Detroit Red Wings Top 20 features deep and versatile group of prospects

By Adam Schnepp

Gustav Nyquist - Detroit Red Wings

Photo: Gustav Nyquist is poised for full-time duty in Detroit after strong playoff runs in both the NHL and in Grand Rapids, which won the 2013 Calder Cup (courtesy of Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

They are not prominent, but if you pay close attention the signs are all there. Cars left out overnight have dew on the windows, a few leaves are scattered beneath certain trees, and school supplies are pushed to the front of most stores; Fall is just around the corner. With Fall comes another hockey season, this time for every level of hockey (NHL included).

Detroit's recent drafts have netted the organization an extremely talented group of prospects at varying stages of development. The upside of this renewed focus on prospects is that Detroit boasts strong players at every position; the downside is that only 20 can be included on this list. Below is the way that the Detroit Red Wings prospects stack up prior to the puck dropping on the 2013-14 season.

1. (2) Gustav Nyquist, LW, 8.0C
Drafted 4th round, 121st overall, 2008

It may have taken Gustav Nyquist quite a while to get his shot with the Red Wings in 2012-13, but once he did he seized the opportunity and would not relinquish his roster spot. Nyquist played in 22 regular season NHL games during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, but he truly began to hit his stride during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Nyquist played in all 14 of Detroit's postseason contests and posted five points, only one point shy of his output from the entire regular season.

Nyquist's puck handling skills are borderline elite, and his speed benefits him both defensively and offensively. He has great hockey intelligence and uses this to create offensive opportunities through steady and solid defensive play. The real question for Nyquist has changed from whether he will be used by the Wings to what line he will be assigned to in 2013-14, as he just signed a new two-year, one-way contract with Detroit that will keep him in the motor city through the 2014-15 season.

2. (3) Petr Mrazek, G, 8.0C
Drafted 5th round, 141st overall, 2010

Petr Mrazek entered the 2012-13 season with nearly unflappable confidence. To that end, it allowed him to make a successful transition from junior hockey to the AHL. Add in a Calder Cup championship run and an impressive (yet short) two game stint in the NHL, and AHL players better watch out for Mrazek's refined skill and supreme confidence in 2013-14.

Mrazek is now the de facto starter for the Grand Rapids Griffins. Though the Red Wings believe he has NHL talent, he is best served by seeing ice time in Grand Rapids. Mrazek likes to play the puck and has the athleticism to do so. Add in his great rebound control and added experience and it would be surprising if he did not at least match his 2012-13 AHL numbers, a 2.33 goals against average and .916 save percentage.

3. (NR) Anthony Mantha, LW, 8.0D
Drafted 1st round, 20th overall, 2013

Any time a team has the opportunity to take a player who scored 50 goals in junior they are likely to select him without hesitation, and any time a team has the opportunity to take a player who scored 50 goals in junior with the 20th overall pick they run, not walk, to the podium to make the selection.

The Red Wings did just that with their selection of Anthony Mantha with the 20th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. Mantha's offensive statistics from his 2012-13 season with the QMJHL's Val-d'Or Foreurs are impressive; 50 goals and 39 assists for 89 points in 67 games played. Mantha's draft stock fell because of scout's perceptions of his intensity, or perhaps more accurately lack thereof. Like any 18 year old, Mantha will be given plenty of time to develop in Detroit's notoriously slow moving prospect development system. If he is willing to put in the time and effort to address raising his compete level (one of Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock's favorite terms) then Mantha has NHL first-line wingerr written all over him.

4. (5) Calle Jarnkrok, C, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 51st overall, 2010

Though it may seem like it has been an eternity, Calle Jarnkrok will finally make his full-time AHL debut in 2013-14. Jarnkrok got a sneak preview of what was to come at the end of the 2012-13 season as he played a nine game stint with Grand Rapids. A full season will give Jarnkrok the time he needs to adjust his game to the smaller North American ice surface, though his high skill level should serve him well in the AHL. Jarnkrok is a puck wizard in the same vein as current Red Wings Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg; if he has it on his stick it is very likely to stay there until Jarnkrok makes the decision to shoot or pass, both of which he excels at. Jarnkrok projects as a top-six forward for Detroit, and his development in Grand Rapids should be interesting to observe.

5. (4) Tomas Tatar, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 60th overall, 2009

It is difficult to believe that the 2013-14 season could be bigger than the 2012-13 season for Tatar; after all, Tatar finished second on the Griffins in regular season scoring and led all AHL players in playoff scoring with 21 point en route to a Calder Cup championship. Regardless of the accolades, Tatar can not go back to the AHL without clearing waivers first, and it is highly unlikely that the Calder Cup MVP would make it through the process without being claimed. This means that Tatar has to be ready to make the 2013-14 Detroit Red Wings out of training camp. Tatar should be well served by his high hockey IQ and offensive skill set at the NHL level.

