Smith still tops talented prospect pool for Detroit Red Wings

By Brandon Peleshok
Photo: Tomas Jurco has all of the tools to one day develop into a top-six sniper for the Red Wings.  (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Brendan Smith remains the highest ranked prospects in the Red Wings system, and new additions to the list include Tomas Jurco, Xavier Ouellet, and Ryan Sproul. Goaltender Daniel Larsson has made the most significant move, falling off the top 20 list completely.

1. (1) Brendan Smith, D, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2007

Maintaining his top spot on the top 20 list is blueliner Brendan Smith. While there were many questions surrounding his ability to transition his college game to the AHL level, Smith had a successful rookie season for Grand Rapids. He was able to put up 32 points in 63 games with the team, and even finished with a plus-seven rating. At 6'2, 190lbs, Smith has enough size and skill to turn into a complete defenseman, potentially winding up on a top pairing.

Smith's greatest assets are mostly offensively related. His ability to quarterback a powerplay is outstanding, as he possesses a strong shot, great mobility on the blue line, and tape-to-tape passing. He has also shown himself to be more willing to get physical, dishing out hits as often as he can.

Any off-ice incidents that raised questions about Smith's commitment seem to have completely disappeared. Smith will look to improve on his rookie campaign for Grand Rapids in the upcoming 2011-12 season, and will likely be the first defensive call-up should any injuries occur at the NHL level.

2. (2) Tomas Tatar, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 60th overall, 2009

Tomas Tatar is perhaps the most offensively talented prospect on the top 20 list. Tatar made the AHL right out of training camp at just 18 years-old, and was the youngest player in the league. He followed up his rookie season by showing an improved work ethic and better overall conditioning. Tatar played in more games (70) and was able to produce more points (57) in his second year of play as a member of the Grand Rapids team.

Tatar's possesses very strong offensive sense and instincts. He is a solid skater, with a heavy and accurate shot. He also has the ability to hang onto the puck for long periods of time and distribute it to his teammates. Tatar will still have to work on his defensive game, and perhaps add some strength to his 5'11, 176lbs frame. Once he does, his skills will likely shine through even more brightly.

Tatar will spend his third season in Grand Rapids, looking to have another productive season for the Griffins. He will also likely be the first call-up for the Red Wings if they require a player to fill in for injuries.

3. (4) Gustav Nyquist, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 4th round, 121st overall, 2008

Taking the third spot on the top 20 list is Swedish winger Gustav Nyquist. Possessing, perhaps, the most complete bag of skills of any Red Wings prospect, Nyquist has developed nicely since his draft year. He finished his collegiate career at Maine by scoring 51 points in 36 games with the Black Bears. He finished off his hockey year with a professional try-out on Grand Rapids, where he scored four points in nine games while looking right at home.

Nyquist projects as the total package, with great offensive and defensive instincts. He possesses strong playmaking skills, and plays an excellent two-way game. Perhaps his greatest assets are his work ethic and perseverance. The only knock on Nyquist is his lack of size, standing 5'11, 170lbs.

Nyquist will make his pro debut during the 2011-12 season, where he will start the year with the Grand Rapids Griffins. With a fairly young team, Nyquist will be given every chance to show that he can step in and contribute offensively.

4. (5) Teemu Pulkkinen, RW, 7.5D
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2010

Teemu Pulkkinen spent the 2010-11 season showing the hockey world why he was considering a steal in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. Widely considered to have top ten skills, Pulkkinen dropped drastically because of consistency and injury issues surrounding him. He silenced all of his critics with his stellar offensive play in the SM-Liiga this past year. The Finnish winger was nearly a point per game player for Jokerit, scoring 54 points in 55 games.

Pulkkinen has all the necessary skills to become a sniper player at the NHL level. He possesses a great shot, a knack for hanging onto the puck for long periods of time and outstanding offensive instincts. While his weight leaves something to be desired (5'10, 171lbs), bulking up a bit will ensure that he can compete at the NHL level.

For the 2011-12 season, Pulkkinen will be returning to Jokerit, where he hopes to continue his outstanding play and shows that his previous season was not just a fluke.

