Detroit Red Wings Top 20 Prospects features new number one

By Chris Roberts
Photo: Detroit prospect Dylan Larkin has helped the Michigan Wolverines become the nation's most potent offense this season. (courtesy of Richard T. Gagnon/Getty Images)

Photo: Detroit prospect Dylan Larkin has helped the Michigan Wolverines become the nation’s most potent offense this season. (courtesy of Richard T. Gagnon/Getty Images)

 

Boasting one of the deepest, if not the most talented, group of prospects in the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings are set up for sustained success. Despite the recent prospect graduations of Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Jurco, the Wings pipeline still features the AHL’s leading scorer, one of college hockey’s most explosive players, as well as an abundance of defensive depth.

1. (4) Dylan Larkin, LW, 8.0C
Drafted: 1st round, 15th overall

Upon being drafted, University of Michigan-bound Dylan Larkin immediately became one of the Red Wings’ top prospects. A forward who can play in the middle of the ice and on the wing with a high skill level, the American also fits the mould of player that Detroit generally looks for due to his high on-ice intelligence. With one of its highest draft selections in years, and Larkin still on the board at 15, the pick was a lay-up. That Larkin was born and raised just outside the Motor City, playing his bantam years with Michigan’s Belle Tire club, is an added bonus.

Since the start of the 2014-15 campaign, no Detroit prospect has progressed as quickly as Larkin. The 6’1, 190 pounds skater was arguably the United States’ top player at the World Junior Championships in December, collecting seven points in five games. The end result for that American team was bitter disappointment, but Larkin hasn’t let it affect his game. Since returning to the University of Michigan, he has 15 points in seven games. On the season, the freshman has 32 points in 24 games and is amongst the top 20 scorers in the nation, despite going pointless in his first three games of the season. Though the US National Development Team standout has called Ann Arbor home for years now, Larkin might not be long for the NCAA.

2. (1) Anthony Mantha, RW, 8.0C
Drafted: 1st round, 20th overall, 2013

The transition to pro hockey has not been as easy as some might have expected for power-forward Anthony Mantha. Blessed with a 6’5 frame, the goal-scoring winger amassed 81 goals in 81 games – regular season and playoffs – for the Val d’Or Foreurs last season, but has had trouble finding consistency with Grand Rapids of the AHL this season.

Mantha has had the privilege of being shielded somewhat from the league’s top defenders, with Teemu Pulkkinen heading the Griffins’ top line, and he has earned ample power-play time on the second and sometimes the first unit. Yet Mantha has just 18 points in 36 games for Grand Rapids. He has been very involved at times, recording at least five shots in three games this season, but has also gone five games without registering a shot, and for Mantha, if he isn’t shooting he isn’t at his best. His size makes him a useful asset regardless of his production, but he needs to become more involved offensively on a more consistent basis.

3. (2) Petr Mrazek, G, 8.0C
Drafted: 5th round, 141st overall, 2010

No player still considered a prospect has contributed more to the Detroit Red Wings this season than Czech goaltender Petr Mrazek. The affable netminder has played in 20 games for the Wings, posting a 13-5-1 record, making many forget about injured back-up Jonas Gustavsson, and even taking select starts away from veteran Jimmy Howard. Mrazek owns a 2.55 goals against average and .909 save percentage in the NHL.

In the six games he played at the beginning of the season for Grand Rapids, Mrazek was less than impressive, allowing 18 goals on 145 shots. His recall to Detroit, however, has opened up playing time for both Tom McCollum and Jared Coreau to develop. Gustavsson recently played two games in Grand Rapids before being recalled in early February, and his presence might push Mrazek back to Grand Rapids.

4. (8) Teemu Pulkkinen, RW, 8.0C
Drafted: 4th round, 111th overall, 2010

Teemu Pulkkinen is simply waiting for an opening at this point. The 23-year-old Finnish winger has played six games for the Red Wings this season, in which he scored his first career NHL goal. He looked comfortable in those games, perhaps a little hesitant, yet Detroit continues to exercise the patience that has prepared its young players so well.

In any other organization, Pulkkinen might very well have played more than half a season in the NHL; on some teams he might even be a top-six forward. He has simply dominated offensively in the AHL, leading the league with 56 points in 43 games. He is less of a defensive-minded player – posting a -3 on a team where most players have a plus rating – but he is improving in that regard and, with the way the Wings are playing right now, there is no rush to find Pulkkinen a spot.

