The year is 2016 and the Detroit Red Wings are still contending for the playoffs for the umpteenth season in a row, right in the thick of the race for the Atlantic Division, just four points back of the division-leading Florida Panthers.
Unlike your daddy’s Red Wings, who were led by veteran stars like Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Brendan Shanahan, this Red Wings unit is led by a much younger core and has had significant contributions from more than a handful of rookies.
In coming seasons, the Red Wings will continue to lean more heavily on younger and younger players. The AHL is full of promising prospects the Red Wings have grabbed in the NHL Draft and the team will continue its transition away from leaning heavily on veteran stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
The Red Wings scouting department deserves every award they can hand out with their ability to replenish the cupboards with talented youngsters to keep the franchise’s playoff streak alive.
Dylan Larkin, C/LW, 19
You’d be hard-pressed to find many more rookies in the NHL this year better than Larkin. Larkin was the franchise’s hottest prospect coming into this season, bypassing the AHL by making the Red Wings out of camp. He has yet to look back.
In his 39 games for the Red Wings in 2015-16, Larkin is second among rookies with 14 goals and sits third in points with 30, behind Chicago’s dynamic 24-year-old KHL vet Artemi Panarin and Arizona’s excellent 2013 first-rounder Max Domi. More than just the scoring though, Larkin has stepped into a prominent role with the Red Wings as a teenager and looked like a 10-year veteran in the process.
Larkin’s game is still growing as his career has just begun, but he is already one of the Red Wings’ best players. He is mature beyond his years and continues to show his value as the days pass. Larkin will be a focal point for the Red Wings for years to come and could even wear the captain’s “C” before much longer.
Alexey Marchenko, D, 24
Marchenko might not be the best or flashiest defensive prospect in the Red Wings midst, but he might be the one who has the longest career in Detroit. He made his debut with the Wings back in 2013-14, appearing in just one game, then got into just 13 last season, as he struggled. The 2015-16 has marked the most consistent action for Marchenko, suiting up in 36 games for the Red Wings so far and approaching graduation from prospect status.
His offensive game isn’t exactly what he’s known for – he has just five points and one goal on the season – and he likely won’t progress much in that aspect going forward. But in that time, he has shown that he can be a dependable, physical stay-at-home defenseman.
Averaging just over 16 minutes of ice time per game, Marchenko is still earning the trust of the coaching staff and his place in the lineup. At 6-3, Marchenko is the solid physical presence most teams covet in their lower pairings and he has shown that he can dependably fill that role.
Andreas Athanasiou, C, 21
He hasn’t seen the NHL lineup since November 18th, but Athanasiou got a brief crack at the NHL early in the season, playing in a half-dozen games for the Red Wings. He managed a goal in that time before being sent back to Grand Rapids of the AHL.
In 21 games with Grand Rapids, Athanasiou has played quite well, posting eight goals and eight assists over that time. The Griffins sit second in the Central Division after a slow start, and look on track for a playoff run.
Athanasiou has outstanding offensive skills as well as good size, so this likely isn’t the last we’ve seen of him in a Red Wings sweater.
Tomas Nosek, LW, 23
Tomas Nosek has been an interesting case, not only in 2015-16, but during his entire tenure in the Detroit Red Wings system. At 6-3, 210 lbs., he has the size to be a quality power forward and has also shown the ability to score with consistency. But since getting the nod at the AHL level, it has become a struggle.
Nosek got in a half dozen games with the Red Wings earlier this season, and saw just over ten minutes of ice time per night before being sent back down to the AHL. During that time he did not register a point, and had only two shots on goal.
The NHL seems like it could be a long shot for the young winger at this stage in the game, especially given the fact that the Red Wings are loaded with high-end young talent at the winger position both at the AHL and junior levels.
Red Wings Prospects in the World Junior Championships
The Red Wings were well-represented at the World Junior Championships with a half dozen prospects suiting up for their respective nations.
Christoffer Ehn and Axel Holmstrom were both part of Team Sweden. Ehn had a solid tournament in a depth role, finishing with a goal and an assist in seven games, but Holmstrom – who is proving to be an excellent pro in Sweden’s top league – was a real standout while wearing a letter for his country. The 6-0, 185 lbs. winger had a goal and five assists in seven games, putting him among the leaders on his team in both assists and points. He took on tough defensive assignments as well, allowing younger players like Alexander Nylander (2016 eligible) some freedom.
Swiss goalie Joren Van Pottelberghe had his share of ups and downs in six starts during this tournament. He finished with a 3.15 goals against average and a .887 save percentage for a Swiss squad that looked uncharacteristically overmatched at times. His numbers kept him outside the top ten goaltenders of the tournament, but his upside remains positive. After doing much of his recent training with the Linköping organization in Sweden, Van Pottelberghe will return to his native Switzerland next season, the recipient of a new contract from traditional powerhouse HC Davos.
Joe Hicketts, the diminutive defenseman, suited up for Canada during their disappointing five game WJC run. Hicketts was a solid contributor, chipping in a goal and two assists while firing 11 shots on net during those five games, but also took an unlucky delay of game penalty that proved costly.
Squaring off in the gold medal game were Evgeny Svechnikov (Russia) and Vili Saarijarvi (Finland). Saarijarvi was a quality contributor to the Finnish defense, chipping in four assists in seven games as a top-four defender and power play leader. Svechnikov had no points in the tournament, in what was one of the major surprises. Team Russia did play a rather uncharacteristically passive style, but more was expected of the first-rounder.
Prospect of the Month
So far this season, a lot of love has been given to prospects from all over the hockey landscape: junior, the NHL, etc. This month, it’s time for a prospect from the Grand Rapids Griffins to get a little love. Both winger Martin Frk and the Griffins struggled mightily to start the season. Neither accomplished much and both languished at the bottom of their respective heap. But since then, both have been quite hot. The Griffins are 6-4-0 over their last 10 games and Frk was hot as can be in December. The big, talented winger tallied six goals and six assists in just nine games during December. He has continued his strong play into the new year, and now sits at 22 points in 26 games. It isn’t often that Frk is at the top of the heap for Red Wing prospects, but Frk has more than earned his spot this month.
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