Detroit Red Wings junior pool has character and promise

By Chris Roberts
Photo: Red Wings prospect Tyler Bertuzzi of the Guelph Storm (Courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Photo: Guelph Storm forward and Detroit Red Wings prospect Tyler Bertuzzi is the nephew of former Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi (Courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

 

The Detroit Red Wings have seven prospects playing junior hockey this season. While none are high-profile first round selections, the group is characterized by intrigue and potential.

Mid-to-late-round picks and a free agent signing highlight the group playing this season around the CHL. Given the Red Wings’ history of developing unheralded prospects, as well as the performances from this group, there is likely to be a few future NHLers that emerge.

OHL

Tyler Bertuzzi, LW, Guelph Storm
Acquired: 2nd round, 58th overall, 2013

After an injury-shortened 2013-14 campaign in which he played just 29 regular season games, Bertuzzi has been healthy and productive to start this season.

Through 25 games, the skilled and rugged 19-year-old winger leads Guelph in scoring with 34 points. His 14 goals are good enough for third on the team and his 20 assists leads the Storm. Offensive consistency has been the key for Bertuzzi, who has only gone more than one game without a point once this season – in a three-game stretch in early November. After breaking out of that scoring lull, Bertuzzi paced the Storm to a 9-4 win over the London Knights, a game in which he recorded seven points. Seven of his 14 goals have been scored on the power play, proving himself a force in front of the net and from the sideboards.

Bertuzzi’s teammate Robby Fabbri (STL) was named to the Canadian World Junior selection camp, and while Bertuzzi himself attended the summer camp in August, he was left off the final list. Bertuzzi will have to elevate his game in Fabbri’s absence.

Zach Nastasiuk, RW, Owen Sound Attack
Acquired: 2nd round, 48th overall, 2013

In his fourth season of junior hockey, Zach Nastasiuk is having his best season offensively, and he has been getting better as the season progresses. In October, the big-bodied winger scored three goals and five assists in 11 games, while his production increased in November with seven goals and seven assists. Five of his goals in November came on the power play.

Nastasiuk played for the OHL in one of the Subway Super Series games, and was held pointless with a -1 plus/minus rating. The Attack are currently last in the tough Midwest Division, but with many top opposition players off competing in the 2015 World Juniors, the team should benefit from having its captain Nastasiuk in the lineup.

Jake Paterson, G, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 3rd round, 80th overall, 2012

It has not been a banner year for overage goaltender Jake Paterson or his middle of the pack Saginaw Spirit team. The Mississauga native posted a winning record in his previous two seasons with the team, but he is off to a 7-8-1 start with a 3.35 goals against average. His save percentage is an adequate .911, but he has had too many subpar games amongst the good ones.

Paterson has given up five-plus goals in five games already this season. On October 16, he gave up a season-worst seven goals, and three of his five-plus goal performances have come in November, where he went 4-4-1. In eight of the 16 games he has started this year, Paterson has faced more than 35 shots and that trend will likely continue as the Spirit are near the top in the league in shots allowed.

Had he been with any other organization, Paterson would likely have started the season in the AHL, but with Tom McCollum and Petr Mrazek already in Grand Rapids, a year facing a high workload in Saginaw could be beneficial to Paterson, who represented Canada in last year’s World Juniors.

WHL

Dominic Turgeon, C, Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 3rd round, 63rd overall, 2014

The Red Wings were happy to take budding power-forward pivot Dominic Turgeon with their second pick in the 2014 Draft, and the American has been finding his game as of late.

A 6’2, 190 lb center, Turgeon had just two assists in his first eight games this season. In his ninth game he scored two goals, and since then, he has 15 points in 18 games and currently sits fifth in team scoring. The Winterhawks are not as strong a squad as in previous years, but remain a potent team offensively with players like Oliver Bjorkstrand (CBJ), Chase De Leo (WPG) and Nic Petan (WPG). Because of their solid depth, Turgeon is not always afforded top line, offensive zone opportunities that he might otherwise have. He has played a strong two-way game nevertheless and as the season progresses into next year Turgeon could be awarded a greater share of playing time.

