It seemed as though Detroit's much lauded playoff streak would come to an end in 2013-14 until a mid-season influx of young talent bolstered the ranks and reinvigorated a floundering Detroit Red Wings team. Prospects such as Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco were initially called up to fill in for injured NHL players, but they performed at such a high level that they never relinquished their jobs.
In the AHL, the defending Calder Cup Champion Grand Rapids Griffins were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. An injury to offensively gifted defenseman Adam Almquist changed the composure of the blue line, but Swedish import Mattias Backman made quite an impression in his first AHL games. Despite the series loss, goaltender Petr Mrazek was brilliant and appears to be ready for NHL back-up duty in 2014-15.
The CHL had two Red Wings prospects who laced up their skates later in the season than any others in Val d-Or's Anthony Mantha and Guelph's Tyler Bertuzzi. The two competed against each other in the 2014 Mastercard Memorial Cup in London, Ont. Mantha continued his torrid scoring pace, while Bertuzzi unexpectedly returned from a neck injury.
Ben Marshall had a very solid 2014 NCAA Tournament, helping the University of Minnesota get to the Frozen Four before losing in the National Championship game to Union. Minnesota defeated Robert Morris, St. Cloud State, and North Dakota to obtain their berth in the championship game.
In Europe, Mattias Janmark was a member of SHL cellar-dweller AIK. Janmark came to the United States and joined the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins for their playoff run, getting his first taste of professional hockey in North America.
Riley Sheahan was thought to be a future NHL player, but an injury bug that just would not stop biting the Detroit Red Wings forced him to the big leagues sooner than most expected. Sheahan proved that he was ready for the challenge, sticking with the Red Wings through the regular season and into the playoffs.
Sheahan did not register a point in the playoffs but made his presence felt regardless. He was excellent in the faceoff circle against the Boston Bruins with the exception of game three. Despite struggling offensively (as most of Detroit's recent prospects, like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, did) Sheahan proved his worth and will be a full-time NHL player in 2014-15.
Another prospect of note at the NHL level played only one playoff game: Xavier Ouellet. Detroit coach Mike Babcock decided to scratch defenseman Jakub Kindl and opt for calling up Ouellet for game five against the Bruins. Ouellet is likely Detroit's most NHL-ready defenseman, as his steady two-way play has earned the trust of the coaching staff in both Detroit and Grand Rapids.
While Grand Rapids' defense of the Calder Cup fell short (they lost to the Texas Stars in the second round of the playoffs), there were still a few bright spots for the Griffins. The emergence of Teemu Pulkkinen as a consistent scoring threat was a storyline that held over from the regular season to the playoffs. The Finnish forward had 11 points in ten playoff games, leading all Griffins in postseason points and tied for first with Tomas Jurco in goals (five each).
It was not known how Mattias Backman's transition from Sweden to the AHL would go when he came over for the AHL playoffs, but if his postseason performance is any indication, then the Red Wings may have another savvy shutdown defender on their blue line in the near future. Backman had six points in 10 playoff games, more than any other Griffins defenseman. He also was able to keep up with the pace of the North American game while making sound decisions in his own zone.
Tyler Bertuzzi and the Guelph Storm made an appearance in the championship game of the MasterCard Memorial Cup, losing to the Edmonton Oil Kings 6-3. Bertuzzi was nonetheless a pleasant surprise in the postseason after suffering through an injury-plagued regular season that saw him play only 29 games. Bertuzzi returned from his neck injury in time for the postseason, recording a scoring line of 10 goals and seven assists for 17 points in 18 games. Bertuzzi did not miss a beat, stepping back into the lineup and getting under opponent's skin while going to the difficult areas in front of the net to score.
The Val-d'Or Foreurs, led by Anthony Mantha, lost to the Edmonton Oil Kings 4-3 in triple overtime in the MasterCard Memorial Cup semifinals. While a triple overtime loss certainly stung, there was a silver lining; the QMJHL Champions had not won the President's Cup since the 2000-01 season. Mantha had a playoff run that was just as remarkable as his regular season scoring spree. He had 38 points in 24 playoff games, including 24 goals. Mantha will either be one of the Red Wings' top six forwards in 2014-15 or will continue developing his game in the AHL.
Mitch Wheaton's sound defensive play helped propel the Kelowna Rockets to the third round of the WHL playoffs. The Rockets defeated the Tri-City Americans and the Seattle Thunderbirds before falling to the Portland Winterhawks in five games. Wheaton had five assists in 14 playoff games, and if he can match his combination of intelligent defensive play with another offensive campaign similar to his 28-point regular season, then Wheaton will almost assuredly be signed to an entry-level deal by Detroit before his June 2015 deadline.
Though Ben Marshall had a quiet NCAA Tournament statistically (one assist in four games), he still impressed with his continued defensive growth. It seemed that Marshall would take a big step forward prior to the 2013-14 season due to increased ice time, but his regular season performance was essentially on par with his other two collegiate seasons. Marshall has always been something of a forward/defenseman hybrid, and his senior season should go a long way towards determining Marshall's future with the Detroit organization.
Mattias Janmark played through injury to record a regular season line of 18 goals and 12 assists for 30 points in 45 games for the SHL's AIK. Unfortunately, AIK was the worst team in the SHL and did not make the playoffs. Janmark, however, was able to extend his season by coming to the States to play for the Grand Rapids Griffins. Janmark adapted well to the pace of the AHL, and though it may not have showed in his statistics (one point in six AHL playoff games) it seems that Janmark may soon be ready to join the Griffins full-time with the intention of earning a spot among Grand Rapids' top-six forwards.
The Red Wings signed winger Colin Campbell after his final NCAA season with Lake Superior State to add a player who can agitate opponents with his tough play. Campbell is a depth forward who plays physically and is sound defensively. Campbell is expected to rejoin the Griffins for the 2014-15 season.