Despite all of their playoff and regular season success over the past number of years, the Detroit Red Wings have still managed to draft some talented prospects. While none of the players will stand out as blue-chip prospects, Detroit does have notable depth – especially at the forward position.
The Red Wings are probably strongest at the left wing in terms of pure talent, even though it has the lowest number of prospects among the forwards ranks. Right wing and center are fairly strong as well, boasting talent, grit, and defensive savvy.
On the blue line, Detroit will be looking to some 2011 draftees – Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul – to bolster a pool of prospects that has not met expectations. While there is surely talent on amongst the defense corps, there are also several question marks. The Red Wings' goaltending depth is in a similar situation as well, with several prospects not meeting their expected potential.
While the majority of Red Wings prospects have reached the AHL level, the team has a solid mix of players from all different leagues. Eight prospects are in the junior ranks, six are at the NCAA level and six are in European leagues.
At the left wing, the Red Wings' prospects show that it is about quality, not quantity. While there are only four prospects that play the position for the team, it also contains two of the most talented players in the system.
The biggest story on the left wing is Swedish born player Gustav Nyquist. While the Red Wings knew he was talented, it is difficult to imagine they could have foreseen just how impressive Nyquist would be upon hitting the pro ranks. After playing at the University of Maine for three years, nearly winning the Hobey Baker Award in his second year with the team, the 5'11, 185lbs player blew through the Red Wings training camp looking like one of the best players on the team, let alone the prospects pool. In 11 games with the Griffins he has tallied nine points, while also receiving a call-up to the Red Wings amidst a six game losing the streak. While it is still early in his pro career, Nyquist certainly looks like the real deal, and a player the Red Wings will be able to count on in all situations.
Also playing in the AHL for the Red Wings is Slovak winger Tomas Tatar. At 5'10, 186lbs, Tatar remains pretty much neck and neck with Nyquist as the most talented player the Red Wings have in the pro ranks. If not for the unexpected surge of his fellow teammate, Tatar would likely be the top prospect at the position, as he still possesses a ton of skill and strong work ethic. He will look to boost his numbers as the season goes on in Grand Rapids, playing in a top six role for the team.
Rounding out the pro ranks is the Andrej Nestrasil. While he began the season in the ECHL due to overcrowding on the Griffins, he was called up due to injuries on the team in late October. In his first game in Grand Rapids, Nestrasil went on to score a goal and assist, buying himself more time with the team to show off his skills. To date, he has three points in six games, and remains with the team.
At the junior level, Detroit took a bit of a gamble when they drafted Marek Tvrdon in the fourth round. Tvrdon boasted an impressive points-per-game statistic for the Vancouver Giants in the 2010-11 season, however it was only through 12 games, as he suffered a season ending shoulder injury. It appears as if their gamble paid off, though, as Tvrdon is once again surging in the WHL. The 6'2, 210lbs winger has 22 points through 19 games, using his frame to play a physical, but also skilled game.
The Red Wings have always prided themselves with having depth at the center position, which is reflected by the high number of prospects the team has up the middle. Perhaps the most skilled player at the position is Swedish player Calle Jarnkrok. Playing overseas for Brynas of the Swedish Elite League, Jarnkrok possesses excellent hands and can be best described as a playmaker. He is also a strong two-way player, boasting strong hockey sense and high speed. Jarnkrok continues to make his case as the number one prospect at center this season, scoring 16 points in 20 games with his team. Also playing overseas is fellow Swede Jesper Samuelsson, who has found himself on a third tier Swedish team, and will likely remain in Europe for his hockey playing career.
At the professional level, the Red Wings have a fair amount of depth, but not necessarily much high end skill. While he has been playing in the NHL this season, Cory Emmerton remains a prospect for the Red Wings. He has strong hockey sense, and has served the team well as a fourth line center.
In the AHL, the Red Wings have four centers playing for the Griffins right now. Joakim Andersson has been the most impressive center for the team thus far. The Swede has continued to use his 6'2, 210lbs frame to play the physical, defensive game he is known for playing, while also putting up six assists on the year while centering a line with Nyquist. First year pro Landon Ferraro has also looked solid at times, though his numbers do not necessarily reflect it. He has been limited to just five games with the Griffins due to an injury earlier in the season.
