Red Wings Top 20 prospects

By Matthew Spence

The 2005 NHL Entry Draft was the first time in five years that the Detroit Red Wings made a selection in the first round. Yet, the Red Wings scouts have done a great job finding talent in the late rounds
and the top 20 lists reflects some of the best fourth and fifth round selections in
each draft.

Still, the Wings prospect pool lacks players with the size and strength to make a physical impact in the NHL. Of the 19 skaters that make the top 20, only six are defensemen.
Almost none have the size or maturity to make an impact in Detroit soon.

Several prospects have exceeded expectations so far this season.
Jakub Kindl, the Wings first round pick in 2005, climbs to No. 5 after an exceptional sophomore performance in the OHL.
Improved performances from previously unranked Johan Ryno, Darren Helm and Brett Lebda have earned them a chance to break the top 20.
Tomas Kopecky’s offensive production has moved him into the top ten.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (1) Niklas Kronwall, D
2. (2) Igor Grigorenko, RW
3. (3) James Howard, G
4. (5) Valtteri Filppula, C
5. (7) Jakub Kindl, D
6. (4) Jiri Hudler, D
7. (12) Tomas Kopecky, C
8. (6) Evan McGrath, C
9. (8) Miroslav Blatak, D
10. (NR) Johan Ryno, RW
11. (9) Kyle Quincey, D
12. (NR) Brett Lebda, D
13. (11) Matt Ellis, C
14. (13) Justin Abdelkader, C
15. (NR) Darren Helm, C
16. (NR) Anton Axelsson, LW
17. (15) Mattias Ritola, LW
18. (NR) Sergei Kolosov, D
19. (10) Andreas Jämtin, RW
20. (17) Jonathan Ericsson, LW 

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

Kronwall was expected to play all year with the Red Wings this season after playing 20
games with the club in 2003-04. Surgery on the knee he blew out during an exhibition game Sept. 27 at Colorado
kept him on the shelf most
of the year, however.  He has played just 10 games with the club, plus one
in the AHL on a conditioning assignment.  He was able to return on
Feb. 1 and even joined the Sweden Olympic team halfway through the tournament
due to an injury to Mattias Ohlund, and ended up winning a gold

Kronwall is the top defensive prospect in the organization. He has great skating ability, hockey sense, passing skills, shot and most importantly, a big heart and a desire to win. He
has a very underrated physical game, a good open-ice hitter.

Next year will be Kronwall’s year to shine with the Red Wings. 

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

Detroit’s second round draft pick in 2001 is finally ready for the NHL. With development slowed by extensive injuries from
an auto accident in 2003, Grigorenko has faced an uphill battle to regain his form. In 2004-05, Grigorenko struggled early in the season and saw little game time with Lada Tagliatti in the Russian Elite League. Traded to Salavat Yulaev, he improved as the season progressed and looked to have regained his form during the playoffs. In 2006-05, Grigorenko found a home in Severstal and
is nearly 100 percent recovered from the accident.

Despite the lack of offensive from the team as a whole, Grigorenko has 36 points in 51 games (14 goals, 22
assists). He has connected well with linemate and Calgary prospect Yuri Trubachev and is tied for 13 in the league in scoring. Grigorenko started 2005-06 scoring at point-per-game pace. Though his scoring has slowed later in the season, Grigorenko has earned vital role in Severstal, centering the first line and leading the team in offense.

Grigorenko’s success is generated from speed and puck handling. The skilled winger is only 5’10, but has developed the strength and physical presence to handle heavy traffic. He is known for crashing the net to generate scoring chances. His quick, aggressive, and skilled game is a perfect fit for the Wings roster. Grigorenko has elite-level potential. He worked hard to retain his skill after potential career-ending injuries; it should pay off with a roster spot in Detroit in 2006-07.

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

Forgoing his senior season with the University of Maine and signing with Detroit
last fall, Howard recorded his first win as a Red Wing against Los Angeles two months later. Injuries to Chris Osgood and Griffins
starter Joey MacDonald created an opportunity for the rookie netminder to log three games with the
parent club in December.

