The Detroit Red Wings have seen an influx of young talent over the last several years, with the biggest changes coming at the AHL level. Several of their top prospects have graduated to Grand Rapids, having various impacts from low-level grinder all the way to top-line players. Still, even with all of the recent graduates, there are a handful of junior level prospects that could be making noise in the Detroit organization a few years down the road.
Evgeny Svechnikov, LW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Drafted: 1st round (19th overall), 2015
After just one season in North America, the big Russian (6-2, 200) had already made quite the name for himself. With a 32-goal, 78-point debut effort in the QMJHL for Cape Breton, Svechnikov became one of the hottest prospects heading into the 2015 NHL Draft and the Red Wings were all too happy to snap up the power forward with the goal-scorer’s hands.
The 2015-16 season has already been a strong one for Svechnikov and the Screaming Eagles. Cape Breton is currently second in the Q’s Maritimes Division, just one point back of division leader Moncton. Svechnikov, meanwhile, has appeared in 27 of the team’s 33 games so far and has notched 17 goals and 22 assists. He’s on pace to best his goal total of a year ago and generally has looked like the dynamic power forward the Red Wings envisioned when they selected him.
Svechnikov still has a long way to go in his development – he recently just turned 19 – but he appears to be a future top-six forward for the Red Wings going forward.
Adam Marsh, LW, Saint John Sea Dogs
Drafted: 7th round (200th overall), 2015
At the total opposite end of the spectrum from Svechnikov is Marsh, who was selected near the very end of the 2015 Draft. Marsh doesn’t have Svechnikov’s size or skill, but he’s acquitted himself well in his second season in the QMJHL.
Saint John has played well, sitting just behind the aforementioned Cape Breton for second in the Maritimes Divison. Marsh has appeared in 26 of the team’s 30 games and has shown quite the scorer’s touch. Through those 26 games, Marsh has 12 goals and ten assists, showing that his 24-goal debut in 2014-15 was no fluke.
At this point in his development, Marsh is still a bit undersized at 6-0 170 and needs to work on his overall game, but shows good speed and an obvious nose for the net. Marsh is still very raw, but building around his goal-scoring talents is a good place to start.
Vili Saarijarvi, D, Flint Firebirds
Drafted: 3rd round (73rd overall), 2015
The Red Wings took something of a risk when they selected Saarijarvi in the 2015 Draft. After all, he was a converted forward who had barely put in time at his newfound position of defense. Oh, and he also happened to be 5-9, 165.
But in the early stages of 2015-16, it’s clear what they saw in the smooth-skating Finnish defenseman. Though Flint is toiling in sixth place in the OHL’s Western Conference, Saarijarvi has looked very much like the puck-mover Detroit envisioned. Tied for fourth in team scoring with 19 points in 28 games, Saarijarvi already has a whopping 14 assists, good for a half-assist-per-game pace.
Though he has to work on the finer points of his new position and try to overcome his obvious size deficiencies, Saarijarvi has the offensive ability from the back end to be a standout. If he can continue to develop his all-around game, he could be a name we hear on the Detroit blue line in a few years.
Dominic Turgeon, C, Portland Winterhawks
Drafted: 3rd round (63rd overall), 2014
With a name like Turgeon (and the NHL lineage that comes with it), you would think this 19-year-old pivot would be a high-scoring center on the junior level. For Dominic Turgeon, that hasn’t been the case. He has mostly been used as a defensive specialist, showing bright spots offensively but not being a juggernaut with the puck.
In 2015-16, Turgeon is getting a chance to show his stuff offensively and has taken advantage. Though Portland is a middling 13-14-0-0, Turgeon has become a point-per-game player, with 29 points to date. His 13 goals so far also illustrate a sniper’s touch that hadn’t really been seen prior to this season.
Turgeon has the size and two-way game to make it to the next level, but with his growing offensive game and leadership intangibles – he was promoted from alternate to captain this season – he could be someone to watch for as soon as next year in the AHL.
Joe Hicketts, D, Victoria Royals
Acquired: Free agent signing, 2014
Like the aforementioned Saarijarvi, Hicketts has to overcome obvious size deficiencies given that he stands just 5-8 175. But it has become clear between the 2014-15 campaign and the early portion of 2015-16 that Hicketts is a standout talent with the puck.
