Red Wings Top 20 prospects, Spring 2010

By Brandon Peleshok

The Red Wings top 20 list has seen a bit of a shift since the fall version, introducing four new players to the list.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Jakub Kindl 
2. Brendan Smith 
3. Daniel Larsson 
4. Tomas Tatar 
5. Justin Abdelkader 
6. Landon Ferraro 
7. Thomas McCollum 
8. Jan Mursak 
9. Gustav Nyquist 
10. Cory Emmerton 
11. Dick Axelsson 
12. Andrej Nestrasil 
13. Willie Coetzee 
14. Gleason Fournier 
15. Mattias Ritola 
16. Max Nicastro 
17. Joakim Andersson 
18. Sergei Kolosov 
19. Nick Jensen 
20. Adam Almqvist

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

Retaining the top spot on the list is Kindl. In his third year on the Grand Rapids Griffins, Kindl has continued to steadily improve his game. The 23-year-old Czech has put up 21 points through 53 games, while posting a -6 rating. During a three-game call-up with the Red Wings, Kindl went pointless with a -3 rating. He has made ample use of his power-play quarterback skills and blue line mobility, but still shows defensive lapses and makes questionable decisions with the puck.

Kindl will no longer be able to pass safely through waivers next season, so the Red Wings will have to find a place him on the team, or risk losing him. He will likely play the role of seventh defenseman, rotating in while adjusting to the pace of the NHL.

2. Brendan Smith, D – 7.5C
6’2, 174lbs
Acquired: 1st round, 27th overall, 2007

After a few years of personal, off-ice issues, Smith is showing the hockey world just why he’s been ranked so highly among college defenders. In his third year as a member of the Wisconsin Badgers, Smith leads all college defensemen with 40 points over 31 games. The 20-year-old’s success has allowed him to be considered for the Hobey Baker award, along with fellow Red Wings prospect Nyquist. Smith’s ability to quarterback a power play and ability to rush a puck has allowed for his success, while he still needs to improve the defensive aspects of his game in order to become a more complete player.

If Smith decides to leave school, he would likely start with the Griffins.

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

In his first full year as the starting goaltender of the Griffins, Larsson struggled a bit in the early parts of this season. However, he has since rebounded, being given the bulk of games and has posted a 2.88 GAA and .904 save percentage. Being a smaller goaltender at 6’0, Larsson has relied on his agility and quickness in net. He has also shown himself to be very mentally strong, bouncing back from bad games with solid performances. At 24, Larsson is entering a point in his career where he will have to prove that he can play in the NHL.

With Chris Osgood reaching the later years of his career, it is possible that Larsson could end up fighting for the back-up position in Detroit during the next two to three seasons.

4. Tomas Tatar, C – 7.5C
5’11, 176lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 60th overall, 2009

At only 18, Tatar was able to make the Griffins team right out of camp. Unheard of for Red Wings prospects, he has also made great use of his time in the AHL. In 44 games with the team he has put up 25 points, 13 of which are goals. However, he has cooled off a bit since his time at the U-20 tournament, where he scored five points in six games for Slovakia. Tatar’s success can be attributed to his superior hockey sense in the offensive zone and goal-scoring instincts. While his size may hinder him at times, his skating and stick handling seem to overcome it.

Along with Mursak, Tatar boasts skills as one of the few natural goal scorers in the Red Wings system. He is making rapid progression.

5. Justin Abdelkader, LW – 7.0C
6’2, 215lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2005

As the prospect that has benefitted the most from the Red Wings injury issues, Abdelkader spent a good portion of the 2009-10 season on Detroit’s roster. In 50 games with the Red Wings, he put up just six points and went for a -11 rating. Yet, his physical play was his best asset during his role on the fourth line, as he amassed a team-leading 152 hits. Showing flashes of offensive skill, the 23-year-old would likely flourish in a larger role, filling the role of a power forward on the team. Since his return to the Griffins, he has scored nine points in 14 games.

Abdelkader will likely find himself on the Red Wings next season in a full-time role, utilizing his physical play on the third and fourth lines.