Howard is Detroit’s most skilled goalie prospect, and the youngest. Drafted in the second round in 2004, Howard
was a highly decorated netminder for Maine, where he earned the reputation as a big-game goalie with a cool head. This season, Howard has played 201 minutes for the Red Wings,
posting one win, two losses, and a 2.99 goals against average, and the rest of
the time with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Though Howard has the talent to make the Wings roster 2006-07, he may need more experience at the pro level. Inconsistent in
his 27 games with Grand Rapids, he has posted 90.5 save percentage and 2.69 goals against average. Howard has improved since a streak of poor performances in December. 

4. Valterri Filppula, C, 95th overall, 2002

Filppula is producing nearly a point per game in his first season with the Griffins. The Finnish left wing
played two seasons with Jokerit Helsinki before signing with the Red Wings in August of 2005. Filppula is an intense competitor and shined during the Finnish Elite League playoffs, as he had done in the
World Junior Championships the year prior.

His 58 points in 64 games this season are better than expected. Filppula is more playmaker than goal scorer. His skating ability and cerebral style allows him to find linemates and create chances, while his aggressive approach aggravates opponents and draws penalties.

Filppula’s competitive drive, coupled with his skating ability and this season’s success, makes
him an interesting prospect. Big-game performers are highly regarded and Filppula has shown he can play when the stakes are raised. His competitive nature has impressed the Red Wings management in training camp and the
two NHL games he played in December.

Though he may challenge for a depth spot with the Wings in 2006-07, he would benefit from another year with Grand Rapids where he can log more ice time in
various situations. Look for Filppula, who turns 22 this week, to be an essential part of the Griffins top two lines in 2006-07. He should see multiple call-ups throughout the season.

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

The OHL defenseman of the month for November and first round pick for the Red Wings in
2005 has improved his numbers from 14 points in 2004-05 to 55 points the first 57 games of the season. He has benefited from more ice time and has become a regular contributor on the power play.

In 2004-05, Kindl was inconsistent and lacked the confidence to play his style of hockey. After his rookie season, many of Kindl’s critics dismissed him from the first round of the draft. The Wings, with faith in his overall talent, believed he needed only to gain experience in
the North American style of hockey. They chose him 19th overall and are glad they did.

This season has been as different as night and day. The confidence he showed in Europe has returned, and so has the offense. With 12 goals and 43 assists, he leads the Kitchener Rangers in defensive scoring and is currently the sixth-ranked
defensive scorer in the OHL.

Kindl has all the offensive attributes, including a hard accurate point shot that makes him an offensive threat. He also possesses the speed and awareness that facilitate a solid defensive game. Kindl has become the prospect the Wings had hoped when they drafted him last July. At 6’3, Kindl’s size makes him a complete package. He is 19 and has plenty of time to develop pro-level strength. Look for Kindl to be one of the leading scoring defensemen in the OHL in 2006-07.

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

Hudler led the AHL in scoring for much of the season and is currently third overall. With
86 points in 65 games, he is enjoying his best season in his third year in Grand Rapids.
He has found the offensive consistency that he lacked in previous seasons with the Griffins.

The 2004-05 season looked to be Hudler’s breakout year, but his impressive was interrupted by an injured ankle and illness to his father back home in the Czech Republic. He struggled in his return to Grand Rapids, posting 12 assists and 22 goals in 52
games that year.

Hudler’s dynamic offensive skill makes him a scoring threat each shift. Though he possesses average speed, Hudler is very mobile well and is a talented
puckhandler. His passing and vision are elite level. Unlike teammate Filppula, who plays a more complete game, Hudler is pure
offense and needs to improve his overall defensive game. At 5’10 and 180 pounds, Hudler would greatly benefit by adding strength and size.

Hudler’s style is a less than perfect match for the Red Wings, who need physical forwards with size. Hudler, however, plays an offensive finesse-style
game.  Though his small stature and average speed may impede Hudler’s success in the NHL, his offensive talent makes him an exciting prospect. He is ready for the NHL and will challenge spot on Detroit’s roster in 2006-07.

