Organizational depth at professional level the strength of Detroit Red Wings system

By Adam Schnepp

Calle Jarnkrok - Detroit Red Wings

Photo: Calle Jarnkrok, playing in his first AHL season out of Sweden, joined a deep and talented pool of forwards developing with Detroit’s AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins (courtesy of Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

It has been a gradual change, but most things associated with the Detroit Red Wings work that way. In a salary-cap constrained hockey landscape, Detroit can no longer simply outspend other franchises; Detroit knew this eight seasons ago and began to stockpile talent through the NHL Draft.

A look through the pool of Red Wings prospects proves that it is time to throw away the now-outdated comparison between the Red Wings and the New York Yankees. Detroit is no longer built upon a foundation of free agent acquisitions. In fact, Detroit's pool of prospects has never had more players who are likely to find spots on an NHL roster. Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the Red Wings' current prospects.

Left Wing

Though the Red Wings have good depth across the board at all three forward positions, nowhere is this more apparent than at left wing. Gustav Nyquist is an NHL-ready left winger who is playing in Grand Rapids for two reasons: first, the Red Wings have a roster full of forwards and no space for Nyquist; second, Nyquist would be exposed to being claimed off of waivers should he play any more than two NHL games and then be shuffled between Detroit and their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids. Nyquist has once again shown his offensive prowess with the Grand Rapids Griffins, netting three goals and five assists in seven games with a plus-one rating. Though he may not join the NHL club in 2013-14, Nyquist is very much still in Detroit's long-term plans.

Anthony Mantha has silenced most critics by not only displaying a more well-rounded game, but by posting an otherworldly stat line. Through the first 15 games of the QMJHL season Mantha has posted 19 goals and 20 assists for a total of 39 points. Mantha's potential was great enough for him to be selected in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft, but questions about his consistency in part led to him falling to the Red Wings with the 20th overall pick. Mantha has assuaged those fears by posting at least a point in all his games but one so far in 2013-14. The Red Wings organization has noticed this, and in turn, rewarded Mantha with a three-year entry-level contract.
Tomas Tatar can commiserate with Gustav Nyquist, as he too is very familiar with the feeling of being NHL-ready but still playing in the AHL. It is highly likely that Tatar will spend the entirety of the 2013-14 season on the Red Wings' NHL roster, as he is no longer waiver-exempt. Tatar has been a healthy scratch for most of the season, sitting in favor of veterans.

Andreas Athanasiou is continuing to ply his trade for the OHL's Barrie Colts. Athanasiou is playing at a point-per-game pace, recording 13 points in the first 13 games of the season. Also in the OHL is Tyler Bertuzzi, who is currently a member of the Guelph Storm. Bertuzzi has been a pleasant surprise offensively, translating some of the potential the Red Wings saw when they drafted him in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft into tangible results; Bertuzzi has 15 points in 13 games.

Marek Tvrdon and Andrej Nestrasil are both currently playing with Detroit’s minor league affiliates, and both have had limited success in 2013-14. Nestrasil has been a regular part of the Grand Rapids lineup through the first eight games, centering the team’s fourth line. He has recorded zero points. Tvrdon was a healthy scratch for all but one of the Griffins first eight games. He was assigned to the Toledo Walleye on October 28.

David Pope, Detroit's fourth round selection in the 2013 NHL Draft, has six goals in 10 games for the BCHL's West Kelowna Warriors. He is expected to attend the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2014-15 and has until August 2018 to sign with Detroit.

Detroit only has one left winger in the European prospect pipeline, the lanky and inconsistent Rasmus Bodin. It appeared that Bodin could be another one of Hakan Andersson's late round steals, but so far Boding has not lived up to his potential. He is a sizeable winger who can skate but has consistently had problems putting up points; he has one assist through 10 SuperElit games.

Center

Calle Jarnkrok's three points in eight games may make it appear as though his transition to the AHL is not going as smoothly as hoped, but one look at how the coaches deploy him dismisses any of those fears. Jarnkrok has been centering Grand Rapids second line while also getting time on the top power play unit and the top penalty kill unit. Jarnkrok was widely praised for his ability to both create plays and to defend during his time in the Swedish Hockey League, and Jarnkrok's AHL coaches clearly believe that he brings the same essential elements to the Red Wings farm club.

