The long-discussed rebuild in Detroit has yet to come and the Red Wings scouting staff is doing their best to make sure that no such rebuild has to take place.
With recent graduations to the NHL like Teemu Pulkkinen and Dylan Larkin – the latter of whom leads all NHL rookies in goals with 11 – there are still several prospects plying their trade at the AHL level looking to be the next call-up to help keep the Red Wings going.
The Red Wings have some promising talent at the AHL level and have somehow set themselves up nicely for the future while not missing the playoffs for the last quarter-century. One could say management has done a pretty good job over that time.
Jared Coreau, G, 24
Through 24 games of the 2015-16 season, Coreau has slowly taken over starting duties from Tom McCollum, a first-round pick of the Red Wings in 2008. Coreau has been the better of the two, going 10-2-1 with a 2.16 goals against average and .934 save percentage.
The Griffins struggled early in the season, but Coreau has been a pleasant surprise. Coreau has always been a promising goalie, with a huge frame (6-5) and good athletic ability, but had always struggled with his technique. This season, he has put together a more complete game in net and the results have been encouraging to say the least.
Anthony Mantha, RW, 21
Mantha has seen a bit of a fall the past two seasons. He was once the unquestioned top prospect in the Red Wings system, but after a 15-goal, 33-point professional debut, there were a lot of people wanting far more out of the big winger.
The 2015-16 season has helped establish reasonable expectations for the 2013 first-rounder. Mantha has suited up for 18 of the team’s games, potting five goals and 15 points in that span. Mantha still offers the complete package in terms of a prospect: he has tremendous size at 6-5, great speed and skating ability, and the offensive instincts to make himself a fixture in Detroit’s top six eventually. At this stage in the game, he is still figuring out how to bring it on every shift and working on his consistency.
Despite his early struggles, the future is still bright for Mantha.
Martin Frk, RW, 22
Frk split time between Grand Rapids and Toledo of the ECHL the past two seasons, showing his deft scoring touch with the latter but struggling to do so with the fomer. After producing 23 goals in 29 games with the Walleye last season, he is finding his touch with the Griffins this season. Frk has been streaky in putting up five goals and seven points in 14 AHL games, but the skills remain tantalizing. He is not the best skater, so he will have to play a smarter game if he hopes to continue to produce. At this point, finding ice time is struggle enough for Frk.
Mitch Callahan, RW, 24
Callahan was one of the few relatively bright spots for the Griffins early in 2015-16. Many didn’t really know what to expect out of Callahan coming into this year. He experienced an offensive outburst the past two seasons playing with Teemu Pulkkinen, scoring 42 goals and 82 points in 118 games – an unheard of pace for Callahan.
Through 23 games of 2015-16, Callahan is second on the team in goals with eight and fifth in points with 13. He has continued to play a pivotal role for the Griffins despite a game that is more suited for an energy/grinder role. Callahan’s ceiling is somewhat limited going forward and he may not make it back to the NHL, but for now he continues to be productive as a fixture in Grand Rapids.
Andreas Athanasiou, C/LW, 21
Athanasiou is one of the few on the list to have earned a call-up to Detroit this season. He was sent down at the start of the season only to be called up shortly thereafter for a six-game stint. He managed just a goal before being returned to Grand Rapids.
Since being sent back down, Athanasiou has been quite good. His seven goals and 14 points in 17 games have been a real bright spot among the forwards and he should earn his fair share of ice time with that kind of play. Athanasiou is something of a poor man’s Mantha, with size and elite speed as well as good offensive instincts. His name doesn’t get mentioned as much as some of Detroit’s other big-time prospects, but it may not be too much longer before Athanasiou is skating full-time in Detroit.
Tyler Bertuzzi, LW, 20
Like most rookies debuting in the AHL, Bertuzzi has struggled to make his mark and find much in the way of ice time. Having appeared in 19 games so far, he has just one goal and three assists and a minus-seven rating.
