Hockey’s Future hands out these awards every season to players who stood out during the course of the season. Several Detroit Red Wings prospects had banner seasons throughout junior, the NCAA and the AHL; others, meanwhile, earned opportunities in Detroit, such as rookie goaltender Petr Mrazek, Teemu Pulkkinen and a group of up-and-coming defensemen.
In the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins secured a playoff spot thanks to impressive seasons from Pulkkinen, veteran Andy Miele and an impressive goaltending carousel featuring Jared Coreau, Tom McCollum and Mrazek.
Now playing with Grand Rapids in the AHL, Zach Nastasiuk has a number of accomplishments to look back on throughout his four-year career with the Owen Sound Attack. The 6’2 winger spent the past two seasons as the Attack’s captain and was regarded as a respected leader and teammate. He entered this season as the team’s reigning regular season MVP, the fan’s choice player of the year and the winner of the Dave McComb Memorial Award for leadership and perseverance.
Statistically, this year was far-and-away Nastasiuk’s best year; through 64 games, he recorded a team-leading 35 goals and finished second amongst all Attack players with 77 points behind only Kyle Platzer (EDM). He scored just once in five playoff games.
Hardest Shot: Teemu Pulkkinen, RW, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
If Teemu Pulkkinen’s shot isn’t the hardest in the Wing organization, then it is the quickest and most accurate. In terms of overall scoring ability, Pulkkinen has the most lethal shot in Grand Rapids, and he might even rival many of the current Red Wings. His shooting ability was on display this season both in the AHL and NHL; with Grand Rapids, the Finn scored 34 goals in 46 games, and, with limited minutes in Detroit, he has scored five goals in 29 games.
Not only does Pulkkinen have a hard, accurate wrist and slap shot, but he shows no qualms about firing the puck whenever the opportunity presents itself. Last season in Grand Rapids, he registered 201 shots in 71 games; this year, he totaled 189 in 25 less games. Since his recall to Detroit, he averaged two shots a game despite often playing under 10 minutes. He was also recently named to the AHL’s First All-Star team.
Best Defensive Prospect: Alexey Marchenko, D, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
As far as shutdown defenders go, Alexey Marchenko is the current best prospect in the Wings organization. Despite solid players like Joe Hicketts, Ryan Sproul, and Xavier Ouellet, all of whom are likely better all-around prospects, Marchenko has the physical attributes and intensity to his game that could make him a dependable NHL defenseman who can kill penalties.
In 51 games with Grand Rapids, the 23 year old Russian was a plus-22, which is currently tied for second amongst all Griffin players. Marchenko will likely never run a power play, but he has shown the ability to contribute offensively as well, recording 20 points this season. He was rewarded for his consistent play with 12 games in Detroit this season, where he scored his first career NHL goal.
Fastest Skater: Landon Ferraro, C, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
One doesn’t have to just watch Ferraro to realize he has elite-level speed – there are data to back it up. The 23-year-old, who recently appeared in his first NHL game, has won a couple of fastest skater competitions throughout his junior and pro career. In 2009 with the Red Deer Rebels, he skated a lap time of 14.009, beating out Dallas’s Cody Eakin, and also won the fastest skater competition at the CHL Top Prospects game that year.
The Red Wings have been typically patient with the 2009 second round pick, but it appears to have paid off. Ferraro scored a career high 27 goals in 70 games this season with Grand Rapids and, after 268 career games in the AHL, he appears to be on the cusp of becoming a solid NHLer.
Prospect of the Year: Dylan Larkin, LW/C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
Teemu Pulkkinen’s season has been outstanding, but the one player who has done the most to raise his stock this season has been Dylan Larkin. Hidden behind Jack Eichel (2015), Sonny Milano (CBJ) and Alex Tuch (MIN) with the U.S National Under-18 Development Team in 2013-14, Larkin emerged as a star freshman with the University of Michigan this season. The Michigan native finished second on the team in scoring with 47 points in 35 games, behind only senior Zach Hyman (FLA).