5. (NR) Tomas Jurco, RW, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2011

With their first selection in the 2011 draft, Detroit slipped back to the second round and selected Tomas Jurco. Much like his fellow countryman Tomas Tatar, Jurco is said to have elite skills and many in the hockey world were surprised he fell to the second round. Already having good size (6'2, 187 pounds), Jurco has all the skills to one day turn into a scoring line forward.

Carrying the nickname "Tommy Toe-Drag", Jurco has become a youtube sensation with his slick offensive moves on the ice. As a member of the Saint John Sea Dogs, he was able to score nearly a point per game with 56 over 60 games played. Jurco possesses very strong hockey sense, as well as electrifying stick-handling ability. While he has been criticized for playing perimeter hockey at times, he has shown that he can turn up his game when it counts.

Going into the 2011-12 season, Jurco can expect to see a larger role on his QMJHL team, likely resulting in a higher offensive output. It will be interesting to see if he can thrive in a role where much more attention will be paid to everything he does on the ice.

6. (6) Riley Sheahan, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 21st overall, 2010

Perhaps the most "safe" pick on the top 20 list, Riley Sheahan remains at the number six spot. At 6'2, 202lbs he certainly possesses good size, and with the skill he has Sheahan projects as a future power forward for the Red Wings. In his second season with Notre Dame improved upon his rookie season totals. He finished the year with 22 points in 40 games with the school.

It should also be noted that Notre Dame is a defensively oriented school, so his low offensive totals should not be too discouraging. He uses his size very well, and gets in front of the net for good offensive opportunities. Sheahan also has very strong defensive skills, which will also be honed during his time at Notre Dame.

In the 2011-12 season Sheahan will look to build upon his offensive numbers. Entering his third year will the school, he will be expected to develop more of leadership role and nose for the net. At the very least Sheahan could fill the role of a checking line center, and a very good one at that.

7. (7) Calle Jarnkrok, C, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 51st overall, 2010

While he might be small in stature (5'11, 165lbs), Calle Jarnkrok makes up for it with his offensive skills. In his first full year of Elitserien play, Jarnkrok showed sign of steady improvement. In 49 games with Brynas, he was able to amass 27 points. Perhaps Jarnkrok's best asset is his ability to hang onto the puck and stick-handle. He also has good speed and a knack for setting up his teammates.

Jarnkrok will start the 2011-12 season back on Brynas of the SEL, where he will look to continue his offensive improvement and add on some weight to his frame.

8. (9) Landon Ferraro, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2009

Plagued by inconsistency and injuries once again, Landon Ferraro struggled in his last season in the WHL. Though it was expected that a change of scenery would help his overall game, Ferraro still had issues after his move from Red Deer to the Everett Silvertips. He labored early on in the season, and was ultimately cut down by a sports hernia injury.

Ferraro finished the 2010-11 season with just 27 points over 41 games, scoring only ten goals. These numbers are a far cry from the 37 goals he put up in his draft year. Surprisingly, Ferraro was still signed to a contract with the Red Wings in November of 2010, most likely due to his perceived potential.

Moving forward, Ferraro will likely start the year as a member of the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Red Wings brass still has hope for him and his ability to turn into a scoring line player. With all of his struggles in junior, it remains to be seen if Ferraro will be able to compete at the AHL level.

9. (NR) Xavier Ouellet, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2011

Another new addition to the top 20 list is 2011 draftee Xavier Ouellet. Ouellet is essentially the prototypical Red Wings blueliner, exhibiting a solid all-around game. He possesses strong skating ability, sharp offensive instincts and good hockey sense. The 6'0, 174 lbs defender is slight, but all of his offensive skills made him exactly the kind of blueliner the Red Wings covet. In 67 games with the Montreal Juniors, Ouellet was able to put up 43 points.

Ouellet will begin the 2011-12 season with the same organization, now known as the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, looking at add some size and develop his all-around game. If he fills out properly, Ouellet could end up being a strong number 3-4 defenseman who can contribute offensively.

