Red Wings Top 20 prospects, Fall 2007

By Zoran Manojlovic

There aren’t many changes to the Red Wings Top 20 prospects list since the spring. Only two players from the 2007 NHL entry draft were able to crack the list. Defenseman and first round selection Brendan Smith enters at No. 5 while third-round selection Joakim Andersson comes in at No. 15.

Still at the top of the list is goaltender Jimmy Howard who had a solid season in the AHL and is getting closer to a regular job in the NHL.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Jimmy Howard, G
2. Jakub Kindl, D
3. Johan Ryno, RW
4. Jan Mursak, LW
5. Brendan Smith, D
6. Justin Abdelkader, LW
7. Igor Grigorenko, RW
8. Jonathan Ericsson, D
9. Dick Axelsson, LW
10. Kyle Quincey, D
11. Darren Helm, C
12. Daniel Larsson, G
13. Cory Emmerton, C
14. Evan McGrath, C
15. Joakim Andersson, C
16. Derek Meech, D
17. Mattias Ritola, LW
18. Logan Pyett, D
19. Gennady Stolyarov, RW
20. Anton Axelsson, LW

1. Jimmy Howard, G 8.0C

2nd round, 64th overall, 2003

A native of Syracuse, New York, Howard completed his second full season with the Griffins with an even record of 21-21 and a goals against average of 2.70. While Howard’s record was not as impressive as his rookie AHL campaign, his goals against average was similar to 2005-06.

Howard played well in the seven-game series playoff loss to the Manitoba Moose, going 3-4 with a goals against average of only 1.93. He was recalled for the Red Wings playoff run after the completion of the Griffins season.

Howard will most likely spend a third year on the farm before moving to prime-time action in the NHL. But if injuries strike the big club this year, he’ll be ready.

2. Jakub Kindl, D 8.0C

1st round, 19th overall, 2005

Kindl finished off his junior career with a bang as he recorded career numbers both in the regular season and the playoffs. He was the go-to guy on the Kitchener Rangers, getting a huge workload on a nightly basis. His play was recognized, as he was the runner up for the league’s best defenseman award.

After the season he joined the Griffins for their playoff run where he tallied two assists in seven post-season games, while finishing +1.

Kindl, who has tremendous potential thanks to his size, mobility and hockey sense, will turn pro this season. He will most likely spend a year in the AHL before getting a regular job with the Wings. He could be a top-2 defenseman in the NHL.

3. Johan Ryno, RW 7.5C

5th round, 137th overall, 2005

Ryno, who was pegged to be a breakout player in Sweden last season, had problems with injuries and never really settled in with the Elitserien game. He was bounced around between several clubs before finally getting some solid ice time with Timrå at the end of the season.

His play late in the season shows just how much potential this big winger has. His size, skating and natural ability with the puck are a rare combination that could make him a star in the NHL one day.
 
The Red Wings wanted to move his development over the pond, which may be a very good move for the hulking winger. He will get to play his way to the NHL via the AHL and he may need a season or two, but his potential is worth the wait.

4. Jan Mursak, LW 7.5C

6th round, 182nd overall, 2006

Mursak was one of the biggest surprises last season. The 19-year-old Slovenian was a rookie in the OHL and was expected to have a limited impact in the league in his first year. But the speedy winger proved to be a go-to guy from the start of the season.

He was a frequent name on the score sheet as he lit the lamp 27 times and posted 80 points in just 62 games. His speed and puck skills are impressive as is his will to fight through checks to make a play. 

After a stellar OHL season, Mursak went on to play in all seven of Griffins playoff games in the AHL, registering two assists and a +3 rating. He was so impressive that the coach played him on one of the top two lines and was giving him a lot of offensive ice time.

Mursak, a potential top-6 forward, has signed a contract with the Red Wings, but he will most likely spend another season in the OHL before turning pro.