Through 29 games, his Victoria Royals are second in the WHL’s Western Conference and Hicketts has been a huge part of that. Third on the team with 29 points, he is an excellent skater and shows a clear knack for joining the rush and distributing the puck.
Hicketts seems to have overcome some injury questions and has been the explosive offensive defenseman the Red Wings saw when they signed him in 2014. If he can remain healthy and play a somewhat responsible game on the defensive end given his size, his offensive abilities could carry him a long way.
Chase Perry, G, Wenatchee Wild (BCHL)
Drafted: 5th round (136th overall), 2014
After just one season on the collegiate level with Colorado College, Perry decided that wasn’t the path for him and opted to join Wenatchee of the British Columbia Hockey League, a Junior-A team. Taking on the starting role, Perry has been up and down. In 16 starts this season, he is 9-5-2 with a 2.35 goals against and just recently got his save percentage up over .900 (he has a .901).
At 19 years old, Perry is still as raw is it gets. He has the size to be an NHL goaltender at 6-3, 190 as well as good flexibility and reaction speed. His athleticism is good enough to get him a long way, but he still needs to refine his technique and show consistency.
He will try the college route again in 2016-17, having committed to RPI.
Holway is still a year out from joining the University of Maine Black Bears, so he is plying his craft in the USHL for the 2015-16 season. He has suited up in 18 of 21 games for the Fighting Saints, who currently sit second in the USHL’s Eastern Conference. Holway has chipped in with five assists.
Still very much a raw talent, Holway already has excellent size and good mobility for his size. That said, he has a lot of work to do in terms of rounding out his game. Like most young defensemen, he is still prone to lapses in his own zone and could stand to make better use of his frame.
Chase Pearson, C, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
Drafted: 5th round (140th overall), 2015
Pearson is another longer-term pick, another son of a long-time NHLer, and another future Maine Black Bear. The big-bodied Pearson sits second in scoring for the Phantoms, with a respectable 20 points in 21 games. One of the youngest players in his draft class, Pearson is finding his range this season. Like Holway, Pearson is part of a promising draft trend that allows for players to take a post-draft season in the USHL to work on their offensive games before entering the college ranks.
Detroit reached a bit for Pearson vis-à-vis most scouting services, but there is much to be optimistic about in terms of Pearson’s upside. The positive arc in Pearson’s performance indicates a newfound level of confidence with the puck that goes with his maturing frame. Pearson and Holway will each develop at their own pace, but share a common bond and an additional incentive to push each other as teammates next season.
Top Performing Non-Junior Prospects: October
At the AHL level, it had been a nightmare start for the Grand Rapids Griffins. They lost six of their first seven games of the 2015-16 season and very few of their ranks had looked very good. Since those early days, they sit on an eight-game undefeated streak. On another positive note, defenseman Ryan Sproul has looked solid, contributing eight assists and ten points to date. He had lost a bit of his offensive touch over the last couple of seasons, so showing a bit of growth offensively has been a pleasant surprise.
In Europe, there haven’t been many standouts, but Axel Holmstrom continues to look like a potential value pick. He continues to put up points after a breakout in last season’s SHL playoffs, currently sitting fifth on Skelleftea’s squad in scoring, and tied for the most among junior-aged players in the league with three goals and 13 assists so far this season. The seventh-rounder gets a chance to compete at the 2016 World Juniors as well.
On the pro level, after making a surprise push into the Red Wings’ lineup, Dylan Larkin has performed as advertised. He got off to a hot start with linemates Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader, notching 21 points in 27 games. Larkin has risen through the prospect rankings as fast as anyone and has impressed at every stop.
Prospect of the Month
Though several of the Red Wings’ prospects at the junior level had strong months, including Hicketts, Saarijarvi, Turgeon and Svechnikov, the honor goes to Dylan Larkin. Stepping into the NHL at 19 years old with no professional experience – remember, he was set to debut with Grand Rapids this season but played his way into the NHL – and not failing miserably is an accomplishment. Managing to be an important contributor to a quality team at that age is definitely worth noting. Larkin still has a long way to go in his first NHL season, but he’s already done more than enough to show why everyone in the Detroit organization was so excited about him when they selected him with the 15th overall pick in 2014.
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