Rounding out the centers in the AHL are Brent Raedeke and Louis-Marc Aubry. While neither has put up any significant numbers with the team this season, both men have shown they can play a strong defensive game. Raedeke, in particular, possesses a great deal of speed and has looked sharp on the other side of the puck.
The Red Wings have three centers playing in the NCAA at the moment. It appears that Riley Sheahan is finally finding his way offensively playing college hockey. While Notre Dame is known as a defensive-minded team, Sheahan's numbers in his first two seasons simply have not been good enough for a first round draft pick. This season the 6'2, 200lbs centerman has notched eight points through seven games, looking strong in all aspects of play. Another player exceeding past year's performances is Julien Cayer. With his highest points total at the NCAA level being ten prior to this season, Cayer already has six points in ten games with Clarkson. Rounding out college level players, Phillipe Hudon has not been able to suit up for Cornell University for the 2010-11 season as of yet.
Finalizing the prospects at the center position for the Red Wings are two junior level prospects; Alan Quine and Brooks Macek. Quine has put his strong skating ability and offensive instincts to good use this season for the Peterborough Petes. He has posted 21 points through 19 games with the team. Also playing well at the junior level is Calgary Hitmen center Macek. While his numbers are not as impressive as Quine's, Macek has posted 14 points in 18 games for the team.
Much like the center position, the Red Wings most skilled player at the right wing is someone playing overseas right now. Finnish winger Teemu Pulkkinen is perhaps the most skilled pure goal scorer in the Red Wings prospects pool, while also boasting very strong playmaking skills.
After Pulkkinen, the Red Wings' skills level at the right wing dips. Jan Mursak is an NHL caliber player who has yet to participate in a game this season due to a leg injury he suffered in the pre-season. Mursak brings a ton of speed and a strong forecheck, and also has the potential to chip in offensively.
Also playing at the pro level this year, four prospects have suited up for Grand Rapids this season. Perhaps the most offensively skilled of the bunch is Francis Pare. After posting strong offensive numbers last year, Pare has gotten off to a bit of a slow start for the 2010-11 season. Playing in his fourth season with the Griffins, he has just two assists through 11 games. Pare is kind of a make or break prospect, as he has spent significant time in the AHL and looks to be a one dimensional player, relying on his offensive to do the talking. Alternatively, a player who struggled last season but has improved this season is Willie Coetzee. After playing most of last season in the ECHL, Coetzee has already matched his totals from last year, scoring five points in 11 games. He is also third on the team in shots on goals, showing much more confidence than last year.
Lastly, Mitchell Callahan and Trevor Parkes are two first year players for Grand Rapids. Both men have struggled offensively, but have looked to contribute in other ways. Callahan brings a lot of toughness to the organization, having shown a willingness to drop the gloves. Parkes meanwhile will hope to contribute through strong defensive play and physicality.
The sole junior level player at the right wing for the Red Wings is one with a ton of offensive potential. Tomas Jurco was Detroit's first selection in the 2011 draft, intriguing the team with his offensive skills and world-class stick handling. Playing for arguably the best team in all of junior hockey in the Saint John Sea Dogs, Jurco will be expected to further improve upon his 2010-11 totals of 31 goals and 25 assists.
At the top of Detroit's defense corps is 6'2, 195lbs blueliner Brendan Smith. The start of the 2010-11 season was a bit bumpy for Smith, as he began the year serving a suspension for a pre-season hit he threw on Chicago prospect Ben Smith. The missed games have likely contributed to Smith's early struggles, as he only has two assists through eight games with the Griffins. He will look to get on track as the season rolls on. Also struggling for Grand Rapids is third year defender Brian Lashoff. After suffering an injury plagued 2010-11 season, Lashoff was looking to get his game back this year. Unfortunately, Lashoff is pointless through 11 games.
