The Red Wings have 11 prospects playing in Europe and the NCAA, which accounts for just under a third of their total number of prospects. In Europe, forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Teemu Pulkkinen are players who show a lot of potential for the future, especially in terms of the offense they can bring. On the back-end, Adam Almqvist, Mattias Backman, and Alexei Marchenko have all showed signs of being potential NHL defenders one day.
At the NCAA level, Riley Sheahan stands out as one of the most complete players in the Red Wings' system, while defensemen Nick Jensen and Ben Marshall both made improvements to their overall game in the 2011-12 season.
Calle Jarnkrok, C, Brynas IF Gavle (SEL)
Drafted 2nd round, 51st overall, 2010
Jarnkrok continued his steady progression overseas as a member of Brynas IF Gavle. It seems as if every facet of his game has continued to improve in the past three seasons, effectively turning Jarnkrok into one of Detroit's most promising prospects at the forward position. His hockey sense and playmaking skills are among the best as far as Detroit's prospects are concerned.
Through 50 games, he has been able to put up 16 goals and 23 assists for 39 points. In addition to posting personal best offensive numbers, Jarnkrok has also maintained the strong two-way play that has made him such a good all-around player. He is also playing at a point-per-game pace in the SEL playoffs, where his Brynas team is playing Farjestads BK.
The sky appears to be the limit for Jarnkrok, as he has all the necessary skills to become a top six forward for the Red Wings in the future. He will return to Brynas next season for at least one more year, looking to maintain his consistent play and, perhaps, further boost his offensive totals.
Teemu Pulkkinen, RW, Jokerit Helsinki (SM-liiga)
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2010
The 2011-12 season left something to be desired for Teemu Pulkkinen, as least as far as his offensive production is concerned. After posting career highs in assists (36) and points (54) during the 2010-11 season, Pulkkinen saw his numbers drop off in his second full season as a member of Jokerit. Through 56 games, he managed to put up 16 goals and 21 assists for 37 points, good for second in scoring on his team.
While his numbers in SM-liiga leave something to be desired, Pulkkinen was able to put together an impressive campaign during the WJC 20 tournament. Through seven games, he put up six goals and four assists, contributing to Finland's fourth place finish in the tournament. He showed off his offensive instincts and booming shot, particularly while manning the blue line during powerplays.
Despite having an off year, Pulkkinen remains one of the most offensively gifted players in Detroit's system. He will get a chance to rebound from this year's dip in production, as he will return to Jokerit for the 2012-13 season.
Adam Almqvist, D, HV-71 Jonkoping (SEL)
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2010
Adam Almqvist has appeared to hit a bit of a wall in Sweden, at least as far as his point totals are considered. After exploding offensively two seasons ago for HV-71's U20 team, he has cooled off a bit. This season, Almqvist played 42 games for HV-71, scoring three goals and eight assists in the process. While his offensive totals may not show it, his offensive instincts are very good and it will be interesting to see how they play out moving forward. Almqvist will get a chance to open a new chapter in his career, as he is currently signed to an ATO contract with the Griffins, and all signs point to him joining the team for the 2012-13 season on a permanent basis.
Mattias Backman, D, Linkoping HC (SEL)
Drafted 5th round, 146th overall, 2011
Quietly moving up the ranks of Detroit's young defensive prospects is Swedish defender Mattias Backman. His offensive numbers do not really pop out, as he scored just eight points through 42 games on Linkoping. However, Backman plays a very intelligent and sound game, using his defensive positioning and size to limit offensive chances from the opposing team. Perhaps his skill was able to shine through best during the WJC tournament as a member of Sweden's blue line, where he notched three points through six games and made several strong defensive plays. If he can fill out his 6'3 frame and add another element to his game, Backman could turn out to be a very solid bottom pairing defenseman in the future.
Alexei Marchenko, D, CSKA Moscow (KHL)
Drafted 7th round, 205th overall, 2011
A much smoother 2011-12 season on the CSKA Moscow blue line was probably envisioned for Marchenko. He went down early in the year with a knee injury that limited his play in the KHL to just six games. The injury also took away his chance to perform in the WJC for Russia, where he could have shown off his skill set on an international level. Marchenko finished his year strong, however, playing for Moscow's lower tier team in the MHL where he put up two goals and four assists in five games.
