The Detroit Red Wings remain one of the model franchises in the NHL, and their prospect pool reflects that. While consistently picking in the bottom third of the Entry Draft, the Wings nonetheless find what they need. Two of their top prospects, Justin Abdelkader and Jakub Kindl, will make a permanent move to the parent club this season. Abdelkader has thus seen a fair amount of ice time, while Kindl has mostly been a press box fixture, ready to step in when another defenseman goes down to injury. While it might seem that the Red Wings have a dearth of wingers in their system, the reality is that many of their "centers" play quite a bit on either wing as needed. Given the importance of winning faceoffs to the Red Wings’ puck-control system of play, there simply is no such thing as too many natural centers.
Now in his third season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, fleet-footed Jan Mursak has emerged as one of the top offensive threats on the Wing’s AHL franchise. Putting behind a very disappointing 2008-09 season, Mursak has thus far been contributing at nearly a point per game pace, outstripping his respectable stats from last year. Mursak has also done a good job at increasing his strength, adding about 25 pounds. to his slender frame without sacrificing his blazing speed. His skating is often compared to that of Wing’s checking center Darren Helm, but Mursak projects as a better offensive player. His stick-handling skills are excellent, which combined with his rediscovered shot and willingness to go to the net, are his ticket to the NHL. As with all Wings, he will have to learn the intricacies of the defensive side of the game to become an everyday player in Detroit.
2010 fourth-round pick Teemu Pulkkinen may not fit the mold of a prototypical Red Wing, but his talent level is undeniable. Once considered a top prospect, a rash of injuries and concerns over his skating dropped him down the draft board, but he is piling up points like a first-rounder. At a point per game in the Finnish SM-Liiga this season, all before his 19th birthday, makes Pulkkinen look like a steal at this early point. While he does not have ideal size, and the aforementioned skating issue, Pulkkinen does have a lethal shot and excellent awareness in the offensive zone. Described as a pure sniper, his assist totals so far this season indicate that he is no slouch in the passing department, either. Having already experienced serious knee, wrist, and shoulder injuries, Pulkkinen will need a healthy year or two to overcome his reputation as a fragile player.
Swedish winger Dick Axelsson may no longer be in the Wing’s plans, after he abandoned his Griffin’s teammates a quarter of the way into the AHL season last year. Despite a wealth of talent, Axelsson is variously described as inconsistent, immature, or both. He does have the ability to change games with his blend of speed, deft hands, and aggressiveness, but he also has a tendency to take long stretches where he stops competing. Axelsson also has a bit of a discipline problem, as his penalty minute totals indicate. Upon his return to Sweden following his departure from Grand Rapids, Axelsson played for Farjestad in the Swedish Elite League, and he signed a two-year deal with the same franchise in the off-season. With that deal, Axelsson may have signaled that he is no longer interested in competing for a job with the Wings in the future.
Tomas Tatar shares two attributes with many other Red Wing prospects, namely, good speed and lack of size. His offensive instincts are outstanding, however, and he showed that when he burst onto the scene as the AHL‘s youngest player last season, racking up 21 points in his first 27 games. Perhaps as an indication of his conditioning, he slumped badly the remainder of the season. Whether he can exhibit the same dominance he showed at the under-20 leagues and tournaments is debatable, but the Red Wings staff remain high on his potential. Tatar’s speed is of NHL quality, and he does have an array of puck skills, including a quick, hard shot. Despite his size, Tatar has shown good work in the corners since his switch to the wing, owing mostly to his crafty footwork and stick-handling. If he has a definite weakness it is in his defensive awareness, which needs a major dose of tutoring. The Red Wings do not rush their prospects, so Tatar should have plenty of time to get his conditioning and defensive issues ironed out.
