Red Wings Top 20 prospects

By Zoran Manojlovic

The new Detroit Red Wings Top 20 list looks very different from the last one. Three of the top prospects have graduated — Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula and Brett Lebda, who are all having solid seasons with the Red Wings. One prospect has been traded as well, Shawn Matthias, who was 11th overall in the previous ranking before being dealt to the Florida Panthers
for Todd Bertuzzi.

This has created quite a few spots for new youngsters to step onto the list. The biggest riser on the list is the team’s sixth-round pick from the 2006 NHL draft, Jan Mursak, who wasn’t ranked previously but now finds himself ranked fourth overall.

Another prospect making a huge jump in the rankings is 6’5 defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, who was previously ranked 19th overall and is now ranked seventh overall thanks to an impressive rookie campaign in the AHL. Other newcomers to the list are Daniel Larsson, Jeff May, Logan Pyett and Gennady Stolyarov.

1. Jimmy Howard, G 8.0B
2nd round, 64th overall, 2003

This Ogdensburg, New York native was Detroit’s first choice (64th overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft and has ever since been labeled as "the next one" in the Wings system. Detroit hasn’t been very productive when it comes to developing starter goalies in the NHL. The latest one is Chris Osgood, who is in his mid 30’s.

Howard has enjoyed a very successful career at the University of Maine. His transition to the AHL has so far been up and down. He’s currently playing in his second season and is the top goalie on the Grand Rapids Griffins. Howard’s personal numbers are very similar to last year, a .907 save percentage compared to .910 last year, but it hasn’t led to as many wins, with a 17-14-1 record compared to 27-6-2 last year.

Howard is a highly talented goaltender who has impressive mental strength and quickness. He moves very well and is quick on the recovery. He hasn’t been tested over the long professional season yet, playing just about 40 games a season. He needs to play more games and deliver a more consistent level of performance in order to succeed as a starter in the NHL one day.

2. Jakub Kindl, D 8.0B
1st round, 19th overall, 2005

This Pardubice, Czech Republic native is the team’s top prospect among skaters. Kindl was hyped well before his draft year in 2005, but has since been a bit in the shadows.

He has spent the last three seasons with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, where he has been a standout defenseman. His coach has been relying on him heavily during his second and third seasons, averaging well over 25 minutes a game on most nights. He took advantage of his ice time in his second season, posting impressive numbers, 58 points in 60 games. After and impressive camp in the off-season with the Red Wings, Kindl returned to the Rangers to be a leader. So far he’s been looking very good, posting similar numbers to his previous season, with 53 points in 52 games.

Kindl has the size, puck poise and hockey sense to be a top 2 defenseman in the NHL. He moves effortlessly and is very mobile, with and without the puck. He is also valuable on the power play as well as penalty-killing units. He just has to add a bit more of an edge to his game.

3. Johan Ryno, F 7.5C
5th round, 137th overall, 2005

The towering forward has been climbing up the list, although he has yet to turn in a consistent season on a high level. Last year was solid but unspectacular with Oskarshamn in Allsvenskan, and this season that started with Frölunda and ends in Timrå has been up and down. It all started with a back injury in the off-season, which prevented his development for almost half the season. By the time he got back on track conditioning-wise, the coach had lost faith in him.

After a minor stint with AIK in Allsvenskan, Ryno found a new home with Timrå where he has been given a chance to showcase his skills. In 25 games with Timrå, he was able to collect 5 goals and 11 points which isn’t impressive by any means, but considering his first half, it’s a positive sign of things to come.

Ryno possesses tremendous size and skating ability for a big man. He’s smooth and elusive with the puck. He sees the ice very well and is very dangerous in the offensive end. On the downside, he still has to get stronger and learn how to use his body more effectively. He could be a physical force if he does this.

That learning period won’t come in Sweden, but most certainly will in the AHL maybe as soon as next season. Ryno has with his combination of size, high-end skill and offensive instincts the potential to be a top 6 forward with the Red Wings.