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

A breakout year moves Kopecky from 12th to seventh on the Top 20 list. He has finally arrived as a scoring threat and has been instrumental in Griffins success in 2005-06. The Red Wings
called him up when the gold medal-winning Swedes missed a game after the Olympics. Kopecky was a +1 with one shot on goal.

His development has been slow, scoring only 66 points total in three previous seasons in Grand Rapids. The 2005-06 season is a contract year for Kopecky and breakout season is necessary to persuade the Red Wings to re-sign him. Posting
54 points in 66 games and a notable +16, the second round pick in 2000 has earned a second
contract. His 23 goals are good enough for fourth best on the team.

Kopecky centers a tough but productive line with Filppula and Darryl Bootland. Often
matched up against opponents’ top forwards, he has shown he can find the net and sustain
a physical role. At 6’3 and 205 pounds, Kopecky has the size to play an aggressive game, but needs to gain strength to challenge larger NHL skaters.

Kopecky’s has a potential role as an agitator with an offensive upside. He has great hands, boasts a powerful shot and uses his size well. He will get
a good look from the Wings during training camp next year, but needs to work on speed, defensive awareness and strength. He will likely spend most of the 2006-07 season in Grand Rapids. For the Griffins, he will be given the chance to continue his offensive progress and log plenty of ice time.

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

McGrath is the first Kitchener Ranger to break the century mark with 106 points. He has been crucial to the Rangers success this season. He represented the OHL in the
ADT Canadian-Russian Challenge, contributing four assists in four games and represented Kitchener in the OHL
All-Star game.

Many believed McGrath would be chosen in the first round of the 2004 draft. After an underproductive 2003-04 season, however, McGrath’s stock dropped. After the Red Wings chose him 128th overall, McGrath began 2004-05 season at nearly two points-per-game pace, but
was slowed by a leg injury, finishing the season with 87 points in 68 games.

This season, his 37 goals and 75 assists in 66 games have placed him fifth overall in OHL scoring. The Rangers’ star pivot has contributed on
45 percent of the team’s 231 points and has 42 points more than the next highest scorer on the Rangers, center
Justin Azevedo. McGrath has played more like the first round pick than a fourth round pick and continues to improve both physically and offensively.

McGrath can score goals but excels as a playmaker. He has great vision for the game and can execute precision set-up passes. A strong and quick
skater, he plays a disciplined game and is not prone to making mistakes in his own zone. 

His confidence has grown and he has become a leader on the ice for Rangers despite being overlooked for the captaincy. McGrath has the skill
to develop into a second line center. He needs to increase the physical aspect of his game and retain the consistency he has shown this year. At 6’0 190 pounds,
he will need to add strength to continue his success at the pro level.

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

A Czech Elite League regular with Zlin since the 2001-02 season, Blatak exhibits excellent vision and is skilled skater.
He can handle the puck and has a hard and accurate point shot.

At 6’1 and 190 pounds, his lack of strength is a concern to his development in North America but
he compensates by playing an intelligent game. An excellent skater, he has great lateral movement and can read a play quickly enough to gain position on opponents.

Thus far, Blatak has recorded his best offensive season as a pro. He scored
eight goals and 13 assists in 47 games. He will not contribute the offense of a first line
defenseman in North America but may excel in the transitional game and penalty-killing situations. He does not physically challenge opponents’ forwards and will have to improve this aspect of his game to continue his success in North America.

The 2006-07 season will be crucial for Blatak, he will be 24 in May and needs to prove that he continue to develop his game in North America. If Detroit is able to sign Blatak, look for him in Grand Rapids next season.

10. Johan Ryno, RW, 137th overall, 2005

Ryno was big and unknown at last year’s draft. Now he is big and well known, at least in his native country of Sweden where he has been on the radar of all Elitserien teams. Last season he played on a team
in the 2nd-tier league in Sweden and was therefore not heavily scouted by NHL scouts, except for
Wings Chief European scout Håkan Andersson.  He liked what he saw from the hulking winger. Now, Ryno looks like a serious steal, although he still has
some work to do before making it to the big show.