Gustav Nyquist has exceeded any reasonable expectations the Wings might have had when they drafted him in the third round of the 2008 Draft. Nyquist’s sophomore year at the University of Maine saw him nearly double his point total from the previous season, and he was rewarded by being one of the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. A slight, shifty center who sometimes plays on the wing, Nyquist works hard the entire length of the ice, allowing for him to be used in all situations. Though not a natural goal-scorer, Nyquist’s forte is setting up his linemates with his dogged puck possession and smooth passing skills. With at least another year at the NCAA level, the Red Wings will hope that physical maturity will add some weight to his slender frame, which is really the only knock against him at this point. His hard work and consistent effort, if sustained, should give Nyquist a leg up in his development.
Last year’s first round pick, Notre Dame University centerman Riley Sheahan has yet to show the offensive wizardry he exhibited in Junior B. Blessed with a full deck of physical skills, including a solid 6’2 frame, strength, and adequate speed, Sheahan simply has to play the hand he was dealt. Playing for a squad that emphasizes defense, Sheahan has performed admirably in a two way capacity, perhaps to the detriment, thus far, of his offensive talents. While there is some legitimacy to the "system-victim" argument, Sheahan has the talent to put more points on the board, and will need to show some sign of his latent offensive skills before too long. There was some talk following last season that Sheahan was considering moving to major junior, but he ultimately decided to rejoin Notre Dame for his sophomore year. Whether at the college level or not, Sheahan’s current rate of development indicates that he will require at least another year of amateur seasoning.
2009 second-rounder Landon Ferraro had a forgettable season last year, which saw him suffer a serious knee injury early in the campaign. Upon his return, Ferraro put up respectable numbers but his production was viewed by many as a disappointment. Ferraro was not invited to Canada’s 2010 WJC camp, and a simmering feud between himself and Red Deer coach Jesse Wallin (a former Red Wing draft pick) saw him healthy-scratched in the team’s final playoff game. Traded to the Everett Silvertips in the offseason, it was hoped that Ferraro would get a fresh start, but the results to this point have been underwhelming. Despite a dazzling array of offensive talent, including elite level wheels, Ferraro has thus far this season put up only pedestrian scoring totals. For a player whose legs generate scoring chances, the knee injury may have some lingering effects on his confidence level. Ferraro is a hard worker, with admirable grit and courage for a player of his small stature, however, and there is every hope that he will get his game back on track.
Swedish center Calle Jarnkrok has talent, as shown by his scoring totals in the Eliteserien last year, where he put up ten points in 33 games as an 18-year old. What Jarnkrok does not have is body mass. Pipecleaner thin, Jarnkrok will have to put in his time in the weight room, not to mention the smorgasbord, to get himself up to an acceptable playing weight. That said, Jarnkrok does exhibit several aspects to his game that the Red Wings organization look for, including great speed and puck possession. Simply put, Jarnkrok is a puck-hound, always after the puck on the ice, and able to keep it away from defenders once on his stick. This year, again with Brynas of Sweden‘s top league, Jarnkrok has almost doubled his scoring pace. Other than his size issue, Jarnkrok will also need a lot of schooling in the defensive aspects of his game, which for now must be considered a liability. Highly praised by Red Wing scouts, Jarnkrok is definitely worth watching, especially if and when he comes to North America.
Czech import Andrej Nestrasil continues to develop as a future power forward. Sturdily built, aggressive, and offensively-skilled, Nestasil has everything one would want from a scoring forward, except speed. While quick enough to get by in the "Q", where he was traded in the off-season to Prince Edward Island, Nestrasil’s wheels will require an upgrade before reaching the pros. Putting up better than a point per game thus far, Nestrasil has obvious skills around the net, where he shows a trend of being a set-up man rather than a sniper. Despite his willingness to hit, Nestrasil is not an undisciplined player, as shown by his low penalty totals. Whether Nestrasil can increase his foot speed and quickness will likely be the deciding factor in whether he makes it as a professional, as the rest of his game is already on track.
