prospects this year in the organization was Justin Abdelkader. He basically did it all this year for MSU.  A locker room leader, in 40 games, he tallied 18 goals and 19 assists for 37 points.

Abdelkader has started to use his 6’2, 215 lb frame to his advantage.  Playing an up-tempo game, he has learned how to make clean, solid hits and punishes his foes in the corners.   

Foregoing his senior year of college eligibility, Abdelkader was recalled to play for the Red Wings with a couple of weeks left in the season. and played well in a limited role.  His experience winning last year’s national championships will serve him well.

The Red Wings recently signed Abdelkader to a three-year entry-level contract.

5. Brendan Smith, D

Acquired:  1st round, 27th overall, 2007
Height:  6’1, Weight: 172 lbs

Smith raised a lot of eyebrows at the start of his first year of college hockey.  The defenseman tallied two goals and four assists in his first four games with the NCAA Wisconsin Badgers.  Smith was only able to muster six assists in his last 18 games, but still it was good production for a a true freshman defenseman. 

A re-occurring back injury was to blame for the minimal amount of games that he played in.  Smith needs to build up more muscle to withstand the constant pounding.  He is expected to take on a more prominent leadership role next year for the Badgers.

6. Jonathan Ericsson, D

Acquired:  7th round, 291st overall, 2002
Height:  6’5, Weight:  218 lbs

The Griffins’ best defenseman this year was Ericsson.  His sound two-way defensive style earned him a selection to the AHL All-Star Classic, and a call-up to play for the Red Wings, while they nursed their beleaguered defensive corps.

Ericsson had seven goals and 18 assists for 25 points in 57 games for the Griffins, and during his call-up with the Red Wings he played in seven games and scored one goal.

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was very impressed with the huge 6’5, 205 lbs defenseman’s abilities.  Ericsson’s hard shot, good skating skills and sound play in the defensive end are all very promising.

7. Johan Ryno, W

Acquired:  6th round, 137th overall, 2005
Height:  6’5, Weight:  209 lbs

After only playing 12 games with the Griffins, Ryno went back to the Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League.  It seemed like he wasn’t quite ready to handle the smaller rink and more physical style of the North American game.  This has perplexed the Red Wings as they felt that Ryno had a good training camp, even though he was sent down to Grand Rapids, and would do quite well in the AHL.

The towering 6’5 winger should figure to come back to North America and try out for the team again in the fall.  Ryno has the size and offensive skill to make a difference for the Red Wings in the future.

8. Kyle Quincey, D

Acquired:  5th round, 132nd overall, 2003
Height:  6’2, Weight:  215 lbs

Quincey was to start providing some much valued defensive help for the Red Wings to start the beginning of the year.  However, during an intra-squad scrimmage game he broke a bone in his left hand and was put on injured reserve for three weeks.

After recovering from his injury, Quincey was sent down to the Griffins.  During his time with the Griffins, he totaled five goals and 15 assists in 59 games.  He also started to show a more aggressive edge to his game as he had a team-high 153 penalty minutes.

In February, Quincey was called up to the Red Wings, playing in six games and earning no points along with a -3 plus/minus rating.

With a clean bill of health, entering the Red Wings camp in the fall, Quincey should once again compete for a full-time spot on the roster.

9. Dick Axelsson, W

Acquired:  Second round, 62nd overall, 2006
Height:  6’2, Weight:  176 lbs

It was an up and down season for Dick Axelsson.  While playing for Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League, Axelsson posted solid totals with 12 goals and 13 assists in 47 games. Axelsson slumped terribly through the mid-season, but turned it around in the final nine games, totaling four goals and three assists.  Late in the season he was dropped from the Swedish national team after spending a night in jail for a dispute with police that involved alcohol.

Axelsson has played with intensity and aggressiveness this year, which adds another element to his already impressive playing profile.

The Red Wings have to sign the 21-year-old by June 1, but could return him to Djurgarden.

10. Darren Helm, C

Acquired:  Fifth round, 132nd overall, 2005
Height:  6’0; Weight: 182 lbs

The start of the season for Helm was delayed as he suffered a separated shoulder during Griffins training camp.  As a result, he missed all of the exhibition games and the first nine games of the AHL season.

When Helm came back, he made up for lost time, putting his amazing speed to use on the first unit of the Griffins penalty-killing unit.  In 65 games with the Griffins, Helm had 13 goals and 15 assists.

Helm bounced from Grand Rapids to Detroit throughout the month of March, including a time when he was recalled to fill a roster spot for Kris Draper, with whom Helm shares a similar skill set.

11. Daniel Larsson, G

Acquired:  Third round, 92nd overall, 2006
Height: 6’0; Weight:  169 lbs

Larsson had a great season for Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League.  The 22-year-old was named Swedish Rookie of the Year, as he posted a goals against average of 2.29 and a save percentage of .921 in 46 games.

To go along with this honor, Larsson also won the Honken Trophy, which is awarded to the best Swedish goaltender of Elitserien.

Larsson faces the same contract situation as fellow countryman Dick Axelsson, as he needs a contract with the Red Wings by June 1.  With the success that Larsson has seen this year and the lack of depth the Red Wings have in goal, Larsson shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

12. Cory Emmerton, C

Acquired:  Second round, 41st overall, 2006
Height:  5’11; Weight:  185 lbs

Young junior hockey players endure a lot of ups and downs.  Cory Emmerton has been no different. Emmerton was invited to try out for Team Canada for the WJC roster.  During the training camp, Emmerton was diagnosed with mononucleosis and was sent home. Shortly after being sent home, Emmerton was traded from the dreadful Kingston Frontenacs to the Brampton Battalion.

