Detroit Red Wings prospects face bumps in transition

By Ryan Womeldorf
Tyler Bertuzzi Ryan Sproul Anthony Mantha - Detroit Red Wings

Photo: Detroit Red Wings prospects Tyler Bertuzzi, Anthony Mantha, and Ryan Sproul have more to prove at the AHL level before taking on a role with the franchise (courtesy of Dan Hamilton/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

In the past, the Detroit Red Wings found long-term success in partial thanks to a scouting department that unearthed gems like Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk past the draft’s first round. That trend has continued in recent years. Tomas Tatar, a second-round pick in 2009, burst onto the scene in 2014-15 with a 29-goal season while Gustav Nyquist, a fourth-round pick in 2008, posted consecutive seasons of 28 and 27 goals.

It has been this ability to find new and fresh talent that has kept the Red Wings’ playoff streak alive and helped them to stave off the ugly rebuilding process that many franchises have gone through. The 2015-16 season should see a few new faces make contributions, though it may still be a year or two before the Red Wings see some of their bigger prospects become full-time players.

Left Wing

Left wing has a quality mix of size and talent across the board as well as a high-end prospect that could serve the Red Wings top-six well for years. Evgeny Svechnikov is the big name of the group, a 6’2 power forward with the hands to become a serious goal-scoring threat in the NHL. He had a standout season with Cape Breton in 2014-15, his first in North America. Svechnikov is the kind of big, physical body that teams across the league clamor for, and the Red Wings hope to make him a key contributor for years to come.

Keeping with the power forward theme, the Red Wings have a quartet of prospects that all fit that mold in one way or another. Andreas Athanasiou has the highest upside, a scoring machine in junior who has shown that he can continue to light the lamp at the professional level. He plays with enough edge that he should be able to at least get a long look in Detroit, if not become an effective third-line winger with elite speed.

Marek Tvrdon has the tools to be a power forward and has produced well in Grand Rapids, though questions remain as to whether he can continue to produce at the NHL level. Julius Vahatalo has the frame (6’5) to be a handful, but is still very raw and needs to add bulk. Colin Campbell, meanwhile, is at the opposite end of the spectrum. He plays like a power forward, but doesn’t have the skill of his counterparts. His future, if he has one at the NHL level, will likely be as a role player.

Tyler Bertuzzi and Tomas Nosek might be the most intriguing prospects in the group. Bertuzzi has all the makings of an effective pest, using his speed to annoy puck carriers into making mistakes. More than that, however, he may have a budding offensive game. He had a huge final season in junior, leaving many to wonder if it is a sign of things to come or an aberration. Nosek, meanwhile, has good size and offensive instincts but – as with Tvrdon – there are questions about his production going forward.

Filed under “project”, you’ll find David Pope, Mike McKee and Adam Marsh. Pope, like most of his counterparts at this position, has good size at 6’2 but needs to add bulk and develop his offensive game. McKee, meanwhile, is a monster at 6’4, 230 lbs. He isn’t much offensively and still needs to round out his game, but he skates well for his size and brings the muscle. Last, Marsh shows good goal scoring instincts and speed. Like most his age, he needs to add muscle and – most importantly – needs to refine his decision-making.

Right Wing

The Red Wings possess good depth on the right side, with a couple of premier prospects on the cusp of making their presence known in Detroit. As with left wing, there’s an obvious push to get bigger across the board, with a ton of size to go with all the skill here.

Leading the way on the right side and ready to possibly take a full-time roster spot in Detroit is Teemu Pulkkinen. Another potential mid-round gem (fourth round), Pulkkinen is a sniper first and foremost. He shows good offensive instincts and knows what to do with the puck when it’s on his stick. He dominated the AHL in 2014-15, scoring 34 goals and 61 points in just 46 games with the Griffins. He’s got NHL-level scoring ability and projects as a top six scoring forward for the Red Wings going forward.

