The Detroit Red Wings have six prospects at the college level, including three forwards and three defensemen.
Gustav Nyquist, C – University of Maine
Acquired: 4th round, 121st overall, 2008
When Nyquist left Sweden for North America, his ability to transition his offensive game against a bigger and grittier style of play came into question. Nyquist is at bottom a puck hound. But to his credit, he never quits on a play and always keeps his feet moving.
Nyquist has answered his critics as he has enjoyed a very successful rookie campaign at the University of Maine. In 22 games with the team he has scored 19 points, including nine goals. If he can keep up his offensive touch and ability to withstand the wear and tear of gritty hockey, Nyquist projects as a second line player in the NHL.
Julien Cayer, C – Clarkson University
Acquired: 5th round, 151st overall, 2008
Cayer is a freshman at Clarkson University. After being skipped over in his first year of draft eligibility, he was selected in the fifth round by Detroit. Cayer boasts a 6’4 frame, which he uses to play an aggressive physical game. He is solid at both ends of the ice, but could still use a bit more muscle to match his height.
In his rookie year with Clarkson, he has put up nine points in 17 games, a solid total. He missed some time with a concussion he suffered in mid-November but has since returned. Cayer projects as a third line player unless his offensive skills can improve.
Nick Oslund, RW – St. Cloud State
Acquired: 7th round, 191st overall, 2006
Prior to the 2006 draft, the Red Wings hadn’t drafted a U.S. high school prospect in 13 years. The broke the trend when they selected Nick Oslund in the seventh round. In his rookie year with St. Cloud State, Oslund potted just five points. While he doesn’t excel on the offensive side of things he brings size, solid checking and an aggressive forecheck to the table.
Oslund has scored six points with St. Cloud so far this season. Already exceeding his point total in his rookie year, he has also maintained the physical style of play that the Wings drafted him for. Oslund is a long-term project for the Wings — a grinder-type player.
Brendan Smith, D – University of Wisconsin
Acquired: 1st round, 27th overall, 2007
The Red Wings surprised many when they took Smith 27th overall in the 2007 draft. While he was project to go in a later round, Smith fits the mold of many other Red Wings defensemen as a small but very mobile player. In his rookie season at the University of Wisconsin he was able to tally 12 points in 22 games played. He has been praised for all aspects of his offensive game including his smooth skating, outlet passing and ability to quarterback the power play. Smith’s defensive game has always been the question.
This season Smith has surpassed his rookie season totals and has 18 points in 21 games. Additionally, he is playing a more sound defensive game and has developed a better sense of when to pinch and how to position himself on the ice. If Smith can continue his progress in the college ranks, then he could certainly pan out as a first or second pairing defenseman.
Bryan Rufenach, D – Clarkson University
Acquired: 7th round, 208th overall, 2007
Much like Smith, Rufenach possesses a small frame but a large set of skills. In his rookie season he scored six points in 35 games, playing with limited ice time. He fits the mold of a Brett Lebda with his excellent skating skills and ability to skate the puck up ice. Rufenach is also able to anchor a power play, but must show that he can build on his offensive numbers and possibly build some muscle.
This season with Clarkson he has potted eight points in 20 games. Rufenach has seen his role increase in his second year with the school, getting more minutes and increased time on the power play. It is still too early to tell just how far Rufenach will go, but he certainly has the raw skills for the NHL.
Nils Backstrom, D – University of Alaska-Anchorage
Acquired: 9th round, 290th overall, 2004
Of the six college prospects, Backstrom has been in the Red Wings system the longest. Since leaving Sweden for the NCAA in 2006, Backstrom hasn’t made much noise. After a decent campaign in his rookie year Backstrom had a disappointing sophomore year plagued by injuries. He is praised for his smooth skating ability and vision, but hasn’t produced much offense and doesn’t offer much physicality.
The season hasn’t treated Backstrom any better. In 20 games with the University of Alaska, he has netted just three points and has 24 penalty minutes. Although, he has been able to remain healthy and has surpassed the 16 games he played last season. It would appear that Backstrom will not pan out as a late-round steal like several other Detroit prospects have.