Having spent three full seasons simmering in the Wing’s prospect stew, Cory Emmerton is facing a make-or-break season this year. He has not progressed as hoped to this point, posting disappointing point totals in each of his past two full AHL seasons. Emmerton plays a sound game, showing defensive responsibility and a willingness to drive the net. The results simply have not matched the effort thus far, although Emmerton is off to a good start in 2010-11. Facing the expiration of his entry-level contract, Emmerton’s performance this season will determine if he has a future in the Wing’s organization. With a skill set that is more adequate than exceptional, his ceiling is likely that of a bottom-six forward, barring a miraculous leap in his scoring level.
Recently signed to a three-year deal, Joakim Andersson brings an intriguing mix of size and two-way play to the table. Strong defensively, Andersson has stuggled to provide offense in his first season of North American hockey, with only two points in 25 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins. The fact that he remains in the lineup despite the lack of production shows that Andersson contributes in other ways. Strong on faceoffs and along the boards, Andersson projects as a checking-line forward. Will need to work on his skating speed, which is understandable given his size.
Currently plying his trade with the Montreal Juniors of the QMJHL, center Louis-Marc Aubry is still filling out, having sprouted an astonishing seven inches in the past four years. Such growth usually brings with it a concurrent period of readjustment for a young hockey player, and Aubry is no exception. Even so, while regaining his coordination and skating stride, Aubry has performed well. While not a gifted scorer, he brings an attention to detail beyond his years, providing good defensive play, blocking shots, and winning key faceoffs. He will certainly need to add muscle mass and the corresponding strength if he hopes to play his style in the pros, as he projects as a third- or fourth-line center, where he’ll have to deal with some much tougher competition. Like fellow prospect Landon Ferraro, Aubry is hoping to become a second-generation NHL player, as his father Pierre saw action with Quebec and Detroit during the early 80’s.
Undrafted free-agent signee Brent Raedeke faces a lot of competition, but hopes to impress the Red Wings staff in what is both his first year of pro competition, and his final year of his free agent contract. A smaller, but solidly-built center, Raedke’s strong suits are his speed and two-way play. Willing to fight for the puck, Raedke is also a solid contributor when his team is short-handed. Not expected to provide offense, Raedke’s ticket will be his work ethic, as Wing’s scouts love his consistent effort. Currently playing for the Grand Rapids Griffins, where he has five points in 30 games.
Drafted as a 20-year old, Jesper Samuelsson dazzled with his performance in Sweden‘s Division I level, but that seems to have been his ceiling. Struggling in the second-level Allsvenskan league, Samuelsson has performed even more poorly in 23 games in the Eliteserien, posting a single point. Despite obvious talent, especially in a playmaking sense, Samuelsson has likely played himself out of consideration. His slight frame and lack of an obvious effort have landed him back in low-level Division I, where it’s unlikely he’ll ever emerge. The Wings have a good track record of unearthing low-round gems, but Samuelsson proves that even the best scouts whiff sometimes.
With two years of major junior under his belt, Tri-City Americans center Brooks Macek hoped to improve on his breakout 2009-10 season, in which he scored at a point per game pace. However, thus far this year, Macek is a bit behind last year’s pace. A smooth-skating, playmaking center, Macek has good on-ice vision and the ability to break down defenses with his passing skills. By no means a periphery player, Macek is willing to pay the price to get the puck, despite his average size and lack of upper-body strength. Provided he regains his scoring touch from a year ago, Macek could still develop into a decent pro, but will need to improve significantly if he hopes to make it all the way to the NHL.
Collegiate center Julien Cayer plays a very similiar style to fellow prospect Riley Sheahan, using his impressive size, skating, and defensive awareness to shut down passing lanes and disrupt an opponent’s offensive flow. While Cayer does not have quite the offensive pedigree that Sheahan has, his aggressiveness brings another element to his game. Eschewing the QMJHL to play American prep hockey prior to his commitment to Clarkson University, Cayer plays in a much lower scoring environment, and his point totals have reflected this. After a decent freshman year, Cayer’s production regressed last year, possibly due in part to playing for a dreadful Golden Knights squad. Despite an improved program, Cayer is still not putting many points on the board, but he is still counted on to provide a physical presence. Most likely a four-year collegian, Cayer will look to add a bit more strength going forward, where he projects as potential fourth-line agitator.