Just behind Pulkkinen is the former top prospect on the right side, Anthony Mantha. Mantha is an absolute mountain at 6’5, 215 lbs., with the room on his frame to get even bigger and stronger. But what makes Mantha such a good prospect is his speed and skill. He can move with the smaller players on the ice and possesses the skills and instincts to become a top-flight power forward. He struggled a bit in his first professional season, but his ceiling is still as high as nearly any prospect in the game.

Past the big two, there is one common theme: energy. The trio of Zach Nastasiuk, Mitch Callahan and Axel Holmstrom all play a high-effort game. Nastasiuk is the most intriguing of the three, possessing good size and showing a somewhat consistent scoring ability, though it remains to be seen if he can continue to do so at the next level. Callahan has already spent some time in Detroit as a third/fourth line grinder and figures to compete for that job again despite showing surprising offensive ability playing next to Pulkkinen in Grand Rapids. Holmstrom, meanwhile, is still somewhat unknown, but certainly drew some attention with a better than point-per-game performance in the SHL playoffs.

Like the aforementioned Anathasiou, Martin Frk was a junior scoring stud who needs to prove he can do it on the next level. He lit up Halifax playing next to stars like Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, but struggled to find his footing in Grand Rapids in 2014-15. He has a great shot and offensive instincts, but the rest of his game requires refinement.

Rounding out the right side is Hampus Melen. A tall but light player, Melen showed some offensive skills in the Swedish junior ranks, but a scoreless start to his season while playing in the third tier of Swedish hockey does not speak well to the likelihood of an NHL career.

Center

There’s a theme for the Red Wings when it comes to their center prospects: two-way ability. The Wings – like most teams – favor a pivot who can play both sides of the ice adeptly. The best of that bunch – and the best prospect the Red Wings have – is Dylan Larkin. He was a standout in his only season for the University of Michigan and has already shown he belongs in the NHL during the early part of the 2015-16 season. It should be noted that he has started off playing wing to ease him into the NHL game, but is likely to transition as he gains experience and adds strength.

Behind Larkin, a couple of legacies – the sons of prolific NHL scorers Ray Ferraro and Pierre Turgeon – have the most potential of the Detroit centers. Landon Ferraro and Dominic Turgeon are polar opposites. Ferraro is the smaller of the two, a lightning quick skater with good offensive instincts. He’s still trying to make it over the hump in the AHL to become a consistent scorer. Turgeon has been more of a defensive specialist during his time with the Portland Winterhawks, though it is expected he will take on a bigger offensive role this season.

Keeping with the theme of two-way centers, Swede Christoffer Ehn and Russian Alexander Kadeykin are very similar players. Both still have to fill out a bit and work on their offensive games, but both bring a solid two-way style of play to the mix. If either wants to make an impact at the higher levels, they will need to fill out and prove that they can score a bit more.

Chase Pearson is another big, lanky center the Red Wings have stashed away. The 2015 fifth-round pick, Pearson has size and uses it to drive to the net, but past that there isn’t much about him that’s known. He has raw offensive skills, but every bit of his game needs refinement before the Red Wings can figure out what they have.

Last, time may be running out for 2010 third-round pick Louis-Marc Aubry. He has good size at 6’4, 200 lbs. and – surprise, surprise – has a solid two-way game. His issue is that he is mostly ineffective in the offensive end. A player his size should be creating havoc in front, but Aubry’s role has been more in a support capacity, blocking shots and showing that he could potentially be a quality fourth-liner.

Defense

Over the last several seasons, the Red Wings have been looking to add to their blue line and may have several potential NHLers in their prospect rankings. Perhaps none are better on paper than Ryan Sproul. Sproul looks to be the complete package: size, adequate skating, solid enough in his own end and a future power play quarterback. He is still ironing out the kinks in his game with Grand Rapids, but should be ready for the NHL within the next year or two.

Just behind him, Xavier Ouellet has looked just as good if not better. Ouellet doesn’t have Sproul’s size, but he’s an excellent skater with good offensive ability, someone who could potentially quarterback the power play. He has been rounding his game into form with a couple of quality seasons in Grand Rapids, displaying a better defensive game than most gave him credit for. Like Sproul, he should be challenging for a role with Detroit very soon.