Ryno’s season has been impressive and has taken huge strides in his development in all aspects of the game.
He remains in the 2nd-tier, playing for Oskarshamn and has scored 13 goals and
10 assists in 34 games and is tied for third in team scoring.  At the WJC,
he scored five points in six games for Team Sweden.

Ryno has great size and is willing to use it. His skating is still a work in progress, but he has the fundamentals to be an impact skater for his size. His soft hands and tremendous hockey sense are two other huge attributes that he brings to the table. His combination of skill, size, and hockey sense could be a very good fit for the Red Wings in the very near future. The biggest development areas are his physical presence and his skating. When those two are in place, he will be ready to take on the big stage.

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

In 2004-05, Quincey was an OHL All-Star and Eastern Conference defenseman of the year. He posted a
95 mph slap shot and ended the season ninth overall in defensive scoring. This season, Detroit’s fourth round draft pick in 2003 is enjoying an impressive rookie season with the Griffins and has made a seemingly effortless transition into the pro ranks. 

He started the season as one of the rookie defensemen scoring leaders, despite being mainly a stay-at-home defensemen. Since mid-season, he slowed offensively but has remained disciplined in his own zone. He has a +12 and 26 points in
59 games this season.

Quincy boasts a powerful slap shot. He is good skater with speed and mobility and plays an all-around strong and disciplined game. He continues to overachieve in the AHL as he did in the OHL. Though only his first year as a pro, Quincey has been one of the Griffins’ top defensemen.

At 6’2 and 215 lbs, Quincey has added size to an already intelligent and mature game. The 20-year-old defenseman will resume a key role on the Griffins’ blue line in 2006-07 and will likely enjoy some call-ups to Detroit.

12. Brett Lebda, D, Free agent, 2004

As Niklas Kronwall returns to the Wings from the injured reserve and the Olympics, Lebda
returned to Grand Rapids – but not before establishing himself as legitimate prospect. The free agent earned the chance to play in Detroit by an impressive display of speed and passing ability in October’s training camp.

In 2004-05, the former Notre Dame defenseman lacked the ice time with the Griffins to produce the offense he is capable of. He posted 12 points (2 goals, 10 assists) in 80 regular season games. This season, Lebda has registered
11 points in 15 games and a +10 rating with Grand Rapids. He had 12 points in the 43 games in Detroit.
As a rookie, Lebda did not log top ice time with the Red Wings, but didn’t look out of place in Detroit and posted a +9.

Lebda is quick skater and a skilled passer; he can generate scoring chances, facilitate breakout plays, and quarterback the power play. His offensive game is well polished, but his defense
can be improved. Lebda is 195 lbs and 5’10. He needs to add strength and improve his physical presence in his own zone. Look for Lebda to return to the AHL in 2006-07 where he is capable of being the Griffins’ top-scoring

13. Matt Ellis, C, Free agent, 2002

The 23-year-old center is in his fourth year as a pro and third as a Griffin. Being the best two-way center in Grand Rapids last season helped Ellis secure a two-year contract with the Wings in August. In 2004-05, Ellis was the third leading scorer on the team with 41
points in 79 games. This year he has improved his numbers with 45 points in 67
games. Ellis, a 6’1, 210lbs defensive-minded forward, has increased offensive production in each of his seasons in Grand Rapids.

Ellis may have a limited offensive upside at the NHL level, but is a strong penalty killer and excellent forechecker. He is well respected on and off the ice and has the work ethic that makes him leader among his teammates. Ellis’ determination and maturity has aided his consistent play and improvement. Originally signed by the Wings in 2002 as a free agent, Ellis has needs to improve his speed and physical play to make a third or fourth line in Detroit. 

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

Abdelkader centers an all-freshman line for the Michigan State Spartans along with
Capitals prospect Tim Kennedy and Penguins prospect Tim Crowder. 
He was voted honorable mention to the CCHA All-Rookie team by conference coaches.

Third on the Spartans for shots on goal with 121, Abdelkader is not afraid to shoot the puck. He has 9 goals, 11 assists for 20 points in
41 games. Abdelkader has shown an aptitude for faceoffs and plays an aggressive game. He has posted
33 penalties, the highest number (third in minutes) on the Spartans. 
Cutting down on minor penalties will be something to work on.

