It has been a gradual change, but the draft picks that have been laying in wait for the Detroit Red Wings have started to make their impact on the team’s NHL roster. As some graduate to the NHL others have filled their spots in the AHL, leaving Detroit’s system very top-heavy with prospects playing professionally.
A look through the pool of Red Wings prospects shows that there appear to be two distinct groups; those who are playing for the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins or those who were drafted in the past two seasons, with very little in between. Detroit has done a good job of finding talent that could eventually play in the NHL, but they will need many of their prospects from the last two drafts to pan out if the system is to remain as talent-filled as it has been in recent years. If Detroit’s more recently drafted prospects do not pan out then the system is at risk of being significantly weakened.
A position of strength just a season ago, the depth at left wing has taken a significant hit with the graduation of Gustav Nyquist to the NHL.
The fifteenth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Dylan Larkin is currently a freshman at the University of Michigan. He was drafted for his two-way play and speed, and so far that has been on display with the Wolverines. Larkin was named the Big Ten’s second star of the week on October 28th. He currently has six points in five games played. David Pope, Detroit’s fourth round selection in the 2013 NHL Draft, is also playing his first season of college hockey. Pope has yet to skate in a game for the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Andreas Athanasiou is playing his first professional season with the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2014-15. He is coming off of a season in which he showed a great deal of offensive upside, but that has yet to be seen in Grand Rapids; Athansiou has two points in five games for the Griffins.
Tomas Nosek and Colin Campbell are also skating for the Griffins. Nosek was signed in the offseason and is known for his high hockey intelligence and offensive upside, while Campbell provides Grand Rapids with a gritty, defensive-minded winger.
Marek Tvrdon is again playing for the ECHL‘s Toledo Walleye. He played 22 games for the Walleye in 2013-14 before being sent back to the WHL, so he will need to show that his game has progressed enough to play professionally in 2014-15.
Andrej Nestrasil had a good enough training camp to earn some NHL ice time in the wake of a shoulder injury suffered by Pavel Datsyuk. He has played well enough to stick with the Wings even after Datsyuk’s return to the lineup, though he is averaging only 11:31 of ice time per game.
In the OHL is Tyler Bertuzzi, who is in his fourth season with 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 12 games.
Detroit only has one left winger in the European prospect pipeline, 2014 draftee Julius Vahatalo. He was selected with the understanding that his development was a long-term project. Vahatalo has no points for TPS in nine SM-liiga games, but he did record eight points in four games with TPS U20 earlier this season.
Riley Sheahan is a two-way center who has proven that he can hold down an NHL roster spot. Sheahan is coming off of a season in which he played 42 games for Detroit, cementing his position as a bottom-six forward with some offensive upside and the ability to play on the penalty kill. Sheahan has one goal and one assist in nine NHL games in 2014-15.
Landon Ferraro is trying to prove that he is worthy of being a Red Wing in the near future, as he signed a one-year contract with the Wings in the offseason. Ferraro is a versatile center who can be used in any special teams situation, but no longer being waiver exempt means he will likely only see time in the NHL if there are a significant number of injuries. He is currently playing for Grand Rapids. Louis-Marc Aubry is also on the Grand Rapids roster, though he has played in only one game this season.
Mattias Janmark 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 since being drafted. Janmark has 12 points in 16 SHL games in his first season with Frolunda.
Dominic Turgeon was taken higher than projected when Detroit selected him in the third round of the 2014 NHL Draft. It appears to this point that Detroit had a good idea what they were doing, as Turgeon has used an increase in ice time and special teams play to record 11 points in 14 games.
Playing in Europe are Christoffer Ehn and Alexander Kadeykin. Ehn has four points in five games with Frolunda J20 in the SuperElit. This shows significant progress over the 11 points in 45 games that Ehn had in 2013-14. Kadeykin is 6’3 and 213 pounds, and he plays a two-way game reflective of his size. He must improve offensively going forward, as he currently has three points in 16 KHL games.
Philippe Hudon is still technically a prospect, but he is currently a free agent after being cut by the Greenville Road Warriors out of training camp. It does not appear that he fits in Detroit’s future plans.
Much of Detroit’s forward talent is at right wing. Tomas Jurco was promoted from the Griffins to the Red Wings in 2013-14 and has shown flashes of his offensive talent in Detroit. He is still developing, however, and while he has earned a spot in the lineup he has yet to truly show the kind of point producer he can become. He has two points in nine games in 2014-15.
The Grand Rapids Griffins have a trio of talented right wingers on their roster in Teemu Pulkkinen, Martin Frk, and Mitch Callahan. They also all have the long-term potential to eventually crack the NHL roster in Detroit, though some sooner than others.
