Red Wings Top 20 prospects

By Matthew Spence

The Detroit Red Wings former No. 1 prospect, Igor Grigorenko, falls to
No. 5 due in part to the excellent performances of the top four, and in part to his decision to remain in Russia instead of developing his North American game. Taking his place is Detroit’s
No. 1 goalie prospect Jimmy Howard, who has the skill to become a future starter in Detroit. Another notable advancement comes from Valterri Filppula, who has shown tremendous progress in nearly every facet of the game. Overall,
the Red Wings boast six natural centers in their top 20 ranking, ten total forwards and seven defensemen. Detroit’s first and second pick in 2006, Cory Emmerton and Shawn Matthias, join the list.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Jimmy Howard
2. Valterri Filppula
3. Jiri Hudler
4. Jakub Kindl
5. Igor Grigorenko
6. Johan Ryno
7. Brett Lebda
8. Evan McGrath
9. Kyle Quincey
10. Cory Emmerton
11. Shawn Matthias
12. Justin Abdelkader
13. Darren Helm
14. Miroslav Blatak
15. Mattias Ritola
16. Anton Axelsson
17. Juho Mielonen
18. Dick Axelsson
19. Jonathan Ericsson
20. Sergei Kolosov

1. Jimmy Howard, G, 6’0, 215 lbs

Howard began his rookie season in Detroit due to injuries to Chris Osgood and Manny Legace and was able to notch two games in the win column for the Red Wings in November. He spent most of the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, seeing 38 starts, partly at the expense of
the Griffins’ top goalie, Joey MacDonald, who was injured in March.

But Howard has earned his position in Detroit’s goalie pipeline. The former Maine Black Bear star was recognized as the top rookie goalie in the AHL and earned a spot on the AHL
All-Rookie Team.

Despite a few questionable performances in the 2006 playoffs, Howard in known as a big-game goalie, able to keep a cool head under pressure. He is expected by many to be the future starter for Detroit. With Detroit’s recent re-acquisition of veteran NHL star Dominik Hasek and the re-signing of Chris Osgood, Howard will likely spend 2006-07 gaining more experience in the AHL.

2. Valterri Filppula, C, 5’11, 202 lbs

Filppula had a breakout year in 2005-06. His offensive development exceeded expectations and his
+23 showed that he could bring the points without sacrificing defense. Centering the Griffins’ toughest
line between Darryl Bootland and Tomas Kopecky,
he posted 20 assists and 50 goals for 70 points, fifth on the Griffins and 24th in the league. Filppula ended the season with a point-per-game playoff performance, second in points behind fellow prospect Jiri Hudler.

Filppula has a good all-around set of skills. He moves the puck well and has shown he is able to play through traffic. However, Filppula will need to add a physical dimension to his game if he is to remain in the NHL. Filppula is well-liked in Detroit and is expected to compete for one the remaining roster spots with the parent club in training camp.

3. Jiri Hudler, C, 5’10, 183 lbs

The Grand Rapids star finished the regular season with 96 points, including 36 goals and 60 assists in 76 games. He then added 6 goals and 16 assists in 16 games in the postseason. Hudler finished the season with the third-best point total in the AHL. Despite his offensive success, however, in the first half of the season, Hudler ignored his defensive duties and lost
ice time as a result. But it didn’t take him long to remedy his defensive weaknesses and has
since played his best hockey to date.

Hudler has amazing offensive abilities with highlight-reel moves. His puck control is elite-level, and combined with his ability to develop a play, Hudler is a constant offensive threat. His on-ice intensity sometimes leads to bad penalties and he has been criticized for not playing his hardest every game, but his overall development has been exceptional.

The Wings signed Hudler to a contract and believe he has the ability play a scoring-line role in Detroit. However, Hudler
is undersized, at least for the old NHL, but more importantly his speed is average, which may result in Hudler having trouble playing his style in the NHL against quicker opponents. Yet Hudler may be dangerous if he is paired with the right
linemates — someone with the ability to challenge the opposing defense and open
up the ice for
his slick style. Hudler is among the Detroit prospects who are anticipated to make the roster
during training camp, but will face tough competition from forwards Tomas Kopecky,
Filppula, and Darryl Bootland.