Having had Brian Rafalski as a solid anchor on their blueline for years, the Red Wings know the value of a good puck moving defenseman that is on the smaller side of the height chart. The Red Wings took a pair of them in recent years in Joe Hicketts and Vili Saarijarvi. Both standing well under six feet, they are in different stages. Saarijarvi is a project, a recently converted forward with tremendous instincts who is putting up points as an OHL rookie with Flint. Hicketts, meanwhile, has been a star at the junior level. He scores at nearly a point-per-game pace and looks like a potentially dynamic addition to the power play in the future. Hicketts needs to stay healthy, but definitely seems to have a future in Detroit.

Perhaps the defenseman with the chance to have the longest career as a Red Wing is Alexey Marchenko. He plays a no-frills, stay-at-home game thanks to strong skating and good hockey IQ. He makes the smart play, takes the body when he needs to and could be a shutdown defender in the future.

Looking to get bigger all over the roster, the Wings also have three defensemen who fit the same bill: big, physical, stay-at-home defenders. James de Haas already has NHL size at 6’3, 205 and continues to hone his game in the rough collegiate ranks. He looks to return to Clarkson as an upperclassmen and will likely need some seasoning in the pros. Similarly, Patrick Holway and Richard Nedomlel are 6’4 defensemen who use their bodies well and play a more physical style. Both are extremely limited on the offensive end and have only decent mobility, but teams in the NHL can’t get enough of big, mean defensive defensemen.

Nick Jensen has flown under the radar since being selected in the fifth round of the 2009 Draft, turning in a solid college career at St. Cloud State before finally getting an opportunity full-time with the Griffins in 2014-15. He did not disappoint, playing solid two-way defense and chipping in 27 points in 75 games. Jensen is the type of defenseman that you don’t notice, making the smart, safe play with consistency. He’s the type of player that makes an NHL roster and sticks there because of his quiet, solid play.

Robbie Russo, the last defenseman on our list, is bit of a wild card. He flew under the radar a bit with Notre Dame, but an academic issue that kept him off the ice for a good chunk of 2013-14 lit a fire under him last year, resulting in career-highs across the board. He moves the puck well and plays with a little bit of an edge. He will get a chance to find his footing on the professional level, but with his skill set, don’t be surprised if he begins to make some waves in Grand Rapids.

Goalies

The Red Wings are probably most patient at finding prospects for the goaltending position as evidenced by the fact that they’ve drafted just three netminders since 2012.

The current best of the bunch is 2012 third-round pick Jake Paterson. He struggled through a good chunk of his junior career, but finished with a strong flurry after a trade to Kitchener. Finding playing time will be something of a challenge in Grand Rapids given the presence of two other netminders, but Paterson has the athleticism and talent to be an NHL goaltender.

New to the group is 2015 fourth-round pick Joren Van Pottelberghe. He has good size at 6’2, 200 lbs. and shows good hockey intelligence as well as positioning. While he is a decent athlete, he predicates his game on being in the right place at the right time thanks to sound positioning. He may lack dynamic talent, but could be a solid goaltender for a team like Detroit.

Still hanging around is free agent signing Jared Coreau, back for his third crack at Grand Rapids. The past two seasons have seen him split time between Grand Rapids and Toledo of the ECHL, though his performance in 25 games in the AHL in 2014-15 might be enough to grab him the backup spot in 2015-16. He’s huge at 6’5, 235 and surprisingly athletic for someone of his size, but he struggles with technique and consistency and might not be anything more than a project.

Like Coreau, Chase Perry has a big frame (6’3, 185) and good athleticism to go with it, showing good flexibility and reaction speed. He had a rough year at Colorado College in 2014-15 and has headed back to the Wenatchee Wild of the BCHL for 2015-16. At 19 years old, he’s still very young and very raw, but has the physical tools to be a pro goalie at some point. How much further he goes is up to his ability to refine his technique.

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