Detroit Red Wings added considerable depth in 2006 Draft

By Matthew Zarb
Photo: Jan Mursak has emerged during the 2010-11 season as a solid top-nine forward for the Detroit Red Wings. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

The Detroit Red Wings hold a well-deserved reputation for converting mid-to-late round draft picks into NHL caliber players. At the 2006 Entry Draft, general manager Ken Holland took an opportunity to acquire some additional picks, trusting his scouts ability to find quality outside of the first round. Having previously traded their 4th round pick to Washington in the Robert Lang deal, Holland dealt the 29th and 152nd overall picks to Phoenix for a pair of second-rounders, 41st and 47th overall. The Red Wings also had an additional 7th round pick, acquired from Pittsburgh for defenseman Cory Cross. Detroit made a total of seven selections during the 2006 draft, six of whom the Wings still hold the rights to.

Cory Emmerton, F, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) – 2nd Round, 41st overall
Status: Prospect
NHL games played: 2

Despite being considered a first-round talent, listed as the 23rd overall CHL draft-eligible player, Cory Emmerton wasn’t selected until Detroit used the first of the two second-rounders Detroit acquired from Phoenix at the Draft.

Bursting onto the scene in 2005, Emmerton posted a 90-point campaign with Kingston, placing him 11th overall in the entire OHL in scoring. However, his first-year performance and the raft of awards bestowed upon him during that season was to be the pinnacle of Emmerton’s major-junior career. The next two seasons were trying times for Emmerton, as he endured a broken ankle in 2006-07, a trade to Brampton mid-season in 2007-08, and finally a bout of mono that same year which dashed his hopes of playing for Canada’s World Junior Championship team.

Signed by the Wings following his second junior season, Emmerton reported to the AHL‘s Grand Rapids Griffins following the end of his junior career, and he enjoyed a decent rookie season with the Griffs, posting 35 points in 69 games. Hopes were high for Emmerton entering the 2009-10 season, but he struggled to find any consistency on an offensively-challenged Grand Rapids squad. Fears that his development had plateaued have been elevated somewhat by some good production this season, culminating in Emmerton being rewarded with a call-up prior to the NHL All-Star break, and even his first NHL goal on January 22nd. With several injured Wings forwards slated to return, Emmerton has been sent back to Grand Rapids, where he will hope to make enough of an impression to garner another contract. While Emmerton is the rare Red Wing prospect without top-end speed, but his instinctive hockey sense makes up for that limitation. If re-signed, Emmerton could develop into a serviceable bottom-six forward, but that opportunity depends upon his performance the balance of this season.

Shawn Matthias, F, Belleville Bulls (OHL) – 2nd Round, 47th overall
Status: NHL player
NHL games played: 122

Drafted out of Belleville following an encouraging second season of juniors, budding power forward Shawn Matthias enjoyed back-to-back impressive seasons, pushing his name up the charts as one of the best prospects in hockey. His great size and work ethic, combined with serviceable speed and puck skills, seemed to portend a rapid progression towards a spot with the Red Wings. But other teams noticed Matthias’ improvement, too, and when the Red Wings looked to acquire Todd Bertuzzi from the floundering Florida Panthers, Matthias was the player sent in return. Matthias looked to have finally broken through as an NHL regular this season, until a broken ankle suffered on January 26th put him on the shelf. With the probability of a high roster turnover for the Panthers following this season, Matthias will likely find himself bumped up Florida’s depth chart.

A sturdy, low-maintenance player with strong skills to boot, Matthias should be the top six forward that the Wings envisioned in the summer of 2006.

Dick Axelsson, F, Huddinge IK (Sweden) – 2nd Round, 62nd overall
Status: Bust
NHL games played: 0

Possessing all the physical tools a hockey player could ask for; above-average size, excellent skating, and high-end puck skills, Dick Axelsson is every inch an NHL-caliber player. That is except for the space between his ears. A classic case of underachievement, Axelsson has likely squandered any opportunity to play in the NHL with his lackadaisical attitude and lack of committment. Drafted out of the third-tier Huddinge program in Sweden, Axelsson showed great promise with his array of talent, making the cut at top-level Djurgarden’s training camp in 2006-07. A contract dispute prevented him from joining the Elitserien until the following season, where he acquitted himself well on the ice. Off the ice, though, was where Axelsson’s season came unhinged. Arrested and jailed for the Swedish equivalent of drunk-and-disorderly conduct in April 8th, Axelsson cost himself a spot on Sweden’s WJC team. Apparently not learning from his mistakes, Axelsson added to his woes by being kicked off of Djurgarden for his lack of effort and lousy attitude.

