The Fall 2014 edition of the Detroit Red Wings Top 20 contains a few new names, but offensive dynamo Anthony Mantha and unorthodox but effective goaltender Petr Mrazek retain their spots atop the list. Additionally, four players make their first ever appearance in the Top 20.
Detroit’s focus on selecting hard working, two-way forwards and smooth skating defensemen with offensive upside has resulted in a prospect pool full of players ready for the professional game, be it in the AHL or NHL. While there are very few spots to be earned in Detroit in 2014-15, there are many prospects who are near locks to eventually play in the NHL.
1. (1) Anthony Mantha, RW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 20th overall, 2013
Few players that have ever been drafted by Detroit have had the offensive skills of Anthony Mantha. In 2013-14 Mantha terrorized QMJHL defenders, scoring 120 points in 57 regular season games and 38 points in 24 playoff games. He improved on his night-to-night effort level, and this paid off in more than just points. The Red Wings’ front office was sufficiently impressed with Mantha’s game to sign him to an entry-level contract in October 2013. The organization will allow him to compete for a spot on Detroit’s NHL roster in training camp, and if he is not prepared he will spend the 2014-15 in the AHL.
2. (2) Petr Mrazek, G, 8.0C
Drafted 5th round, 141st overall, 2010
Mrazek has been called up to the NHL multiple times, and during his stints with Detroit he has shown that he has the skill to be a full-time netminder in the big leagues. In 11 NHL games he has a .926 save percentage and a 1.80 goals against average. As the Red Wings are wont to do, however, Mrazek will spend one final season with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL in 2014-15 continuing to hone his craft. Detroit’s front office felt Mrazek’s development would be better served by having him start in the AHL as opposed to backing up Jimmy Howard in the NHL. A one-year, one-way contract extension for the 2015-16 season was signed in July 2014, a clear indicator that Mrazek will be donning the winged wheel nightly in the near future.
3. (3) Tomas Jurco, RW, 7.5B
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2011
A successful AHL debut in 2012-13 boded well for Tomas Jurco’s future, but he exceeded expectations quicker than almost anyone suspected. By the middle of the 2013-14 season he was a member of the Detroit Red Wings. The only thing that could keep him from being a permanent fixture in the NHL is his waiver status; Jurco is exempt for the 2014-15 season and this could be cause for him to spend time in Grand Rapids.
Jurco put up 32 points in 32 AHL games and 15 points in 36 NHL games in 2013-14. He has incredible puck handling ability as well as a quick, accurate shot that makes him more of a pure scorer than a set-up man.
4. (NR) Dylan Larkin, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 15th overall, 2014
Watch Dylan Larkin and the first thing that stands out about him is his incredible skating. He is a quick, powerful skater who uses this ability to bolster his work both offensively and defensively. One area of uncertainty is just how much offensive upside Larkin really has. The next four years at the University of Michigan will give him plenty of ice time, and a byproduct should be a more accurate idea of what to expect from him offensively.
Even if Larkin’s offensive abilities do not develop to their fullest his effort will still make him a prospect to watch. He skates hard and plays with effort on every shift, which is indicative of a true two-way game. The uncertainty in Larkin’s offensive skill may seem like a reason to give pause, but he was drafted
5. (6) Riley Sheahan, C, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 21st overall, 2010
Riley Sheahan enters the 2014-15 season looking to cement his status as a regular in the Detroit Red Wings lineup. He had long been known as a defensively-responsible centerman whose offensive skills were something of a question mark. Sheahan showed that there is still a great deal of offensive potential for him to tap into in 2013-14. Sheahan scored an impressive nine goals and added 15 assists in 42 NHL games. Sheahan could eventually be used in all situations for Detroit; he is a talented penalty killer and could potentially get power play time in the future.
6. (7) Xavier Ouellet, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 48th overall, 2011
Xavier Ouellet is likely ready for a full-time job in the NHL, but a crowded blue line in Detroit may cause him to gain one more season of AHL experience. Ouellet is capable of playing in all situations, making him a true two-way defenseman. He may never be thought of as a point producer, but his keen passing skills and lock-down coverage in his own zone have turned heads within the Red Wings front office.
Ouellet was recalled by Detroit for the final game in their playoff series against Boston to replace the struggling Jakub Kindl in the Wings’ lineup. This is indicative of the trust that the front office has in the young defenseman. Ouellet will likely be the first player called up should any of Detroit’s defensemen get injured during the 2014-15 season.
7. (8) Ryan Sproul, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 55th overall, 2011
Ryan Sproul finished his junior career a highly decorated player, being named both the CHL Defenseman of the Year and winning the Max Kaminsky Trophy for Defenseman of the Year in 2012-13. Despite the accolades Sproul moved up to the AHL in 2013-14 with concerns lingering about the defensive side of his game.
The aforementioned concerns made it seem like Sproul would need a few season to develop in the AHL, but he exceeded expectations in 2013-14. His defensive zone play has improved significantly. Sproul’s offensive game translated well to professional hockey, as he posted 32 points in 72 games. Sproul willl be ready for a shot at an NHL roster spot in the next one to two seasons.
8. (9) Teemu Pulkkinen, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2011
Teemu Pulkkinen had a productive AHL rookie season in 2013-14, posting 59 points in 71 games. His shot has been widely discussed for a number of seasons, while the real question mark in his game has been on the defensive side. Pulkkinen made strides defensively, and while that is still not a strong area of his play it is serviceable. His offensive game took a bit to transition to the smaller North American ice surface, but once Pulkkinen adapted he was one of the Griffins’ best players.
