Undaunted by low draft position, the Detroit Red Wings have seen three of the undrafted players they signed as free agents show remarkable progress with their junior teams in 2009-10. Of the nine Red Wings junior prospects in 2009-10, five were involved in deep playoff runs and two are still competing.
After scoring 37 goals and just 18 assists (68 games) on a last-place team in his draft year, Ferraro scored just 16 goals but had 30 assists on a playoff team this past season (53 games). Accustomed to doing it all himself on a bad team, Ferraro adapted his game this season to become more of a two-way player. His season was shortened by a knee injury, however, and he wasn’t able to score a point in the playoffs as the Rebels were swept in four straight. A slightly-built player who wants to be involved physically, he’ll have to get better at picking his spots to avoid repeated injuries. His blazing speed, quick hands and high compete level make him a prized prospect. Another year in junior to add some muscle and work on his play without the puck would make him a more complete prospect.
Andrej Nestrasil, C – Victoriaville Tigres, QMJHL
Drafted in the 3nd round, 75th overall in the 2009 Entry Draft
A solidly-built Czech import with good hands and vision, Nestrasil continues to adapt well to the North American game. Showing an enthusiasm for throwing his weight around, he also upped his production to a point-per-game level. His 51 points in 50 games included 35 assists and he chipped in a further five points as Les Tigres made a deep run in the QMJHL playoffs. Strong on the puck and a hard worker, Nestrasil needs to improve his foot speed before turning pro. Another year in junior to work on his skating seems to be in order.
Willie Coetzee, RW – Red Deer Rebels, WHL
Signed as a free agent in 2009
An astute free-agent signing, Coetzee exploded offensively this year after going undrafted in 2009. Invited to the Red Wings development camp with teammate Ferraro, the winger doubled his point production from 42 points to 81 points (both in 72 games) and fired home 29 goals this past season. He also improved his defensive game, posting a +10 rating, and took on a leadership role playing on a line with rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Coetzee will look to continue his progression in the AHL next year.
Free-agent signee Lashoff has continued to impress. He retained the captaincy in Kingston this season, often paired with top 2010 prospect Eric Gudbranson, and posted a career-best six goals and 27 points in 58 games. Lashoff, a native of Albany, NY, also won a gold medal with the USA World Junior team. Playing on the third pairing, he chipped in a pair of assists and was solid in his own end against the world’s best junior players. With good size and offense, Lashoff impressed in an AHL cameo last year with 10 points in 14 games. After a tough Game 7 playoff loss to Brampton in the opening round of the OHL playoffs, he played six games for the Griffins, scoring two assists, and will look to join them full time next season.
Gleason Fournier, D – Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL
Drafted in the 3rd Round, 90th overall in the 2009 Entry Draft
With modest numbers in his draft year and a reputation for slack defensive play, the Red Wings took what many thought was a gamble on Fournier in the third round of the draft. However, this season he has shown his worth. Showcasing an ability to move the puck smartly and run a power play, Fournier tallied 13 goals and 50 points in 58 games this season and then added another 12 points in 12 playoff games. A smooth skater with excellent hockey sense, Fournier is dedicated to improving defensively but needs to get stronger to be effective. Another year in junior will help him round out his game.
Brent Raedeke, C – Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL
Signed as a free agent in 2008
Traded from a club near the bottom of the WHL standings to the hosts of this year’s Memorial Cup, Raedeke will now get a chance to show what he can do on the CHL’s biggest stage. With 31 points in 37 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings, who will keep him name on their record books as the team’s all-time leading scorer, Raedeke now plays a checking line center role with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Although edged out of the WHL playoffs in the semifinals, as hosts the Wheaties will welcome the champions of all three junior leagues for a round robin and playoff. Raedeke was a key contributor with 12 points in 15 playoff games and his speed and strong two-play way make him an intriguing prospect for a checking-line role in the future. He will turn pro next year.
Another player gaining valuable playoff experience, Jensen is set to begin the final series for the USHL championship. With six points in seven playoff games, he has been a key contributor for the Green Bay juggernaut which has yet to be defeated in the 2010 playoffs. In the regular season he had 27 points in 53 games. Solid all around, Jensen plays a smart two-way game and has the speed to recover after pinching in. The Minnesota product will return to his home state to join St. Cloud State University next year.
Stephen Johnston, LW – Windsor Spitfires, OHL
Drafted in the 6th Round, 181st overall in the 2008 Entry Draft
Traded to the reigning Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires, Johnston is yet another Red Wings prospect engaged in a championship playoff. Currently with two points in 10 playoff games for Windsor, Johnston has always been a defensive-minded forward with good speed, useful for killing penalties and playing a checking role. Although failing to improve his offensive totals from last season with just 19 points in 36 games this year, Johnston remains an intriguing prospect who will look to earn a spot in the AHL next year. He must be signed by the June 1 deadline, however, if Detroit are to retain his rights.
Mitchell Callahan, RW – Kelowna Rockets, WHL
Drafted in the 6th Round, 180th overall in the 2009 Entry Draft
An agitator and instigator, Callahan spent more time scoring goals and less time in the penalty box this season. His stats improved from 27 points to 47 total and his penalty minutes dropped as well, especially in the postseason. In last year’s playoffs Callahan was in the box for 43 minutes in 22 games, this year he spent just 10 minutes in the sin bin in 12 playoff games, while chipping in two goals and four assists. Undersized and not the fastest skater, Callahan will spend another year in junior before competing for a professional job as a fourth-line pest.