NCAA and European pipelines provide depth for Detroit Red Wings’ blue line

By Adam Schnepp

Nick Jensen - St. Cloud State Huskies

Photo: St. Cloud State defenseman Nick Jensen, the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year, helped lead his team to it’s first Frozen Four appearance in school history (courtesy of Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

Any team that loses three of its top six defensemen over the course of two seasons is bound to experience some growing pains as the organization looks to reload. While the current Detroit Red Wings roster may feature a blue line in flux, the future looks bright for Detroit's defensive depth. The Red Wings have a number of defensemen in their system that have developed their game a great deal during the 2012-13 season, including some who have already joined the NHL club. Detroit may have fewer forwards playing in the NCAA or Europe than defensemen but that is not an indictment of their quality, as that group features at least two players who appear to be future NHL players.

NCAA

Dan DeKeyser, D, Western Michigan Broncos (CCHA)
Signed as free agent on March 29, 2013

Dan DeKeyser may have been disappointed that his Western Michigan Broncos did not make the NCAA Tournament, but he did not have to wait long to play in playoff hockey games. DeKeyser is the rare athlete able to make the jump from the NCAA straight to the NHL, and did so while the Red Wings were in the middle of chasing down an NHL playoff spot. The rugged defenseman won the CCHA's 2012-13 Defensive Defenseman of the Year award, and that defensive prowess has been on full display at the NHL level. DeKeyser has great defensive awareness, positioning, and deftly utilizes an active stick. Though he suffered a broken hand and will miss the remainder of the NHL Playoffs, DeKeyser can rest assured that he will have a roster spot waiting for him with the 2013-14 Detroit Red Wings.

Nick Jensen, D, St. Cloud State Huskies (WCHA)
Drafted 5th round, 150th overall, 2009

If Nick Jensen does not have a trophy case already he is going need to one. The winner of 2012-13 WCHA Defensive Player of the Year award, Jensen also was named to the All-WCHA First Team and the NCAA All-America First Team. Jensen already has NHL size at 6'1 and 195 pounds, and his incredible skating ability should make him a fixture of the Grand Rapids Griffins' lineup in 2013-14. With 86 points (15 goals and 71 assists) in 119 career NCAA games, Jensen has offensive upside, and his aforementioned skating ability makes it likely that his offensive skills will transfer well to more competitive leagues. The defensive side of Jensen's game needs some refining, but as with most young defensemen in the Red Wings system, he should be given plenty of time to improve at the AHL level.

Ben Marshall, D, Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
Drafted 7th round, 201st overall, 2010

At 5'9 and 179 pounds, Ben Marshall may seem to be built more as a forward than a defenseman. For a portion of the 2012-13 season that is exactly how the University of Minnesota was using him. Marshall has tremendous speed and skating ability, so much so that he was able to move to forward to help solve some of Minnesota's depth issues. By the end of the 2012-13 season, Marshall had moved back to the blue line on a full-time basis, where he served as the quarterback of the Gopher's powerplay. Marshall scored eight goals and 11 assists in 2012-13, a four-goal and two-assist improvement over his 2011-12 statistics. He will return to the University of Minnesota for his junior season in 2013-14.

Jared Coreau, G, Northern Michigan Wildcats (CCHA)
Signed as a free agent on April 3, 2013

Jared Coreau was courted by seven NHL teams but decided to stay close to home, signing a three- year entry level contract with Detroit in March. The Red Wings like his size (6'5, 207 pounds) and athleticism. Coreau's athleticism did wonders for him in the CCHA, as he compiled a 15-19-4 record with a .919 save percentage and 2.70 goals against average for a defensively-challenged Northern Michigan team. Technique was a focal point of Coreau's play throughout his college career, though he will need to continue to improve if he is to successfully adjust to the professional game. It seems likely that he will join the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins for the 2013-14 season.

Europe

Mattias Backman, D, Linkopings HC (SEL)
Drafted 5th round, 146th overall, 2011

The Red Wings have a problem that many teams would envy: a number of young defensemen who have taken a big step forward during the 2012-13 season. Mattias Backman belongs in that group after more than tripling his previous high for points in a season and showing continued signs of improvement in the more subtle aspects of his offensive and defensive games. The 2011-12 season saw Backman register one goal and seven assists, and though he was only able to record two goals in 2012-13 his assist total ballooned to 24. Backman projects as two-way NHL defenseman, the type of player who can move the puck extremely well while also being able to cover his man in the defensive zone. Backman is only 21 years old and is expected to spend one more year in the Swedish Elite League before making the jump to the AHL.

Alexei Marchenko, D, CSKA Moscow (KHL)
Drafted 7th round, 205th overall, 2011

Yet another defenseman who made tremendous strides in 2012-13, Alexei Marchenko is already proving scouts wrong. Marchenko was beset by injuries when he was drafted and appeared to be something of a project. At this point it appears that Detroit may have unearthed another diamond in the rough, as Marchenko has played far better than his status as a seventh round pick would indicate. At 6'2 and 183 pounds Marchenko possess size in that he is tall, but he needs to continue to fill out his frame if he wishes to endure a regular NHL workload. Marchenko will be joining the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins in 2013-14, where he is likely to get more than the 12:56 of ice time that he received in the KHL during the 2012-13 regular season.

Calle Jarnkrok, C, Brynas IF (SEL)
Drafted 2nd round, 51st overall, 2010

You will have to excuse Calle Jarnkrok if he is suffering from jet lag. After finishing the Elitserien season with Brynas, Jarnkrok made his AHL debut for the Grand Rapids Griffins. Jarnkrok recorded three assists in nine games for the Griffins before leaving the team to play for Team Sweden in the IIHF World Championships. Jarnkrok scored a career-high 42 points in 53 Elitserien games while proving that he is ready to make the jump to the North American game. On-ice vision, speed, and strength are Jarnkrok's greatest assets, and Detoit expects those skills to make Jarnkrok a future top-six forward in the NHL. The Red Wings will let Jarnkrok compete for a spot with the NHL club during September's training camp; if Jarnkrok needs more development then he will be sent to the AHL's Griffins.

Rasmus Bodin, LW, HV71 J20 (SuperElit)
Drafted 7th round, 200th overall, 2012

Rasmus Bodin had anything but a memorable 2012-13 campaign. Eighteen games played at the SuperElit level saw the big left winger record one point (an assist). Bodin's struggles got so bad that HV71 loaned him to Tranas AIF, a lower level Swedish team, in an attempt to help him find some confidence. Detroit drafted Bodin for his rare mix of size and skating ability, as he is very agile for a 6'6, 207-pound forward. Bodin will have another year to prove himself in Sweden in 2013-14, and he will need to show the Red Wings organization that he has taken a step forward in the off-season if he wishes to remain on their radar.

Teemu Pulkkinen, RW, Jokerit (SM-liiga)
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2010

Even before he was drafted Teemu Pulkkinen was labeled a sniper, and that may be the most often used word to describe his play. Pulkkinen, however, has more to his game than simply the ability to score. He holds the single-season rookie record for assists with 36, a mark he set in 2010-11 that is indicative of his ability to not only score using his canon of a shot but to distribute the puck as well. Though Pulkkinen's scoring decreased slightly in 2012-13 (a strong second half saw him reach 34 points, still down from 37 in 2011-12) he has continued to improve his all-around game, most notably increasing his physicality in order to create offensive opportunities. Pulkkinen wrapped up his SM-liiga season and started his career with the Grand Rapids Griffins, where he was included on the playoff roster and has scored three goals and two assists so far through seven games.