5. (6) Xavier Ouellet, D, 7.0B
Drafted: 2nd round, 48th overall, 2011

Despite bouncing back and forth between Detroit and Grand Rapids over the past few weeks, smooth-skating defenseman Xavier Ouellet has done enough to prove himself as a NHL player this season. In 21 games with the Red Wings, Ouellet, mostly playing a bottom-pairing role, scored twice and added one assist, while owning a +3 rating. He also earned some minutes on the power-play during his time in Detroit. At even strength, the 6’1, 190 pounds rearguard has been on the ice for 2.6 goals for per 60 minutes and just 1.8 goals against. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that Ouellet, like many young defensemen, has started the majority of his shifts in the offensive zone.

He has played 24 games with Grand Rapids and has eight points. It is unlikely he plays much in Detroit down the stretch and into the playoffs, but with what he has shown this year, combined with the reality of the cap world, he should have a spot in next year’s top-six.

6. (7) Ryan Sproul, D, 7.5C
Drafted: 2nd round, 55th overall, 2011

Selected seven spots after Ouellet in the 2011 NHL Draft, Sproul is also on a similar path. The former Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound had a cup of coffee with Detroit last season, playing in just one game, and has continued his development in Grand Rapids this season.

Sproul boasts a little more offensive skill than Ouellet, however, and it has shown on the scoreboard. Through 46 games in the AHL, he has three goals and 14 assists, which puts him off pace to match last season’s 32-point rookie campaign. He is less refined defensively, but is still an intriguing prospect with top-four NHL potential.

7. (11) Mattias Janmark, C, 7.5C
Drafted: 3rd round, 79th overall, 2013

Mattias Janmark, 22, is a highly-skilled center that the Wings used a third round selection on just two drafts ago, while Janmark was 21. Players over the age of 20 typically aren’t selected until the sixth or seventh round, so that gives an indication of the talent Janmark has.

After consecutive 30-plus point seasons in the SHL, the Swede is playing his first season for Frölunda HC this year and has accumulated 30 points in 47 games, essentially matching his output from the past two seasons. His 11 goals this season is the fewest he has had during that span, but he is still third in scoring on a deep Frölunda team. His speed and strength should allow him adjust to the North American game, and it is expected the Wings will bring him over next season for the next step in his development.

8. (10) Alexey Marchenko, D, 6.5B
Drafted: 7th round, 205th overall, 2011

A stay-at-home defenseman with a solid, accurate shot and a decent outlet pass, Marchenko was recently recalled to the Red Wings, replacing Xavier Ouellet. He has played six games thus far and has been held pointless.

With Grand Rapids, the 23-year-old Moscow native has scored twice and added 15 assists in 42 games. At 6’2 and 212 pounds, he is one of the stronger blueline prospects in the Red Wings system, and perhaps the most seasoned given his 83 games of experience in the KHL.

9. (13) Landon Ferraro, C, 7.0C
Drafted: 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2009

Fourth in scoring on Grand Rapids, defensively-responsible pivot Landon Ferraro is rebounding after a mediocre 2013-14 campaign. As a second-year pro in 2012-13, Ferraro totalled 47 points in 72 games, but fell to just 31 points in 70 games last season. This year, however, Ferraro’s 20 goals is the second highest total amongst any Griffins forward, just four away from the mark he set his second year in the league.

Ferraro has just seven assists on the year, but that total should rise if his linemate Anthony Mantha has a strong finish to the season as many expect he will. Ferraro was re-signed to just a one-year deal last July, but given his production this year he should earn at least another one-year deal.
    
10. (14) Zach Nastasiuk, RW, 7.0C
Drafted: 2nd round, 48th overall, 2013

In his final year of junior before turning pro, Zach Nastasuik is meeting organizational expectations as a second round pick. The 6’2, 202 pounds power forward has a team-leading 30 goals in 52 games for the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack and is five points behind team leader Kyle Platzer (EDM), who has 66.

He is hardly as polished as those above him on this list, but possesses natural goal-scoring abilities: a deceptively hard and accurate shot, combined with a powerful skating stride.

11. (9) Andreas Athanasiou, LW, 7.0C
Drafted: 4th round, 110th overall, 2012

Former Barrie Colts offensive dynamo Andreas Athanasiou has met expectations offensively as a rookie in the AHL, but has been limited to just 27 games due to a broken jaw. Athanasiou was hit hard by Oklahoma City’s Mitch Moroz (EDM) and missed seven weeks of action while his jaw was wired shut. Fortunately, though his return was delayed, the speedy Athanasiou is back in the Griffins lineup and has seven points in five February contests.