5. Brendan Smith, D 7.5 C

1st round, 27th overall, 2007

The Toronto, Ontario native was somewhat of a surprise pick in the late first round. Not only for the hockey world but even himself.  Smith, who is regarded as a high-end offensive defenseman, is a silky smooth skater who moves effortlessly. He also has very good vision and soft hands, which complement his overall mobility very well.

Smith has good size, but he has to add a lot more bulk and play an even more physical game in his own end. He doesn’t mind throwing his body every now and then, but he has to learn to use it on a more consistent basis. His defensive zone coverage is also in development mode.
 
His overall package is very intriguing. His style compares to the last Red Wings first-round draft pick Kindl. Smith will be attending the University of Wisconsin this season.

6. Justin Abdelkader, LW 6.5B

2nd round, 42nd overall, 2005

Muskegon, Michigan native Justin Abdelkader enjoyed a stellar season last year. He was a go-to guy on Michigan State, scoring the game winner in the finals to win the national championship. He was also a member of the USA U-20 WJC team in which he played a big role.

Abdelkader is an important player for Michigan State and is getting the right environment to develop his game. He has developed his defensive game very well and has added a lot of strength. He’s now a much better overall player and is getting ready to turn pro. He needs to upgrade his offensive output this year as it could very well be his last at the college level.

Abdelkader is probably the most pro-ready of all the Red Wings prospects, together with Igor Grigorenko. But he will spend at least another season in college before turning pro.

7. Igor Grigorenko, RW 7.0C

2nd round, 62nd overall, 2001

Grigorenko had a very solid but unspectacular season in Russia, while playing for his home team Lada Togliatti. He was an assistant captain on a pretty young team, and he finished the season second on the team in scoring with 14 goals and 27 points in 49 regular season games.

Grigorenko who has improved his overall game, is now more confident with the puck and his skating ability is pretty much the same as it was before his car accident.

This will be a big season for the 24-year-old forward as he attempts to crack the Wings line-up. He will be given every opportunity to succeed, but it isn’t a sure thing. He can be anywhere from a second liner to a fourth liner as the season begins.
 

8. Jonathan Ericsson, D 6.5B

9th round, 291st overall, 2002

Ericsson was a gamble, picked as the last player in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. After spending several years in Sweden trying to develop his game, Ericsson made the decision to cross the pond and try his luck in the AHL.

So far that has been a very wise decision for the 23-year-old defenseman. He has been a very solid player with the Griffins in the AHL, where he was tied for the team lead in defensemen scoring during his first season, registering 29 points on 5 goals while amassing 102 penalty minutes in 67 games.

The Red Wings staff has acknowledged his mobility and size and he is getting closer to competing for a job in the NHL. He needs at least another year in the AHL before he is ready for the NHL. He projects as a No. 4-6 defenseman who has offensive upside as well as a physical side to his game. 

9. Dick Axelsson, LW 7.0C

2nd round, 62nd overall, 2006

Axelsson missed a big part of the start of the last season because of a transfer disagreement between his former club Huddinge IK and Djurgården. Now a member of Djurgården from the start of the pre-season, Axelsson has been drawing a lot of praise for his play during the first couple of games.

Axelsson plays a speedy game and has a booming shot. His hockey sense and puck skills are also well developed. Another big advantage is that he likes to mix it up physically all over the ice. 

For him to take the next level, he has to add some bulk and improve his play away from the puck. But so far he looks like he is right on track development wise. He is almost a sure-fire bet to get a contract next summer with the Red Wings.

10. Kyle Quincey, D 6.5B

4th round, 132nd overall, 2003

Quincey had a strange type of season last year. After being the go-to guy on the defense with the Griffins the year before, Quincey’s overall game took a dip as he wasn’t as consistent as he used to be. But he fought his way back and had a tremendous ending to the season as he was recalled by the Red Wings and got to play in 12 playoff games, while only getting to play in six regular season games.

Quincey has developed well since being drafted in the fifth round of the 2003 NHL Entry draft. He has matured added some bulk and is much more confident in his own end. He also shows solid puck moving skills and is now on the verge of being a full-fledged NHL defenseman.

