The Detroit Red Wings saw the youth movement that had slowly taking place for years start to take hold at the NHL level in 2013-14. That aforementioned youth movement has resulted in more prospects at the professional level with NHL caliber skills than the Red Wings have had in recent memory.
At the same time, this aging of Detroit’s prospect corps has left the European, junior, and amateur ranks a bit thin. There are still interesting story lines, however, that will play out over the 2014-15 season. For example, the small number of roster spots available in Detroit will mean that a number of players will remain in either Grand Rapids or Toledo that may be otherwise ready to move on to the next level of play in their careers. The Grand Rapids Griffins and Toledo Walleye should benefit from the caliber of talent they will have, while an intensely competitive environment may help Detroit’s prospects further develop.
If there was one prospect who may have been able to crack Detroit’s aforementioned roster brimming with forwards it was Anthony Mantha. Success is difficult to gauge when evaluating young players, but scoring at a point-per-game pace is indicative of a player’s offensive potential. Mantha managed to raise the bar to a nearly unprecedented level after the 2013-14 season, in which he scored at a goal-per-game pace (57 goals and 63 assists in 57 games).
Mantha, unfortunately, lost his opportunity to make Detroit’s roster due to an injury suffered earlier in September. He fractured his right tibia while at Red Wings Prospect Camp, an injury which will take six to eight weeks to recover from. Mantha will now almost certainly start the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, adding to a roster featuring offensively-gifted forwards such as Teemu Pulkkinen and Andreas Athanasiou.
Martin Frk, RW, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
The 2012-13 season appeared to be a breakthrough year for Martin Frk, who went from recording 29 points in 2011-12 to 84 points in 2012-13. The caveat to Frk’s point production in 2012-13 is the caliber of player he was on a line with; he skated alongside Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon. Frk made the jump to the professional ranks in 2013-14, underwhelmed in Grand Rapids, and quickly found himself playing in the ECHL. Frk played in 15 games for the Toledo Walleye and recorded 13 points. He evenutally earned a roster spot in Grand Rapids, though he was only able to score 12 points in 50 AHL games. He has made an effort to improve his defensive effort, but his skating will need to get significantly better before expectations for Frk can be raised once again.
Unsigned for 2015-16
Landon Ferraro, C, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Mere days separate Landon Ferraro from learning his future with the Detroit Red Wings. If he does not make the club after the preseason then he must go through the waiver process to be sent to the Grand Rapids Griffins. Whether Ferraro remains with the team or is acquired off of waivers (should he be sent down to the AHL) remains to be seen, but he is playing for more than just an opportunity with Detroit; he is playing for a contract.
Ferraro has one goal in three preseason games in 2014-15. He is an excellent skater who has a high hockey IQ and is both willing to go to the difficult areas of the ice and has good offensive instincts. Ferraro recorded 31 points for the Griffins in 2013-14, a step backwards from the 47 he scored in 2012-13. He has performed better in the preseason than he did in 2013-14, but whether this is enough to earn him an opportunity in Detroit and subsequently a new contract remains to be seen.
Zack Nastasiuk fits the mold of the type of forward Detroit has leaned toward drafting in the past two NHL Drafts; gritty, aggressive, and responsible in both the offensive and defensive zone. Nastasiuk produced 51 points in 62 games for the Owen Sounds Attack while also serving as team captain in 2013-14. Nastasiuk returns to Owen Sound in 2014-15 and will resume his leadership role with the club. He is a candidate to earn a spot on Team Canada for the 2015 World Junior Championship should he continue to demonstrate the same level of offensive and defensive play that he did in 2013-14.
Putting up points without playing on the power play can be a difficult proposition, which makes Dominic Turgeon’s 31 points in 65 games with the Portland Winterhawks in 2013-14 all the more impressive.
Turgeon is impressive defensively, playing a sound positional game and getting a great deal of ice time on the penalty kill. He has played on the Winterhawks’ third and fourth line to this point, and he has yet to show the offensive potential that the Detroit organization believes he has. In 2014-15 he looks to gain more ice time and move into a top-six role with Portland. Turgeon’s offensive numbers should blossom with his newfound ice time and the possibility that he may earn power play time as well.
One of the first words that comes up when discussing Dylan Larkin’s game is “speed,” which he has an abundance of. The 18-year-old forward uses his speed to help him catch opposing defenders off guard, allowing him to generate offensive opportunities for himself and his teammates. He posted 56 points in 60 games with the US NTDP in 2013-14, and he will have an excellent opportunity to produce at Michigan as well.
Michigan loses a number of key forwards including Alex Guptill and Phil DiGuiseppe. Larkin will see plenty of ice time and could also earn time on both special teams units. Larkin is already a good two-way player and will have a great deal of time to strengthen both elements of his game under the tutelage of Red Berenson.
Mike McKee, D/F, Western Michigan University (NCAA)
When the Detroit Red Wings drafted Mike McKee in the 2012 NHL Draft they thought they were getting a big, physical defenseman. At 6’5 they certain selected a player of impressive physical stature, but they may be getting a big, physical forward instead.
McKee was converted from the back end to the forward corps in his first season at Western Michigan. He sat out 19 games as he adjusted to his new role, playing a total of 21 games in the 2013-14 season. McKee only managed to score one point, a goal, last season. He will need to prove that he has used the offseason to adjust to being a forward in 2014-15.
Unsigned for 2015-16
Ben Mashall, D, University of Minnesota (NCAA)
At 5’9 and 179 pounds, size has never been on Ben Marshall’s size. Despite his stature, the University of Minnesota defenseman had enough speed and offensive upside to be selected by Detroit in the 2010 NHL Draft.
Since arriving at the University of Minnesota Marshall has been productive, but he has done little to set himself apart from other defensemen already in the Red Wings’ system. He will need to show better defensive zone coverage skills to earn a contract with Detroit for the 2015-16 season.
Top European Prospect
Mattias Janmark, C, Frolunda (SHL)
With defenseman Mattias Backman moving over to North America to begin his professional career, Mattias Janmark is Detroit’s new top European prospect. The 21-year-old center scored 30 points in 45 games with AIK in 2013-14, and he’s off to an even better start in 2014-15 with five points in seven games.
Janmark is a very good skater who has a high level of hockey intelligence and is a natural goal scorer. At this point it is practically a given, but Janmark will need to continue to impress in 2014-15 in order to be re-signed by Detroit; he must sign by August of 2015.
Hampus Melen, RW, Vaxjo J20 (SuperElit)
Hampus Melen missed the vast majority of the 2013-14 season due to injury, playing in only 11 games. Melen was diagnosed with a respiratory disorder, which is now under control. He joins a new team in 2014-15, though he will remain playing at the J20 SuperElit level in Sweden. Melen is 6’2 and has a fair amount of offensive skill, but he will need to fill out his 165 pound frame if he wishes to move up to a higher level of hockey.
First Year Pro to Watch
Julius Vahatalo, LW, TPS (SM-liiga)
The 2014-15 season will be Julius Vahatalo’s first full year in Finland’s Liiga, though he did play 18 Liiga games in 2013-14. Vahatalo has played in four games in 2014-15 and has yet to record his first point.
Going scoreless, however, does not mean that Vahatalo is without talent. He has great skill with the puck and a high hockey IQ to go along with a 6’5, 191 pound frame. Much will depend on how Vahatalo adapts to Liiga play, but he currently projects as a player who could be a scoring-line forward in the distant future.