A scoring whiz in juniors, diminutive center Francis Pare took a step back following a very good AHL rookie season in 2008-09. Enduring an extended scoring drought during the 2009-10 season, he did manage to bounce back in the second half, and is off to a decent start with the Griffins this year. A player that depends on his on-ice instincts to find open spots on the ice and exploit them, Pare is not particularly quick on his feet. The skating issue does not show as much against AHL competition, but against NHL-level competition in training camps, it becomes more apparent. Pare also does not initiate or cope with physical play very well, which is probably a good idea for a player his size, but he will need to work a bit on that issue if he hopes to play in the NHL someday. Owns very talented hands, both in the context of passing and shooting, and puts them to good work, though usually around the periphery of the net. What Pare does have going for him is the particular brand of hockey the Red Wings employ, based on puck possession, which tends to offset each individual’s physical limitations. If he can add a bit more jump to his skating, Pare could make it as a complimentary third-line scorer down the road.
Passed over in his draft year, smallish winger William Coetzee was signed as a free agent prior to his 2009-10 season with the WHL‘s Red Deer Rebels. All he did after that was explode offensively, finishing 16th overall in scoring in the entire WHL. Invited by the Wings to a minor league tryout this year, Coetzee played his way out of juniors with his scoring touch and intense competitiveness. Thus far this season, "Willie" has split time between Grand Rapids and the ECHL‘s Toledo Walleye, in an effort to get him as much playing time as possible, to make up for the fact that he likely would’ve been a first-line forward had he returned to major junior. The results have been promising to this point, and he has shown that if he doesn’t belong in the AHL right now, he will very soon. Coetzee’s has good hands, a scorer’s touch, and plays with a solid effort. His only drawback is his lack of size and strength, which is adequate for the minors but likely will need significant time in the weight room to give him a chance against NHL competition. Not suited to a checking role, Coetzee will need to make it as a scoring forward, or likely not make it all.
Sailing up the depth chart, winger Mitchell Callahan is answering a lot of the questions raised about his future potential with a torrid scoring pace in his third WHL season. Seen as an undersized agitator, willing to hit anything on the ice and with the courage to back up his actions with his fists, Callahan has become much more this year. While he is still doing what he does best, namely, irritating opponents and taking them off their game, Callahan is now a legitimate scoring threat, although he still does not have top-shelf speed or quickness. A pest in every sense of the word, he’s known as a yapper, constantly harassing opponents with his words while he punishes them with his hits. Callahan’s improvement has not gone unnoticed, either, as he was a somewhat surprising invitee to the U.S. WJC training camp this year. While no one in the Wings organization will say so, Callahan is quite similar to former Wing prospect Sean Avery, though hopefully Callahan will look elsewhere for someone to emulate.
A longshot prospect when the Red Wings drafted him in 2006, St. Cloud State winger Nick Oslund hasn’t really developed as hoped. While he is a big, fast, crash-and-bang winger, Oslund simply hasn’t shown any offensive development. The former Minnesota high school star puts forth an honest effort, but it is unlikely that his hockey career will go much further, and it is unclear whether he will attempt to do so.
Jakub Kindl, seemingly the Wing’s perennial top defensive prospect, is out of waiver exemptions, and has joined the Wings this year as their seventh defenseman. That is not to say that Kindl isn’t deserving of that spot, but he likely would’ve benefitted more with another full year of minor-league seasoning. Kindl’s combination of size, smooth skating, and offensive talents have teased the Wings for several years and Kindl did show signs of putting it all together last season for the Griffins. Kindl has already filled in adequately for the injured Brian Rafalski this year, but at other times the Wings have brought up AHL veteran Doug Janik to fill in holes on the blue line. Still a work in progress, Kindl’s potential is very high, and perhaps a full year under the direct supervision of Red Wings coaches and players will benefit the talented youngster. Still prone to mental mistakes and poor decision-making, Kindl’s struggles are hopefully of the variety that simple experience can iron out.
