Procuring talent has not been difficult for the Detroit Red Wings over the past two decades, but the way in which they acquire their talent has certainly changed. A prospect pipeline that was once virtually dry is now overflowing with talented players ready to make their mark in the hockey world.
From the pro ranks to Europe, Detroit has players at every level with storylines worth following in 2013-14. Some players will be looking to climb the ranks and make the NHL club, while others will look to come back from injury or other struggles and prove that they still have what it takes to climb the prospect ladder.
Most top prospects develop some sort of descriptive label to go with their game: the player with the cannon of a shot, the player with slick hands, the player with pinpoint accuracy. Calle Jarnkrok breaks the mold a bit because he does not have one exemplary talent. Instead, the Swedish centerman has a well-rounded array of skills that make him one of Detroit's most valuable assets.
Jarnkrok began the process of adapting his game to the smaller North American ice surface at the end of the 2012-13 season with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins. While his nine game stint was nothing to write home about, it provided the foundation for an both an impressive Prospects Camp and Training Camp. Jarnkrok subtly excels, with excellent passing, shooting, and a high hockey IQ that allows him to generate offense by thinking ahead of the game. He also has greatly improved his skills in the faceoff circle, cementing his role as a true center. Jarnkrok will need a bit of time to continue fine-tuning his game at the AHL level, but Detroit believes that they have a player in the vein of Henrik Zetterberg on their hands due to Jarnkrok's aforementioned offensive talents as well as his tenacity in puck retrieval and ability to hang onto the puck in the offensive zone.
Bounceback Pro Prospect
Marek Tvrdon, LW, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Questions have been swirling around Marek Tvrdon for the past three seasons, but not because the Slovakian forward was involved in the type of on-ice or off-ice transgressions that normally create unwanted attention. Instead, Tvrdon has been in the spotlight because of his inability to avoid injury.
Tvrdon has played 90 regular season games over the past three season, including just 12 in 2010-11 and 18 in 2012-13. During the 2012-13 season Tvrdon developed a blood clot that threatened his hockey career, though this issue has since been resolved and Tvrdon is back on the ice. Tvrdon will get the opportunity to prove that he has fully recovered (and that his skills have not eroded) during the 2013-14 season, in which he will make his debut with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins. The Griffins expect Tvrdon to play the role of offensively-gifted power forward, using his size to create scoring chances for himself and teammates.
Tomas Tatar, LW, Detroit Red Wings (NHL)
The Red Wings roster may feature a log-jam at forward, but that will not stop Tomas Tatar from believing that he can earn a roster spot with the NHL club. Tatar has done everything that one can ask of him at the AHL level. He has shown plenty of offensive intelligence and ability and appears ready to translate that skill to NHL results.
Tatar is no longer waiver-exempt in 2013-14, which means that the team he makes out of training camp will likely be his home for the duration of the season. Tatar has had an impressive training camp and beginning of the exhibition season, which makes Ken Holland's job all the more difficult. Tatar can shoot, distribute, and score, and if he can do those things as consistently in the NHL as he did in the AHL then he should have a long professional career ahead.
It is difficult to look at a player who scored 50 goals in 2012-13 and say that they are not Detroit's top junior prospect, but that is almost exactly what happened to Anthony Mantha. One of the most frequently repeated criticisms heard about Mantha around the time he was drafted was that he took shifts off and did not bring a consistent game-to-game effort with him to the rink. Mantha must have heard that as well and worked hard over the two months between being drafted and reporting for Prospects Camp, because the concerns about Mantha's competitiveness are slowly slipping away. Mantha is Detroit's top junior prospect for this reason; he not only has incredible skills, but he is bringing them to practices, scrimmages, and games more reliably.
Mantha will return to Val-d'Or of the QMJHL in 2013-14, where he is expected to build on the 50-goal, 89-point campaign he had in 2012-13. Again, it is the subtleties of the game that Detroit will be looking for him to improve more so than his stat line, and if he continues playing the way he has in Prospect Camp and Training Camp he should have an outstanding season.
A change in environment does not always jolt a prospect awake or reinvigorate their game, but that is precisely what being traded from the London Knights to the Barrie Colts did for Andreas Athanasiou. In 2012-13, his first season in Barrie, Athanasiou posted 67 points in 66 regular season games alongside 25 points in 22 playoff contests. Both of those point totals are career highs for Athanasiou and not just at the OHL level, but at any level he has ever played.