Pulkkinen has thus far displayed his skill as a sniper. He is leading the Griffins in points with five through the first five games of the season, including four goals. Pulkkinen will be expected to shoulder more of the offensive load in 2014-15 with players like Jurco and Sheahan in Detroit.
Frk has a tremendous amount of potential but has yet to display it in the AHL. He had trouble adjusting to the AHL in 2013-14, and though he has worked to improve his suspect skating abilities he has yet to record a point in five games with the Griffins thus far.
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 that was especially evident in 2013-14, when he recorded 44 points in 70 games. Callahan also plays an important role on Grand Rapids’ penalty kill.
Anthony Mantha is still recovering from a fractured right tibia suffered in training camp. After a stellar junior career that saw him score 120 points in 57 games for the Val-d’Or Foreurs in 2013-14 he is expected to join the Grand Rapids Griffins this season. He had a chance to make the Red Wings in training camp, but his injury both prevented him from doing so and ensured he would spend time developing in the AHL. He is expected to be ready to join Grand Rapids in about one month.
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 because of his on-ice performance. What they did not yet know was that they were getting a locker room leader as well. Nastasiuk is in his second season as captain of the Owen Sound Attack, where he has 12 points in 14 games.
Hampus Melen, whom the Red Wings took in the seventh round of the 2013 NHL Draft, is having a bounceback season in Sweden. He lost most of the 2013-14 season to a respiratory disorder. Melen has recovered and skated in 13 SuperElit games for his new Vaxjo Lakers club, scoring nine points.
Also in Europe is Axel Holmstrom, who was selected by Detroit in the seventh round of the 2014 NHL Draft. Holmstrom is having a good season for Skelleftea of the SHL, scoring nine points in 16 games.
Detroit is currently experiencing what can only be described as an embarrassment of riches in the AHL. Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul, Alexey Marchenko, Nick Jensen, and Mattias Backman all find themselves vying for playing time with the Griffins.
Ouellet has already made his NHL debut, playing four games for Detroit in 2013-14. He is an intelligent, smooth playmaker whose game is bolstered by good defensive positioning. He is the most well-rounded of Detroit’s AHL defenders. Ouellet will spend the majority of the season in Grand Rapids, but he will likely be an NHL regular in the near future.
Sproul is an offensive-defenseman, but has continued to improve his defensive game. His slap shot is uniquely powerful; just ask Mitch Callahan, who had to undergo oral surgery after taking a Sproul slap shot to the face in the 2013-14 season. 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.
Marchenko is not known for his offense, so netting two points in six games is no reason to be concerned. 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.
Jensen improved dramatically over his college career with St. Cloud State, showing incredible skating ability and a propensity for smart passing. His speed would seem indicative of a more offensive bent to this game, but Jensen is developing into a steady defender who makes crisp outlet passes and takes care of his own end of the ice.
Backman is a well-rounded defenseman, not particularly offensively-skilled but not lacking in playmaking ability. He has shown improvement in his defensive positioning over the past few seasons. Backman has NHL potential, though the next phase of his career will see him develop in the AHL; he is spending his first full season with the Griffins in 2014-15.
Richard Nedomlel is also playing professionally. He spent the 2013-14 season playing for the Toledo Walleye, and though he would like to crack the AHL roster he once again finds himself in Toledo in 2014-15.
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. Also in the WHL is Joe Hicketts, who was signed by Detroit as a free agent after going undrafted. He has high on-ice intelligence and was signed by Detroit to an entry-level contract in September 2014.
In the NCAA, the Red Wings have three prospects on defense. James de Haas is a well-rounded defenseman who is in his sophomore season at Clarkson University. He has until 2017 to be signed by Detroit. Mike McKee is also beginning his sophomore season, in his case with Western Michigan University. McKee is still nominally a defenseman, though his coaches moved him to left wing for a portion of 2013-14. Where his future is remains to be seen. 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 senior season and will be counted on as one of the top-four defensemen for a Minnesota team that is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Petr Mrazek is the de facto starter in Grand Rapids, though his play thus far has been slightly disappointing. 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 the Griffins. Mrazek signed a one-way contract for the 2015-16 season in the offseason, which is a clear indicator that Detroit expects him to be an NHL backup at that point in time.
Jared Coreau, an undrafted free agent, is a very large, athletic goaltender who was very good in his three seasons with Northern Michigan University. It no longer appears that he has NHL potential. He will, however, be given ample playing time to continue his development with the ECHL’s Toldeo Walleye. Coreau started 20 games for the Walleye in 2013-14.
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. Detroit decided to return Paterson to the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit for an overage season in early October. He has played in seven games, posting a 2.84 goals against average and .923 save percentage.
Chase Perry is in his first season of NCAA hockey with Colorado College. He has a 3.60 goals against average and .853 save percentage after being selected by Detroit in the fifth round of the 2014 Draft.