Replacing Kindl as the Wing’s top blue line prospect, former Wisconsin Badger Brendan Smith overcame a tough 2008-09 season, which saw him suspended for off-ice incidents and a broken wrist, to absolutely dominate last year. In 42 games on a loaded Badger squad, Smith posted 52 points in 42 games, and was rewarded with a nod as a finalist in the Hobey Baker Award voting. Possessing a full complement of offensive skill, Smith is a prototypical scoring defenseman. Excellent skating, a powerful shot, and good on-ice vision and passing are all present, and the fact that Smith has an impressively sized frame is simply icing on the cake. Smith’s off-ice issues, including a DUI and an assault charge, have raised questions about his maturity level, but only time will tell if those questions are justified. Smith, while not overly physical, does use his size adequately, and will make or take a hit without hesitation. Currently one of the leading point-getters amongst rookie defensemen in the AHL, Smith is well on his way to making it to the NHL. Predictably, his defensive awareness will need work, but he has shown greater discipline in his own zone this year, although he is still a frequent visitor to the penalty box. More experience, and adjusting to the much greater workload of a professional hockey player, as opposed to a collegian, will be key.
Adam Almqvist represents another high-risk/high-reward draft choice for the Red Wings. Highly praised for his hockey IQ and on-ice awareness, Almqvist has the hockey mind of a top-shelf NHL powerplay quarterback. Unfortunatley, that mind is perched atop a placekicker’s body. Under six feet and willowy-thin, Almqvist is seriously lacking in the physical aspect. Even so, the 2009 seventh-rounder saw time in the top Swedish league last season, and acquitted himself quite well. Playing in the powerhouse HV71 system, Almqvist needs to pack on some serious weight and strength before any consideration regarding crossing the pond can be made. If he can do so, the Wings may have an absolute steal on their hands, as Almqvist is the kind of player that makes his teammates better, due to his decision-making prowess. A long-term project for sure, but worth the minimal risk, as he is safely stashed in Europe.
Similiar in size to Almqvist, Rimouski Oceanic defenseman Gleason Fournier faces many of the same issues. While a better skater than Almqvist, Fournier also struggles with the physical side of manning the blue line, although his effort is not in question. More of a puck-carrying defenseman than a passer, Fournier has piled up points in the "Q" in the past, and this year, his fourth in major junior, is following form. Another long-term project with high upside, Fournier will need a lot of work on his defensive coverage to make up for his lack of size. The "new" NHL has opened opportunities for players such as Fournier that might not have been available a decade ago, and the Wings hope he’ll continue putting forth the honest efforts that he has shown thus far.
Travis Erhardt may never be more than a depth defenseman for the Wings, but he has looked good thus far this season with Grand Rapids. Another smallish, strong-skating defenseman, Erhardt already has more points for the Griffins, in a limited role, than he posted all last season, which he split between Grand Rapids and Toledo. Stocky, with a low center of gravity, Erhardt doesn’t struggle as much defensively as other defensemen his size, but his on-ice decision making is not quite developed. Not viewed as an NHL prospect, Erhardt will look to carve out a spot on the Griffins and see what develops.
Minnesota native Nick Jensen made the leap from the USJHL to St. Cloud State University this year, and the results have been very encouraging so far. Showcasing his offensive talents, Jensen leads all Husky defensemen in points. With excellent skating ability and a good first pass out of the defensive zone, Jensen can initiate breakouts in a variety of ways. Not especially physical, Jensen will need to learn better positioning in order to bail him out of situations, instead of relying on his skating to cover up mistakes. With four years to develop and gain strength, Jensen is another long-term project, which suits the Wings development philosophy just fine.