9. (10) Andreas Athanasiou, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, 2012
The transition from OHL to AHL is coming at the right time for Andreas Athanasiou, as there is little left for him to prove at the junior level. He scored 95 points in 66 games for the Barrie Colts, then added 12 more in 11 playoff games. Were it not for Anthony Mantha’s prodigous talent, Athanasiou would be Detroit’s most offensively gifted player not playing professionally. That will change in 2014-15, as Athanasiou moves up to Grand Rapids. His game is predicated on his excellent skating and speed, and it will be interesting to see if that translates to the AHL.
10. (11) Alexey Marchenko, D, 7.0C
Drafted 7th round, 205th overall, 2011
Alexey Marchenko has spent one season playing professionally and has already made a name for himself as a defender capable of shutting down opposing forwards. He plays a steady game, is responsible in all zones, and uses good stick work to break up rushes. Marchenko was rewarded with a spot in the 2013-14 AHL All Star Game and will return to Grand Rapids in 2014-15. If he continues to develop at the rate he has been he should be ready for the NHL in the very near future.
11. (16) Mattias Janmark, C, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 79th overall, 2013
Mattias Janmark had a good season for AIK in 2013-14, scoring 30 points in 45 games. AIK, however, was less than successful and ended up being dropped down a tier of play. Janmark became a free agent and has signed with Frolunda for the 2014-15 season. He has a good work ethic and uses this to hang onto the puck and produce offensively. Janmark also has a good sense of where to be on the ice, which he also uses to set up teammates in the offensive zone.
12. (12) Mattias Backman, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5thround, 146th overall, 2011
Mattias Backman has a bit of offensive upside, but his true calling card is in his defensive play. He is excellent at getting himself into the proper position to disrupt opposing players, and he has a good first pass that helps start breakouts. Backman proved himself ready for the AHL during the 2013-14 playoffs, playing 10 games and notching six points. He will play for Grand Rapids again in 2014-15.
13. (13) Landon Ferraro, C, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2009
A player who can play on both the power play and penalty kill possesses a fairly unique skill set, and Landon Ferraro is one of those players. The biggest obstacle in Ferraro’s future is an already-overloaded roster of forwards in Detroit. He loses his waiver exemption in 2014-15, meaning he will need to either win an NHL roster spot in training camp or risk being claimed off of waivers should he return to the AHL.
14. (15) Zach Nastasiuk, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 48th overall, 2013
Zach Nastasiuk is known for being a leader in the dressing room, being named captain of the Owen Sound Attack at age 18. His game was also mature enough to earn him a stint with Grand Rapids during their playoff run. In seven games he only scored one point, but his development was benefited by exposure to the professional game. Nastasiuk will return to Owen Sound in 2014-15, where his physical play should continue to drive his offensive output.
15. (NR) Tomas Nosek, C, 6.5C
Signed as free agent, June 2014
It took three seasons with HC Pardubice, but Tomas Nosek finally had the offensive breakthrough season many had anticipated in 2013-14. Nosek recorded 44 points in 52 games. He is similar to Landon Ferraro in that he can play on both the penalty kill and power play. Nosek has a good work ethic and is willing to go into the corners and more difficult areas of the ice to create scoring opportunities.
16. (NR) Dominic Turgeon, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 63rd overall, 2014
Dominic Turgeon’s selection raised a few eyebrows when he was taken 63rd overall. The Red Wings, however, believe that they have selected a player who simply has not had the opportunity to shine yet offensively. He has never played a top-six role, nor has he received any power play time. Turgeon’s defense is excellent for a forward, and this aspect of his game alone is enough to make him a valued part of the prospect pipeline. Turgeon played on the third line for the Portland Winterhawks in 2013-14, and he should see an expanded role with the team in 2014-15.
17. (18) Mitch Callahan, RW, 6.0C
Drafted 6th round, 180th overall, 2009
Mitch Callahan transformed his game from being purely an enforcer to be an agitating forward with offensive skill. He scored a career high 26 goals in 2013-14 for Grand Rapids, often digging pucks out of the corner or driving the net to create scoring chances. Callahan faces the same uphill battle as Landon Ferraro; he must either make the Red Wings out of training camp or be exposed to the waiver wire to return to the AHL.
18. (20) Nick Jensen, D, 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 150th overall, 2009
A shoulder injury delayed the start of Nick Jensen’s 2013-14 season until December, but he had a very good second half of the season. In his first AHL season Jensen only notched nine points, but he displayed physicality and intelligent defensive play. Though not known for his offense, he did see time on the power play during the 2013-14 season. Jensen will return to the Griffins in 2014-15.
19. (19) Martin Frk, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 49th overall, 2012
Martin Frk had a very poor start to 2013-14, being moved down to the ECHL after it became apparent that he needed to work on his skating and defense away from the AHL. Frk eventually worked his way back to the AHL but had trouble finding his scoring touch. He played in only four of Grand Rapids’ playoff games, serving as a healthy scratch for the rest of the Griffins playoff run. Frk needs to show that his poor skating will not derail his career in 2014-15, when he is expected to return to Grand Rapids.
20. (NR) Tyler Bertuzzi, LW, 6.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 58th overall, 2013
Tyler Bertuzzi is known for his love of physical play, but that cost him during the 2013-14 season. A neck injury forced Bertuzzi to miss all but 29 regular season games for the Guelph Storm. He recovered in time for the playoffs, where a slightly more conscientious Bertuzzi had an impressive playoff run and 2014 Memorial Cup. He scored five goals in four Memorial Cup games while tempering his physical play but still utilizing to create offensive opportunities. Bertuzzi will return to the Storm in 2014-15.