Spring is just around the corner, and as the weather heats up so too does the on-ice action in leagues around the world. As we reach the end of the season in junior hockey and the stretch run in professional hockey we pause to look back at how prospects in the Detroit Red Wings organization have progressed since the puck first dropped last fall.
To borrow a metaphor more commonly associated with the other team Mike Ilitch owns, the Red Wings swung for the fences in free agency during the summer of 2012 and ended up striking out. Upon closer examination, however, it appears that Detroit might have budding stars within the organization that could make people forget the summer of 2012 altogether in the very near future. From the astounding rise of Petr Mrazek to the emergence of a host of former Griffins now playing for the Red Wings, it appears that Detroit has stocked their cupboards with plenty of NHL talent.
1. (1) Brendan Smith, D, 8.0B
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2007
What more can be said about Smith? He remains Detroit's top prospect primarily because of his offensive upside from the blue line. He is adept at starting the rush and is a good skater to boot, and though his defensive game has improved it remains an area that he must work on.
The 2013 season has been something of a mixed bag for Smith. He has been a member of the Red Wings since the lockout ended, finally earning the roster spot he had been groomed for over the past two seasons in Grand Rapids. Smith, however, only played in four games in February due to a shoulder injury and only has three points (all assists) on the season. Though Smith needs to prove that, his offensive skills translate to the NHL level his overall talents are still great enough to earn him the top spot on Detroit's prospect list.
2. (2) Gustav Nyquist, LW, 8.0C
Drafted 4th round, 121st overall, 2008
Nyquist's 2012-13 season has been the opposite of Brendan Smith's. Whereas Smith has been promoted to the NHL and seems likely to never see the AHL again, Nyquist cannot seem to stick with the Red Wings, despite having a skill level that is virtually the same as Smith's.
Nyquist has taken this in stride and made the best of his opportunity in the AHL. He has more points (60) than games played (58) and earned himself a spot on the AHL's Western Conference All-Star roster. The Red Wings' logjam at forward certainly is not helping Nyquist stick in the NHL, but he has been called up for a total of seven games so far during the 2013 season, scoring a goal and an assist. Even if it may be premature to all Detroit his permanent home, his dynamic scoring ability and steady defensive game have earned him a steady opportunity in March.
3. (7) Petr Mrazek, G, 8.0C
Drafted 5th round, 141st overall, 2010
When the Red Wings drafted Mrazek it was difficult to tell what they were getting. It turns out that Mrazek is the only prospect in recent memory to play so well that he has bucked the tried-and-true Detroit system of allowing prospects to over-ripen before making it to the NHL. Mrazek has rocketed from the OHL, to the ECHL, to the AHL, and to the NHL in one year. His raw skill and athletic ability have propelled him to success at every level as evidenced by his .922 save percentage and 2.02 goals against average in two NHL starts to go along with a .916 save percentage and 2.33 goals against average in 35 AHL games. For the time being it seems that Mrazek will only see NHL time as an injury call-up, but over the long-term it appears that he is Detroit's starter-in-waiting.
4. (4) Tomas Tatar, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 60th overall, 2009
If Gustav Nyquist ever needs to talk to someone familiar with his situation he assuredly can turn to Tomas Tatar. Despite achieving a great deal of offensive success with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins (57 points in 2010-11 and 58 points in 2011-12) and playing in nine NHL games in 2010-11 Tatar never got the call to rejoin the Red Wings in 2011-12. Things have changed in 2012-13, as Tatar suited up for Detroit in 18 games and has tallied four goals and seven points. Tatar has a superb scorer’s touch, good puck skills, and is not afraid to drive the net. These skills caught the attention of Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock, as Tatar was even utilized on Detroit’s power play. Tatar was returned to Grand Rapids in mid-March but will be the first call-up if injuries hamper the Red Wings.
5. (5) Calle Jarnkrok, C, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 51st overall, 2010
Jarnkrok often draws comparisons to fellow countryman Henrik Zetterberg, and the 2012-13 season has only helped to solidify this. Like Zetterberg, Jarnkrok is a true playmaker who boasts scoring ability but often defers to teammates. He finished eighth in Swedish Elite League scoring with 13 goals and 29 assists over the 53 game 2012-13 season. Criticism of Jarnkrok has often come in the form of comments about his lack of size and poor faceoff skills. The Red Wings may have a true center on their hands as he vastly improved his abilities in the faceoff circle during the 2012-13 season. Though he needs to continue to bulk up he has steadily increased his weight since being drafted. Perhaps the true test of Jarnkrok’s abilities will come when he moves to the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins to finish this season.
