Red Wings Top 20 prospects

By Matthew Spence

With a lack of first round picks in recent years, the Detroit Red Wings have been forced to find talent in later rounds, usually taking a chance on smaller players. The 2005 draft, however, was a time for restocking, and four of those taken make this top 20 list: Jakub Kindl, Justin Abdelkader, Mattias Ritola, and Juho Mielonen. Matt Ellis moves onto the list after a stellar year with Grand Rapids. The Wings’ core prospects have each returned with little movement in the top 6. Niklas Kronwall, 34th on Hockey’s Future’s Top 50 prospects, returns as the reigning top prospect and in poised to play in Detroit this year.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. (1) Niklas Kronwall
2. (3) Igor Grigorenko
3. (4) James Howard
4. (2) Jiri Hudler
5. (5) Valtteri Filppula
6. (6) Evan McGrath
7. (NR) Jakub Kindl
8. (NR) Johan Franzen
9. (10) Miroslav Blatak
10. (8) Kyle Quincey
11. (7) Andreas Jämtin
12. (NR) Matt Ellis
13. (NR) Tomas Kopecky
14. (NR) Justin Abdelkader
15. (13) Ryan Oulahan
16. (NR) Mattias Ritola
17. (NR) Juho Mielonen
18. (18) Jonathan Ericsson
19. (15) Derek Meech
20. (11) Eric Himelfarb

1. Niklas Kronwall, D, 29th overall, 2000

Kronwall remains Detroit’s top prospect after a career year in 2004-05 with 73 points in 76 games for the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins. Leading the Griffins in scoring, Kronwall also led the league’s defensemen in scoring. He won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s top defenseman and posted an all-star performance with Sweden in the World Championship with six points in nine games.

Though still undersized by NHL standards, Kronwall compensates with great vision and intelligent play. He has strong offensive skills — a hard accurate point shot, first-rate puck handling, great speed and mobility. Kronwall ranks 34th on Hockey’s Future’s top 50 prospect list.

Kronwall plays with intensity, and despite his size, is not afraid to challenge opponents in the corners. Kronwall is capable of becoming a first pairing defenseman in the NHL, and will get chance to play in Detroit this October.

2. Igor Grigorenko, RW, 62nd overall, 2001

For Grigorenko, last season was about reestablishing himself as top prospect after being seriously injured in an auto accident in 2003. He started slow in the Russian league (pointless in his first 11 games) before being traded to Ufa in November, where he posted 11 goals and 18 points in his final 25 games. Grigorenko’s slow start may be attributed to an influx of locked-out NHL players and a decrease in ice time. His strong finish, however, is an indication that he is recovering the elite skills that made him a top prospect.

Grigorenko plays a physical game, the type of game the Red Wings urgently need on the roster. Known for driving hard to the net, Grigorenko is a strong skater with good balance and hard accurate wrist shot. He can beat opponents one-on-one and is dangerous on breakaways. It is still unclear whether Grigorenko can recover the physical aspect of his game, but if he can, expect him to develop into a second line forward in Detroit in a year or two. He will remain in Russia for the 2005-06 season.

3. Jimmy Howard, G, 34th overall, 2003

Howard recorded a 1.92 goals against average with a .962 save percentage with six shutouts his junior year with the University of Maine, wrapping up an outstanding collegiate career with a 1.82 GAA and a university record 15 shutouts. Opting to sign with the Red Wings instead of playing his senior year, Howard will compete for the third spot on Detroit’s depth chart this year, the starter in Grand Rapids.

Howard’s style is mix between stand-up and butterfly. He plays a disciplined game with strong fundamentals. He allows few rebounds. Known as a big-game goalie, Howard can keep his head under pressure, logging a 1.82 GAA in last year’s playoff run. Though Howard can be streaky at times, his ability to remain composed and well positioned give him the skills to be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.

4. Jiri Hudler, C, 58th overall, 2002

Hudler started 2004-05 with seven points in 12 games with Grand Rapids. A strong start, however, was derailed by a broken ankle and a trip to Czech Republic to be with his ailing father. Hudler posted seven points in seven games in Vsetin of the Czech Elite League before returning to the AHL. His return, however, wasn’t impressive, with just 22 points in 40 games.

Despite low numbers in 2004-05, Hudler remains a top prospect because of his offensive skill. He is a highly talented and intelligent playmaker. He is quick and mobile. Hudler possesses a quick hard shot and makes precision passes. He has a strong work ethic and plays with intensity. At 5’9 and 180 pounds, Hudler is undersized for professional hockey in North America. Consequently, he avoids heavy traffic. He will likely play with Grand Rapids this season.

5. Valtteri Filppula, C, 95th overall, 2002

In 2004-05, Filppula posted decent numbers with the Finnish Elite League with 30 points in 55 games, and then finished the season with a strong playoff performance with 11 points in 12 games, leading Helsinki Jokerit to the league championship. Recently signing with Detroit, Filppula is expected to start season with Grand Rapids in October, but is pushing for a spot with the big club.