10. (14) Benjamin Marshall, D, 7.0C
Drafted 7th round, 201st overall, 2010

Certainly one of the smallest players (5'9, 170 lbs) on the list, Benjamin Marshall rounds out the top 10. Like so many of the defensive prospects the Red Wings are attracted to, Marshall has all of the offensive tools to fit Detroit's puck-possession style. He has elite skating ability and solid stick-handling skills, allowing him to dictate the offensive pace of the game.

Obviously, Marhshall will have to bulk up a bit before playing at the NHL or AHL level, but his ability to compete allows him to play the game bigger than his frame would suggest. He was able to put up 32 points in 56 games for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL during the 2010-11 season.

Marshall will begin his first year of post-secondary education in the 2011-12 season, playing for the University of Minnesota. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the physicality of the college gave, given his size.

11. (3) Jan Mursak, RW, 6.5B
Drafted 6th round, 182nd overall, 2006

Perhaps the most NHL-ready player on the top 20 list, Jan Mursak will begin the 2011-12 season as a member of the Detroit Red Wings. Mursak's drop on the list is due primarily to the role he will play on the team in the future. While he has shown a nose for the net at the AHL level, it may not be enough to garner a scoring role on an NHL team.

In 54 games with Grand Rapids, he potted 35 points. During his call-ups with Detroit, 19 games in total, Mursak scored just one goal. While his offense during that stint was minimal, Mursak's biggest asset is his blazing speed, which allows him to create a strong forecheck. This allowed him to fit in nicely in a checking line role, creating turnovers, where he made use of his ability to protect the puck.

While he possesses a small frame (5'11, 167lbs), he has shown himself willing to play a physical game if he must. Mursak will start the 2011-12 as the 13th forward for Detroit, but with some strong play he could find himself a staple on a line next to fellow speedster Darren Helm.

12. (12) Cory Emmerton, C, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2006

While Cory Emmerton probably has not developed the way the Red Wings front office would have liked, he may still get his chance to show what he can do at the NHL level this fall. He pretty much maintained his level of offensive output at the AHL level with the Griffins, scoring 38 points in 65 games with the team. All the while, Emmerton maintained his strong two-way play that has kept him relevant with the team. At 6'0, 190lbs, he will be able to keep up with the physical nature of the league.

During a brief call-up with the Red Wings, Emmerton had a goal and no assists in two games. No longer able to pass freely through waivers, Emmerton will battle for the 14th spot on Detroit forward corps with Mursak and free agent signing Chris Conner.

13. (8) Andrej Nestrasil, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 75th overall, 2009

Andrej Nestrasil improved his point total during the 2010-2011 season once again, notching 70 points in 58 games. As a member of the P.E.I. Rockets, he was able to put together his most impressive junior campaign to date. At 6'2, 200lbs Nestrasil projects as a possible power forward, though, he leans more toward creating plays for his teammates. He has solid playmaking skills, is willing to take the body and is very strong on the puck.

Nestrasil was signed to a contract just a few days before the June 1st deadline. He will spend the 2011-12 season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, looking to translate his game to the pro level.

14. (15) Petr Mrazek, G, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 141st overall, 2010

With the first appearance of a goaltender on the top 20 list is Petr Mrazek at number 14. At 6'0, 170lbs, Mrazek's size leaves something to be desired. However, his willingness to compete and sharp reflexes have made up for his small stature. After spending the 2009-10 season juggling starts on the Ottawa 67's, Mrazek took on the starting role for the 2010-11 year. He was able to play in 52 games, and put up a fairly impressive 2.84 goals against average and .920 save percentage.

Mrazek will spend the 2011-12 season with the 67's once again, looking to improve upon his play and earn a contract during the summer of 2012 with the Red Wings.

15. (18) Adam Almqvist, D, 7.0D
Drafted 7th round, 210th overall, 2009

Adam Almqvist has dropped slightly on the top 20 list, primarily due to a drop in his offensive numbers during the 2010-11 season. In his first full year of tier one play for HV-71, Almqvist put up 16 points in 52 games. While they are a fry cry from his totals on HV-71's J-20 team, he still maintained the strong instincts he has always shown and finished the year as a plus-20.

