Plenty of potential among Top 20 Detroit Red Wings prospects

By Ryan Womeldorf

Joe Hicketts - Detroit Red Wings

Photo: The Red Wings followed Hockey Canada’s lead to acquire a dynamic prospect on the rise in Joe Hicketts (courtesy of Claus Andersen/Getty Images)


10. (10) Zach Nastasiuk, RW, 7.0C

Drafted 2nd round, 48th overall, 2013

Nastasiuk is not the most physically gifted player in the world, but he works hard and makes the most of his abilities. He has quality NHL size at 6’1, 200 pounds and a powerful stride. He has shown good offensive potential at every level, using a hard and accurate shot to rack up the goals. Nastasiuk shows good leadership potential even at a young age, having captained the Owen Sound Attack for the last two seasons.

Nastasiuk will get the opportunity to make the AHL his full-time home in 2015-16 after 10 games over the last two seasons there. A hard-working player, Nastasiuk is willing to forecheck and kill penalties to contribute. He is versatile and driven, something that could see him serve as a valuable role player years down the road for the Red Wings.

9. (11) Andreas Athanasiou, LW, 7.0C

Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, 2012

Athanasiou has good size at 6’2, 190 lbs, and is learning to use his body well and even showing some physicality. He is an outstanding skater with lightning speed, and was one of the fastest players in major junior during his time there. Athanasiou has good offensive instincts and knows what to do with the puck on his stick. He’s still got some learning to do about producing on the professional level, but the potential is there offensively.

Athanasiou made the jump to the AHL for the 2014-15 season and showed flashes of promise, scoring 16 goals and 32 points in 55 games with Grand Rapids. He dealt with a broken jaw that limited his time on the ice, so a healthy year in 2015-16 will be a good start towards breaking out as a professional. He’ll likely see top six minutes for the Griffins before potentially challenging for a spot on the Red Wings in two seasons.

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

There are very little frills in the game of Marchenko. He uses his size (6’2, 190 lbs) well, playing a punishing physical game. He has shown flashes here and there of offensive ability, but his production suggests he won’t be in the NHL for his offensive ability. He’s a tough, quality stay-at-home defender who reads plays well and makes good breakout passes. He may not be flashy but is very solid in his own end.

Marchenko continues to iron out the kinks in his game with the Griffins in the AHL, playing bigger minutes with each passing year. The Red Wings are set on defensive defenseman for the moment, so it may be another year or two before he can crack the roster for a regular spot. He projects as a solid middle pairing defender who can contribute some offense here and there.

7. (13) Joe Hicketts, D, 7.0C

Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014

A departure from some of the much bigger defensemen the Red Wings have in their prospect pool, Hicketts is one of the smaller defensive prospects they have at 5’8, 187 lbs. This can be troublesome in one-on-one defensive battles, but he makes up for it with dynamic skating ability. Hicketts is as much an offensive defenseman as they come, joining the rush with impunity while showing fantastic playmaking ability.

Hicketts was fantastic for the Victoria Royals in 2014-15, racking up an impressive 52 assists and 64 points in 62 games. Injuries are still a point of concern, especially given his smaller stature, and he still has lapses on the defensive end. If he can stay healthy and round out his defensive performance, Hicketts could be a dangerous addition to the Red Wings blue line with huge power play potential.

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

Ouellet is an all-around defenseman. He shows good offensive instincts and the ability to join the rush, though his offensive numbers aren’t quite where they were expected to be over two seasons with Grand Rapids. Though he has an affinity for the offensive end, Ouellet is responsible and smart in his own zone, playing a mature game. Seems like he hasn’t come close to reaching his full potential so far.

Ouellet’s play in 2014-15 with the Griffins was enough to earn him a call-up with the Red Wings. In 21 games with Detroit, Ouellet played mostly bottom-pairing minutes and didn’t do much to stand out in either way before being returned to Grand Rapids. In 2015-16, he could find himself in a similar position: available if injury demands it, though not quite ready to make the full-time jump to the NHL.

5. (6) Ryan Sproul, D, 7.0C

Drafted 2nd round, 55th overall, 2011

There is a glut of potential NHL-caliber defensemen in the Detroit system and Sproul finds himself at the top of the heap. He’s already got very good NHL size at 6’3, 190 lbs, though he isn’t the most physical defender in the world. He has improved his skating ability tremendously and possesses good offensive abilities. He has the makings of a potential power play quarterback, which the Wings will need when Niklas Kronwall decides to hang them up in the not-so-distant future.

