The 2008 NHL Draft was something of a mixed bag for the Detroit Red Wings. While the last three picks are not likely to produce any NHL talent, the most valuable pick may have come in the middle of the draft with fourth round pick Gustav Nyquist.
Nyquist could be a future star in the NHL and at the very least will be a serviceable top-six forward. From there, the list of future NHL players is less certain. The jury is still out on Thomas McCollum, Max Nicastro is still in the early stages of AHL development, and the rest of the prospects selected will likely never suit up for the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins let alone the parent club in Detroit.
Thomas McCollum, G, Guelph Storm (OHL) – 1st round, 30th overall
NHL Games Played: 1
Few prospects have been as enigmatic as McCollum. Once considered the future between the pipes for the Red Wings, McCollum found himself in the ECHL at the start of the 2011-12 season. Coming into the 2012-13 season it appeared that his career was at a crossroads; either he taps into the talent that got him drafted or he would find himself out of the Red Wings' long term plans.
McCollum has answered the bell. His current goals allowed average of 2.69 is the lowest of his AHL career, and the first time he has been able to break the goals allowed average threshold of three. Similarly, his current save percentage of .899 is the closest he has been in his four year AHL career to a save percentage over .900. While McCollum still is not the starter in Grand Rapids (that distinction goes to rising star Petr Mrazek), he has undoubtedly improved his game. Whether he has improved enough remains to be seen; his contract expires at the end of the 2012-13 season.
One thing that bodes well for McCollum from, at the very least, an experience standpoint is that he has been recalled by the Red Wings to serve as the back-up for Jimmy Howard while Jonas Gustavsson is out with a groin injury.
Max Nicastro, D, Chicago Steel (USHL) – 3rd round, 91st overall
NHL Games Played: 0
No one in the Detroit organization expected Nicastro to make an offensive splash. Through 102 NCAA games over three seasons with Boston University he posted 33 points, with 15 of those coming in his freshman season. Point production just is not Nicastro's game, but steady defensive play is.
From that perspective Nicastro's season has not gone exactly as planned. He is in the middle of his rookie pro season with and has only played in nine AHL games while bouncing between Grand Rapids and the ECHL's Toledo Walleye, where he has also played in nine games.
The silver lining for Nicastro is that the start of the NHL season has created some room on the Griffins blue line due to the call-ups of defensemen Brendan Smith and Brian Lashoff. It will be important to Nicastro's development to work his way into the Grand Rapids lineup soon, though the Red Wings are in no rush to graduate him to the NHL.
Gustav Nyquist, LW, Malmo Jr. (Sweden Jr.) – 4th round, 121st overall
NHL Games Played: 19
While Nyquist still qualifies as a prospect, he possesses the skill of an NHL player. The Red Wings brass have not been bashful in their declaration of Nyquist as a future top-six forward, but the log jam up front in Detroit has kept Nyquist temporarily in the AHL.
A spectacular three year career at the University of Maine was simply foreshadowing for what was to come for Nyquist, who finished as a top ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award during his sophomore and junior seasons. Nyquist left Maine after his junior season to begin his professional career with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.
Nyquist has made his mark on the AHL, posting 102 points in 106 career AHL games over three seasons. At the NHL level Nyquist's point production has been less prolific, but his skill is still visible. He now has one goal and six assists in 19 career NHL contests, but his combination of above-average defensive play, smooth skating, and great vision should make him a staple of the Red Wings in the very near future.
Julien Cayer, C, Northwood School (NY-HS) – 5th round, 151st overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Detroit took Cayer primarily because of his size (6'3) and physical play, though he did put up 56 points in 42 games in his final high school season. This offensive prowess and size prompted Detroit to take a chance on him, but Cayer never developed into what Detroit thought he could be.
Over four NCAA seasons at Clarkson University Cayer was never able to put up more than 10 points in a season or score more than five goals. The plateauing in his development led to Detroit never signing him to an entry-level deal, and he became a free agent after the 2011-12 season. Cayer is currently playing the ECHL's Reading Royals and has no goals and three assists in 23 games.
Stephen Johnston, LW, Belleville Bulls (OHL) – 6th round, 181st overall
NHL Games Played: 0
When Johnston was selected by Detroit in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft many wondered what they saw in a fourth line checker. It appeared that Detroit had once again grabbed a late round steal when Johnston exploded for 36 points with the Belleville Bulls in 2008-09, quadrupling his point total from the previous season. He never matched that level of production again, however, and was not signed by Detroit to an entry-level deal.
Johnston re-entered the draft in 2010 but was not selected. He then went on to have a fantastic 2010-11 season with the Windsor Spitfires, scoring 50 points in 63 games and adding 16 points in 18 playoff games. Since then Johnston has gone on to play for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport's Saint Mary's University, where he is currently in his second season.
Jesper Samuelsson, C, Timra (SEL) – 7th round, 211th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Samuelsson was discovered by Detroit super scout Hakan Andersson, who loved Samulesson's on-ice intelligence. Although Andersson has discovered some of the Red Wings' most prolific European talent, what appeared at the time to be a potential steal of a pick never panned out.
Samuelsson dominated for Vita Hasten of Sweden's third-tier Division 1, increasing his point production from 19 in his rookie campaign to 44 as a sophomore, and then to a whopping 62 in his draft year. Samuelsson was then signed by Timra of the Swedish Elite League prior to the 2008-09 season. Four points in 63 Elitserien games essentially meant that Samuelsson played his way out of Sweden's top league, and he has since returned to Vita Hasten team he played for in his draft year. Samulesson is technically still property of Detroit, though he has quite a bit of developing to do if he hopes to once again become a part of the Red Wings' future plans.