6. (8) Riley Sheahan, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 21st overall, 2010
Enigmatic may be the best word to sum up Riley Sheahan’s hockey career thus far. He appears to have a great deal of offensive upside, but that came into question after he never scored more than 25 points in a season during his college career at Notre Dame. These questions seem to have been answered, as Sheahan is playing much more like the prospect the Red Wings thought they were getting than the one people were questioning in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Sheahan is currently Grand Rapids’ fourth leading scorer with 16 goals and 19 assists for 35 points and also has a plus-12 rating. Sheahan is projected to add size and grit to Detroit’s lineup while also providing a bit of third or fourth line scoring in the near future. One more skill to add to the scouting report on Sheahan: intelligence. He only has 95 shots on goal but is converting those shots to goals at a 16.8% pace.
7. (9) Ryan Sproul, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 55th overall, 2011
The 2011-12 season showed that Sproul had rare offensive skills for a defenseman, notching 54 points and leading all OHL defensemen with 23 goals. What has happened in 2012-13, however, is impressive even for a prospect with this type of pedigree. Despite missing six weeks with a broken forearm Sproul has recorded 66 points in only 50 games, including a whopping 46 assists. Sproul has been rewarded for his play by twice being named the OHL's Defenseman of the Month in 2012-13. More improvement is needed on the defensive side of his game, but Sproul will get the time he needs to work on that when he likely moves from the OHL to the AHL in 2013-14.
8. (10) Xavier Ouellet, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 28th overall, 2011
Ouellet scored at nearly a point-per-game pace in 2011-12 and appeared poised for a breakout QMJHL season in 2012-13. This breakout season has not come to fruition, but Ouellet has still had a productive season in 2012-13. Ouellet has 41 points in 50 games, with the most severe hit to his statistics coming in the form of goals. Whereas Ouellet scored 21 goals in 63 games in 2011-12 he only has 10 goals in 50 games in 2012-13. Ouellet did have the honor of being selected for Canada's World Junior Championship team and posted one goal and two assists in six games played. Despite the dip in offensive statistics Ouellet still has the hockey IQ and smooth skating ability to play in the AHL, where he will likely ply his trade in 2013-14.
9. (3) Tomas Jurco, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2011
Moving from the QMJHL to the AHL has not been kind to Tomas Jurco's statistics. Jurco tallied 68 points in 48 games in the QMJHL in 2011-12 but has scored just 21 points in 62 AHL games in 2012-13. This does not, however, mean that Jurco has lost the eye-popping skills that have made him a popular search on Youtube. He still can turn defenders inside out given space but needs to work on his ability to play in traffic. Jurco is a dynamic playmaker whose puck skills speak for themselves, but it is his tremendous work ethic that has endeared him to Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill. If Jurco continues to work on his game he should have no problem finding a spot on Detroit's top two lines a few years from now.
10. (11) Martin Frk, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 49th overall, 2012
Frk started the 2012-13 season slowly but has since experienced an offensive explosion, recording 35 goals and 49 assists in 56 QMJHL regular season games. His playoffs got off to a bang as well with a massive five-goal, three-assist performance in the team's first post-season game. Though he is playing with two players in Nathan Mackinnon and Jonathan Drouin who are likely to be high first round picks in the 2013 NHL Draft that does not diminish how potent Frk's offensive skills can be. He boasts a quick and heavy shot but has also improved his passing abilities. The Czech Ice Hockey Association took note and selected Frk to represent his country in the 2013 WJC. Frk did not disappoint, scoring three goals and adding an assist in six games. Taken altogether, it appears that the Red Wings may have landed the first round talent Frk was projected to be prior to suffering a concussion that derailed four months of his 2011-12 season and caused his draft stock to slip.
11. (6) Teemu Pulkkinen, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2010
It was starting to appear as though Pulkkinen's SM-liiga record for most rookie assists in a season may have just been a fluke. He ended the 2011-12 season in a slump and could not seem to shake his offensive woes in 2012-13. This has all changed in the second half of the 2012-13 season, as Pulkkinen somewhat salvaged his statistics and scored 34 points in 59 games. The real question surrounding Pulkkinen is attempting to figure out which player he really is; the record setting setup man or the slumping scorer. Another summer of improving his strength and off-ice condition should position Pulkkinen for a smooth transition to the North American game, though it is not known when he will make that jump.
12. (13) Brian Lashoff, D, 6.5C
Signed as free agent, September 2008
To say tht Brian Lashoff has exceeded expectations is a wild understatement. Prior to the 2012-13 season it appeared that Lashoff would be called up to the NHL as an injury replacement and nothing more. Fast forward a few months and Lashoff is fresh off signing a new three-year contract extension with the Red Wings. He made the most of his opportunity when called up to Detroit and has impressed the front office with his high hockey IQ and solid defensive play. Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock has entrusted Lashoff with important minutes on the penalty kill, and if this season's performance is any indication, he should be fixture on Detroit's blue line for years to come.