Between both clubs, he tallied 25 goals and 36 assists in 54 games. Even though this averages over a point per game, they are not the numbers that the Red Wings organization expected from him this year, as he had accomplished more in 2006-07. 

At the end of the year, Emmerton was sent to Grand Rapids of the AHL where he would get to play in the Griffins’ final few games of the season.  There he had one assist in seven games.  He’ll likely play a full season for the team next fall.

13. Joakim Andersson, C

Acquired:  Third round, 87th overall, 2007
Height:  6’2; Weight: 198 lbs

Andersson showed the second division Allsvenskan Swedish league that he is one of the better two-way centers to be recently drafted from that country. Though he is not blessed with strong skating skills, Andersson has been very effective on the penalty kill by using his large frame in the corners to get the puck from opponents and then his keen playmaking skills to set up shorthanded rushes.

The 19-year-old displayed his scoring potential by posting 23 points in 33 games.  Andersson is capable of contributing more offensively, and with time he should. Andersson could get a tryout with the Griffins in the fall, but another season in Sweden seems to be the best bet for him to continue his development.

14. Igor Grigorenko, RW

Acquired:  Second round, 62nd overall, 2001
Height: 5’10; Weight:  195 lbs

Once dubbed as a can’t-miss prospect, Grigorenko seems to fading as a prospect in the Wings organization.  When the 25-year-old winger tried out for the Red Wings camp, he started off slowly, but progressed nicely as camp continued. 

However, he was eventually sent down to the Griffins where after only nine games, he left to go back to Russia to play for Ufa of the Russian Super League.

Grigorenko simply hasn’t been able to adjust to the North American style of the game.  The hard-hitting, more physical style of play seems to frustrate him, as he shies away from it.

Time is running out for this talented Russian forward.

15. Mattias Ritola, C

Acquired:  Fourth Round, 103rd overall, 2005
Height:  6’1, Weight:  198 lbs

The offensive potential that Mattias Ritola possesses has always been impressive.  But there has been a concern about the lack of consistency when it comes to his effort on the ice.

This year, the 21-year-old has worked hard to shed that tag, and as a result his defensive part of the game has improved.  He is still prone to missing his assignments, but he has come a long way since the start of the year.  He scored 22 points in 72 games with the Griffins as a 20-year-old.

In mid-March, Ritola was recalled from the Griffins to play in his first game with the Red Wings.  Though his time was limited, he played well, with an assist in two games.

16. Derek Meech, D

Acquired:  Fourth Round, 103rd overall, 2002
Height:  6’0, Weight:  198 lbs

Though Meech was up with the Wings for most of the year, the 23-year-old saw action in only 32 games.  He did benefit from the injuries that plagued the Red Wings in February and March. In that time, he saw a good amount of ice time, playing on the power play and also in critical overtime situations.  In all, he had three assists.

Meech also played seven games for the Griffins.  Meech must capture a top-six spot next season if he is to have a stable NHL future.

17. Evan McGrath, C

Acquired:  Fourth round, 128th overall, 2004
Height:  6’0, Weight: 195 lbs

Another prospect who has great offensive potential but was knocked in the past for his lack of defensive play is McGrath.  Known for his great skating skills and vision, McGrath has done well this year to use his gifts to improve his defensive game.  He finished at -7, about average on the team. 

As for his offense, the 22-year-old played in 78 games for the Griffins, scoring 18 goals and 17 assists for 35 points.  He finished strongly, with four points in his last two games.  McGrath was fifth in scoring on the team.

Next year, he will be counted upon to provide a solid two-way game and help lead the Griffins back into the AHL playoffs.

18. Logan Pyett, D

Acquired:  Seventh round, 212th overall, 2006
Height:  5’11, Weight:  198 lbs

Pyett enjoyed a great year for the WHL Regina Pats.  The blue liner was third in team scoring with 20 goals and 34 assists for 54 points in 62 games.  Thirteen of his 20 goals were scored on the power play. 

Pyett was solid at both ends of the rink, with a team-leading +24 plus/minus rating.  The Pats blue liner dished out some hard hits, but he sometimes had difficulties with his assignments in front of the net, as larger opponents overpowered the 5’11 198-pounder for position.

Currently practicing with Team Canada’s World Championship squad thanks to an invitation by Steve Yzerman, Pyett is one to watch next year. Turning 20 next month, Pyett must be signed by June 1.

19. Randy Cameron, C

Acquired:  Third round, 129th overall, 2007
Height:  5’11, Weight:  191 lbs

Cameron showed flashes of his intelligent style of play for the QMJHL Moncton Wildcats. However, he was inconsistent both offensively and defensively.

The 19-year-old was expected to improve on his rookie totals, but he only managed to get 12 goals and 27 assists for 39 points in 62 games.  Cameron’s defensive game could improve if he gained more strength and size.  He was typically muscled off the puck in both zones, and had a hard time picking up his defensive assignments.

A much better 2008-09 on both ends of the ice is needed for Cameron, to warrant a look with the Griffins.

20. Zach Torquato, C

Acquired:  Fourth round, 178th overall, 2007
Height:  6’0, Weight:  195 lbs

Torquato deserves a lot of credit for accumulating 67 points in 66 games for the worst team in the OHL’s Western Conference.  The Erie Otters had a terrible record of 18-46-2-2, which explains the -33 plus/minus rating that the Otters captain finished with.

Torquato’s hard work and strong leadership skills earned him an amateur tryout with the Griffins at the end of the year.  For Torquato to be able to keep up with larger, more skilled players in the AHL, he must add more size and strength to his frame. He still has a tendency to shy away from the physical play.  The 18-year-old center must also improve on his skating, as his great playmaking skills and vision will only go so far against his larger opponents.

Missing the cut

Anton Axelsson, LW
Randall Gelech, LW
Nick Oslund, RW