Jesper Samuelsson, C, Vita Hasten (Division 1)
Drafted 7th round, 211th overall, 2008
Since being drafted in 2008, Jesper Samuelsson has not made the necessary steps to improve his game. While gluten intolerance has made it very difficult for him to put on weight, Samuelsson has also failed to make strides in other areas of his game. He is currently playing in Division 1 hockey in Sweden, two tiers below the Elitserien league, where he has 52 points through 40 games. All signs indicate that he is no longer in the Red Wings' plans.
Riley Sheahan, C, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (CCHA)
Drafted 1st round, 21st overall, 2010
In his junior year at Notre Dame, Riley Sheahan showed that he can be the type of player who can be counted on in crucial situations. Perhaps the most versatile prospect in Detroit's system, Sheahan possesses the size and defensive skills of an NHL-ready player. While he showed flares of offensive talent in the early parts of the season, his numbers trailed off a bit as the season wore on. He finished his season with the Fighting Irish scoring nine goals and 16 assists through 37 games.
Sheahan possesses all the intangibles of a third or fourth-liner NHLer, but also has offensive upside that could be met in the near future. His face-off skills, defensive positioning and stick work are superb, and while he does not throw his weight around too much, he has great balance. Sheahan's defensive skills were impressive enough to garner him a nomination for the CCHA's award for best defensive forward.
Deciding to sign an ATO contract with the Griffins, he will be starting the 2012-13 season as a member of the Grand Rapids Griffins, as he has decided to forego his last year at Notre Dame. Expect Sheahan to get plenty of time on the penalty kill, and a chance to hone his offensive skills in the AHL.
Nick Jensen, D, St. Cloud State Huskies (WCHA)
Drafted 5th round, 150th overall, 2009
As a sophomore at St. Cloud State, Nick Jensen proved himself to be a valuable piece on the St. Cloud State blue line. Logging top pairing minutes on the team, Jensen lead all Huskies defenders in scoring with six goals and 26 assists in 39 games. He played a huge part on their powerplay throughout the season, and made strides in improving his all-around game with the team. His speed alone made Jensen a huge asset for the Huskies, while developing his defensive and physical game pushed him to become one of the most important defensemen on the team.
Heading into the 2012-13 season as a junior on the team, Jensen will look to be the top defender for the Huskies. With his all-around game improving every season, he will find himself playing in all situations for the team. If his progression continues the way it has, Jensen could become one of the top defensive prospects in Detroit's system.
Ben Marshall, D, Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
Drafted 7th round, 201st overall, 2010
Ben Marshall's first season with the Golden Gophers can be seen as relatively successful. Marshall has become an important part of the team's powerplay in his Freshmen year, sitting at fourth in scoring among defenders on the team with four goals and nine assists through 40 games. Additionally, he has grown defensively throughout the season, boasting an impressive plus-14 rating while making better positional and puck moving decisions.
Perhaps the most important note regarding Marshall is that his Golden Gophers are one of the four remaining teams in the NCAA's Frozen Four tournament. While they are up against the heavily favored Boston College, Minnesota has played as well as any one as of late. Regardless of their fate, going this far into the Frozen Four tournament is good for Marshall's progression as a defender.
Julien Cayer, C, Clarkson Golden Knights (ECAC)
Drafted 5th round, 151st overall, 2008
While his offensive numbers leave something to be desired, five goals and five assists through 30 games, Julien Cayer possesses the kind of grit and toughness not often seen in Red Wings prospects. Combining swift skating with his 6'4, 195lbs frame, Cayer can sometimes been compared to a wrecking ball on the ice. With all of this in mind, the 2011-12 season was his last chance to make an impression with the Red Wings' brass, and earn himself a contract. Should Detroit decide to sign Cayer, he will likely spend some time in the ECHL next year, with the Griffins being fairly deep at the center position.
Max Nicastro, D, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)
Drafted 3rd round, 91st overall, 2008
Unfortunately for Max Nicastro, he may have seen his NHL career fade away in late February when he was charged with a criminal act. He was kicked off the team and has since pled not guilty to the charges brought against him. Before the black spot on his season, he was having a relatively average year with Boston, scoring just nine points through 27 games with the team.