Filppula is a highly skilled offensive forward. An excellent skater with good acceleration, he has the vision to be quality playmaker in the NHL. Filppula’s size is a question and he needs to be more physical. Smaller rinks and larger players may be a problem for Filppula. If he effectively transitions to North American hockey, he will have a shot at the second or third line in the NHL.

6. Evan McGrath, C, 128th overall, 2004

McGrath’s numbers in 2003-04 were unimpressive and created concern amongst NHL scouts before the draft. His stock dropped from a first round probable to a fourth round gamble. McGrath responded 2004-05 with 87 points in 58 games, re-establishing him as a quality prospect. The Kitchener center showed he was worthy of the hype by leading the Rangers in scoring (7th in league) and landing a spot on the OHL’s Western Conference All-Star roster.

McGrath has the ability to develop into a solid playmaker. He has excellent hockey sense and vision. He finishes well and uses creative puckhandling to generate scoring chances. McGrath needs to work on his skating, and his inconsistency may be due to his lack of competitiveness in some games. If McGrath continues to get stronger and develop, though still a number of years away, he may have a shot as a second or third liner in the NHL. He will likely return to junior this season.

7. Jakub Kindl, D, 19th overall, 2005

Before last season, Kindl was ranked by many as a top ten 2005 draft prospect. In his rookie year in North America with Kitchener, however, Kindl struggled to produce the offense he had in the Czech league. Yet, with only 14 points in 62 games, Detroit showed that they have faith in his development, choosing the blueliner in the first round, 19th overall in 2005.

Despite Kindl’s weak transition to North American hockey, he possesses a great all-around skill set. He can carry the puck and is a good passer. He’s a strong, quick skater whose vision for the game affords him the ability to play the point on the power play. Though he is an offensive-minded defenseman, Kindl is capable of solid defensive play. Kindl needs to add strength and confidence to recapture the dominance he showed in international play. He will get more ice time this season with Kitchener and is pressured to prove he can play in North America.

8. Johan Franzen, C, 97th overall, 2004

Franzen spent the 2004-05 season with Likoping of the Swedish Elite League, posting a +8 and 14 points in 43 games. Though his numbers dropped from the previous season with Linkoping when he had 30 points in 49 games, he landed a limited role for Sweden in the World Championship.

Franzen is an excellent stick-handler with good speed and mobility. He plays a disciplined, mature game. The 220-pound center will not score many goals but is capable of being a physical presence and will contribute as a defensive forward. He will compete for a role-playing position in Detroit this year.

9. Miroslav Blatak, D, 129th overall, 2001

The Czech defenseman played a significant role for Zlin of the Czech league with 12 points in 52 games, a team that came short of winning the championship. Though he wasn’t chosen for the Czech National Team, he is considered a quality, stay-at-home defensive prospect.

Blatak has excellent hockey sense. A good passer and puck-handler, Blatak is an effective transitional defenseman. He is capable at producing offense and is disciplined in his own zone. Blatak size is still a question and isn’t known for playing an aggressive physical game. He may have trouble with the stronger players in North America. Blatak will remain in Europe this season.

10. Kyle Quincey, D, 132nd overall, 2003

Quincey had a strong season in 2004-05 with Mississauga, scoring 46 points in 59 games. He was among the leaders in scoring for defensemen in the OHL and ranked third in votes for the OHL’s best defenseman. Recently signing with the Red Wings, Quincey is expected to play with Grand Rapids this fall.

Quincey is mobile and can skate well, with a solid point shot. Though projected as a defensive defenseman, he has shown he can produce offense as well. Quincey plays a smart all-around game. Good positioning and aggressive one-on-one play make Quincey sound in defensive zone. He has a strong work ethic and plays with intensity.

11. Andreas Jämtin, RW, 157th overall, 2001

Jämtin played through several injuries in 2004-05. Matching his point production of a year ago, he posted 6 goals and 12 assists in 42 games.

Jämtin is a gritty winger who agitates his opponents. He likes to hit and battle through traffic. He has good offensive skills as well. A strong, sturdy skater, Jämtin is effective in one-on-one confrontations. Jämtin competes hard in the corners and likes to crash the net. He is extremely competitive, and plays with intensity. His aggressive play, however, makes him prone to penalties and injuries. His style is conducive to North American hockey and is expected to transition well when he arrives. He is a possible future role player in the NHL.

Having played the last two seasons with HV-71 of the Swedish Elite League, Jämtin will spend 2005-06 with TPS Turku of the Finnish Elite League.

12. Matt Ellis, LW, Free Agent, 2002

Ellis joins the top 20 list due to a breakout season in 2004-05 where he posted 41 points in 79 games with Grand Rapids. He was one of the Griffins’ all-around best players last year and has greatly improved since playing with Toledo of the ECHL back in 2002-03.

Ellis has second-to-none work ethic and provides a solid performance every game. He is a natural leader on the ice. Known as a defensive forward, Ellis is a strong forechecker and penalty killer. Ellis does need to improve his skating. He is not going to post big numbers but can contribute as a sound two-way forward. Signing as a free agent in 2002, Ellis has proven to be quality accusation. His work ethic, on-ice leadership and defensive ability may garner him a depth position in Detroit this season.

