It may seem like the Detroit Red Wings have an unlimited stockpile of prospects with the way they have been calling up NHL-ready players as injury replacements, but the one area of their pool of prospects that is the thinnest is those playing in Europe or the NCAA.
At this point only defenseman Mattias Backman has a chance of playing in the AHL in 2014-15. Mattias Janmark may eventually make the leap to the AHL, but the future is more muddled for forwards Rasmus Bodin and Hampus Melen. In the NCAA the Red Wings hold the rights to two defensemen whose future may be at forward in Ben Marshall and Mike McKee along with James de Haas, a sizeable defenseman with good hockey sense.
Mattias Backman, D, Linkoping (SHL)
Drafted 5th round, 146th overall, 2011
Mattias Backman has steadily developed into Detroit's most highly-touted prospect playing overseas. The Swedish defenseman has the height (6'2”) and hockey IQ to handle NHL duty, though he will need to add weight to his frame before he is fully ready to make the jump.
Backman is a two-way defenseman, equally able to drive an opposing forward into the corner or lead a breakout from the defensive zone. He finished the regular season with six goals and 15 assists, but the statistic that likely pleased Red Wings scouts the most was his incredible plus-26 plus/minus rating. At this point it is unknown whether Backman will make the move to the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins for the 2014-15 season or whether he will play one more season with the SHL's Linkoping HC
Mattias Janmark, C, AIK (SHL)
Drafted 3rd round, 79th overall, 2013
Though he may not be as close to coming to North America as countryman Mattis Backman, Mattias Janmark has still made impressive strides during the 2013-14 season. The Swedish forward is a threat any time he touches the puck, evidenced by his 18 goals and 30 points in just his second full SHL season. Janmark complements his offensive touch with the tenacity necessary to dig pucks out of the corner and to retrieve loose pucks. Janmark does need more seasoning in Sweden before he makes the jump to the AHL, but it appears that the Red Wings have another offensive threat picked from the pile of mid-round draftees.
Rasmus Bodin, LW, Linkoping J20 (SWE-J20)
Drafted 7th round, 200th overall, 2012
When Detroit drafted Rasmus Bodin, they believed that they were getting a hulking forward with offensive upside. They did get a hulking forward (Bodin is 6'6”), but the offensive upside that Bodin was believed to have has not panned out. He has yet to rise above the level of SuperElit in his native Sweden, and even at that level, he has yet to score a goal. A trade to Linkoping was not the change of scenery Bodin needed to get back on track, as he instead suffered through an injury-plagued 2013-14 season in which he only registered two points. The Red Wings have not yet signed Bodin to an entry-level contract and his play since being drafted does not make it appear that he will be signed in the near future.
Hampus Melen, RW, Tingsryds J20 (SWE-J20)
Drafted 7th round, 199th overall, 2013
The injury bug that has bedeviled Detroit's NHL club seems to have made an appearance overseas, as Hampus Melen missed the majority of the 2013-14 season. Melen played in only 11 games before being diagnosed with a respiratory disease that was affecting his ability to play. Melen is a good playmaker who has vision and passing skills. After taking some time to get healthy Melen will look to use those skills to propel him to a successful 2014-15 season with Tingsryds.
Ben Marshall, D, Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten)
Drafted 7th round, 201st overall, 2010
Ben Marshall has never had the size to be an overly physical defenseman, but his skating ability more than compensates for it. Marshall is a smooth and fast skater, with good on-ice vision that allows him to be an asset both at even strength and on the power play. It seemed that Marshall was poised for a breakout offensive campaign in 2013-14, but his numbers actually decreased when compared to the prior season. Marshall has three goals and 14 assists for 17 points going into the NCAA Tournament, two points fewer than he had in 2012-13 (though he played five fewer games in 2013-14).
Mike McKee, D/LW, Western Michigan Broncos (NCHC)
Drafted 5th round, 140th overall, 2012
Mike McKee is still listed as a defenseman, but he may not be much longer. McKee was converted to forward in the middle of the 2013-14 season, and he is still acclimating to the position. He recorded just one goal in 2013-14 while playing in 21 games. McKee has a big frame that he likes to throw around, and he may be able to make an impact as a gritty, physical bottom-six forward. The 2014-15 season will go a long way toward determining both whether McKee stays permanently at forward and what, if any, changes he will make to his game to accommodate playing up front.
James de Haas, D, Clarkson Golden Knights (ECAC)
Drafted 6th round, 170th overall, 2012
The 2013-14 season was something of a mixed bag for James de Haas. He put up a respectable six goals and seven assists in 38 games patrolling the blue line, but he finished the season with an uninspiring minus-12 rating, by far the lowest on the team. At 6'3” and 205 pounds, De Haas is projected as more of a physical defenseman than an offensive defenseman, making it all the more important for him to continue to work on his defensive zone coverage. De Haas is a good skater for his size, and playing in the NCAA should allow him the time he needs to round out his game.