4. Jan Mursak, LW 7.5C
6th round, 182nd overall, 2006

Last year’s sixth-round pick has been ripping it up in the OHL with the Saginaw Spirit. He opened the season on fire, scoring points in each of his first 21 games for a total of 38 points (13 goals and 25 assists). Since the WJC, he has been in a bit of a slump but has still been putting up the points and currently sits second overall in team scoring with 24 goals and 71 points in 56 games.

Those numbers reflect his impressive rookie campaign well, but the most impressive sign is his overall development. He’s learning how to play in traffic, use his 5’11, 175 lb. body, fight off checks and play in his own zone. He has been getting lots of ice time and is a key player on his team.

Though small, he has tremendous speed and skill. He has soft hands and a very well-developed hockey sense. He plays the game with lots of intensity and is willing to go the extra mile to get the goal.

Mursak’s development has exceeded all expectations, but he still has at least two more years before he can be a serious contender for a roster spot with the Red Wings. He has to gain a lot more strength and continue
developing his overall game.

5. Justin Abdelkader, LW 6.5B
2nd round, 42nd overall, 2005

Abdelkader was projected at the time of his draft to be a future third liner with offensive upside. Two years after the draft, Abdelkader seems to be right on track based on his projection.

His former head coach Mark Carlson from the Cedar Rapids of the USHL described his game like this two years ago: "He’s a good two-way forward who plays well at both ends of the ice. He is also physical. Justin is a very coachable player who is of tremendous character." That is still the case, as evident from the 2007 WJC where Abdelkader was one of the top two-way
forwards on the USA team. This statement is still perfectly fitting.

Abdelkader is an important player for Michigan State and is getting the right environment to develop his game. With added strength and overall maturity, he could be a solid third liner with a physical presence and some scoring touch within the next three to four years. Expect the Red Wings to attempt to sign him before his college eligibility expires.

6. Igor Grigorenko, RW 7.0C
2nd round, 62nd overall, 2001

The former highly-touted forward has been up and down since his return from the serious car accident. Grigorenko has yet to recover fully and is having trouble of finding a groove. He decided to stay one more year in Russia because of his family and with hopes of putting on the national team jersey one more time. But unfortunately he hasn’t been able to perform at a
required level to attract attention from the national team coach.

Grigorenko, in his fifth season in the Russian Super League is amongst the leaders offensively on his hometown team, Lada, with 14 goals and 12 assists in 47 games. Those numbers are pretty solid but unspectacular for a player
of his caliber.

For now, Grigorenko has to finish this season with positive note and then make a decision on what the next step will be. He can opt to stay in Russia or sign a deal with the Red Wings and try to make the team out of camp in September. He’s now a 24-year-old veteran of Russian hockey who is ready to fight for a spot on the Red Wings. The team will most likely do what they can in an attempt to sign him as they’re probably very eager to see what he can do in North America. He projects as a solid third-line winger who has the ability to step up and play on a scoring line in streaks.

7. Jonathan Ericsson, D 6.5B
9th round, 291st overall, 2002

Ericsson was a late-round pick who was on his way to an anonymous existence in the lower leagues in Sweden, after a few slumping years with little ice time on different teams and in different leagues. But, Ericsson has been a bit of a favorite with the Red Wings European Director of Scouting, Håkan Andersson.  Therefore he was given one last chance to prove his worth as the team signed him to a contract in the off-season. That has proved to be a very successful move so far. Ericsson has stepped up and delivered a very promising start to his North American hockey career. He has been a rock steady defenseman
for the Griffins and is tuning his game very well.

He still has ways to go before being ready for regular NHL ice time, but at least he’s now playing in an environment that is good for his development. He has the size, mobility and puck skills to be a No. 4-6 defenseman.

8. Dick Axelsson, F 7.0C
2nd round, 62nd overall, 2006

Axelsson was a surprise pick in the second round last year, but he has shown signs of good things to come for the Red Wings. He started the season on a tryout contract with Djurgården, but it would soon be clear that he was there to
stay. Unfortunately his former team, Huddinge, couldn’t come to terms with Djurgården regarding his transfer, which caused him to miss much of the early-season action.