Bertuzzi is something of a question mark beyond just his rookie status. Prior to his 43-goal, 98-point outburst for Guelph of the OHL in 2014-15, he had been known more for his tenacious two-way play than his offensive output. Given his smaller stature, young age and the glut of prospects who have been in the system longer than he has, Bertuzzi is still very much a blank slate on the pro level and will likely have to wait for 2016-17 before he gets a more full-time crack at the lineup in Grand Rapids.
Tomas Nosek, C, 23
After a fairly impressive North American debut in 2014-15 that saw him net 11 goals and 34 points in 55 games, 2015-16 has been a step backwards for Nosek. Through Grand Rapids’ 23 games, he has managed just one goal and four assists making him a virtual no-show for the Griffins.
While Nosek has often predicated his game on being versatile and a two-way contributor, his regression offensively has to be concerning to Detroit management. There is still a lot of hockey left for him to turn it around, but given his stage of development, he should be steadily improving instead of declining.
Colin Campbell, RW, 24
This may be the final run for Campbell in the Detroit system as he is currently in the final year of his entry-level deal. He suited up for Grand Rapids to the tune of 57 games over the last two seasons, managing three goals and six points over that time.
With three goals in 23 games for the Griffins as a utility player, it will be difficult for Campbell to go much farther in his career. He is a decent energy/grinder-type player, but doesn’t stand out in any aspect of the game. Campbell is a solid hand and could land elsewhere, but it would be surprising to see him in the Detroit system after this season.
Louis-Marc Aubry, C, 24
The 2015-16 season marks Aubry’s fifth for the Griffins. Originally considered to be something of a project due to his size and hands, Aubry has settled into a bottom-six role on the professional level, contributing two goals and three assists in 23 games for the Griffins this season.
Aubry has good size at 6-5 and plays a sound, responsible game. He will never have the hands to be much of a scorer from here on out, but he could serve as a useful, defensively-responsible checking center at either the AHL or NHL level.
Ryan Sproul, D, 22
After experiencing a down offensive year in 2014-15 with just five goals and 24 points, Sproul has been a quality all-around defender for Grand Rapids this season. Through the team’s 23 games, he has 11 points on the strength of nine assists.
Sproul has the complete package of abilities franchises look for in defensemen. He has ideal size at 6-4, 210, plays a solid defensive game that is improving each year and shows obvious offensive skills and the potential to quarterback the power play. Sproul is having himself a fine season and could find himself on the Detroit roster before the end of the year.
Xavier Ouellet, D, 22
Like Sproul, the Red Wings have been very high on Ouellet ever since selecting him with the 48th pick in the 2011 Draft. He is a bit smaller than Sproul at 6-1, but came to the Red Wings possessing a great deal more offensive ability.
Ouellet has struggled to since find his offensive game on the pro level, but still flashes the ability that the Wings covet. He is an excellent skater and moves the puck with confidence, so it is unclear just what is missing from his game to turn him into more of a steady producer. Ouellet has developed his defensive game during his three seasons with Grand Rapids and could wind up being a more refined defender if and when he gets his call-up with the Red Wings.
Robbie Russo, D, 22
Russo, a 2011 draft pick of the New York Islanders, made his professional debut for the Griffins in 2015-16 and he hasn’t looked a bit out of place as a rookie. Having suited up in 19 tilts, he has managed eleven assists and 13 points.
It seems as though Russo has finally begun realizing his potential over the past two years. He burst onto the scene with 41 points in 40 games for Notre Dame as a senior and has already shown himself to be a heady puck-mover at the AHL level. He still has to refine his game a bit, but Russo could sneak up on a lot of folks going forward with his tenacity and ability.
Nick Jensen, D, 25
Jensen had begun making a name for himself in 2014-15 with a quietly solid year, his first full campaign for Grand Rapids. His 27 points didn’t blow anyone out of the water, but coupled with his solid defensive play, made him something of a wild card in the Detroit organization.
This year, like most of his teammates, Jensen struggled early. He has contributed just a goal and three assists offensively, making hard to determine if it is simply Jensen struggling or the team as a whole. As one of the oldest prospects in the Red Wings organization, it certainly is not helping his standing.
