Red Wings Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By Brandon Peleshok

There are quite a few changes from the spring edition of the Top 20 list, though Jakub Kindl maintains the top spot. While Jonathan Ericsson and Jimmy Howard graduate from the list, there are several new additions to the list, headlined by 2009 draftees Landon Ferraro and Tomas Tatar.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Jakub Kindl, D – 8.0C
2. Ville Leino, LW – 7.5B
3. Brendan Smith, D – 7.5C
4. Daniel Larsson, G – 7.5C
5. Thomas McCollum, G – 8.0D
6. Justin Abdelkader, LW – 7.0C
7. Landon Ferraro, C – 7.5D
8. Dick Axelsson, LW – 7.0C
9. Jan Mursak, LW – 7.0C
10. Darren Helm, C – 6.5B
11. Tomas Tatar, C – 7.0C
12. Gustav Nyquist, C – 7.0C
13. Cory Emmerton, C – 7.0C
14. Andrej Nestrasil, C – 7.0D
15. Gleason Fournier, D – 6.5C
16. Mattias Ritola, C – 6.5C
17. Evan McGrath, C – 6.5C
18. Max Nicastro, D – 6.5C
19. Joakim Andersson, C – 6.5C
20. Stephen Johnston, LW – 6.0C

1. Jakub Kindl, D – 8.0C
6’3, 206lbs
Acquired: 1st round, 19th overall, 2005

Kindl maintains his top spot on the Red Wings Top 20 prospects list. While his point production slowed down a bit during the end of the season, he certainly improved upon his 2007-08 campaign. He finished the season with 33 points and a –14 in 78 games with Grand Rapids, and looks poised to once again improve during the 2009-10 season.

The Red Wings have signed two veteran defensemen who will be of help to Kindl. He will likely see a big improvement in his plus/minus rating with a veteran defenseman to allow him to utilize his offensive gifts. In the event of an injury to Detroit’s defense corps, Kindl would be the first player to receive a call-up.

2. Ville Leino, LW – 7.5B

6’1, 188lbs
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2008

During his call-up to Detroit last season, Leino was very impressive, spending time on various lines. The Red Wings showed their confidence in the Finn when in 2008 they signed him to a two-year deal worth $800,000 per season.

While the 25-year-old’s AHL season was hindered by several injuries, Leino finished the season with 46 points in 57 games. While playing for the Red Wings he was able to net a very respectable nine points in 13 games. His willingness to drive the net and impressive puck control contributed to his success during his stint in the NHL.

With Detroit’s forward depth taking a hit during the off-season, Leino will likely graduate this season, as he is poised to play full time in Detroit.

3. Brendan Smith, D – 7.5C

6’2, 174lbs
Acquired: 1st round, 27th overall, 2007

While off-ice incidents have hindered Smith’s progress, the mobile defender’s point production has still improved quite nicely. Smith nearly doubled his 2007-08 production during the 2008-09 season, potted 23 points in 31 games for the University of Wisconsin. His mobility and strong power-play presence make Smith an ideal prospect for the Red Wings’ style of play.

Smith will return to Wisconsin this fall. His play and behavior during the year could determine whether or not Detroit will bring him up to the AHL a year early. So long as Smith can improve on his point totals and keep a straight head on and off the ice, he should stay on a development curve.

4. Daniel Larsson, G – 7.5C
6’0, 180lbs
Acquired: 3rd round, 92nd overall, 2006

Larsson started off his AHL season with a bang, but conditioning issues of dehydration and fatigue caused his play to drop off a bit as the year progressed.

Larsson still finished his first AHL season with an impressive 2.76 GAA and .907 save percentage. As he battled for time as the No. 1 goaltender in Grand Rapids, Larsson showed that he’s the real deal and may be the Red Wings’ goalie of the future.

He will start the 2009-10 season as the No. 1 goaltender for Grand Rapids. With a year of AHL play under his belt, Larsson knows what to expect this season and had time to work on conditioning over the summer months.