Almqvist boasts very impressive hockey sense, and is adept at working a powerplay with a strong shot and tape-to-tape passes. The biggest issue with him is his weight, tipping the scales at 5'11, 174 lbs. His slight frame is likely the leading cause for his dip in totals, as it leaves him easily muscled off the puck.

If Almqvist can put on the proper weight, the Red Wings could find themselves with yet another late round gem. The 20 year-old Swede will likely spend another season with HV-71, but could also make the jump over to Grand Rapids.

16. (NR) Ryan Sproul, D, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 55th overall, 2011

The last member of the 2011 class to make the list is blueliner Ryan Sproul. Sproul has the frame (6'4, 185lbs) and the all the tools to become and all-around defenseman in the NHL one day. He possesses a rocket of a shot from the blue line and strong offensive instincts. While he struggled early on with the Greyhounds, he went on to put up 33 points in 61 games with the team. If Sproul can add on the necessary weight and strength to match his height, he could end up bringing a strong physical game as well.

Sproul will return to Sault Ste. Marie for the 2011-12 season, looking to build upon his strong rookie campaign.

17. (13) Thomas McCollum, G, 7.0D
Drafted 1st round, 30th overall, 2008

It is probably fair to say that Thomas McCollum's transition to the AHL has not gone the way he would have hoped. While the 6'2, 205lbs New York native still possesses the size and raw talent to be a solid prospect, he has not turned that potential into on-ice results.

His struggles saw him bounce between the Griffins and their ECHL affiliate Toledo Walleye during the 2010-11 season. He put up a 3.33 goals against average and .879 save percentage with Grand Rapids, hardly impressive enough to keep a job with the team. He looked rather shaky in his one start for the Red Wings as well, letting in three goals on eight shots during the game.

McCollum will likely have to battle for the back-job this season in Grand Rapids, with veteran Joey MacDonald holding the starting position. Fellow prospect Jordan Pearce knocked him out of his spot in the 2010-11 season, something McCollum will be looking to recapture.

18. (16) Trevor Parkes, RW, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent in 2010

When Trevor Parkes was signed in September of 2010 to a free agent contract by the Red Wings, it is unlikely they anticipated the strong play he would put forth in the coming year. Parkes went on to lead the Montreal Juniors in points during the 2010-11 year, scoring 62 points in 60 games with the team. For his game to translate to the NHL level, he will have to add some size to his 6'1, 180lbs frame.

Like several other prospects, Parkes will have a chance to play for the Grand Rapids Griffins for the 2011-12 season depending on how strong of a camp he has.

19. (10) Mitchell Callahan, RW, 6.0B
Drafted 6th round, 180th overall, 2009

Mitchell Callahan's large drop on the list is due in no part to his play, but more because his projected role is as a fourth line checker. It remains to be seen if Callahan's hands and feet can develop him into more than that, but for the time being he has all the essential tools to be an agitating force for the Red Wings someday.

He experienced his strongest offensive output for the Kelowna Rockets during the 2010-11 season, notching 54 points in 62 games. While his small stature (5'11, 175lbs) might suggest he's not cut out to be the enforcer type, Callahan is a strong pound-for-pound fighter who will stand up for his teammates.

If he can continue to put up respectable numbers, the Red Wings may finally have the enforcer-type player that meets their high standards. It's possible that Callahan will join Grand Rapids this fall, depending on how well he does in camp. He could very well win a job on the team and be used in a third or fourth line checking-line winger capacity.

20. (19) Joakim Andersson, C, 6.0B
Drafted 3rd round, 88th overall, 2007

Closing out the top 20 list is Swedish prospect Joakim Andersson. While his offensive numbers do not jump off the page, his defensive game is as strong as anyone on the list. He put up 22 points in 79 games during his first season as a member of the Grand Rapids Griffins. Andersson has the size (6'2, 198lbs) to be an effective NHL'er one day, so long as he can maintain and improve upon his defensive game.

Andersson will play his second year for the Griffins in the 2011-12 season, where he will likely take on a larger role on a young Grand Rapids team.