4. Jakub Kindl, D, 6’3, 202 lbs

After a rather rocky debut in North America with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, many NHL teams considered Kindl a risky draft pick in 2005, yet
the Red Wings picked Kindl 17th overall, and are happy they did. Kindl increased his point production from 14 in 2004-05 to 68 in 2005-06. The Czech defenseman found the confidence he needed to play his style and
has since become the prospect Detroit anticipated him to be.

Kindl is a high-skill offensive defenseman. He is able to man the power play and his speed and skating skill make him an effective penalty killer. At over 200 lbs. Kindl promises to have the size to complement his skill. He still, however, does not play the physically aggressive style his large frame will support and would benefit from asserting himself when the occasion demands.

Kindl has been criticized for being prone to bad penalties. Yet his improvement from his rookie year to his sophomore season was dramatic. He will compete for a roster spot at Detroit’s training camp, but he will likely return to the Kitchener Rangers in 2006-07, and should be among the
league’s top defensive scoring leaders. The Rangers will rely heavily on Kindl in 2006-07.

5. Igor Grigorenko, RW, 5’10, 209 lbs

The Red Wings envisioned Grigorenko playing in the AHL or even the NHL by now. His development was previously interrupted by serious traffic accident when he missed most of the 2003-04 season and has spent every year since trying to recapture the aggressive style that made him Detroit’s first choice,
62nd overall in 2001. Signing a lucrative contract with Lada Tagliatti, Grigorenko will again remain in Russia for the 2006-07 season, this time as a top forward in Russia’s
Super League. In the 2005-06 campaign,
Grigorenko earned a position on Cherepovets Severstal’s top-line and posted 21 assists
and 13 goals in 50 games. In seven games, he recorded a goal and two assists with the Team Russia in the
World Championships.

Grigorenko’s style is a great fit for the
Wings. He likes to hit and charge the net to generate scoring chances. Grigorenko’s puck and passing skills are top-rate and has been compared to current Red
Wing Tomas Holmstrom. His intensity and commitment have brought him a long way in recovering his old form, but scouts have noticed a decrease in his skating speed and mobility. His success in the NHL may depend on him improving his acceleration and side-to-side mobility. Detroit must sign
Grigorenko by next June.

6. Johan Ryno, F, 6’5, 209 lbs

Ryno possesses an exciting combination of size and skill and may eventually become a top prospect in the Detroit’s system. In 2005-06 he played with Oskarshamn in Sweden’s Tier II league posting 23 points in 34 games with 13 goals and 10 assists. He recorded 64 penalty minutes for the season. Ryno was a valuable member on Sweden’s Junior National Team during the WJC where he scored 2 goals and added 3 assists in 6 games.

Ryno has the talent and size to become a second line power forward in the NHL.
He still needs to add strength, and use it to make an impact on the game to realize this role. Currently,
he has a sound understanding of the game and the strong skating and fundamentals to succeed in Europe. He is expected to play with the Frolunda Indians in the Swedish Elite
League in 2007-06. He has stated his desire to play in the NHL, and with a good year he may see the AHL
in 2007-08.

7. Brett Lebda, D, 5’9, 195 lbs

Lebda is one of the most talented skaters in the Red Wing system. His speed and maneuverability landed him a spot on Detroit’s roster, as the team looked to fill the void left from injured Niklas Kronwall and Jiri Fischer in 2005-06. Consequently, Lebda saw significant NHL action far before anyone believed he would. Lebda made the best of his chance
and impressed Detroit head coach Mike Babcock, finishing the season with 3 goals
and 9 assists in 46 games with the Red Wings. Between call-ups, Lebda was able to log
4 goals and 14 assists in 25 games with the Griffins.