5. Thomas McCollum, G – 8.0D
6’1, 205 lbs.
Acquired: 1st round, 30th overall, 2008

While McCollum posted impressive numbers during his season with the Brampton Battalion — good for second overall in the league with an outstanding 1.94 GAA and .929 save percentage — he raised a few questions with his play during pressure situations. He fell flat during the World Juniors as the goaltender for the US team and looked a bit shaky in the CHL finals against the Windsor Spitfires.

McCollum will look to carry his success over the AHL into the 2009-10 season. He is poised to take on the backup role behind Larsson.

6. Justin Abdelkader, LW – 6.5B
6’2, 215lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2005

While his initial call-up during the playoffs left something to be desired, his play during the series against Pittsburgh showed what kind of player Abdelkader could turn out to be.

He scored goals in back-to-back games when he was moved from the left wing to the center position, and maintained his impressive physical play. Abdelkader’s first season in the AHL was a booming success. He received the award for rookie of the month in October and finished the year with 52 points in 76 games.

Abdelkader will likely start the season in Grand Rapids on the first line. Abdelkader will likely be the first forward to be called up.

7. Landon Ferraro, C – 7.5D

5’11, 165lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2009

Ferraro’s blazing speed and scoring touch around the net caught the attention of the Red Wings. He showed that he has a nose for the net during the 2008-09 season as a member of the Red Dear Rebels. In 68 games, he put up 37 goals and 55 points.

Ferraro will return to Red Deer for the 2009-10 season. Given the team’s roster, Ferraro will be counted on once again to carry the offensive game for the team.

8. Dick Axelsson, LW – 7.0C
6’2, 176lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 62nd overall, 2006

The 2009-10 season will be very telling for the future of Dick Axelsson. While he seems to have a great deal of skill, several off-ice issues and a poor work ethic have raised questions about whether or not he can meet his true potential. During the 2008-09 season, Axelsson was kicked off the Djurgardens team in the SEL because of his issues.

Axelsson responded well when Farjestad picked him up. He ended up putting up 18 points in 21 games with the team, as they went on the win the SEL championship.

Axelsson will move on to his first year of North American hockey this season. Whether or not he will succeed will depend on his desire. If Axelsson can put his past issues and work ethic problems behind him, and let his talent truly show itself, then his offense will come through.

9. Jan Mursak, RW – 7.0C
5’11, 182lbs
Acquired: 6th round, 182nd overall, 2006

The Slovenian winger did not have a great year in the AHL, but still possesses a great deal of talent. Mursak netted only nine points in 51 games in his AHL rookie year. He struggled to find his place on the team, often bouncing from the bench to fourth line. Mursak’s lack of physical strength was most likely the cause of his poor play.

He will look to bounce back during the 2009-10 season with the Griffins. With Leino and Helm leaving the team for the Red Wings, Mursak will likely see more ice time as the year progresses. It’s now up to Mursak to take the opportunity to fine tune his game and find success at the minor pro level.

10. Darren Helm, C – 6.5B

5’11, 185lbs
Acquired: 5th round, 132nd overall, 2005

While Helm will likely never put up big numbers at the NHL level, his importance to the Red Wings in a defensive capacity should not be undervalued.

In the 2008-09 playoffs, Helm showcased one of the most impressive individual efforts on the penalty kill in recent memory. He utilized his speed and defensive skill to hold onto the puck for an extended period of time in the offensive zone, ending the play to a standing ovation. Helm is essentially a perfect replacement for aging veteran Kris Draper, with the tools to be a premier shutdown player in the NHL.

11. Tomas Tatar, C – 7.0C

5’11, 176lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 60th overall, 2009

Tatar’s offensive skills weren’t all that impressive during the first half of his season in the Slovak Extraliga, but his play during the World Juniors caught the eye of the hockey world. In just seven games, Tatar was able to put up 11 points, finishing the tournament in second place for scoring behind Nikita Filatov (CLB).

After the tournament, Tatar continued his impressive play and carried it into the Slovak post-season. He will spend the 2009-10 season looking to prove that his sudden burst of offensive production was not a fluke.

12. Gustav Nyquist, C – 7.0C

5’11, 170lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 121st overall, 2008

While Nyquist posted respectable numbers during his time in Sweden, few people could have predicted the success he has experienced at the NCAA level. He put up a very impressive season with the University of Maine with 32 points in 38 games and made the all-rookie team.