6. (NR) Dan DeKeyser, D, 7.0B
Signed as free agent, March 2013

Dan DeKeyser's transition from college hockey to the NHL was almost inconceivably smooth. After finishing his season at Western Michigan University, DeKeyser signed with Detroit and immediately stepped into a Red Wings lineup that had a defense corps in flux. DeKeyser displayed tremendous stick skills in the defensive zone paired with excellent defensive positioning. He will likely never put up a significant number of points, but his defensive skills are so refined that he should have no problem holding down a spot among Detroit's top four defensemen in the 2013-14 season. He assumes the title of Detroit's top defensive prospect with Brendan Smith no longer qualifying as a prospect.

7. (9) Tomas Jurco, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2011

When contemplating the reason that the Red Wings bring their prospects along slowly Tomas Jurco almost immediately comes to mind. Instead of rushing Jurco to the NHL the Wings allowed him to develop his game first in the AHL. The beginning of the season was a struggle for Jurco, but his game took leaps and bounds forward by the end of the season. Jurco emerged as a true offensive threat for the Grand Rapids Griffins, posting a very respectable 14 points in 24 playoff games. With the pending departures of Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, and Joakim Andersson (no longer qualifies as a prospect) to the NHL there should be plenty of top-six minutes for Jurco to earn in 2013-14. With that type of ice time, Jurco is very likely to emerge as one of Grand Rapids' most potent offensive threats.

8. (6) Riley Sheahan, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 21st overall, 2010

Who is Riley Sheahan? The Red Wings still are not sure, but there are certain parts of his game that are a certainty. For starters, Sheahan is a strong, defensively responsible forward. The real question in Sheahan's game is how his offensive skills will develop. He has some scoring ability, and though that was not on display during his college years at Notre Dame his offensive production has undergone something of a resurrection in Grand Rapids. The 2013-14 season will go a long way in determining whether Sheahan will be a reliable fourth line player when he eventually makes the NHL or whether his offensive skills will pair with his defensive abilities to take him higher on the line chart for the Red Wings.

9. (7) Ryan Sproul, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 55th overall, 2011

A player can not ask for a much better finish to their junior hockey career than Ryan Sproul's experience in 2012-13. After sustaining an early season arm injury that kept him sidelined for six weeks Sproul returned and dominated, eventually being named the CHL Defenseman of the Year. Sproul's slide in the rankings has less to do with his game than it does the quality of players that currently make up Detroit's prospect pool. Moving up to the AHL will be a test of Sproul's defensive game (which still needs improvement), but if he can bring the same offensive abilities to Grand Rapids that he showed in the OHL then the Red Wings have a defenseman with a very bright future.

10. (8) Xavier Ouellet, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 48th overall, 2011

Much like fellow prospect Ryan Sproul, Xavier Ouellet will be making the transition from junior hockey to the AHL in 2013-14. This is about the point at which the comparison ends, however, as Ouellet's game is far more oriented towards a two-way style of play than Sproul's. Ouellet has the intelligence, skating ability, and skill to lead the breakout (a favorite trait of Detroit), and while he lacks the scoring punch of Sproul he is farther ahead of him in terms of defensive development. Ouellet needs time in the AHL to further round out his game, but if that does indeed happen he could be a solid NHL contributor for years to come.

11. (10) Martin Frk, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 49th overall, 2012

Martin Frk proved more than just how dominant he can be offensively in 2012-13; he showed that he is able to overcome adversity. Frk dealt with concussion related problems throughout the 2011-12 season but showed that was all behind him as he recorded 84 points in 56 QMJHL games in 2012-13. Frk will make the transition from QMJHL to the AHL for the 2013-14 season, where he will be counted on to contribute offensively. Frk's most prominent offensive weapon is his tremendous shot, and though it may be NHL-caliber, the other areas of Frk's game will be given plenty of time to develop in the AHL.

12. (11) Teemu Pulkkinen, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2010

His SM-liiga production may have slipped year after year, but Teemu Pulkkinen's overall game is still developing as planned. Pulkkinen is a pure shooter, and he will bring his stellar shot with him to the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins in 2013-14. He was able to get a feel for what the upcoming season will be like at the end of 2012-13, as he joined the Griffins for two regular season and 14 playoff games. After the NHL postseason run of stars Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson ended the two were brought back to Grand Rapids, leaving Pulkkinen the odd man out. Despite being scratched for the latter half of the Griffins run to the Calder Cup, Pulkkinen is very much in the mix to see a good deal of ice time in 2013-14.

13. (NR) Mattias Janmark-Nylen, C, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 79th overall, 2013

Not everyone develops at the same pace, which can pose a problem for some potential NHL draft picks. Luckily for Mattias Janmark-Nylen the scouts did not stop watching, and a 2012-13 season that saw him score 14 goals and collect 17 assists in 55 games for AIK of the SHL was enough to get him drafted in the third round. Janmark-Nylen has a great deal of offensive upside, and combining that with his willingness to forecheck and backcheck makes him a prospect worth keeping tabs on. He possesses a well-rounded offensive game in that he can both score and distribute the puck, and he will look to improve his faceoff skills and defensive game in his second full season with AIK in 2013-14.

