Success in Hockeytown is measured in Stanley Cups, but unfortunately, the Detroit Red Wings and their local affiliates came up well short of their intended goals this past season. The Red Wings made the playoffs but failed to advance past the division rival Nashville Predators in the first round. The AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins missed the playoffs altogether. They won just three of their final 10 games down the stretch and missed the playoffs by nine points. At the ECHL level, the Toledo Walleye posted the third-worst record in the league as they were unable to clinch a postseason berth for the second straight season. It was a disappointing spring for most Red Wings prospects abroad as well, though there were several notable exceptions.
On the powerhouse Saint John Sea Dogs, Slovakian import Tomas Jurco made significant contributions to the Sea Dogs quest to repeat as Memorial Cup champs. While they were unsuccessful in re-capturing Major Junior hockey's biggest prize, they did steamroll the rest of the QMJHL during the playoffs going 16-1 en route to another President's Cup championship. Before being upset and ousted by host team Shawinigan in the Memorial Cup semi-finals, Jurco poured in 15 goals and 32 points in 20 games.
Defenseman and 2011 second-round pick Xavier Ouellet has jumped leaps and bounds in his development on what was supposed to be a bottom of the rack team in the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. Ouellet served as the captain of the Armada and led them to the playoffs, quite literally in fact. With 21 goals and 60 points from the blue line, Ouellet was fourth on the team in goals and second in points and a rock defensively as he was named a First Team QMJHL All-Star in the process. Ouellet's strong play continued into the playoffs which saw his team go the distance in the second round against Rimouski losing by one goal in game seven. Ouellet had 10 points in 11 games while being a plus-three in the postseason.
Goaltender Petr Mrazek starred for the Czechs at the World Junior Championships as the calendar turned to 2012 and he carried his confident, big-game stealing ways into the postseason with the Ottawa 67's. He played in 17 games going 9-8 with a 2.59 goals against average and .926 save percentage as Ottawa dispatched Belleville and Barrie before losing to a talent-laden Niagara club in the third round. His aggressive, athletic style puts him in prime position to steal games and make highlight reel stops. The same style can lead to some inconsistencies in his technique and serve to be destructive at points as well. He thrives in big time situations though, and is fired up by the intense atmosphere around him. As a professional, his technique, at least, will be roped in a bit to fit into the more structured AHL and NHL game – whether his demeanor follows suit is another story all together. Better positioning and better focus should help to stem the tide of the odd bad goals he gives up from time to time. His lightning quick glove has been thieving would-be goal scorers of tallies all season long and will be a great asset to him at any level of play. Already armed with an entry-level contract, Mrazek hopes to become the starter in Grand Rapids (AHL) next season and with Thomas McCollum struggling and Jordan Pearce failing to set the world ablaze, the door is wide open for him.
Over in Sweden, Calle Jarnkrok's impressive playoff performance lent an extraordinary hand to Brynas' capturing of the Elitserien championship. The 2010 second round pick finished fourth in playoff scoring with 16 points in 16 games and second overall in assists with 12. His plus-12 rating was also second in the playoffs to teammate and talented prospect Jakob Silfverberg (OTT). Jarnkrok, a heady two-way centerman, did a fine job setting up Silfverberg so he could unleash his vicious shot both at even strength and on the power play (the latter generally runs through Jarnkrok).
Mattias Backman, a defenseman for Linkoping (SEL) was sent down to the J20 SuperElit level for the playoffs where he registered eight points in six games and helped his club capture the Anton Cup as champions of the league.
Alexei Marchenko, Detroit's seventh round pick in 2011, finished his injury-riddled year strong in the MHL playoffs. In Russia's top junior league, Marchenko helped CSKA to the finals with a nice effort from the back line. He led all defensemen in points and was tied for second overall in the playoffs with 18 of them in 19 games. The lanky rearguard is a very good skater and can lug the puck up the ice with effectiveness and finish the rush with a crisp pass and excellent scoring opportunity. Hoping to put the injuries behind him, Marchenko would like to eventually move to the North American game but will hopefully gain more experience in the KHL first.
The Wings signed two of their big name picks in the 2010 draft in Riley Sheahan and Teemu Pulkkinen. Sheahan actually appeared in one NHL game, effectively burning a year off his entry-level deal. He'll be expected to start the 2011-12 season in the AHL. Both players will need to add strength before they can contend for spots in the NHL.
The Wings are attempting to sign Tomas Jurco but the process has become dicey. According to Jurco's agent, J.P. Barry, the Red Wings and he have settled on the terms of an entry-level contract, however it cannot be filed with the league due to the lack of an agreeable transfer agreement between Slovakia and the NHL. The NHL has extended the window to sign such prospects until June 15th (typically there is a moratorium on signing entry-level contracts between June 1st through July 1st) which would allow Jurco to play in the AHL (or NHL, of course) next season. He is eligible to return to Saint John for an overage season, but that's not a direction the Red Wings or Jurco's representation seem too interested in as, developmentally, he is ready for a new challenge. When asked whether Jurco may have to spend a year in Slovakia's pro league, Barry expressed optimism to Hockey's Future that it would not come down to that but did not rule it out completely.
If and when the Wings do sign Jurco, they will get a silky smooth stickhandler, who can weave in and out of the tightest of spaces and make plays. He has good hockey sense and anticipation skills which he invests offensively more than defensively but he exhibits the ability to learn, which should earn him the adulation of Detroit's brass in due time. Jurco saw significant minutes throughout the Sea Dogs championship run and seems poised to move on to the next level.
Ouellet was also signed to an entry-level deal. The French-born defenseman proved to be an all-situation minute muncher with a penchant for strong positional play and an accurate shot from far out. Though he took over 200 shots this year (second on the club) he is a smooth playmaker who exhibits terrific vision. His hockey sense comes to the forefront on the other side of the puck and now that he has shown a bit more physicality, he ranks as one of the most complete defensemen in the QMJHL with another year to go.
Ryan Sproul, who missed the playoffs entirely with the Soo Greyhounds, was signed to a three-year offering. The 2011 draft pick was a solid presence at both ends of the ice for a Greyhounds team that had difficulty keeping the puck out of their own net. A solid puck-distributor, Sproul managed 54 points in 61 regular season games.
The Wings also signed Calle Jarnkrok to an entry-level deal at the end of May. Though smart and positionally sound, Jarnkrok can be over-matched on the ice physically. When the going gets rough, it's tougher for Jarnkrok to perform and he tries to exact his revenge by drawing penalties and attacking with the man advantage. He's a smooth puck-handler and adept passer but will likely require a state of the art sniper by his side to unleash his full potential. If the Finals against Skelleftea is any indication, the 6' 176-pound forward will need to improve his strength before he moves on to the rigorous North American game.