6. Landon Ferraro, C – 7.5D
5’11, 165lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2009

Crippled by a knee injury earlier this season, Ferraro has fought to get his game back on track. Since that time, the 18-year-old center has been able to turn his season around. Putting up 41 points in 45 games, Ferraro has shown the offensive flair that the Red Wings were intrigued by when they took him in the second round of the 2009 draft. His blazing speed and nose for the net are his strengths, while his play on the defensive side of the puck is a bit lacking.

Experiencing the first winning season in his Red Deer Rebels career, Ferraro will participate in some much-needed playoff hockey.

7. Thomas McCollum, G – 7.5D
6’1, 205 lbs.
Acquired: 1st round, 30th overall, 2008

McCollum has struggled mightily in his first season as an AHL goaltender. He was sent down to the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye in the early parts of the season, where he posted a 4.48 GAA and .864 save percentage in a little over three games. When fellow goaltending prospect Jordan Pearce failed to do much better, McCollum was brought back up to the Griffins as Larsson’s back-up. In 24 AHL games, the 20-year-old has a .874 save percentage and 3.61 GAA. While he possesses the size and reflexes to be a successful goaltender, he will have to prove that he can handle big-game situations.

McCollum will have to improve his play next season, as his role with the Griffins will continue to grow when and if Larsson makes the move to the NHL.

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

Mursak has bounced back in a big way after a rough season in 2008-09. The Slovenian winger has gone from playing fourth-line minutes, to being the top goal scorer for the Griffins. At 22, Mursak has put up 20 goals and 11 assists. He has also posted a +9 rating, which was quite good on the team. Mursak possesses soft hands and great skating, which have attributed to his success, and also allowed him to overcome his lack of size.

Mursak could end up finding himself on a scoring line in Detroit in the near future, as the team lacks the natural goal scoring that he provides.

9. Gustav Nyquist, RW – 7.0C
5’11, 170lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 121st overall, 2008

Swedish right winger Nyquist is also in the race for the Hobey Baker award. Currently tied for the points lead out of all NCAA players, he has put up 50 points through 31 games. In just his second year with the University of Maine, the 20-year-old potentially has two more years of college hockey, but he has little left to prove at this point. Nyquist possesses very impressive speed along with good hockey sense, although he lacks any kind of physical edge.

10. Cory Emmerton, C – 7.0C
5’11, 185lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 41st overall, 2006

In his second season in Grand Rapids, Emmerton has improved the defensive aspects of his play, as well as adjusted to the pace of the AHL game. As far as his offense is concerned, he has posted numbers similar to those in his rookie season, scoring 28 points over 57 games. He possesses great hockey vision and strong playmaking skills, but there are concerns that his skating needs improvement.

Emmerton will have time to do so in the AHL, as he probably has at least two more years as a member of the Griffins.

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

Axelsson took a step back this season in terms of his development. After scoring just five points in 17 games in Grand Rapids, he decided to return to Sweden to retain his comfort level. Upon his return to the Frolunda team, he has put up eight points over nine games. Axelsson is still perhaps one of the more offensively gifted of the prospects on this list, possessing great speed and soft hands.

With his latest setback, it is difficult to predict what the 22-year-old’s future as a Red Wings prospect holds. The team has already shown that they wish him to develop through the AHL system, so if he refuses to do things their way, he could find himself out of NHL chances.

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

Nestrasil’s transition to North American hockey went very well during the 2008-09 season when he broke into the QMJHL. The 19-year-old Czech has found that same success in his sophomore season. Nestrasil has been able to put up 43 points in 44 games, and found similar success in the U-20 tournament with seven points in six games. He puts his size to good use and is strong on the puck, but needs to improve his foot speed.

Nestrasil will have another year with the Victoriaville Tigres before his signing deadline comes up in the summer of 2011.

13. Willie Coetzee, RW – 6.5C
5’10, 180lbs
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2009

Signed as a free agent, Coetzee is what Red Wings general manager Ken Holland refers to as a "bonus pick" and he certainly has turned out to be quite the bonus. A new addition to the list, the 19-year-old winger built on the success of his 2008-09 campaign when he excelled in the early parts of this season for Red Deer. Without Ferraro as his center, Coetzee has still been able to put together a very impressive point total with 76 points in 64 games in the WHL.