14. (12) Brian Lashoff, D, 6.5C
Signed as free agent, September 2008

Expectations for Brian Lashoff were moderately high in 2012-13; be a steady presence on the blue line in Grand Rapids, and be ready for a game or two of spot duty if one of the Red Wings defensemen gets injured. Things changed quickly, however, for Lashoff. He was indeed called up to the NHL, but Lashoff did not relinquish his hold on a roster spot after arriving in Detroit. He played well enough to earn a new contract and should serve as the Wings' seventh defenseman in 2013-14. Lashoff does not possess the breakout ability or offensive skills of other Detroit prospects, but his ability to shut down the opposition in the defensive zone has proved valuable for the Red Wings.

15. (13) Landon Ferraro, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2009

At one point it seemed that Landon Ferraro had lost his way and would never reach the expectations originally placed upon him when he was drafted by the Red Wings. This all changed in 2012-13, as Ferraro finished third on the Grand Rapids Griffins in scoring after a 47-point AHL campaign. Ferraro is a two-way center who is displaying the offensive skill he was drafted for at the AHL level, and a great deal of his success comes because of his willingness to go to the front of the net and his solid defensive play. He will return to the Griffins in 2013-14 and look to build off of what was a very successful second AHL season.

16. (15) Mattias Backman, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 146th overall, 2011

Mattias Backman fits the mold of the prototypical Red Wings defenseman tremendously well; intelligent, able to start the rush, defensively responsible, and scouted by Hakan Andersson. While that last item does not necessarily have to be true it certainly does seem as though Andersson has found another Swedish diamond in the rough. Backman has seen his offensive abilities rapidly develop over the past few seasons to the point where he was one of the Swedish Elite League's top ten scoring defensemen in 2012-13. Backman will be spend 2013-14 building upon the success he has already had in the SHL, as he returns to Linkoping for another season.

17. (18) Andreas Athanasiou, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, 2012

Anyone concerned with the development of Anthony Mantha can look at Andreas Athanasiou as a case study in what can go well when a prospect address his shortcomings. Athanasiou was knocked for his inconsistent play throughout his draft year, which got so bad that he was a healthy scratch at points during his team's playoff run. He requested a trade from the OHL's London Knights, and they granted his wish by sending him to the Barrie Colts.

Athanasiou has not looked back since. His game has developed rapidly, and while he still needs to address some of the issues concerning his hesitancy to go to the tough spots on the ice, his statistics from 2012-13 are certainly impressive. Athanasiou scored 29 goals and racked up 38 assists during the regular season to go along with 25 points in 22 playoff contests. Returning to Barrie in 2013-14 means Athanasiou's development should only continue to accelerate.

18. (20) Alexei Marchenko, D, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 205th overall, 2011

Alexei Marchenko's transition from the KHL to AHL could hold more intrigue than most prospect's jumps from junior hockey or the NCAA to the AHL, if only because Marchenko has never been "the guy" for his team. He played on the third pairing for CSKA Moscow in 2012-13 and, though all reports are that he played very well for them, he simply did not see a great deal of ice time. Marchenko is a puck-moving defenseman who is also positionally sound in his own zone without being physical. His transition from KHL to AHL will be interesting to observe, and if his strong play throughout 2012-13 is any indication it should go quite well.

19. (17) Adam Almquist, D, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 210th overall, 2009

Rarely does a player's offensive game transfer as well from overseas to the AHL as Adam Almquist's did in 2012-13. Almquist recorded 31 points, his most since scoring 34 in 15 games during the 2009-10 season with HV71's J20 club. "Offensive defenseman" is a term practically invented to describe Almquist's game; he can skate, he can shoot, and he can pass. At the same time, he is truly an offensive defenseman in that the defensive side of his game is underdeveloped. Almquist will spend another season with the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2013-14 and will need to work on the more subtle elements of his game, such as physicality and defensive positioning, to continue his development.

20. (16) Nick Jensen, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 150th overall, 2009

Playing at St. Cloud State University meant that Nick Jensen played a great deal of his college career in relative anonymity, but that all changed in the spring when he his team earned a berth in the NCAA Frozen Four. Jensen was able to showcase his fantastic skating ability, which he pairs with good offensive intelligence to create opportunities for teammates and cover a lot of ice in the defensive zone. Jensen left St. Cloud State after the 2012-13 season will be making his AHL debut in 2013-14, where he will be competing for playing time with the likes of fellow AHL rookies Ryan Sproul, Xavier Ouellet, and Alexei Marchenko for playing time.