Lebda has the tools to be an excellent offensive defenseman, but is relying too heavily on his skating ability; he needs to improve his passing and shooting skills to realize his full offensive potential. His speed and maneuverability will create odd-man chances and scoring opportunities, but his finishing skills won’t produce unless he learns to open up an opponent’s defense with tape-to-tape accurate passes or a threatening point shot.

Lebda is a top-scoring defenseman at the AHL level, and Detroit hopes he needs only time and development to realize the same potential in the NHL. He will not receive top ice time in Detroit in 2006-07, but is expected to open the season with the parent club.

8. Evan McGrath, C, 6’0, 195 lbs

The Red Wings signed McGrath to a rookie deal after posting 114 points with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. He was the top scorer on the Rangers and fifth overall in the league with 37 goals, 77 assists,
and 63 penalty minutes. In 2005-06, McGrath’s first-rate offensive play earned him a spot on the Eastern
All-Star roster and Team OHL for the ADT Canada-Russian Challenge, but failed to land him a spot on Canada’s World Junior Championship team.

McGrath’s success is due to strong skating and an elite-level vision for he game. He is not known as a goal scorer but can find the net, and is very adept at finding and setting up
linemates. His skating, playmaking, and power-play ability make him a top offensive prospect. McGrath will never be considered a physical forward, but needs to develop a physical dynamic in his game. If McGrath is able to retain his offensive production, in the physical environment of the AHL, he will have a good shot at the NHL in a few years.
He will likely play with the Griffins in 2006-07.

9. Kyle Quincey, D, 6’2, 215 lbs

The 2005-06 season was Quincey’s first as a pro and his first in Grand Rapids. The former Mississauga defenseman had an excellent rookie campaign, logging 7 goals, 26 assists,
+15 and 107 penalty minutes in 70 games. Quincey’s playoff performance was unspectacular with only one assist in 16 games, a
-7, and 27 penalty minutes.

Quincey executes a careful, nearly flawless game. His sound fundamentals, combined with his size and overall skill, make Quincey an ideal candidate for a third or fourth line
defenseman in the NHL. While Quincey earned a call-up in December, he only played one game with Wings and did not score. His offensive upside is limited, though he is still developing. Quincey will log top-four ice time in Grand Rapids in 2006-07 and may see frequent call-ups to Detroit.

10. Cory Emmerton, LW, 5’11, 177

Emmerton is a bit undersized, but possesses good offensive skill. Emmerton
was overlooked in the first round of the 2006 NHL draft as he fell to No. 41, when Wings chose
him with their first pick. The Kingston Frontenac left wing was one of the youngest among OHL scoring leaders in 2005-06
with 26 goals and 64 assists in 66 games and boasts a powerful and accurate shot.

Emmerton’s skating skill is not on par with his puck, passing, and finishing skills. Emmerton will have to gain skate strength if he is going to be able to play his offensive game at the next level. Emmerton has few years in the junior leagues, plenty of time to develop his
physique. If he is able to put it all together, Emmerton has the potential to be among the most offensively talented of Detroit’s prospects.

11. Shawn Matthias, C, 6’3, 211

Matthias was Detroit’s second choice in the
2006 draft, 47th overall. In Matthias, the Red Wings hope they have recruited a future third or fourth-line checking forward. The 2005-06 season was his second with the Belleville Bulls of the OHL. He scored 12 times and assisted on 34 goals to record 42 points in 67 games. Matthias has great speed and strength. He doesn’t play with the mean streak, but possesses the potential to add a physical dimension to any
line. At 6’3, 211 lbs, the Belleville center is difficult to ignore on the ice.

Matthias has good vision for the game which, combined with his speed and maturity, gives him great
skill in odd-man situations. Matthias is not much of a finisher and will most likely never contend for a scoring title, but he uses his
linemates well and can generate scoring opportunities. Perhaps Matthias’ most valuable characteristic is his passion and dedication to the game. With his
dedication to offseason training, he may develop beyond expectations. Matthias will return to Belleville for his third year with the Bulls. He will play a solid role with Bulls with an
increase in ice time.

