Detroit Red Wings boast deep, skilled group at minor-league level

By Matthew Zarb
Photo: Jan Mursak has been among several prospects to see time in the NHL this season. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

The Red Wings minor league rosters, especially the Grand Rapids Griffins, are very similar to their NHL squad. Brimming with smallish, speedy forwards and puck-moving defensemen, the Griffs try to play a similar style to the parent team, albeit at a much less talented level. Recently able to climb out of the basement of the North Division, the Griffins still have defensive issues, surrendering the fifth most goals in the AHL. The Griffins are not built to be contenders for the Calder Cup, but rather as a boarding school for teaching the Red Wings style of play. The Wings tend to let their prospects "cook" for a very long time, especially the European players, so the roster in Grand Rapids tends to be quite stable.

The ECHL‘s Toledo Walleye are also a sub-par team, mired in last place in their division. With few Red Wings prospects, they lack in high-end talent, but benefit from occasional demotions or conditioning stints of Grand Rapids players.

AHL

Jakub Kindl, D, 23

Top Wing’s prospect Kindl has, predictably, split time between Detroit and Grand Rapids this season. Spending some of his time with Detroit as a healthy scratch, he has nonetheless appeared in over a dozen games, but has yet to record a point. Recently returned to Detroit from a conditioning stint with Grand Rapids over the holidays, Kindl has performed well when he has suited up for the Griffins this year, moving the puck with confidence, and continuing to solidify his defensive game. While there is no indication of any great leap forward, Kindl’s play has improved, though he still has a tendency to turn the puck over at inopportune times. This season will likely be a trying time for Kindl, one in which he will have to stay positive and wait for his opportunities to play. After a few seasons as the top defensive prospect for the Red Wings, Kindl now has some better competition pushing him, and hopefully this will inspire him to elevate his game.

Brendan Smith, D, 21

In Kindl’s absence from Grand Rapids, Brendan Smith has become the Griffin’s top offensive blueliner. With 22 points through the first 36 games, Smith is amongst the top ten AHL scorers amongst both rookies and defensemen. While the offensive production has been strong, Smith has also managed to keep his plus/minus up, and that may actually be a better sign of his development. While he still has much to work on in the defensive zone, Smith’s size and skating ability are NHL-ready. Whether Smith’s strong play extends into the second half of the season, where many former collegians tend to "hit the wall", will show whether he needs to upgrade his conditioning in preparation for next season.

Tomas Tatar, C, 20

Tatar had a slow start to the season, but since he erupted for seven points in a late November win over the Chicago Wolves, he has enjoyed a bit more consistency, and currently leads the Griffins in scoring. While his speed and fearlessness are exemplary, Tatar still needs to improve his upper-body strength if he hopes to be an NHL regular. Having just turned 20, Tatar should physically mature a bit more, and will look to make an impact at next year’s training camp. Currently, Tatar leads the Griffins in points with 29 through 35 games. He was recently called up to the NHL where he has so far posted one goal in three games.


Jan Mursak, RW, 22

The fastest skater amongst the Wings’ stable of young thoroughbreds, Mursak was recently rewarded with his first NHL appearance. Though he saw little ice time, Mursak’s speed was noticeable, and he acquitted himself well. While down at the farm, Mursak has performed at about the same level as last season, where he was much improved. Still in need of some muscle mass, Mursak does show a willingness to go to the greasy areas of the ice, and increased strength will only make him more effective in that regard. While it is unclear how long Mursak will spend with the Wings through the recent injury bug, any NHL ice time will give a better read on his potential at the top level.

Thomas McCollum, G, 21

With veteran Joey MacDonald backstopping Grand Rapids, McCollum was recently demoted to the ECHL‘s Toledo Walleye in order to receive more playing time. While a step backwards, McCollum has performed very well with the Walleye thus far, hopefully indicating that McCollum realizes that he needs to recommit himself to improving. Since he had not won a game since mid-November, the Griffins decided that McCollum’s confidence was shot, and sent him down to straighten out his game. With Daniel Larsson‘s departure for Sweden, the road is open for McCollum to seize the reins as the Wings unquestioned number three goalie. If MacDonald remains in net for the Griffins all season, McCollum could conceivably spend the rest of the season in Toledo. With the Griffins, McCollum posted a 5-10-2 record, a 3.11 goals against average, and a .884 save percentage. With Toledo, he has a 3-0 record, a 2.10 goals against average and a .928 save percentage.

Cory Emmerton, C, 22

Called out by Wing’s GM Ken Holland in training camp, Emmerton responded positively. After two mediocre seasons in the AHL, Emmerton stepped up and enjoyed a strong October. However, he slumped again in November, and was recently felled by a knee injury that has kept him out of the lineup most of December. With his contract expiring at the end of the season, this is Emmerton’s make-or-break year. Whether he can put up numbers like he did earlier this season, or if he struggles like he has in the past, will determine if he has any kind of future with the Wing’s organization.