Much like his Grand Rapids teammate Calle Jarnkrok, Riley Sheahan is a two-way center who is projected to eventually hold down an NHL roster spot. Sheahan is used in a similar role to Jarnkrok; he is featured on the second power play unit and first penalty kill unit. Sheahan has two goals and no assists through five games, but it is his ability to play in all situations that makes him a valuable member of the Griffins. The continued development of both Jarnkrok and Sheahan have made Detroit's prospect pool at center very deep.

Mattias Janmark-Nylen was passed over in the 2012 NHL Draft and is now in the process of making the other 29 teams in the NHL look silly for overlooking him. The third round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft was already something of a scoring threat when he was drafted, but he has increased his offensive output even more in 2013. Janmark-Nylen has 12 goals and 18 points in 17 SHL games, tying him for fifth overall in league scoring. He has been one of the lone bright spots on an otherwise disappointing AIK team.

Though Jarnkrok and Sheahan have already been discussed, they are far from being the only centers the Red Wings have at the AHL level. Landon Ferraro had a breakout year in 2012-13 after it seemed he may never meet his potential. He returns to Grand Rapids in 2013-14 trying to prove that he is worthy of being a Red Wing in the near future. Ferraro is another versatile center, used on the Griffins' second unit power play and penalty kill. Luke Glendening has gone from after-thought to NHL player in 12 months, and he has been a good addition to the Detroit organization's depth. Recalled back to Detroit on October 28, he may need to get used to the trip between Detroit and Grand Rapids. Louis-Marc Aubry is also on the Grand Rapids roster, though he has been a healthy scratch for all but one of Grand Rapids' first eight games.

Philippe Hudon has resurrected his hockey career with the QMJHL's Victoriaville Tigres, racking up 35 points in 2012-13 and seven in 12 games in 2013-14. These may seem like paltry numbers, but he has shown marked improvement after nearly leaving the sport during the 2011-12 season due to mental health concerns. Whether Hudon factors into Detroit's long-term plans remains to be seen, but his journey can now be classified as a feel-good story.

Right Wing

The Grand Rapids Griffins have a quartet of talented right wingers on their roster. Teemu Pulkkinen, Martin Frk, Tomas Jurco, and Mitch Callahan are all players who will need to be big contributors if the Griffins are to repeat as Calder Cup champions. They also all have potential to eventually crack the NHL roster in Detroit, though some sooner than others.

Pulkkinen has thus far displayed his skill as a sniper, and his game is rapidly adapting to the smaller North American ice surface. He is tied for second on the Griffins in points with seven through the first eight games of the season. This is even more impressive when considering Pulkkinen's absence from the power play.

Jurco has the advantage of both being on the first power play unit and having a full season of AHL experience under his belt, and he has been no less impressive for Grand Rapids. Jurco also has seven points with two goals and five assist through eight games.

Callahan is counted on less for his offense and more for his solid defensive play, but that does not mean he completely lacks offensive upside. He has a propensity for going hard to the net, and he has two goals to show for it through eight games. Callahan also plays an important role on Grand Rapids' penalty kill.

Frk has a tremendous amount of potential but has yet to display it in the AHL. He has only played five games so far in 2013-14 as he adjusts to the speed of the league. Once he does adjust, however, AHL goaltenders will be on the lookout for his incredibly powerful shot. Frk still has NHL potential, but needs to develop at the AHL level first.

William Coetzee and Trevor Parkes are both players who could eventually land AHL roster spots, but for now will be further developing their game in the ECHL for the Toledo Walleye.

Zach Nastasiuk has the talent and upside to be a steal for the Red Wings. Detroit selected Nastasiuk in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft in large part because of the way he developed in the later part of the 2012-13 season. Nastasiuk has shown continued development in 2013-14, recording eight goals and eight assists through 15 games while also being named captain of his OHL squad, the Owen Sound Attack.

The jury is still out on Hampus Melen, whom the Red Wings took in the seventh round of the 2013 NHL Draft. He is currently playing in Sweden's SuperElit and has five assists in 11 games. Detroit does not have to sign Melen until 2017.

Defensemen

Dan DeKeyser has not spent much time in the Red Wings system but has already made his mark. DeKeyser signed with Detroit as an undrafted free agent and has been a fixture of the Red Wings' top-six ever since. He has made an impact with his smooth skating and superb defensive positioning. DeKeyser is still a prospect, but he plays more like a veteran NHL player.

Brian Lashoff also finds himself on the NHL club's roster. Lashoff was often overlooked while he was rising through the ranks of Detroit's system, but an impressive debut with Detroit during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season saw him rewarded with a new contract. Lashoff is counted on to make intelligent decisions and shut down opposing forwards; he is a smart, steady NHL-caliber defenseman.

