The Detroit Red Wings played eight rookies in 2005-06,
with only Johan Franzen and Niklas Kronwall starting the year in Detroit. Brett Lebda surprised many when he got the call to replace Kronwall in the first half of the season and
Jiri Fischer in the second. He did not look out of place, however, and will likely get a shot at the roster in 2006-07.
Johan Franzen, C — 6’2, 207 lbs
Franzen’s mature and steady game made him a great fit for the Wings’ third line in 2005-06. He contributed much-needed size to
the forward corps and was the only rookie to play 80 games in 2005-06. He possesses a hard wrist shot and is difficult to knock of the puck,
but his size is more valuable than his offensive contribution.
Franzen was Detroit’s first choice and 97th overall in 2004, after four decent years in Sweden’s Elite League. The big center was drafted
late in life. He turned 27 in December of 2005, barely making him an eligible rookie by NHL standards. Though Franzen will not win any scoring titles, he plays a strong and mature game. His defensive contribution is needed in Detroit. Franzen and
linemates Kirk Maltby and Dan Clearly, were successful in wearing down and aggravating opponents all season. His position on the
grind line is safe and he will return to Detroit next year. He likely won’t contribute much more offense than he did in
2005-06 since at his age is not likely to improve much further.
Brett Lebda, D — 5’9, 195 lbs
A former Notre Dame defensemen who signed with Detroit as a free agent in April of
2004, Lebda arrived in at the 2005 training camp with little chance of making the Wings roster. The second-year defenseman played a limited role in Grand Rapids in 2004-05 and most expected him to return
there to develop size and strength. His speed and playmaking ability, however, were noticed by Detroit management and Lebda jumped ahead of a few veteran AHL defensemen to claim a
left open by an injured Kronwall on the opening day roster.
Lebda was reassigned back to the Griffins on occasion
this year, where he producing 4 goals and 14 assists in 25 games during the regular season. Recalled to Detroit for the playoffs, Lebda occasionally played more minutes than veteran NHL defensemen Jason
Wooley and Corey Cross, when Babcock felt his speed and finesse would contribute more.
Lebda’s strength is his tremendous skating ability. He is very fast and agile on his skates and possesses the puck skills to open up the ice and develop scoring chances.
Though in his rookie campaign with Detroit, Lebda scored only 12 points in 46 regular season games, he is capable at producing more offense and will need to if he is to remain in Detroit next year. He might have played well enough to return to Detroit for the 2006-07 season, but needs to add strength in the offseason. Adding physically element to his game would greatly improve his contribution.
Niklas Kronwall, D — 5’11, 194 lbs
Kronwall’s anticipated rookie campaign had to wait till February. The 2004-05 AHL defenseman of the year suffered a knee injury
in training camp that kept him sidelined until the Olympic break. In 27 games, Kronwall posted a goal and
eight assists and +11. The Swedish defenseman has been labeled “Baby Lidstrom” because of his skill and potential as an all around player. Though not quite at the level of the Detroit superstar, Kronwall is highly skilled in nearly all facets of the game. Kronwall does not back down from physical play and thrives on
hard open-ice hits.
Kronwall’s development is important for Detroit,
who drafted him in the first round in 2001. Kronwall has earned a spot on the Wings roster in 2006-07 and is a valuable addition to
the blue line. He will see top-four minutes in 2006-07 and has the potential to contribute considerable offense. Kronwall’s play improved throughout the remainder of the season. Expect him to improve his numbers in 2006-07.
Valterri Filppula, C — 5’11, 204 lbs
Filppula finished the 2005-06 season in Grand Rapids, fifth for team scoring with 70 points in 74 games in his first year in North America. Though he played only
four games in Detroit, Filppula is exciting prospect. He continues to adapt quickly and exceed expectations at each level.
Filppula was an essential component to the Griffins tough second line and Red Wings expect him to develop into the same role in Detroit. More of a playmaker than a goal scorer,
his skating ability and cerebral style allows him to find linemates and create
chances, while his aggressive approach he aggravates opponents and draws penalties.