Belarussian defenseman Sergei Kolosov is in his second year with the AHL’s Griffins. The best word to describe Kolosov is "safe". Playing a simple game, using his rangy body and relatively good mobility to make safe plays in his own zone. At 6’4 and 215 pounds, Kolosov is a physical presence, although he could stand to show a bit more aggressiveness when dealing with opposing forwards. Kolosov is one of those players that when he’s at his best, one barely notices him. Has not shown any indication of offensive creativity to this point, and is unlikely to do so in the future. Having played for the past two World Championship entries for Belarus, and without any standout attributes, would seem to point towards a return to Europe. But with a dearth of size on both the Griffins and Wings’ blue lines, perhaps Kolosov can carve out a niche for himself as a defensive specialist.
A free-agent signing following the 2008 season, Brian Lashoff is in his first full season of pro hockey. Similiar to forward Willie Coetzee, Lashoff has shuttled a bit between Grand Rapids and Toledo this season, picking up extra real-game experience. Lashoff has good size at 6’3, 200 pounds, and can contribute in multiple areas, although he is best suited to a defense-first blue line role. He does have a bit of work to do on his skating, but Lashoff has a decent set of tools and has shown a tendency to make smart decisions with the puck. Still viewed as a bit of an undeveloped talent even after four years of junior, capped off by a spot on the U.S. WJC squad in 2009, Lashoff could eventually develop into a defensive caddy for a more scoring-oriented partner.
Benjamin Marshall is not a big kid by any standard, at barely 5’9. But like most Wing’s prospects, Marshall can flat-out skate. He dominated at the high school level, and is off to a good year with the USHL‘s Omaha Lancers, where he will spend this season prior to joining the University of Minnesota. Marshall shows little concern with the defensive aspect of the game, which would lead one to wonder if perhaps he is playing the wrong position. He is an exciting, rushing blueliner for now, however, and it will be interesting to see if his game translates to NCAA level competition. If given the green light to play his style, Marshall has loads of creativity and talent in the opposing team’s half of the ice. The Wings are known to take chances with their late round picks, and Marshall is the epitome of that philosophy.
California-born Max Nicastro, the Wings second-round pick in 2008, is now in his second season at Boston University. While he contributed a fair amount of offense during his freshman season, this year has seen a bit of a drop off in production. As a big, mobile defenseman, offense isn’t necessarily his strong suit, but he has shown a bit more in the past. Nicastro’s defensive game, while it could use polishing, is a bit more promising. Using his size to fill defensive gaps, and his long reach to disrupt passing lanes, Nicastro is more of a finesse player than a punishing physical presence. Simple maturation should add more strength to better his ability to handle opposing forwards in front of his net, while his overall confidence level may see him take a few more chances when he has the puck on his stick. Nicastro projects as a solid, two-way defenseman, if he can take his physical gifts to the next level.
Currently assigned to the ECHL‘s Toledo Walleye, offensive rearguard Sebastien Piche has acquitted himself well. Piche, though he can put his name on the scoresheet regularly with his passing and creativity, does pay attention to his defensive assignments. Willing to take the body and scrap for pucks, Piche is not a defensive liability, although he’ll need to strengthen up a bit to make it to the next stage in his development. Piche’s main weakness is a somewhat awkward skating style, and smoothing that out should be one of his top priorities.
In his third tour of duty with the Griffins, Logan Pyett will look to build upon his improved performance last year, where he posted respectable numbers and looked more comfortable in his own zone. Solidly-built but standing a shade below six feet, Pyett relies on his mobility on the ice. He has the ability to contribute offensively, but this may be less noticeable on a low-scoring Grand Rapids squad. On a pace to roughly match his numbers from last season, it had been hoped that Pyett would take another step forward, but thus far this has not been the case. While not afraid of physical play, his smallish size limits his effectiveness in traffic areas, and he is more effective while playing an up tempo style. A late-season call-up to the Red Wings roster last year, he remains on the radar for development, but he’ll need to step up soon, lest he be passed by the next crop of Wings defensive prospects
Clarkson University senior Bryan Rufenach possesses the skills required of an offensive rearguard, but he is posting numbers very similar to the past two seasons. Whether that kind of production will result in a contract offer from the Wings remains to be seen, and Rufenach may need to go on a mid-season scoring tear to put him in consideration for advancement. Like most Wing’s prospects, Rufenach has above-average skating and awareness, but also is a bit lacking with his physical play.