Joe Hicketts, D, Victoria Royals
Acquired: Undrafted free agent

Signed prior to the start of the season, undrafted Joe Hicketts has quickly established himself as a potential gem find for the Red Wings. After posting 24 points in an injury-shortened 36-game campaign last season, Hicketts has gotten off to a tremendous start in his third season with the Royals. Through 28 games, he has established a new career high with seven goals and currently leads the team in scoring with 36 points.

Hicketts has been a top defenseman for the Royals, logging top-pairing minutes and posting a plus-12 rating. November was a particularly big month for the Kamloops, B.C native as he recorded 20 points in 14 games. What is perhaps most impressive about his offensive production is that all seven of his goals have come at even strength.

Hockey Canada has taken notice of Hickett’s emergence as a top defender this season, as he was recently selected to attend the World Junior selection camp.

Mitch Wheaton, D, Kelowna Rockets
Acquired: 5th round, 139th overall, 2013

Mitch Wheaton is currently out indefinitely with an upper-body injury, having only played four games this season and registering one assist. He has been out since October 3, but his team has been able to do just fine without him as the Rockets are currently the CHL’s best team, owning a 22-3-3 record.

There is at present no timetable for Wheaton’s return. The big defenseman has rebounded from injury before and one hopes this current setback does not linger.

Marc McNulty, D, Prince George Cougars
Acquired: 6th round, 169th overall, 2013

A giant on skates at 6’6 and over 200 lbs, Marc McNulty established a fine offensive element to his game last season, and was contributing at a nice pace before an early November injury took him out of the lineup.

Currently back on ice and skating, McNulty is set to return to the Cougars lineup soon. To date, he has scored twice and added five assists in 16 games. The month of October was a struggle for the big blueliner, but he looked to be finding his form prior to his injury.

McNulty led the Cougars in defense scoring by a significant margin last season and will no doubt be important to his team’s success this season as well.

Detroit Red Wings Top Performing Non-Junior Prospects: October

Andreas Athanasiou, a 20-year-old fourth round pick in 2012, is impressing in his first season with Grand Rapids. The skilled winger posted 95 points with the Barrie Colts of the OHL last season, and is currently fourth in Griffins scroing with 12 points. Defenseman Xavier Ouellet has also looked good in Grand Rapids, earning him a five-game stint with the Red Wings earlier this season, where he scored his first career NHL goal.

In the NCAA, last year’s first round pick, Dylan Larkin, is fitting in nicely with the University of Michigan. A skilled American center, Larkin has two goals and 10 assists through 13 games and sits third in team scoring. He’s a shoe-in for the United States World Junior team. Chase Perry, a goaltender from Minnesota, taken in the fifth round of last year’s draft, is off to a rather pedestrian start to his collegiate career with Colorado College. Playing in seven games thus far, the freshman has a 3.73 goals against average to go along with a .883 save percentage. He is, however, outplaying the older Tyler Marble, with whom he shares the net.

In Sweden, the Wings’ top prospect at center, Mattias Janmark, is continuing the production he showed last season with AIK; now with Frölunda, Janmark has 15 points through 26 games.

Detroit Red Wings Prospect of the Month: October

One of the Red Wings’ most impressive forward prospects, Teemu Pulkkinen, is following up his promising AHL rookie campaign with a solid start in Grand Rapids this season. Through 19 games, the 22-year-old Finn has nine goals and 14 assists to lead the league in scoring. He played in three games with the Red Wings last season as an injury call-up, and figures to see more time this year as the season progresses Teemu Pulkkinen - Detroit Red Wings Prospect of the Month, October, 2014and the usual wear and tear of players picks up. 

Pulkkinen had an eight-game point streak come to an end with his first game in December. During that point streak, the second-year pro recorded 15 points. He had a tough three-game spell prior to that streak in which he was a -5 and was held pointless, but including those games, he has only been held pointless in five games this season. He has also scored four power-play goals and three game-winners in the first quarter of the season. Pulkkinen’s offensive production has been one constant for the Griffins this season, and while Dylan Larkin deserves some recognition for his great start as a NCAA freshman, Pulkkinen has been the Wings most impressive prospect to date this season.