Detroit is currently experiencing what can only be described as an embarrassment of riches in the AHL. Ryan Sproul, Xavier Ouellet, Alexei Marchenko, Adam Almquist, Nick Jensen, Richard Nedomlel, and Gleason Fournier all find themselves vying for playing time with the Griffins.

Sproul is an offensive-defenseman, but has continued to improve his defensive game. His slap shot is uniquely powerful and can be directly attributed to having two goals to go along with two assists through eight games. Sproul will be given ample time to further develop the nuances of his game in the AHL, but like many of the other defensemen in this section, he should eventually make it to the NHL.

Ouellet has already made his NHL debut, playing one game against the San Jose Sharks on October 21. It may have only been one game, but it served as a microcosm of the reasons Detroit drafted Ouellet; intelligent, smooth playmaking bolstered by good defensive positioning. Ouellet will spend the majority of the season in Grand Rapids, but he will likely be an NHL regular in the near future.

While Ouellet has been bouncing back and forth between Detroit and Grand Rapids, Marchenko has been holding serve on the blue line for the Griffins. He is not known for his offense, so netting four points in eight games has come as something of a surprise. Marchenko is a speedy, positionally sound defenseman who is often deployed on Grand Rapids' power play. He too has NHL potential, something few would have believed when he was taken 205th overall in 2011.

Almquist is an offensively gifted defenseman who gets ample time on Grand Rapids' power play. His intelligence sets him apart from other defensemen, as he is able to put himself in position to distribute the puck and create scoring opportunities. Almquist's five assists in five games is evidence of his playmaking ability, though Almquist is also positionally sound. His offensive upside and intelligence make up for a lack of physical play.

Jensen improved dramatically over his college career with St. Cloud State, showing incredible skating ability and a propensity for smart passing. How that will continue to develop in the AHL remains to be seen, as Jensen is currently on injured reserve. Nedomlel and Fournier do not necessarily possess the same high-end potential of fellow Griffins Sproul and Ouellet, but they have played their way to AHL roster spots. Their development is on hold, however, as they have been scratched from Grand Rapids' first five games.

One of Detroit's top defensive prospects, Mattias Backman, currently plays for Linkoping in the SHL.  Backman is a well-rounded defenseman, not particularly offensively-skilled but not lacking in playmaking ability. He has shown improvement in his defensive position over the past two seasons. Backman has NHL potential, though the next phase in career will be in the AHL.

Max Nicastro is continuing to develop in the ECHL, where he has one assist in three games. At this point, he is working towards earning a spot with the AHL's Griffins; this is no easy task, as the Griffins are particularly loaded on defense.

Mitch Wheaton and Marc McNulty, both 2013 NHL Draft picks, are hulking defensemen who are developing their games in the WHL. Both have until 2015 to be signed by Detroit.

In the NCAA, the Red Wings have three prospects on defense. James de Haas is a well-rounded defenseman who just began his freshman season at Clarkson University. He has until 2017 to be signed by Detroit. Mike McKee is also beginning his freshman season, in his case with Western Michigan University. McKee is a sizeable, rugged defenseman known for his physical play. He too has until 2017 to be signed by Detroit. Ben Marshall is a small but speedy offensive-defenseman for the University of Minnesota. He is entering his junior season and will be counted on as one of the top-four rearguards for a nationally ranked Minnesota team.

Goaltenders

Though the expression "age is just a number" is typically reserved for discussions of aging superstars with intact skills (i.e. Nicklas Lidstrom), Petr Mrazek has proved that the expression can be equally applied to youth. Mrazek is the de facto starter in Grand Rapids, and his surprising ascension in 2012-13 is a large part of why the Griffins won the Calder Cup. He plays an athletic, unorthodox style that is effective and fun to watch. Mrazek is skilled enough to be backing up Jimmy Howard with the Red Wings, but the club would rather have him gain experience via ice time with Grand Rapids.

Jared Coreau, an undrafted free agent, is a bit of a question mark for Detroit. He is a very large, athletic goaltender who was very good in his three seasons with Northern Michigan University. Whether he has NHL potential is not yet clear, but he will be given ample playing time to continue his development with the ECHL's Toldeo Walleye.

Jake Paterson suffers from statistics that belie his true talent. Paterson appears to have the build and skill to one day be an NHL backup, but that day is in the distant future. He is the full-time starter for the OHL's Saginaw Spirit, and having already signed his entry-level contract with Detroit, Paterson will be able to focus on developing his game before turning pro in 2014-15.

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