Look for him to fight for a regular spot in the 2007-08 season.

11. Darren Helm, C 6.0B

5th round, 132nd overall, 2005

Helm capped of his junior career by putting in his best season so far. He was the go-to guy with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL, which he helped to the Memorial Cup. Helm was among the team’s best two-way players and one of the best in the entire league. His play didn’t go unnoticed as he was selected to compete with the Canadian U-20 WJC team, which won a gold medal in Sweden.

His speed and work ethic are already pro-level, while he needs to add some more bulk. Even though he might be a bit undersized, Helm doesn’t back down when it comes to the physical aspects of the game.

This season he will be a member of the Griffins in the AHL where he will try to carry over his success on his way to the NHL. He’s still at least two years away from an NHL job as a third-fourth line checker.

12. Daniel Larsson, G 7.0C

3rd round, 92nd overall, 2006

Larsson was a surprise pick by the Red Wings in the 2006 NHL draft, but so far he has made the scouting staff look very good. Last season he was a rookie in the Swedish Elitserien, putting up very impressive numbers.

He played in 24 games and posted a 2.53 GAA as well as .911 save percentage. Those numbers are very respectable for a 20-year-old rookie. During short stretches, he even pushed the No.1 goalie, Teemu Lassila (a former Nashville pick), to the bench with his strong play.

For the upcoming season, Larsson will be the go-to guy on the team and will be looked upon to deliver a solid effort night in and night out. So far in the preseason he has delivered just that. That will be a big challenge for the young netminder who is a strong candidate for getting a contract with the Red Wings after next season.

13. Cory Emmerton, C 6.5C

2nd round, 41st overall, 2006

Emmerton’s season last year was cut in half as he was forced to sit out with an injury. But once on the ice, he was a very effective offensive player. In just 40 regular season games, Emmerton scored 29 goals and 66 points. He also got to play in 5 playoff games where he put up 5 goals and 7 points.

After being eliminated from the OHL playoffs, Emmerton was called upon by the Griffins. There Emmerton played in only two playoff games and got very limited ice time.

No one can deny his torrid scoring pace in OHL, but his limited ice time with the Griffins shows just how far his game is from pro ready. He doesn’t play with the type of intensity that for example Helm has. His style of play reminds a lot more of Evan McGrath, with his natural hockey sense and solid hands.

He will need another year of junior as well as a couple of seasons in the AHL before he can compete for a job in the NHL.

14. Evan McGrath, C 6.5C

4th round, 128th overall, 2004

After enjoying an extremely successful junior career with the Kitchener Rangers, the Oakville, Ontario native played his first professional season in 2006-07.

McGrath did not have a good first AHL season registering only 14 points. After going through a long scoring slump, McGrath was assigned to Toledo of the ECHL, with hopes of getting his scoring going. That seemed to have been a good strategy as he scored six goals and 15 points in nine games with the Storm.

For the upcoming season McGrath will be looked upon delivering a lot more offense than what he showed in his rookie season. He still has the hockey sense, passing skills and shot to be a solid offensive player in the AHL. He needs to improve his intensity as well as his game away from the puck.

He’s another couple of seasons away from being ready for the NHL.

15. Joakim Andersson, C 6.5 C

3rd round, 88th overall, 2007

Joakim Andersson, a native of Munkedal, Sweden, had probably a longer wait to hear his name at the draft than what was expected. Most analysts had him pegged somewhere in the late first or second round, but he fell to the third round.

Andersson is one of the most consistent young prospects to have played in the Swedish junior league during the past few years. He always comes to work and always delivers a rock-solid effort.

He has good size and is using his body well all over the ice, either by throwing a hit or by protecting the puck. He plays with intensity and thereby overcomes his average skating ability. Andersson’s work ethic, size and fine hockey sense label him as a good supporting, third line center or left wing with some offensive production for down the road.

