Once a source of strength, questions abound for Detroit Red Wings prospects in Europe

By Ryan Womeldorf
Axel Holmstrom - Detroit Red Wings

Photo: Detroit’s seventh-round pick of 2014, Axel Holmstrom, has been the team’s top-performing prospect in Europe for two seasons (courtesy of Skelleftea AIK/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

 

 

Though many of the best prospects in the Detroit Red Wings system to start the 2015-16 season have graduated into the NHL, the franchise still has some quality prospects across the system. In particular, the team seems to have invested heavily in the European hockey scene. They have a half-dozen prospects playing abroad right now, led by names like Joren van Pottelberghe and Axel Holmstrom. Though the majority of their top prospects are CHL products, there are a few potential gems hidden across the pond. In addition to those prospects, the Red Wings have taken a chance on a few prospects who will develop at the collegiate level. No one on the list possesses the quality of one-time Michigan Wolverine Dylan Larkin, but there are a few late-round picks that have the talent to develop.

NCAA

Mike McKee, D, Western Michigan Broncos (NCHC)
Drafted 5th round, 140th overall, 2012

McKee is a project in every sense of the word. At one time, he was a big-bodied winger with limited upside who has since been moved to defense during his career at Western Michigan. His offense has not been there in three years with the Broncos, amassing just four goals and nine points in 80 career games.

Injuries have played a part in his development at WMU, but McKee is still learning the nuances of the game on defense. He has a huge frame and skates well for a guy his size, but McKee has to show that he can be a shutdown defender if he isn’t going to be able to chip in offensively.

James de Haas, D, Clarkson Golden Knights (ECAC)


Drafted 6th round, 170th overall, 2012

Like McKee, de Haas is a big-bodied defender who skates well for his size. Fortunately for de Haas, he is a natural defenseman that has been taking on big minutes for the Golden Knights over the past two seasons. In 2015-16, as a junior, de Haas has taken on a leadership role, adding an “A” to his sweater while logging top-pairing minutes. His offensive numbers are decent, as he has set a career-best in points with 16 in 36 games this season. De Haas is a no-frills defenseman that needs to refine his all-around game going forward.

David Pope, LW, Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (NCHC)

Drafted 4th round, 109th overall, 2013

The young Pope is still finding his way on the collegiate scene for the University of Nebraska-Omaha, this being his sophomore season. After posting eight goals and 14 points in 33 games as a freshman, it was expected that Pope would make the jump forward this season, but that just hasn’t been the case.

Injuries and difficulty finding a consistent spot in the lineup have plagued him so far as he had just four goals and eight points in 31 games for the Mavericks this season. Pope appears to have the raw skills to be an interesting prospect going forward, but can’t seem to put it together.

Europe

Joren Van Pottelberghe, G, Linköping HC J20 (SuperElit)

Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, 2015

The big Swiss netminder still did not make the jump to the SHL this season as was expected, but has kept himself busy otherwise. He posted okay numbers for Linkoping’s junior club, sporting a 2.63 goals against average and .896 save percentage in 19 appearances this season as well as making appearances on the international scene with the Swiss U-20 team, including a starting role at the 2016 World Juniors.

Van Pottelberghe will be shown tons of patience as he continues to develop. He will be making the jump to HC Davos of the Swiss NLA in 2016-17, where he can hopefully lock down the starting gig and continue his development.

Axel Holmström, RW, Skellefteå AIK (SHL)


Drafted 7th round, 196th overall, 2014

Holmstrom continues to show why he may be a diamond in the rough in terms of the Red Wins overseas prospects. On loan to Skelleftea AIK, he acquitted himself well on what was the best team in the SHL this season. With eight goals and 23 points, he found himself among the top 10 scorers on a team that featured two of the top 10 and four of the top 33 scorers in the league. Holmstrom and his team now look to seal the deal in the championship series against Frölunda. He is off his torrid scoring pace from last season, but has a respectable six points in ten playoff games.

At 19, Holmstrom still has time to improve in Sweden before even considering a jump to North America. Perhaps another full season with Skelleftea, with improved ice time, could see him make a huge jump in the Red Wings rankings.

Hampus Melén, RW, Mörrums GoIS (Division 1)

Drafted 7th round, 199th overall, 2013

At 21 years old, Melen is still very much a project. He has spent the last three seasons dabbling in the SuperElit, showing good promise with the Vaxjo Lakers junior program before moving on to Morrums GoIS, in Sweden’s third tier. In eight games there he did not post a point.

Melen has good playmaking ability and shows good offensive instincts, but he is still very lanky and unrefined at this stage of the game. This is his third year in the Red Wings system and it is uncertain if he will amount to much the Wings can use at this point.

Julius Vähätalo, LW, TPS (Liiga)


Drafted 6th round, 166th overall, 2014

The last two seasons have been something of a transition for Vahatalo and he continues to slowly develop in the Finnish Liiga for TPS. A huge-bodied winger, Vahatalo continues to hone his skating skills while building on his offensive game, showing a stronger knack for putting the puck in the back of the net than in previous years.

Through 49 games this season, Vahatalo had nine goals and 13 points, up from the goal and assist he posted in 36 games with TPS in 2014-15, but was held off the scoresheet in the playoffs.

He continues to find improved ice time and is honing his game each year. After displaying improved scoring ability in 2015-16, bigger and better could be ahead for Vahatalo in the future.

Christoffer Ehn, C, Frölunda HC (SHL)


Drafted 4th round, 106th overall, 2014

Much like the 2014-15 season, Ehn has bounced around yet again in 2015-16. He started the year like a house of fire for Frolunda’s junior squad, posting nine goals and 16 points in his first 14 games with the club. That was good enough to earn him a promotion to the big club. But like 2014-15, he struggled to find his place. In 36 games, he managed just a pair of assists before being loaned to BIK Karlskoga of the Allsvenskan. Since that, he has begun to find his offense again, posting five points in 13 games. He has not registered a point in the playoffs.

Ehn has obvious offensive abilities, but his biggest enemy seems to be finding playing time at the highest level Sweden has to offer. It is a problem many young players face and he will have to work hard to overcome that obstacle.

Alexander Kadeykin, C, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)

Drafted 7th round, 201st overall, 2014

The 2015-16 season marks the first full season of KHL play since 2013-14 for the younger brother of former New Jersey Devils prospect Anton Kadeykin. Injury and a change of scenery in 2014-15 landed him with SKA St. Petersburg, where he attempted to find his offensive game as well as consistent ice time. Despite that, the 22-year-old managed 11 points in 48 games for stacked squad. Kadeykin has not played a similar role in the post-season, as he has appeared in just four games while his team contends for the Gagarin Cup.

Displaying a solid two-way game, Kadeykin’s skating still needs work and he still needs to find some consistency to his offensive game. Still, with good hands and a big frame, he has the potential to continue his development and become a name worth watching down the line.

Prospect of the Month

Evgeny Svechnikov - Detroit Red WingsAlthough other Red Wings prospects will have their chances with the Stanley Cup and the Calder Cup playoffs getting underway, one player has been increasingly strong in the post-season. Evgeny Svechnikov of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles has been key in getting his squad into the second round of the QMJHL playoffs. Though ended up 20 points behind top 2016 prospect Pierre-Luc Dubois during the regular season – having played 12 fewer contests –  Svechnikov is second in playoff scoring for the team, with 13 points in ten games so far. The big Russian winger with the rocket shot is a major source of hope for Detroit right now, and willing his team to an upset against a strong Saint John squad would be another huge positive for this season.

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