Coetzee will have plenty of time to show himself a capable player when he makes his AHL debut for the Griffins, likely this spring.

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

The 18-year-old Canadian has had a very impressive sophomore season with the Rimouski Oceanic. Fournier has played a bit below a point-per-game pace for the club, scoring 47 points in 52 games. His success can be attributed to his world-class skating ability and hockey sense. His most obvious flaw is his lack of size, which he can remedy by working out and bulking up.

Fournier will still have another season of play in the QMJHL before the Red Wings have to make any decisions regarding his future.

15. Mattias Ritola, C – 6.5C
5’11, 205lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 103rd overall, 2005

In his third season as a member of the Griffins, Ritola has struggled a bit to put up the points. In 53 games he has put up just 28 points, placing him sixth on the team. Additionally, he has been able to hone his defensive skills and change his game, turning himself into a two-way forward. During his call-up with the Red Wings this season, which lasted five games, he went pointless.

With forwards Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper aging, Ritola could find himself a spot on the bottom two forward lines of the Red Wings, so long as he continues to up his physical play and defensive awareness.

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

Playing in his first year of college hockey, Nicastro has entered Boston University and put up some decent numbers. In 31 games with the team, he has been able to post 15 points. The 19-year-old defenseman will need to fill out a bit more if he hopes to hit his true potential. He possesses a hard shot and a good first pass.

Nicastro projects as a No. 4-5 guy, chipping in offensively when possible.

17. Joakim Andersson, C – 6.5C
6’0, 205lbs
Acquired: 3rd round, 88th overall, 2007

Andersson has had a fairly successful season. He finished up his playing time on the international stage for the U-20 teams with 15 points over 15 games played. He also has put up respectable numbers in the SEL league for the Frolunda team, notching 17 points over 48 games. What truly stands out about the 21-year-old Swede is his defensive ability, his size and strength to knock other players off the puck. He will need to work on his skating ability, though, as he lacks the foot speed to keep up with the NHL pace at the moment.

For the 2010-11 season, Andersson will likely play for the Griffins.

18. Sergei Kolosov, D – 6.5C
6’4, 217lbs
Acquired: 5th round, 151st overall, 2004

Another new addition to the top 20, Kolosov has quietly turned heads with his play for the Griffins. While his point totals will never stand out much, his defensive play and large size will. In his second year with the team, he has notched just four points over 46 games. Kolosov has also cut down on his infractions, taking fewer bad penalties as the season has gone on.

Under the right circumstances, Kolosov could end up developing into a solid No. 5-6 defender for the Red Wings, playing a stay-at-home style. Although, at 23, the time table for Kolosov to make an impact is quickly passing.

19. Nick Jensen, D – 6.5C
6’1, 189lbs
Acquired: 5th round, 150th overall, 2009

Jensen can best be described as a skill and finesse player with a decent shot and good hockey sense. He possesses smooth skating ability and isn’t afraid to throw a hit. The largest concerns in his game lie in his lack of strength, as both his passing and shooting need to become much crisper at the collegiate level. In his second year with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL, the 19-year-old Jensen has been able to put up 19 points over 40 games.

Committed to St. Cloud State for the 2010-11 season, he will be given ample time to develop into a solid offensive defenseman for the Red Wings.

20. Adam Almqvist, D – 6.5C
5’10, 169lbs
Acquired: 7th round, 210th overall, 2009

Swedish defender Almqvist rounds out the list sitting at the 20th spot. Like many other late-round Red Wings picks before him, he seems to possess a lot of skill, but has one glaring flaw — his small stature. Yet, that has not stopped him from putting up some impressive statistics. In 15 games as a member of the Swedish J-20 league, Almqvist was able to put up 34 points. His success allowed the 18-year-old to be called up to HV-71’s parent club, playing in the SEL, where he has put up eight points over 24 games.

Almqvist will have a great deal of time to develop, and concerns over his weight will be able to sort themselves if he is willing to bulk up.