His transition from the SEL to college level is rather impressive, given his lack of size and experience with a North American style of play. Nyquist will return to Maine and look to continue his high level of play.

13. Cory Emmerton, C – 7.0C

5’11, 185lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 41st overall, 2006

While his first year of AHL play wasn’t as impressive as Abdelkader, Emmerton did enjoy a rather successful season of play. After being bit by the injury bug several times during his career, suffering from broken bones and mononucleosis, Emmerton was able to put together a relatively healthy year.

In 69 games with Grand Rapids, Emmerton was able to put up 35 points. While the numbers don’t necessarily jump out, Emmerton’s defensive responsibility was also on showcase during the year, as he’s a very responsible backchecker and strong positional player. If he is able to improve his numbers while maintaining his two-way game, Emmerton could very well develop into a second line center at the NHL level.

14. Andrej Nestrasil, C – 7.0D
6’2, 200lbs
Acquired: 3rd round, 75th overall, 2009

Nestrasil has the potential to become a high-end player if he can properly develop. He possesses the size and skill, but must improve his skating if he ever hopes to play in the NHL. Nestrasil is a physical player who the Red Wings likely hope can develop into power forward.

In his first year playing in North America, Nestrasil joined the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL. While other players have struggled with the transition from a European game to  a North American one, he looked right at home. Nestrasil finished his 2008-09 season with 57 points in 66 games. A combination of seeing more ice time and improving his skating ability could see his point totals skyrocket in the coming season.

15. Gleason Fournier, D – 6.5C
6’0, 176lbs
Acquired: 3rd round, 90th overall, 2009

Fournier has exhibited the mobility and speed that the Red Wings look for in their defensemen. He is capable of strong end-to-end rushes, making him an offensive threat from the blue line. While his elite skating ability was enough motivation for Detroit to take a chance on him, the rest of his game must develop if he hopes to reach the NHL.

In his second year of playing for the Rimouski Oceanic, Fournier more than doubled his rookie year point totals. In 66 games with the team he managed to score 28 points. With an expanding role on the team, Fournier will look to further increase his point totals in the 2009-10 season while honing the other aspects of his game.

16. Mattias Ritola, C – 6.5C
5’11, 185lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 103rd overall, 2005

During his second year of play in the AHL, Ritola nearly doubled his rookie season point total, scoring 42 points in 66 games. While Ritola doesn’t necessarily excel defensively, he’s no slouch either. He has been able to adapt to the North American style of play, throwing the body more often and going into the harder areas of the ice. Ritola could serve as a call-up for the Wings during the season, likely serving a role on a checking line.

17. Evan McGrath, C – 6.5C
6’0, 195lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 128th overall, 2004

McGrath was able to once again boost his offensive totals, finishing his year with 47 points in 68 games. And he improved the defensive side of his game in order to fit in with the Red Wings style of play. He was signed to a new contract in the 2009 off-season, but could be lost to waivers should the Red Wings decide to send him back down to the AHL.

18. Max Nicastro, D – 6.5C
6’2, 189lbs.
Acquired: 3rd round, 91st overall, 2008

Mobile defender Nicastro was able to improve during his second year of play in the USHL, putting up 31 points in 57 games with the Chicago Steel. He heads to Boston University this fall.

19. Joakim Andersson, C – 6.5C

6’0, 220lbs
Acquired: 3rd round, 88th overall, 2007

While his offensive numbers will likely never jump out, Andersson’s defensive play is his best asset. He could very well end up as a solid defensive forward for Detroit, playing on the third or fourth lines. Andersson will spend the 2009-10 season in Sweden, looking to continue his strong two-way play and maybe develop more of a scoring touch.

20. Stephen Johnston, LW – 6.0C

6’1, 175lbs.
Acquired: 6th round, 181st overall, 2008

As a member of the OHL Belleville Bulls, Johnston saw his production increase drastically as he finished his sophomore season with 36 points in 58 games. While his play in the post-season didn’t make the same impact, Johnston is still an intriguing prospect. If he hopes to garner a contract with Detroit, he will have to once again improve upon his offensive numbers this season.