13. Tomas Kopecky, C, 38th overall, 2000

At 6’3, 203lbs Kopecky has the size and skill to become a power forward with an offensive upside. Inconsistency, however, has plagued his professional career. Producing only four points in 16 games, Kopecky missed the following 27 games due to a broken finger. Throughout the remaining 48 games, the center posted only 16 points.

Kopecky has great offensive skill. He is a good skater, can pass well and has first-rate stick-handling ability. He boasts a strong, hard shot and is competent at driving to the net. If Kopecky can realize his offensive potential, his size and strength will make him a top prospect for the second or third line in Detroit.

14. Justin Abdelkader, C, 42nd overall, 2005

As center for Cedar Rapids in the USHL, Abdelkader showed impressive offensive skills netting 27 goals 52 points in 60 games. He played in the Prospects/All-star game for Team USHL before being chosen in the second round this July.

Abdelkader is a quick and shifty skater with good acceleration and mobility. He has good instincts in both zones, he knows how to position himself to break up plays and create traffic in front of the net. Though of average size, Abdelkader will not shy away from physical play. He can play in heavy traffic and win battles in the corners. He has no obvious weakness but would benefit from working on his mental game. Abdelkader’s strong work ethic will help him develop with Michigan State in the coming season.

15. Ryan Oulahan, C, 164th overall, 2003

Oulahan scored 31 times in 61 games and added 27 assists as captain of the OHL’s Brampton Battalion. Recently signing with the Red Wings, Oulahan will start his professional career with in Grand Rapids this fall.

Oulahan, a two-way center, has the speed and hockey sense to defend the opposing team’s top lines. He is known for his ability to kill penalties and win faceoffs. He projected as a defensive forward and not expected to produce much offense at the professional level. He would benefit by adding strength and intensity.

16. Mattias Ritola, LW, 103rd overall, 2005

Chosen in the third round this past July, Ritola played in Sweden’s U-20 league. The Leksands winger posted 26 points in 27 games then added another four points for Sweden in the U-18 championship. Given his skill set, many believed Ritola should have produced more offense. His inconsistency and questionable attitude lowered his stock for the 2005 draft.

Some have questioned Ritola’s attitude, while others have stated the opposite. What is certain is that Ritola is a creative player with soft hands, good hockey sense and good penalty-killing skills. His scoring touch could use some improvement, though. He will remain in Europe for 2005-06.

17. Juho Mielonen, D, 175th overall, 2005

Mielonen enjoyed an impressive year, posting a +18 for Ilves Tampere, Finland’s top team in its junior league. He had a strong performance for Finland’s U-18 team.

Mielonen plays a sound and simple game and with excellent fundamentals. He is a strong and mobile skater and makes good decisions in the defensive zone. Though a stay-at-home defenseman, Mielonen possesses a good breakout pass. Mielonen is tall (6’2) but needs to fill out his frame and add a physical element to his game to be effective at the professional level.

18. Jonathan Ericsson, D, 291st overall, 2002

Ericsson spent most of 2004-05 on the blue line with Huddinge of Sweden’s second league, scoring 11 points in 24 games before going pointless in 15 games at center with Sodertalje of Sweden’s Elite League. Originally developed as a forward, Ericsson is still learning the defensive position. Ericsson is expected to play full-time for Sodertalje in 2005-06.

Mobile for his size at 6’5, Ericsson can be effective defensively through positioning and reach. He possesses a powerful shot. Though a decent skater, Ericsson lacks the puckhandling and passing skills of a good transition game. Ericsson will never put up big numbers, but is large enough to be a physical presence and is willing to stick up for teammates. He needs to improve puckhandling and passing skills. Ericsson is still a number of years away from realizing his full potential.

19. Derek Meech, D, 229th overall, 2002

Meech progressed quickly in his rookie campaign with Grand Rapids. Though he is undersized by NHL standards at 5’11, Meech finished the season as a top 4 defensemen for the Griffins. His 101 shots on goal were third amongst Griffins defensemen.

Fast and mobile on his skates, Meech has the skills to become a quality two-way defenseman. He has good hockey instincts and can contribute on the power play as well as kill penalties. He can carry the puck up the ice and smart passing make a good breakout player. As talented as Meech is, he hasn’t yet put up the numbers he is capable of. His size is still a question. At 5’11, 185, Meech needs to bulk up in order to match the power of professional forwards.

20. Eric Himelfarb, C, Free Agent, 03/2004

Himelfarb’s debut in 2004-05 with Grand Rapids was above average, with 43 points in 79 games, tying for seventh in rookie scoring. At 5’10, 170 pounds though, it will be a challenge to contribute at the next level. Himelfarb will have to produce more offense to prove he can overcome this disadvantage. He has a shot at the top line for the Griffins this season.

Himelfarb has impressive offensive skill. A quick and mobile skater, he can beat opponents one-on-one. He’s a creative playmaker who is willing get physical despite his size disadvantage. He can score goals as well as kill penalties. If he is able to overcome his size, he has a shot at a role-playing position in the NHL.

Zoran Manojlovic and Johan Nilsson contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.