Athanasiou will be one of Barrie's most important offensive pieces in 2013-14 and should get plenty of top line ice time to go along with some time on the power play. If Athanasiou picks up where he left off in 2012-13 then he could very well be one of the top scorers in the OHL during 2013-14.
Ben Marshall has always been viewed as something of a hybrid defenseman, a player whose appearance is closer to that of a small, skilled forward than a hulking, punishing defenseman. The 2013-14 season will go a long way toward determining whether Marshall will always be a hybrid-type player or whether he can anchor a team's blue line.
Marshall will be one of Minnesota's top four defensemen and should see ample playing time at even strength and on the powerplay, allowing him an opportunity to showcase his offensive abilities. Marshall will need to show that he has continued the defensive improvement he began to display at the end of the 2012-13 season, though he will have plenty of time to do this; Marshall is entering just his junior year at the University of Minnesota.
David Pope, LW, West Kelowna Warriors (BCHL)
Read any of the scouting reports on David Pope and they all scream one particular praise; the shot, the shot, the shot. Pope has many areas of his game that need improvement but his shot is already seen by some as being NHL caliber. Add additional offseason training provided by the Red Wings' Prospect Camp to a player whose skill set was already enough to be nearly a point-per-game player in the BCHL (Pope had 18 points in 20 games with the Westside Warriors in 2011-12 and 39 points in 42 games in 2012-13) and you have a player who should be ready for a breakout campaign. After spending one final season in the BCHL with West Kelowna, Pope will further develop his talent and fill out his 6'2 frame at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2014-15.
Top European Prospect
Mattias Backman, D, Linkoping (SHL)
Mattias Backman has not just taken steps towards progressing, he has taken leaps and is now considered one of Detroit's most important defensive prospects. Backman is a large defenseman who plays intelligent defense with a flair for point production. Backman has emerged into one of the highest scoring defensemen in the SHL, where he had a breakthrough 26 point season for Linkoping in 2012-13.
Backman will continue to refine his game in the SHL during the 2013-14 season, his third season in the SHL and first since being signed to an entry-level contract by Detroit that runs through the 2015-16 season. Though he could stay in the SHL for the 2014-15 season it would seem likely that he will make the move to North America.
Rasmus Bodin, LW, Linkoping J20 (SuperElit)
Rasmus Bodin seemed like the prototypical Hakan Andersson draft selection; talented and overlooked. Bodin boasts tremendous size at 6'6 and is very agile for being a hulking forward, but he has not been able to come anywhere close to meeting his potential in Sweden's lower levels of hockey. He has bounced between the SuperElit and Sweden's Division 1 over the past two seasons, but there are signs that the 2013-14 season may be a positive one.
Bodin had a relatively good Prospects Camp, displaying good all-around effort consistently. He can play like a power forward at times, something that his frame is perfectly suited for. Whether there is any true offensive upside to Bodin's game is still up in the air (recording 4 total points in 2012-13 does not help his case), but a fresh start in the same Linkoping organization that fellow Detroit prospect Mattias Backman is a part of may be exactly what he needs to recover from a lost 2012-13 season.
Mattias Janmark-Nylen, C, AIK (SHL)
It may seem like Mattias Janmark-Nylen has already had an offensive breakout season but the best is yet to come for the second year Swedish Hockey League star. After recording zero points in 18 SHL games in 2011-12 (and being passed over in the NHL Draft) he put up 31 points in 55 SHL and grabbed the attention of many NHL teams. Detroit selected Janmark-Nylen in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft and as of now it appears that he will reward the organization's interest in him; Janmark-Nylen already has four points in three SHL games in 2013-14, including a hat trick in his second game.
Janmark-Nylen is no longer one of the best forwards on his team but is instead one of the best forwards in the SHL and is logging heavy minutes for AIK. Like fellow countrymen Henrik Zetterberg and Calle Jarnkrok, Janmark-Nylen is tenacious in puck pursuit and good at shielding others from the puck while also having advanced offensive instincts that allow him to set up teammates or score himself. An impressive stats line should be in Janmark-Nylen's future due to the confluence of skill and opportunity.