Jensen has the type of ability you see in long-time bottom-pairing defensemen on the NHL level, so it is too early to count him out just yet. Having said that, he has his work cut out for him to jump ahead of the several defensemen in the Red Wings’ ranks that are ahead of him.
Richard Nedomlel, D, 22
Facing the backlog of up-and-coming young defensemen developing in Grand Rapids, Nedomlel was sent to Toledo to work on his game. He has been back-and-forth, though he has yet to suit up in a game for Grand Rapids and has racked up just two assists for Toledo in ten games.
Nedomlel is a big-bodied defenseman who takes no gruff from anyone. He is mean, he is physical and opposing players definitely don’t want to get within his reach. Still, his skating is a work in progress and his offensive game looks non-existent. Nedomlel will need to refine his skating if he hopes to take the next step and still appears very raw.
Jake Paterson, G, 21
Paterson was the odd man out at the AHL level, failing to make the roster in part due to the presence of Coreau and McCollum while also partially due to his youth. Paterson spent the past four full seasons in the OHL, mostly with the Saginaw Spirit, though he was dealt mid-season to the Kitchener Rangers and had a short stint in Toledo.
In 2015-16, Paterson has acquitted himself well. He and Jeff Lerg were splitting the starts, with Paterson posting a 5-4-1-1 record along with a 2.53 goals against average and .921 save percentage before being recalled to Grand Rapids.
Paterson is a bit undersized, but is a good athlete who plays his angles aggressively. He’s young and has to work on his consistency and technique like most young netminders, but he will definitely be one to watch over the next few seasons.
Zach Nastasiuk, RW, 20
Nastasiuk, who played the last of his junior hockey in 2014-15 for the Owen Sound Attack, had a brief stint with the Griffins both last year and early this year before finding himself in Toldeo. Since his arrival in Toledo, he has only managed to suit up for seven games thanks to injury woes, but has scored four goals and two assists.
Nastasiuk is a high-energy player, capable of being a valuable forechecker and penalty killer. He still has work to do on his skating and, though he has produced at the junior level, needs to show that he has the ability to produce at higher levels. As he gets fully healthy, Nastasiuk is likely to be promoted to a level more commensurate with his upside.
Marek Tvrdon, LW, 22
Last season was a frustrating one for Tvrdon, seeing him struggle to score at his desired level in the AHL before returning to the ECHL and lighting it up. This season is more of the same. Tvrdon saw just one game of action in the AHL before being re-assigned to Toledo. He has since netted eight goals and registered 21 points in his 23 games.
Tvrdon, at 6-2, 210, has good size and an excellent skill set. He is a quality skater with speed who possesses offensive instincts as some of his stat lines show. At the higher levels, Tvrdon finds issues with consistency. Tvrdon has the talent to make it on the professional level, but needs to show it on a regular basis.
Top Performing Non-AHL/ECHL Prospects
A WHL prospect worth noting is diminutive defenseman Joe Hicketts. Hicketts is at a point-per-game pace for the season, with a whopping 28 assists and 30 points in 29 games for the Victoria Royals. He had himself a fine month with 14 assists and 15 points in 12 games during November.
Elsewhere in the CHL, QMJHL prospect Evgeny Svechnikov has done nothing to dispel his status as a top-flight prospect. He has been in fine form through 27 games, potting 17 goals and racking up 39 points. He found his playmaker side in November, posting a 5-15-20 line in eleven November games.
Swedish prospect Axel Holmstrom has quietly had himself a fine year in the SHL. His 16 points in 27 games put him on the cusp of the top 25 scorers and he racked up six points in seven games during November, half of those being goals.
All three top prospects will represent their nations in the 2016 World Juniors, and each is expected to play a major role.
Prospect of the Month
Though he is probably in the twilight of his “prospect” phase, Dylan Larkin continues to impress as a 19-year-old in the NHL. He has played a far larger role than anyone expected this season and had a tremendous November, lighting the lamp seven times in 13 games.
Larkin has been playing top-line minutes from day one and continues to perform like a veteran despite the fact that he can’t legally drink a beer in Michigan. His performance thus far this season shows why the Red Wings were so excited to snag him in the draft in 2014.
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