He also almost single-handedly brought the United States World Junior team into the medal round, leading the team in goals with five in just five games. His outstanding season has also earned him a trip to the Czech Republic in May where he is skating for the United States at the IIHF Men’s World Championships. With great speed and a high level of intelligence, he could very well turn pro next year, but given the Red Wings’ history of slowly bringing along prospects, it would not be a surprise to see him stay at U of M for another season.
A big center playing behind some offensively-gifted forwards who are due to turn pro, there is plenty of reason to think Dominic Turgeon will take a step forward next season. The Cherry Hills, Colorado native recorded 43 points in 67 games this season, a 12-point increase from his 2012-13 production.
The Winterhawks will almost assuredly lose their top three scorers next season – Oliver Bjorkstrand (CBJ), Nic Petan (WPG) and Chase De Leo (WPG). That should allow players like Paul Bittner (2015) and Keegan Iverson (NYR), along with Turgeon, to see the ice a lot more, particularly on the power play. It would not be unreasonable to expect at least a point-per-game out of Turgeon next season.
Most Improved Prospect: Joe Hicketts, D, Victoria Royals (WHL)
Not many – OK, nobody – expected undersized and undrafted defenseman Joe Hicketts to make the Canadian World Junior team this year, but the Kamloops, BC native did just that. The Red Wings signed Hicketts in the summer after he went undrafted due to concerns over his 5’8 frame and the fact he missed half of the 2013-14 season due to injury. He came flying out of the gate to begin this season and, following the end of the regular season, maintained a point-per-game pace with 64 points in 62 games.
He showed tremendous poise on the big stage with the Canadian World Junior team, sliding into injured defenseman Samuel Morin’s spot with relative ease. Next year, he’ll be a lock for the team as it attempts to defend the gold medal.
Overachiever: Tyler Bertuzzi, LW, Guelph Storm (OHL)
This award is not necessarily a knock on Bertuzzi, but rather an acknowledgement of his going above-and-beyond offensive expectations. He was drafted late in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft, with the Red Wings primarily being enamored with his high-energy and physical style of play. In his draft year, the Sudbury, Ontario native scored just 22 points in 43 regular season games and went pointless in five playoff games. Last year, injuries once again affected his season, as he played just 29 games, but saw his point total rise to 34.
Because of his inability to play a full season and varied offensive expectations, it is a little surprising to see Bertuzzi’s stat line: 68 games, 43 goals, 55 assists and 91 penalty minutes. He was aided by playing on a strong team, but there is no denying his importance to the Storm. However, it might be premature to expect solid offensive numbers from him as a rookie in the AHL next season.
Underachiever: Martin Frk, RW, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Though he is currently playing in the AHL, Czech native Martin Frk has spent half of the season playing for the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye. While offensively he lit up the league with 23 goals in 29 games, the fact he spent that much time in the league as a second-year pro is a little concerning, particularly as a former second round pick.
Since his recall to Grand Rapids, Frk has at least found some stability, earning third-line minutes and recording eight points in 27 games. He is still just 21 years old, but is far behind where the organization expected he would be development-wise at this point in his career.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Anthony Mantha, RW, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Anthony Mantha, while not exactly meeting expectations this season, remains a solid prospect. The only real risk involved with many of these prospects is the position they were selected, and the Wings almost uncharacteristically used a first round pick on a high-scoring winger from the QMJHL in the 2013 NHL Draft.
In his final two years of junior, Mantha scored 107 goals in the regular season and 24 in 24 playoff games in 2014. As a rookie in Grand Rapids, however, Mantha has scored just 15 goals in 60 games. It is not a particularly concerning sign, especially since the Griffins have strong depth up front, but for a player drafted for his offensive ability, he will be expected to do more going forward.
Prospect of the Month
With a lot of Red Wings minor league prospects getting the call to Detroit as injury replacements, the organization’s depth was on full display as the Grand Rapids Griffins continued to play well late into the season. The Griffins were without key contributors Teemu Pulkkinen and Landon Ferraro in April, but Tomas Nosek, a 22 year-old rookie, filled in effectively in terms of offensive production. The two-way pivot recorded nine points in nine games throughout the month and was a plus-11; in fact, he was a minus in just one game. He also recorded 23 shots on net during those nine games, his second highest total in any given month this year. Through four games of the AHL playoffs, Nosek has two goals and two assists.