Once he decided to return to Huddinge, he found himself playing on a poor team without much offensive support. But that didn’t stop him from picking up where he left off last season, on a torrid scoring pace. In 25 games in Allsvenskan, he managed to score 13 goals and add another eight assists for a total of 21 points as well as a remarkable 113 penalty minutes.

Axelsson is a highly-skilled player with size and skating ability. He plays most of the time on the left wing and is a bit of a (light) power forward with a scoring touch. He plays the game with intensity and also possesses very good hockey sense and vision. For next season he’ll make the jump to Elitserien where he’ll be among the best rookies, and most intriguing prospects. He’s
still another two or three years away from being ready for a move over the pond, but he sure has tons of potential.

9. Kyle Quincey, D 6.5B
4th round, 132nd overall, 2003

Quincey has had a very positive development curve, ever since being drafted by the Red Wings in the fourth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He has had a solid junior-A career and is now established as a good AHL defenseman. This season has been hampered a bit with injuries, but he seems to be back on track as of late.

His offensive numbers aren’t as good as they were last season, but they don’t reflect his overall development. He has matured and grown into the bigger role that he has been getting with the Griffins in the AHL. He’s the top defenseman on the team and is showing signs of becoming a future NHL defenseman.

Quincey is a steady skater who works hard and plays with intensity. He has solid hockey sense and puck skills, but he won’t be an offensive type of defenseman in the NHL. He projects more as a No. 4-6 stay-at-home type of defenseman. With
the type of development that he has had so far in his career, he might be ready to fight for a spot on next year’s Red Wings roster.

10. Darren Helm, LW 6.0B
5th round, 132nd overall, 2005

A Winnipeg, Manitoba native, Helm is a local hero thanks to his performance with the Canadian national junior team that won a gold medal at the WJC in Sweden. His season with the Medicine Hat last year was his coming out party, and also played a huge role in him getting an invitation to the summer camp.

His current season with the Tigers is rock solid and he provides what is expected of him, solid offensive numbers and a great defensive game. He has put up 24 goals and 62 points in 57 games this far.

Helm is currently playing in his last season of junior hockey as he’s expected to make the jump to the AHL in the fall. Size isn’t his forte at 6’0, but he has a big heart and great skating ability. Many observers compare his game to current Red Wing Kris Draper and although it’s not that far off the track, Helm has a better physical aspect of the game. He uses his body a lot
more and is a very good hitter.

He still needs to add some bulk to his smallish frame in order to be an even more effective checker at the pro level. Expect him to make an attempt to make the Red Wings lineup in another two years.

11. Cory Emmerton, C 7.0C
2nd round, 41st overall, 2006

Emmerton has been ripping it up in the OHL with Kingston, but his current season has been cut short because of an early-season injury. He’s on his way back and might get a few games just before the playoffs start.

Taken in the second round at last year’s draft, the Wings hope that they have discovered a small, playmaking winger with offensive potential. No one can deny his torrid scoring pace in OHL, but his game is far from pro ready. He doesn’t play with the type of intensity that for example Helm has. His style of play reminds a lot more of Evan McGrath, with his natural hockey sense and solid hands.

But as evident with McGrath’s rookie season with pro hockey, it takes a lot more than just talent to make it big at the pro level. Emmerton will have to add some serious bulk and put in another gear in order to become a successful pro player. For now, he looks like a future third liner with some potential of becoming a second-line playmaker. He will spend another season in
the OHL before turning pro.

12. Daniel Larsson, G 7.0C
3rd round, 92nd overall, 2006

Larsson has emerged as a respectable NHL prospect thanks to his rookie season in Elitserien with Djurgården. He was amongst the best goalies in Allsvenskan last year and had a very good WJC for Team Sweden. He entered this season as a clear-cut backup, but did manage to steal a few games during a few hot streaks.

He played in 24 games and set respectable numbers with 2.53 in goals against, .911 in save percentage as well as three shutouts. He was also mentioned in talks for a tryout on the national team, but he didn’t get a chance this season.

Expect Larsson to continue his excellent development curve for the next season as he fights his way up the ranks in Sweden. He will most certainly make a few appearances with the national team as well which will help his development. He’s not very big, but he uses his excellent positioning and reflexes to stop most shots. He also has a very quick glove hand, but he needs to work on his rebound control as well as shot recovery.