12. (20) Tyler Bertuzzi, LW, 7.0C
Drafted: 2nd round, 58th overall, 2013

After playing in just 72 games over the past two seasons, Guelph’s Tyler Bertuzzi has managed to stay healthy this season and, as a result, his offensive production has skyrocketed. Bertuzzi scored just 28 goals in his first three OHL seasons, but has a team-leading 40 in 55 games this year. He is seventh in the league in scoring with 84 points, all while managing to maintain his physical, agitating brand of hockey.

13. (NR) Joe Hicketts, D, 7.5D
Signed as an undrafted free agent, September 2014

Undersized but vastly skilled, Joe Hicketts played his way onto the Canadian World Junior team with a tremendous first half of the season. Playing for the WHL’s Victoria Royals, Hicketts left for the Canadian camp having recorded 38 points in 31 games, which was already a career high by 14 points. His offensive pace has slowed since returning, but he is still second on the team in scoring with 55 points in 47 games, and he owns a +18 rating. He had three assists and was a +3 at the World Juniors.

14. (15) Tomas Nosek, LW, 6.5C
Signed as an undrafted free agent, June 2014

Another free agent find by the Red Wings, 22-year-old Tomas Nosek has been an admirable addition to the Grand Rapids Griffins line-up. After his breakout season in the Czech Extraliga last season, the 6’2, 180 pounds winger has appeared in 32 games for the Griffins, recording 16 points, while owning a +12 rating, which is first amongst Griffin forwards. He missed a month of action due to a hand injury early in the season, but has been healthy since mid-December.

15. (17) Mitch Callahan, RW, 6.5C
Drafted: 6th round, 180th overall, 2009

Riding shotgun with Teemu Pulkkinen in Grand Rapids has brought an increased level of offensive production to Mitch Callahan’s game. Though he plays more of a grinder-type game, Callahan has 38 points in 47 games this season, and has played his part on the top line by creating space for both Pulkkinen and Andy Miele. The offensive pace is a new high for the 23-year-old Callahan, who recorded 44 points in 70 games last season.

16. (16) Dominic Turgeon, C, 6.5C
Drafted: 3rd round, 63rd overall, 2014

Big-bodied pivot Dominic Turgeon hasnít exactly blossomed offensively as many do the year after they are drafted, but there is a reason for that. Turgeon plays behind some big-name junior stars on an offensively-talented Portland Winterhawks team. He is behind both Nic Petan (WPG) and Chase De Leo (WPG) on the team’s center depth chart, and there is little room for him on the wing with Oliver Bjorkstrand (CBJ) and Paul Bittner (2015) having outstanding seasons. Still, Turgeon has managed to surpass last season’s points total of 31 with 34 in 51 games thus far. He is a strong two-way player, but it will be interesting to see how well he performs in an offensive role with Portland next season, as both Petan and De Leo are expected to turn pro.

17. (NR) Jake Paterson, G, 6.5C
Drafted: 3rd round, 80th overall, 2012

A lengthy three-and-a-half year career with the Saginaw Spirit came to an end for Jake Paterson prior to the OHL trade deadline and it was the best thing that could have happened to the 20-year-old netminder. Since being traded to the Kitchener Rangers, the overage goaltender has posted a 9-5-1 record to go along with a .930 save percentage and goals against average of just over two. It’s a small sample size but those kind of averages are excellent for a goaltender in junior hockey.

18. (12) Mattias Backman, D, 6.5C
Drafted: 5th round, 146th overall, 2011

Having played just 18 games for Grand Rapids, Mattias Backman returned to Sweden. The lanky rearguard was a healthy scratch in seven games for the Griffins before he aired his frustrations and decided to head back home. He isn’t out of the Red Wings’ long-term plans and may return next season, but he will spend the rest of this year on loan to Linköpings HC, where he currently has 12 points in 17 games. He had just four assists in 18 games for the Griffins.

19. (NR) Marek Tvrdon, LW, 6.5C
Drafted: 4th round, 115th overall, 2011

A point-per-game player with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye before being recalled to Grand Rapids, Tvrdon has seemingly earned his keep on the Griffins roster. In 25 AHL games this season, Tvrdon has three goals and 12 assists, mostly while logging bottom-six minutes and spot time on the power-play.

20. (19) Martin Frk, RW, 7.0D
Drafted: 2nd round, 49th overall, 2012

A standout scorer in junior, playing alongside the likes of Nathan McKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, Martin Frk has been unable to cement a spot for himself in Grand Rapids this season. The Czech winger has played just 10 games for the Griffins, scoring just once. He does not yet boast the speed needed to excel at that level, but his offensive prowess has been on display in the ECHL, where he has recorded 35 points in 26 games for Toledo.