William Coetzee, RW, 20

Coetzee has spent quite a bit of time as a healthy scratch in Grand Rapids, appearing in only 17 games thus far. Sent to Toledo in early December, Coetzee performed decently, but he obviously is going to have to endure a long season of adjustment. The Wings’ decision to send him to Grand Rapids, rather than return him to juniors, may not have been in Coetzee’s best interest. Small and physically weak, Coetzee has been unable to unleash his impressive offensive skills this year. A serious dedication to strength and conditioning are an absolute must for the young man, in order to prepare him for increased role next year.

Joakim Andersson, C, 21

One of the rare Wing’s prospects who does not possess blazing speed, Andersson brings other things to the table. His good size and defensive responsibility are definite plusses, and he has utilized those aspects of his game at the AHL level. Not expected to be a prodigious scorer, Andersson is probably capable of putting up a bit more offense than he has shown thus far, with only 8 points in 36 games. Andersson does receive a lot of ice time, which shows that he is capable of contributing in other ways. Andersson will concentrate on improving his foot speed this season, which should allow him to improve his forechecking ability and allow him to take more chances offensively.

Logan Pyett, D, 22

Looking for a breakout year following an impressive second year in the pros, smallish rearguard Logan Pyett seems to have stalled in his development thus far. Though putting up points at roughly the same pace, Pyett owns a disturbing minus-13 plus/minus rating through 31 games, after finishing on the plus side last season. Pyett still possesses good speed and vision, but needs to regain the confidence he showed in 2009-10 to put those skills to better use. As a bottom-pair defenseman in need of a break, Pyett’s window may be closing.

Brian Lashoff, D, 20

Free-agent signee Brian Lashoff has struggled to find his game in his first full pro season, after impressing in two amateur tryouts following his junior seasons. Often a healthy scratch, Lashoff was demoted to the ECHL‘s Toledo Walleye in early December in order to receive some playing time, but has returned to Grand Rapids. With good size, adequate mobility, and defensive smarts, Lashoff may just need more experience for him to become more than just the sum of his parts. With the number of Wing’s defensive prospects who concentrate on offense, Lashoff may be well served finding his niche as a shutdown, physical blueliner.

Francis Pare, C, 23

Following a disappointing sophomore slump last season, Francis Pare has rebounded to post good offensive numbers this season. Currently third in scoring amongst the Griffins, Pare has shown consistency and a nice touch around the net. What he has not done is make progress in improving his defensive awareness, as he shares the second-worse plus/minus stat on the team. Pare’s lack of size, combined with his unimpressive skating speed, put him in a position where he needs to put up points in buckets in order to remain relevant. So far, so good, in the scoring department, but unless Pare can radically improve the other aspects of his game, he may ceiling out at no better than an AHL tweener, unable to find a role on an NHL roster.

Brent Raedeke, C, 20

Yet another free-agent signing for the Wings, Brent Raedeke has managed to keep himself in the Grand Rapids lineup, despite only a handful of points through a third of the season. A high-energy checker with good wheels and a willingness to dig along the corners, Raedeke has a role to play, and he does it fairly well. If Raedeke can show any kind of scoring touch at the minor-league level, he could develop into a valuable third-line checking forward down the road.

Jordan Pearce, G, 24

Sent down to Toledo following veteran Joey MacDonald’s demotion to the Griffins, Pearce has recently swapped spots with highly-touted Thomas McCollum, and is currently the number two netminder in Grand Rapids. While his stats at the AHL or ECHL level are unimpressive, he does possess the perfect mentality for a backup goaltender. Relaxed, calm, and capable of putting together a good game here and there, Pearce will likely be a good placeholder at the AHL level. Through five starts in Grand Rapids, Pearce has a 2-1-1 record, a 3.28 goals against average and a .892 save percentage. Through eight starts in the ECHL, he posted a 3-4-1 record, a 4.13 goals against average and a .883 save percentage.

Sergei Kolosov, D, 24

Strapping defenseman Sergei Kolosov entered his third, and possibly final, season with Grand Rapids looking to solidify his defensive game and show a bit more aggressiveness. While his penalty totals are up from last season, Kolosov still tends to play a very conservative, quiet game. While this makes him dependable, it also tends to make him somewhat invisible on the ice. With no offense skill to speak of, Kolosov would need to make himself an airtight, shutdown defenseman to have a chance in the NHL. Whether he can do so in the last 50 games of this season remains to be seen.

Sebastien Piche, D, 22

Though he managed to appear in three October games for Grand Rapids, Piche was sent to the Walleye in November and remained there for all of December. A talented offensive defenseman, Piche has continued to pile up points at Toledo, much as he did last season. Seeing as much ice time as he can in Toledo, Piche continues to work on his skating and defensive zone coverage. Through 20 games with Toledo, Piche has three goals and 10 assists.