Sproul’s rating has slid a bit over the last year. His numbers slipped a bit from 2013-14 to 2014-15, raising the question about just how close to a finished product his offensive skills are. He’ll begin 2015-16 with Grand Rapids, his third season there, and could see action as an emergency call-up should the Red Wings need him. He has the potential to be a quality top-four option on defense, though he needs to work on finding consistency and accentuating his strengths on the offensive end of the ice.

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

After destroying the competition in the QMJHL – he tallied 81 goals in 81 combined regular season and playoff games during his final season there – Mantha found the transition to professional hockey a little more difficult. Though he was shielded away from the opposition’s top defenders thanks to the efforts of Teemu Pulkkinen, Mantha struggled to find his rhythm offensively in 2014-15, picking up just 33 points in 62 AHL games, after missing the start of the season due to a broken leg. In 2015-16, with Pulkkinen likely graduating to the NHL, Mantha will be asked to step his game up and take on a larger role with the Griffins.

Despite his surprising lack of production, Mantha is still near the top of the prospect rankings for a reason. He has fantastic size at 6’5, stunning speed given that size, and the offensive skill set that can result in a lot of points on the NHL level. He’s still a bit streaky at this point and needs to make better use of his size, but with another year or two of seasoning, Mantha should be ready to take to the NHL. He’s more than equipped to become a top-flight NHL power forward and should be a fixture in the Red Wings top-six for years to come.

3. (NR) Evgeny Svechnikov, LW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 19th overall, 2015

The Red Wings have often shown an affinity for highly-skilled European players and Svechnikov is different only in the sense that he has the size to go with it. At 6’2, 200 lbs, he already has an NHL-ready power forward frame and has the room to add 15-20 pounds to strengthen himself. Though he isn’t a dynamic skater, Svechnikov is smooth in his stride and gets where he needs to be without much hesitation. Like Pulkkinen, he is a natural goal-scorer, possessing a deadly shot and the one-on-one skills to make him dangerous in any situation.

Svechnikov is still new to the North American hockey scene, having made his debut with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in 2014-15. He will return for the 2015-16 campaign, likely earning big minutes as he continues to build on his offensive potential. He’s still a few seasons away from cracking the professional ranks, but he has the skills to be a dangerous top six forward and a premier power forward in the NHL.

2. (4) Teemu Pulkkinen, RW, 7.5B
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2010

The Detroit scouting staff has long earned praise for being able to find contributors in the later rounds of the draft and they may have hit a home run with the 5’10 Finn. Pulkkinen is an offensive dynamo, a natural goal-scorer with a quick release and a heavy shot. He’s got good enough playmaking skills to be dangerous, but his natural abilities as a sniper are what make him shine.

The 23-year-old acquitted himself well two years ago in his professional debut and flat out dominated the AHL last season, scoring 34 goals and 61 points in just 46 games with the Griffins. In 2015-16, with a few spots coming open and the team moving in a more youthful direction, Pulkkinen should make the Red Wings out of training camp. He has all the potential in the world to be a good top six scorer capable of putting up 25-30 goals per year.

1. (1) Dylan Larkin, C, 8.0 C
Drafted 1st round, 15th overall, 2014

It should come as no surprise that the local boy that does it all is atop the Red Wings list of prospects. Born and raised just outside Detroit, Larkin joined the University of Michigan for 2014-15 and immediately established himself as one of the top players in the collegiate ranks. Larkin’s two-way game already makes him a standout, but coupled with his size and dynamic offensive ability, he has the chance to be a franchise center for the Red Wings for years to come.

Larkin was already a slam dunk of a pick when he slid to the Red Wings at 15th overall, but he continued his ascension up the ranks of prospects across the league thanks to a strong showing at the 2015 World Junior Championships as well as a fantastic freshman effort at Michigan, racking up 47 points in 35 games to finish 11th in the NCAA in scoring. He also stood out in a positive way against international pros and NHLers with Team USA at the IIHF Men’s World Championship.

It may not be long before we see Larkin at Joe Louis Arena. He will make his professional debut with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins but his poise, ability and strong two-way game could see him getting a crack at the Red Wings sooner rather than later.

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