12. Justin Abdelkader, C, 6’1, 195 lbs

The former Cedar Rapids center will return to Michigan State for a sophomore season in 2006-07. Abdelkader enjoyed a solid freshman year. He centered an all-freshman line between Buffalo
prospect Tim Kennedy and Pittsburgh prospect Tim Crowder, and contributed 22 points in 44 games with 10 goals and 12 assists. Abdelkader attended the US junior team evaluation camp. In the four-game tournament he netted a goal and
three assists. His size and two-way ability may earn him a position on the US
World Junior team in 2007.

Abdelkader possesses strong overall fundamentals. Though he could improve his finishing skills, he uses his strength well and doesn’t shy away from challenging opponents to create room and scoring chances for his line mates. He has a powerful shot, but do not expect Abdelkader to net many goals at the professional level; he is likely to become more of a defensive forward as a pro. Abdelkader is still a raw talent but is developing into a strong all-around player with third line potential in the NHL. He is feisty, can play through traffic and win battles along the boards—a style of play that Detroit highly values.

13. Darren Helm, C, 6’0 180 lbs

In 2006-07, Helm showed he can score as well as hit. He posted 41 goals for 79 points in 70 games to lead the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL. Helm is good at nearly every aspect of the
game, capable on the penalty kill and power play and in all three zones. The Medicine Hat
center finished the season as the WHL’s eighth leading scorer and should be among the scoring leaders again in 2006-07.

The Red Wings drafted Helm 132nd overall in 2004. As a pro, he is projected as a third-line checker. His offensive production this season was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Though
it’s not expected he will produce much
offense at the pro level, Helm’s skill and style of play make him an attractive third–line role player. Helm will return to Medicine Hat for
his final season in the OHL in 2006-07. Look for him to continue developing his leadership role with the Tigers and improve his offensive numbers.

14. Miroslav Blatak, D, 6’0 184 lbs

The Red Wings drafted Blatak in the fourth round of the 2001 draft, 129th overall. He spent 2005-06 in the Czech Elite League and posted
8 goals and 13 assists in 47 games. Blatak is skilled defenseman and plays a substantial role on HC Zlin of the Czech
league and his numbers among the leaders for defensemen. He will never be a physical force, but if Blatak can be successful with his technical style in North America, his pro-level skills may be good enough to make the third or fourth line in the NHL with increase in strength. Like a number of Detroit’s European prospects, Blatak must be signed after the 2006-07 season, his success this year will determine if he will remain a Detroit prospect.

15. Mattias Ritola, RW, 6’1, 198 lbs

The Swedish winger was chosen by Detroit in the fourth round of the 2005 draft. In 2005-06, Ritola had only 3 assists in 30 games in a limited role with Leksand in
the Swedish Elite League. He had limited offensive success at the U-20 level as
well, in 14 games he scored 4 goals and added 2 assists. Ritola had a great showing at the WJC for Team Sweden, however, posting 2 assists and 2 goals in the six-game tournament.
During Sweden’s camp this summer, Ritola led the Swedish team in scoring with a
goal and two assists in the four-game tournament against Finland and the USA.

Ritola has tremendous puck skills, is very mobile and makes precision passes. His offensive skill makes him an exciting prospect, however he has yet to produce the offensive his skill suggests he is able. He has been criticized for not playing his best in every game and will need to post better numbers in the 2006-07 season if he is to be signed in next June. He has the skill and Detroit will be watching closely. If Ritola realizes his full potential, he is gifted enough to become a second line winger
in the NHL.

16. Anton Axelsson, F, 6’0, 187 lbs

In the Sweden’s under-20 level, Axelsson posted 18 points in 13 games
before finding a home with Frolunda Indians of the Swedish Elite League in 2005-06. At the
elite level, Axelsson was limited to 6 points in 39 games, but was limited in ice time as well. While Axelsson produced at a good clip at the junior level in 2004-05, posting 42 points in 33 games, he is seen as more of a two-way forward at the North American
pro level.