He is a solid two-way forward with a good all-around skill set, a great skater with good speed and mobility. Abdelkader plays hard every game and excels in heavy traffic. At 6’1, 195 pounds the 19-year-old
freshman has plenty of time to develop the size and strength he needs to play his style at the
pro level. Abdelkader is projected to be a third or fourth line role player in NHL.

15. Darren Helm, C, 132nd overall, 2005

Helm is in his second season with Medicine Hat of the WHL. His rookie season was less than productive offensively, but his success in the playoffs was indicative of his abilities. Helm is a gritty player, a two-way left wing who is willing to challenge
the opposition. His offensive output this season exceeds his expected contribution and has forced scouts to consider him more than a checking-line forward.

Detroit’s fifth pick (132 overall) is capable in all situations and his work ethic has made him a leader on the ice. The Tigers have posted 45 wins and 98 points to claim first place. Helm’s
79 points in 69 games is 29 points better than the second best scorer on the
Tigers, Roman Psurny (NYR).

Some were surprised when Detroit chose Helm in the fifth round, yet he has outperformed some first-round picks with more junior level experience. He may have a limited offensive upside at the
pro level, but his intensity and grit are highly valued. Helm will continue to develop with
Medicine Hat in 2006-07.

16. Anton Axelsson, LW, 192nd overall, 2004

Axelsson has made a smooth transition to Elitserien from the junior ranks, where he was a scoring machine. At the start of the year he was mostly used as an extra forward on the fourth line and didn’t get much ice time. But as the season went on, he got more opportunities to develop his game, and so he did.  

At the midway point of the season,
Axelsson was a regular and had a solid amount of ice time. He has chipped in a few points (3 goals and
3 assists in 39 games), but his overall game is the most important development issue. 
He has played 12 games at the junior level this year as well, with 17 points.

His skating and two-way game has improved this season. He’s not the scoring, go-to guy he
was on the junior team last season. He’s grinding on the checking lines and is learning to play a physical game.
Axelsson has to get stronger, including his upper body strength and leg strength so that he can hold his own in the corners and in physical play. His offensive game, especially finishing, needs to get better.

He has average size for a speedy, hard-working winger who can score a goal or two on the fly. He has a great attitude and is a true team player who can help you win games. He will most likely challenge for a spot as a third line winger down the
road.  Axelsson still has a lot of development to do and is likely another two to three years away from seriously contending for an
NHL roster spot, but he is on the right track.

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

Ritola is slowly developing into a senior player. Previously he has been known for his attitude issues, but this season has been
a good one for the young winger.

He has earned a spot on the men’s team and has gotten his feet wet
with three points in 30 games withLeksand. The reward was a spot on the Swedish WJC team that
finished fifth in the tournament, where Ritola had two goals and four points in six games. 
He has also played 14 games with the Leksands junior team, posting six points.

He is not only growing on the inside, as he had added some serious weight
since last season. These two improvements combined with his natural skills and hockey sense bode well for the future.

Ritola is a good skater who has shifty feet and an uncanny ability to undress the d-men and goalies one-on-one. He has very good offensive instincts and is a marquee offensive player. This season
with the added muscle, he is more involved in the physical game.

He still has plenty of things to work on, but he is on his way. Next season he will hopefully add even more grit and earn more ice time on his team to help his development. He will also get a chance to represent Sweden at the WJC for the second time and will probably be counted on to bring even more offense to the table.

Ritola has all the tools to be an NHL player down the road and will most likely be a serious roster contender in a couple more years.

18. Sergei Kolosov, D, 151th overall, 2004

The Cedar Rapids defenseman will never score many goals. At 6’4, 187 pounds,
Kolosov contributes by punishing opposing teams’ forwards and clearing the defensive zone. He is playing his first season in North America with the Rough Riders of the USHL and has registered
eight assists, two goals in 46 games and is rated a +9.