Also on Grand Rapids blue line are prospects Logan Pyett, Travis Ehrhardt, and Sebastien Piche. Pyett is in his fourth season with the Griffins, and is looking to have a breakout year, as it could very well be his last as a Red Wings prospect. Ehrhardt and Piche have both struggled to remain in the line-up this season, unable to find a way to contribute on a nightly basis. Finally, Gleason Fournier is playing in his first year of pro hockey, spending the season as a member of the ECHL's Toledo Walleye. However, given the struggles Grand Rapids has experienced, Fournier could be called up sooner rather than later.
Overseas, the Red Wings have three players at the defensive position. After having a bit of an underwhelming first season for HV-71's top tier team, Adam Almqvist has bounced back some this season. While he started this season a bit shaky as well, Almqvist now has seven points through 17 games with the team. Not only that, but his overall games has looked better as well. Also playing in the SEL is Mattias Backman, who has been able to stay in the line-up for Linkoping this year, but has not put up much in terms of offense. Similarly, Alexei Marchenko has struggled offensively in his first season of top league play in the KHL. Unlike Backman, though, he has difficulty staying in the line-up on a consistent basis playing in just four games this season.
The Red Wings have three defenders playing at the collegiate level. Leading the pack this season is Nick Jensen. The 6'1, 195lbs defender has looked solid in all aspects of the game for St. Cloud State. He is a smart hockey player, possessing strong offensive and defensive instincts. In his sophomore year in the NCAA, Jensen is playing at a near point-per-game pace, putting up eight points through ten games.
Another skilled defender playing at the collegiate level is Ben Marshall. While his numbers are not popping out this year, Marshall has shown plenty of offensive potential for the University of Minnesota. His biggest issue during his rookie season has been his defensive positioning, something he will surely work on as the season continues.
Rounding out the collegiate defense corps is 6'3, 210lbs Max Nicastro, a physical defensive defenseman currently with Boston University.
Finishing off the defensive prospects, the Red Wings have three very promising blueliners from the junior leagues. The most impressive of the trio has been 6'3, 186lbs Ryan Sproul. Not only does Sproul possess strong offensive instincts, but he has the frame to turn himself into a solid two-way defender in time.
Out of the QMJHL, Armada defender Xavier Ouellet is struggling a little. He has solid numbers but has racked up too many penalty minutes, currently sitting second on the team with 31.
The biggest surprise of all defensive prospects for the Red Wings is Richard Nedomlel. When they drafted him in the sixth round, the Red Wings expected a hulking, physical defender. However, the 6'4, 202lbs Czech native has put up a surprising 13 points through 19 games. He has an unsightly minus-12, but is hardly alone on a team that has allowed almost 20 more goals than it has scored.
Perhaps the weakest spot for the organization, goaltending remains an issue for the Detroit Red Wings. Thomas McCollum was thought to be a potential piece of the Red Wings' future between the pipes when he was drafted 30th overall in 2008. Since turning pro in the 2009-10 season though, the 6'2, 210lbs netminder has struggled in Grand Rapids, finding his way to the ECHL each year since. He began the 2011-12 season in Toledo, where he has played in five games for the Walleye, posting a 1-3 record, a 2.57 goals against average, and .886 save percentage. While he cannot be counted out completely, McCollum has surely not panned out the way the Red Wings brass would have hoped.
Also playing in the pro ranks is 2009 free agent signee Jordan Pearce. After posting some impressive numbers during the 2010-11 season in Grand Rapids, pearce earned the backup role in the AHL over McCollum. He has struggled though, managing a 4.44 goals against average, a .852 save percemtage, and has allowed 12 goals in only 162 minutes of play.
The goaltender with the most potential in Detroit's system is junior netminder Petr Mrazek. While he is a bit slight in stature (6'01, 184lbs), the 19 year-old Czech native possesses great speed and athletic ability. After taking over the starting job for the OHL's Ottawa 67's last season, Mrazek is off to a great start with the team, posting a 2.76 goals against average and .922 save percentage in 16 games. Though it is still early in his career, Mrazek has certainly been a bright spot for the Red Wings, in an otherwise discouraging position for the team.