Picked up by eventual champion Farjestad, Axelsson again posted decent numbers. Finally coming over to give North America a try, Axelsson was cut in training camp and sent to Grand Rapids. Sulking his way through 17 games, Axelsson decided to quit and return to Sweden. Having already gone through a similar situation with former prospect Johan Ryno, the Wings have apparently moved on. Though Axelsson is having a decent season again with Farjestad, the prospects of a North American return are slim to none.

Daniel Larsson, G, Hammarby IF (Sweden) – 3rd Round, 92nd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL games played: 0

While not in the same boat as Axelsson, Daniel Larsson has embarked on the same sea of uncertainty. Taken with the Red Wings third-round pick, Larsson played two more season in Sweden, joining Djurgarden (where he was, coincidentally, a teammate of Axelsson in 2007-08) and performed quite well. Crossing the pond to North America, Larsson joined the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2008-09, where he arguably outperformed Jimmy Howard at times, before fading in the second half of the season. With Howard’s promotion last season, Larsson was poised to seize the Griffin’s starting job from fellow prospect Thomas McCollum, and Larsson did just that, enjoying a decent 2009-10 season between the pipes for a poor team.

Despite being almost guaranteed the full-time starting job in Grand Rapids, with an inside track to backup Howard next season, Larsson decided to eschew the opportunity and return to Sweden. Larsson signed a contract with Elitserien club HV-71, though he stated that his goal was still to ma
ke it in the NHL, and insisted on an out-clause in his Swedish deal. Whether he intends to return to the Wings system or not, Larsson has had a very good season for HV71, making him still relevant as a prospect. With no other Wings goalie seemingly ready to replace Chris Osgood, Larsson could very likely step right into the NHL, should he choose to take the chance. A stand-up goaltender who needed maturity and experience more than anything, Larsson remains an intriguing netminding prospect.

Jan Mursak, F, Budejovice Jr. (Czech Republic) – 6th Round, 182nd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games played: 15

The slender Slovene is finally making his presence felt at the pro level, putting up points in the AHL to the point where he was the first Griffin forward called up when the injury bug struck the Red Wings in late December 2010. Though only scoring one goal, his first in the NHL, through 14 games thus far, Mursak has not looked outmatched. His blistering speed was what attracted the attention of Wings scouts in 2006, and that skating prowess is noticeable even at the NHL level. Mursak joined the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit following his draft year, and he put up point-per-game numbers in his three-year OHL career.

Perhaps too much was expected of him too early, as his 42 points during his second season with the Griffins was viewed as somewhat disappointing. Undaunted, Mursak showed a bit more offensive consistency through the first half of the 2010-11 AHL season, exploiting his added weight and muscle mass to round out his game. While labeled a tentative, perimeter player in his junior years, Mursak has shown a willingness to engage physically this year, though he remains a bit on the slight side. A continued emphasis on improving his strength, matched with his deadly speed and stick-handling, could land him a spot on the Wings NHL roster very soon. Learning how to play the Wing’s defensive system properly may be his last real obstacle.

Nick Oslund, F, Burnsville H.S. (U.S. High School) – 7th Round, 191st overall
Status: Bust
NHL games played: 0

The Wings took a flyer on Nick Oslund, a college-bound burly Minnesotan, in the hopes that he would develop into a power forward. After four years at St. Cloud State of the WCHA, it’s obvious that Oslund will likely not be an NHL regular, if even a pro. While Oslund possesses excellent size and above-average skating, he simply does not have the gift of offensive talent. Oslund has been a hard-working, hard-hitting collegian, playing a simple game and contributing in ways that don’t show up on the scoresheet. Working against Oslund, though, is the simple fact that even fourth-line NHL grinders tend to put up points in junior, college, or the minors. Oslund just hasn’t shown that he is capable of doing so, which makes advancing quite a longshot. An honest effort put forth, but the results are just not there.

Logan Pyett, D, Regina Pats (WHL) – 7th Round, 212th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL games played: 0

Now in his third season with the AHL’s Griffins, Pyett is still looking for his breakthrough moment. Drafted with the Wing’s final pick in the 2006 Draft, Pyett is the kind of smallish, offensive-minded defenseman that may have never even been drafted twenty years ago. But Pyett’s excellent skating and offensive prowess were worth taking a chance on, given the success of other size-challenged rearguards in the "new" NHL. After putting up excellent scoring numbers for the Regina Pats, Pyett joined the Griffins in 2008-09. Pyett has teased the Wings with his skill level, but hasn’t been able to put it all together on the ice, and is in danger of being passed over by several other Wings defense prospects. A strong second-half to this season is a must, as his entry-level deal will expire following this year’s completion.