Invited to the Wing’s 2010 training camp as an undrafted free agent, winger Trevor Parkes impressed the Red Wing brass enough to earn a contract. Returned to his QMJHL team, the Montreal Juniors, Parkes has does nothing to make the Wing’s question that decison. Putting up a point per game this season, Parkes is showing promise as a hard-working, grinding winger with a scorer’s touch and mentality. Passed up in both the OHL and NHL drafts, Parkes had a lot to prove, and his performance so far indicates that he’s making the most of his opportunities. The Wing’s staff like the fact that Parkes plays a physical game, but would like to see Parkes add a lot of muscle to his skinny frame before making the next step. Projected as having the development ceiling of a third-line checking winger with some scoring ability, Parkes could be a true find for the Wing’s scouting staff.
The highest-drafted goaltender in the Wings’ system, Thomas McCollum has struggled outside of major juniors. Last year saw the young netminder bumped from the top spot in Grand Rapids by fellow prospect Daniel Larsson, even briefly demoted to the ECHL. This season, with Larsson out of the way, McCollum basically splits time with free agent signee Jordan Pearce, but has responded with slightly better numbers. There is some concern that McCollum’s development may have leveled off, as he has not progressed much since dominating in the OHL. A butterfly goalie with good size, relying on positioning to take away target areas, McCollum has a high learning curve ahead of him. With Jimmy Howard ensconced as the Wings starting goaltender, there is no rush to bring McCollum up, and he’ll likely spend several more seasons honing his craft in the AHL. Regaining the confidence he had as a junior goalie will be a priority, as he does possess the natural ability to work with.
Unwilling to spend another season in the minors, despite outplaying his competition most of the time, Swedish netminder Daniel Larsson signed with HV-71 this past offseason. Utilizing a stand-up style, backed by solid athleticism and crease movement, Larsson is a very different goaltender than Thomas McCollum. Whether Larsson decides to return to the Wings organization remains to be seen, although he has stated that the NHL is his ultimate goal, and he retains an out clause in his Swedish contract. In any case, the Wings will retain his rights for three more years. With Chris Osgood likely to retire after this season, and no other Wings goalie looking like they’re ready, perhaps a chance to back up Jimmy Howard next year will entice Larsson back. He will need to exhibit the mental toughness required of a NHL goalie, as he has struggled at times with his focus.
With the departure of Larsson muddying the Wings goaltending situation, the Wings snagged Czech-born OHL goalie Petr Mrazek in the 2010 Draft. Initially the backup for the Ottawa 67’s, Mrazek eventually won over the starting job down the stretch and in the playoffs, where he performed well. Now the number one guy for the ’67s, Mrazek has shown that he is capable of handling the increased workload and pressure, at least through the first quarter of the season. Small for a modern goalie, Mrazek does not fill his net, but neither does he allow pucks to fill it, either. An intense, athletic goalie that fights off pucks with abandon, Mrazek also exudes a level of confidence that is somewhat lacking in the rest of the Wings’ goalie prospect stable.
Recently bumped back down to the ECHL, former Notre Dame goaltender Jordan Pearce was signed as a free agent in 2009 to provide depth, and he has filled in adequately when needed. With decent size and a strong mental make-up, Pearce depends on his positioning and size to cut down shooting angles. Unlikely to be anything more than a minor league goalie, Pearce is a placeholder at this point in his career. As his "fall-back" option is to become a doctor, he may not even remain in hockey for much longer.
Several other Wings prospects were left off of this list. Winger Mattias Ritola was claimed off the waiver wire prior to the season, by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Winger Anton Axelsson, though his rights are still held by Detroit, has shown no indication of ever coming over to North America.