13. (18) Landon Ferraro, C, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2009
When Landon Ferraro was drafted it appeared that the Red Wings were getting a high scoring center, a player who put up 37 goals in 68 WHL games during the 2008-09 season. Since being drafted Ferraro's offensive production has fallen off, but he has seen something of a goal scoring renaissance in 2012-13. He has scored 19 goals in 61 games with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins, his highest total since he was with the WHL's Red Deer Rebels in 2009-10. Ferraro's game seems to have finally adjusted to the AHL, and he once again projects as a two-way center who is adept defensively but with great speed and a scorer's touch.
14. (14) Joakim Andersson, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2007
It took Andersson a full season to get acclimated to the AHL, but his adjustment to the NHL has taken place far quicker. Andersson has provided the 2012-13 Red Wings with a sizable center who has a scoring touch, a player who is equally well suited for both the penalty kill and the power play. Andersson is logging a little over 10 minutes of ice time per game in the NHL, but if he continues to play the way he has (seven points in 22 games) he could be due for an increase in ice time in the very near future. Expect him to stick with Detroit through at least the end of the season; this is the last year of his entry level contract and Detroit will likely push to re-sign him in the off-season.
15. (17) Mattias Backman, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 146th overall, 2011
Perhaps the greatest offensive improvement of any prospect in the Red Wings system has been Backman's. He had eight points in 42 Swedish Elite League games in 2011-12, but has blown that point total out of the water with 26 points in 52 SEL games in 2012-13. He will not be counted on to score goals at the next level (one goal in 2011-12 and two goals in 2012-13) but he has shown improvement in his offensive instincts, and this has translated into more than tripling his assists in 2012-13. Backman initially caught the eye of scouts because he plays such a sound defensive game, but it appears that his on-ice vision offensively is now catching up to his defensive game. He will likely spend one more season in the SEL before moving to the AHL, and that season should go a long way towards telling what Backman's future in Detroit will be.
16. (12) Nick Jensen, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 150th overall, 2009
Calling the 2012-13 season a disappointment is a disservice to Jensen, but he certainly has not had the breakthrough offensively that it appeared he was poised to have. Jensen has recorded four goals and 26 assists in 39 games, which is certainly a fine total for a defenseman playing college hockey but is a step behind the six goals and 26 assists he recorded in 39 games in 2011-12. Jensen still possesses spectacular speed and skating abilities does indeed have offensive upside, though many will be watching to see whether he is able to increase his points total during his senior season at St. Cloud State University in 2013-14.
17. (15) Adam Almquist, D, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 210th overall, 2009
The North American game has been kind to Almquist's offensive output. He has more goals (6), assists (18), and points (24) in 2012-13 than he ever has in his pro career. At 5'11 and 174 pounds he does not possess ideal NHL size but has largely silenced critics with the improvement in his offensive game. He is a very intelligent player with and without the puck, but still needs to add to his frame if he hopes to handle the rigors of daily NHL action.
18. (NR) Andreas Athanasiou, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, 2012
After a disappointing 2011-12 season that saw him scratched from the lineup and then traded in the off-season to the Barrie Colts, Athanasiou has had a breakthrough season. He has 29 goals and 38 assists for 67 points, setting new career highs in those offensive categories. Athanasiou has always had the type of blinding speed that creates offensive opportunities, but it was not until the 2012-13 season that he was able to consistently convert those opportunities into points.
19. (NR) Alan Quine, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 85th overall, 2011
Offense has always come easily to Quine. In 2011-12 he scored 70 points for the OHL's Peterborough Petes but had a minus-19 rating. The beginning of the 2012-13 season began much the way 2011-12 ended, with Quine scoring 26 points in his first 26 games but tallying a minus-14 rating over that span. Things have largely turned around since Quine was traded mid-season to the Belleville Bulls, where he has 41 points in 28 regular season games and, perhaps most importantly, a plus-29 rating. For a slightly undersized center (5'11, 188 pounds) this is the type of development that was necessary to remain in Detroit's long-term plans, and is largely the reason that Quine made his way into the Top 20.
20. (NR) Alexei Marchenko, D, 6.0C
Drafted 7th round, 205th overall, 2011
The road to becoming an NHL player is going to be a long one for Marchenko, but he is taking steps in the right direction. He has stayed healthy for the full 2012-13 season and into the playoffs. Though his four goals and five assists for the KHL's CSKA Moscow are career highs he does not possess high-end offensive abilities. At the same time, he is a talented skater and puck mover who has size (6'2, 183 pounds). Like most young defensemen he needs to bulk up and gain strength, but his determination to leave the KHL and join the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins in 2013-14 should aid him with that cause.