Kolosov was instrumental in his country’s success at the WJC Division I tournament in Minsk. With a 5-2 victory over Kazakhstan in the final match, undefeated Belarus will promote to the top pool in 2007.
Kolosov’s numbers suggest that he was among the best defenseman in Division I.
In 2004-05, the Belarussian registered eight points in 34 games with Dinamo Minsk and was scoreless in six games at the WJC-U20.

The defenseman’s tough stay-at-home style is in short supply among Red Wings prospects. If he is able to improve his transition game and puck skills,
Kolosov will add toughness to the Wings’ blue line. His style is a good fit for North America and he has time to develop. The 19-year-old is a number of seasons from professional hockey. 

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

Jämtin made a bold move in the offseason and signed with the Finnish SM-Liga
team TPS. He has stated that the move was made because he wanted to play in a tougher and more physical league in order to develop his physical game.

He finished the season fourth in the team scoring, with eight goals and 15 points in 37 games, which are not very impressive numbers for a guy who has good offensive instincts. That move was questionable, but his comeback to HV-71 is a good one. One good thing about his Finnish move is that he now has added experience from the more physically challenging Finnish league. This should help him adapt to the AHL once he gets signed, which will likely be at the end of the season.

Jämtin hasn’t made any huge strides in his development this season as he pretty much plays the same game that he always has. He loves to get physical and enjoys getting under his opponents’ skin. His offensive game hasn’t developed much and he needs to show more offensive fire in the reminder of this season. But for now, he’s back with the team that he won a championship with
in 2004. Jämtin will try to bring his physical game to his new team as they make a push for another championship.

Andersson has been high on him since the draft and a move to the AHL next season would be beneficial, where the Red Wings brass can evaluate him
more closely.

20. Jonathan Ericsson, LW, 291st overall, 2002

Ericsson was also a late round pick (9th round in 2002), but has a terrific upside. This has been a disappointing season from a development perspective for the soon-to-be 22-year-old defenseman. He still hasn’t earned a top-6 spot with
Somerdale and has no points in 24 SEL games.  WithAlmtuna of the Swe-2
league, he has five points in 19 games.

He has a great combination of size, mobility, puck skills and attitude, but he just hasn’t put it all together. He will probably need another two to three years
to put it together, if he does.

But don’t be surprised if Ericsson makes the jump to the AHL or ECHL next season.
Håkan Andersson has liked this player for years now and will likely want to give him a real good opportunity to show of his potential in North America before writing him off.

Missing the Cut

Juho Mielonen, D, 175th overall, 2005

Injured in early December, Mielonen did not have the opportunity to gain experience the Finnish Elite league as he had hoped. He played a few games before undergoing surgery to correct a displaced shoulder. In 17 games with Ilves Tampere, Meilonen recorded only one assist. In the tier-2 league he managed one goal and two assists in six games.

Drafted 175th overall in 2005, the Finnish defenseman is an excellent skater with solid instincts. Mielonen plays a disciplined game and takes few risks. He has the
puckhandling and passing skills that make him a complete stay-at-home defensive prospect. At 6’3, Mielonen is expected to develop the size to be an effective defensive defenseman.

Ryan Oulahen, LW, 164th overall, 2003

Oulahen has had a smooth transition into the pros. The Griffins rookie signed a three-year deal with Detroit in 2005. Expected to play in the ECHL, Oulahen’s hard work and disciplined defensive game kept him in the triple-A ranks with Grand Rapids.

In 2004-05, the former Brampton captain was voted most underrated player in the
OHL, but he is not expected to produce much offense as a professional.
Thus far as a Griffin, he has recorded seven goals,
nine assists in 64 games. Oulahen is primarily a defensive forward. Though his offense increased as the season progressed, he is prone to streaks of scoreless games.

Mobility, acceleration, and smart positioning are his asset when shutting down opponents’ top lines. He is more than capable in the faceoff circle, and is a valuable on the penalty kill. Oulahen is 6’0, 180 pounds and overall game will benefit greatly when he gains more strength. The rookie winger will be expected to develop a more physical role with the Griffins and increase his offensive contribution. In 2006-07, Oulahen will return to Grand Rapids. He is more than a year from the NHL.

Zoran Manojlovic contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s
Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the
editorial staff.