Axelsson is often compared to his brother, Boston Bruin, P.J. Axelsson, who plays a strong two-way style and is good for nearly 30 points a season. The Wings would be like to see Anton post similar numbers in the NHL.
He exhibits all-around good skill set, he is fast and strong on his skates. He is more of a set-up man than a finisher. Axelsson is only 187 pounds and will need to get stronger to be successful at the
pro level in North America. If he continues to develop he has a great shot at a third-line role in the NHL and maybe the second line if he is able to produce.

17. Juho Mielonen, D, 6’2, 185 lbs

Mielonen is projected as depth player in the NHL. The young Finnish blueliner is an excellent skater and processes a powerful shot. At 6’2, Mielonen may develop a physical presence but is still undersized for the professional North American game. He is a smart player and positions himself well against attacking forwards.

Mielonen suffered an injury in 2005 which limited him to 23 games last season. He registered
three points in six games with Ives Tampere of the Finnish Junior-A league and an
assist in 17 games with in the Finnish elite league. With only 17 games at the
elite level, it is difficult to gauge Mielonen’s progress, though he must be signed at the end of 2006-07. Mielonen needs a big year. He isn’t strong offensively, or physically aggressive, his skating ability is the strength of his stay-at-home style.

18. Dick Axelsson, F, 6’4, 198

Axelsson is a playmaking forward who loves to hit hard and challenge opponents physically.
There is room for improvement when it comes to his defensive game and his acceleration. Another knock on Axelsson is his work ethic; he is not known for giving a 100 percent every shift and is known to take bad penalties.
In 2005-06, Axelsson played for Huddinge, in Sweden’s J-20 league, posting 35 points and 157 penalty minutes in 28 games. He scored 17 goals for 19 points in 23 games in Huddinge’s tier III league as well. Axelsson has a roster spot lined up with Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite
League for the 2006-07 season.

19. Jonathan Ericsson, D, 6’5, 205 lbs

Ericsson makes the Red Wing top 20 because of his potential as an imposing physical presence on the blue line. He is an excellent athlete and at 6’5, he promises
a physical presence that Wings would like to add to
their roster. Ericsson won’t score often and will likely contribute as a stay-at-home defenseman at the
pro level. He has good vision for the game but is still developing the stick skills to benefit from it. The young Swede will make his debut in North America in 2006-07 with
the Griffins or ECHL affiliate Toledo Storm. Ericsson is considered a
work in progress and needs considerable time to develop.

20. Sergei Kolosov, D, 6’4, 187 lbs

Kolosov is a tall, lanky stay-at-home defenseman.
Though he is only 187 lbs, he plays like he is 215 pounds. Hitting and challenging opponents is what Kolosov enjoys
doing. Detroit lacks the kind of toughness that Kolosov promises, and surely would like to have Kolosov on their bench. His overall control, passing and shooting skills need improvement, but Kolosov is young and has time to develop.

Ultimately, Kolosov is a very raw prospect who needs to improve in many aspects of the game; shooting, passing, skating, puck movement. The physical element is where Kolosov excels. He beats opposing forwards battles for the crease and makes them pay for aggressive forechecking. Kolosov spent the 2005-06 season with Cedar Rapids of
the USHL and scored 2 goals and 8 assists in 50 games. Kolosov has good size for the USHL but will still need to add strength before bringing his game to the
pro level. Kolosov will return to Cedar Rapids to work developing his stick and puckhandling skills in 2006-07.

Missing the cut: Daniel Larsson, G, 6’0, 170 lbs

Larsson was recognized as a potential future NHL goalie when, in four games at the World U-20 tournament, he posted one
shutout, a .97 GAA, and a .925 save percentage. Larsson played nine games with Hammarby’s J-20 team where he recorded .920 save percentage with 2.63
GAA in nine games. The rest of the season, Larsson played with Sweden’s tier II league and posted similar numbers in 28
contests: 2.97 GAA and .920 save percentage. Larsson, already 20, has shown stretches of brilliance but still needs a lot of experience at an elite level. Larsson will play with fellow Detroit 2006 draft
pick Axelsson in Djurgarden of the
SEL in 2006-07 and will unfortunately receive few starts in a back-up role.

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