Filppula continues to impress at each level. In 2005-06,
he proved he can play in North America. Though he may challenge for a depth spot with the Wings in 2006-07, he would benefit from another year with Grand Rapids where he can log more ice time. Look for Filppula to be an essential part of the Griffins top two lines in 2006-07. He should see multiple call-ups throughout the season if he doesn’t earn a
position in Detroit in 2006-07.
Jiri Hudler, C — 5’10, 183 lbs
For Hudler, a breakout season could not have come at a better time. He had an up and down year in
2004-05; interrupted by an injured ankle and illness to his father back home in the Czech Republic, Hudler struggled with inconsistency when he return to Grand Rapids, posting only
34 points in 52 games. Hudler rebounded nicely, however, posting 96 points in 76 regular season games in 2005-06.
Hudler is purely offensive. He is surprisingly mobile on his skate and passes
very well. He is a talented puck-handler with an above average wrist shot and has elite-level vision. Unlike teammate Filppula, who plays a more complete game, Hudler does not challenge opponents physically, but relies on his offensive skills to create room for scoring chances.
Though he received little chance to prove himself in Detroit, playing only four contests in the NHL, Hudler played on Detroit’s top scoring line when he did play. Hudler has top-line offensive talent, which is not a weak spot for Detroit.
An exciting prospect, size, strength, and maturity are still big concerns for Hudler.
Tomas Kopecky, C — 6’3, 205 lbs
In his first three years as a pro in Grand
Rapids, Kopecky was disappointing offensively. In 2005-06, centering a line with Darryl Bootland and Filppula, Kopecky not only shattered his former season totals, but has played an aggressive game that made his season’s contribution to the AHL-leading Griffins invaluable. Kopecky’s 123 penalty minutes in 2005-06
are up from 35 in 48 games 2004-05.
The big Slovak has always had offensive talent, but has not played consistently. The second round pick in 2000 was signed to a one-year contract in the summer of 2005. Kopecky was under pressure to earn another
contract and responded well. This season, Kopecky has shown that he can play the agitator as well as outmaneuver opponents with excellent puck and skating skills. He
was able to contribute defensively as well.
Kopecky will challenge for a roster spot in next
season’s training camp. Though the Wings would like to add his size to their bench next season,
he may be a year, and another successful season, from gaining a secure spot on the Wings’ roster. He will be
re-signed in the offseason and should see frequent call-ups in 2006-07.
Kyle Quincey, D — 6’2, 215 lbs
Quincey began 2005-06 scoring at a better clip than any other
defenseman in Grand Rapids. Though his scoring slowed as the season progressed,
he enjoyed a better-than-expected rookie campaign. He got the call-up to Detroit in late November, but played only one game before returning to Grand Rapids.
Being called up in his first season as a pro shows what Detroit thinks of its 2003 fourth round pick.
Though Quincey is projected as a defensive defenseman,
he boasts a powerful point shot. Quincey is good skater with speed and mobility and plays an all-around strong and disciplined game. He has strong penalty-killing potential. As one of the best defensemen for the Griffins in 2005-06, Quincey made a seemingly effortless transition to the
pros and may be NHL-ready as soon as next season. He will likely spend 2006-07 in Grand Rapids, but has the size and maturity to play in Detroit if the opportunity permits.
Jimmy Howard, G — 6’0, 215
Howard won his debut with the Wings in November. He would only play three more in Detroit before a healthy Chris Osgood resumed his place in Detroit and Howard returned to Grand Rapids. Another injury, this time to
Griffin Joey McDonald, handed Howard the starting job in Grand Rapids. Howard performed well enough Grand Rapids to claim a spot on AHL’s 2005-06
All-Rookie team, but had some strings of weak outings in the first half of his first pro year.
Howard is a disciplined goalie who executes solid positioning and reflexes to defend the net. He is competent in a butterfly or stand-up role and possesses the reach to cover the net. At 6’0 and 218 pounds, Howard is good size for a goalie. He has the stick-skills to confidently control the puck and cover rebounds. Howard is an intense player, though he is known for keeping his concentration.
Howard is the most talented goalie in Detroit’s pipeline. Given the situation in Detroit, Howard is a serious candidate to make the roster in 2006-07. Though another year, or even two,
might be ideal for Howard’s development, he will challenge for a position and depending on Detroit’s
offseason dealings, may get the job.
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