Andersson has been loaned out to Borås in Allsvenskan (2nd-division), where he will get plenty of ice time to develop his game. This is a perfect situation for the young center that will get to see a lot of ice time in a good league. He could be climbing up the rankings very fast.

16. Derek Meech, D 5.5B

7th round, 229th overall, 2002

The Winnipeg native enjoyed his most productive AHL season this year, registering 29 points on 6 goals in 67 games played. The 5’11 speedy offensive defenseman was also selected to represent Team Canada in the 2007 AHL All-Star Game. Meech, now 23, tied for the team lead in points by a defenseman (29) with teammate Jonathan Ericsson.

Meech also got the chance to make his debut with the Red Wings in the NHL. He was dressed in four regular season games and got some limited ice time.

For the upcoming season Meech has to prove from the start that he belongs in the NHL or he might be shipped down to the farm, despite the risk of being claimed off waivers. Meech will most likely claim the seventh spot on the team this year and get some occasional starts when injuries strike.

17. Mattias Ritola, LW 6.0C

4th round, 103rd overall, 2005

Ritola didn’t get the most of his time in Sweden development wise and that is why he has been signed to a contract and will make his pro debut with the Griffins in the AHL this upcoming season.

The Red Wings scouting staff believes enough in his potential that he was given an entry-level contract although he hasn’t proven anything back in Sweden. But his size, skating and skills are impressive while his work ethic and attitude are questionable.

But he has a long way to go as far as the play away from the puck goes and he has to commit more to the game of hockey. Off-season training and listening to what the coaching staff has to say will be important. He also has to improve his intensity.

Ritola will probably need at least two full seasons of AHL hockey before his future will be decided. He has the potential to be a top-6 forward, but he could also very well move back to Sweden an play in the lower leagues.
 

18. Logan Pyett, D 6.0C

7th round, 212nd overall, 2006

Pyett has always been known for his offensive play and numbers, but this season he worked hard on improving the defensive aspects of the game. He was a go-to guy with the Regina Pats of the WHL and was among the league leaders in defensive scoring.

Pyett has impressive hockey sense and vision which enables him to lead or open up and attack from his own end. He also has a solid shot and excels on the power play. While on the downside, he has to work on the physical play of the game. He should add more of a mean streak and be a bit more punishing in the corners. He also has to be a bit more defensive minded.

Pyett will probably play at least another season in the WHL, but it isn’t out of question that he could play as and overager as well, depending on how the Red Wings brass assess their needs. Pyett has some upside as an offensive defenseman, but he has a long way to go and a lot to improve on before he reaches that potential. 

19. Gennady Stolyarov, RW 5.5C

8th round, 257th overall, 2004

Stolyarov was a gamble back at the 2004 NHL entry draft, selected in the eighth round. But the Red Wings are known for going after talented players who seem to have some kind of a drawback in the latter rounds of the draft.

Stolyarov has earned a spot with the famous team Dynamo Moscow where he played 37 games last year, scoring 9 points as well as 39 PIMs.

His skating has improved since the draft day and more responsible defensively, although he still needs to address that part of his game. He also has to gain a lot of strength as he has been pushed around by the veteran defensemen in the Russian Super League.

With a good season in Russia, the Red Wings might be forced to offer him a contract. His size and skill are still there, he just has to improve year by year, and he might make it one day to the NHL. He projects anywhere from a possible second liner to a fourth line plugger.

20. Anton Axelsson, LW 5.5C

6th round, 192nd overall, 2004

Axelsson hasn’t been able to find his groove with Frölunda in the Elitserien, and therefore it didn’t come as a surprise when he decided to move to Timrå for the upcoming season. Timrå is known for being a good development place for young players.
 
Axelsson is a steady checker who always plays the game with high intensity and a lot of jump. He might not have a high upside as an offensive winger, but if he can add some more strength and become even more physical, then he could have a shot at cracking the NHL some day as a third-line checking winger.

He needs a big year with Timrå in order to secure a contract with the Wings. So far in the preseason he has been playing on the top lines and has also registered a few goals, which might bode well.

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