Larsson has pro potential, but it remains to be seen if it’s NHL potential or just minor league hockey. He’s still at least another three to four years away from being an NHL contender.

13. Evan McGrath, C 6.5C
4th round, 128th overall, 2004

This former OHL scoring machine is experiencing some trouble adjusting to pro hockey. But that was a bit expected as he was never really pushed hard in the OHL where he was a dominant player thanks to his hockey sense and gifted hands. Now he’s learning to use a few more tools to be a successful player in the AHL.

After going through a long scoring slump, McGrath was assigned to the ECHL, with hopes of lighting it up for a few games. That seems to have been a good strategy as he has scored six goals and 15 points in nine games with the Toledo Storm. Now he’s back with the Griffins and is playing a bigger role, mostly due to the injury bug of the Red Wings which has forced the team to bring up a handful players from the Griffins roster, creating more ice time for players like McGrath.

This season has hopefully been a learning lesson for McGrath, which could be very vital for his future development. He has the skill and hockey sense to play in the NHL, but does he have the desire to do the hard work that comes
with it? That remains to be seen.

14. Derek Meech, D 5.5B
7th round, 229th overall, 2002

Meech has been a pleasant surprise in the Red Wings organization this season. After an impressive junior-A career capped off with a WJC gold medal for Team Canada, Meech moved on to pro hockey with the Griffins. He has been a solid contributor, but he hasn’t really shown signs of becoming the type of defenseman he was in the junior-A: an offensive-minded puckmover.

So far this season he has shown signs of that kind of ability as well as a more well-rounded defensive zone coverage. His overall game is improving and so are his chances of one day being a regular with the Red Wings.

Meech is a bit undersized, but he has solid positioning, mobility and puck skills to his advantage. He’s right now the No. 4 guy on the Red Wings depth chart, with guys like Kindl, Ericsson and Quincey ahead of him. Those are the guys that he has to beat out for a regular spot in the NHL. He might never develop into a regular NHL-caliber defenseman, but has some
upside as a No. 5-6 defenseman.

15. Jeff May, D 5.5C
5th round, 51st overall, 2005

May has had steady but rather unspectacular development in the WHL. In this, his fourth season in the WHL, he has already set career highs in all offensive categories. In 65 games with the Prince Albert Raiders, he has managed to collect 8 goals and 41 points. Those numbers are very respectable, when keeping in mind that May is primarily a stay-at-home type of defenseman.

His style can be compared to fellow Red Wings prospect Quincey. They’re about the same size, skate well and are rock solid in their own end. Their focus is mainly in shutting down the opposition and playing a simple game. May will have to be signed by June by the organization. After that he will have to prove his worth at camp and show that he belongs in the AHL, or he might be shipped back for another season in the WHL.

May projects as a shut-down defenseman at the pro level, and is at least another three years away from competing for a job in the NHL.

16. Logan Pyett, D 6.5D
7th round, 212nd overall, 2006

Pyett was drafted because of his crafty offensive potential, and he seems to be fulfilling his potential so far. He has already surpassed his career numbers in the WHL with the Regina Pats this season, scoring 11 goals and 56 points in 65 games.

Those numbers are very intriguing, but Pyett still has a lot more to learn before being a candidate for an NHL job. He’s small and a bit weak in his own end, but thanks to his hockey sense and vision he seems to position himself very well both offensively and defensively in order to stay out of trouble.

He will play at least another season in the WHL before being a candidate for a pro contract with the Red Wings. So far he’s looking like a very solid late-round pick who could climb the charts fast.

17. Mattias Ritola, C 6.0D
4th round, 103rd overall, 2005

Ritola has been a huge disappointment in all kinds of ways. Drafted as highly-skilled player who could be a future top 6 forward, he has been bouncing around in the lower divisions in Sweden.

Ritola has to find a steady home where he can develop his game and mature at the same time. That has been a big question for him so far. He doesn’t seem to have the mental strength to learn how to use his talent on the ice.

Ritola has natural ability, but somehow that disappears many times on the ice and he seems lost. He could be a potential signing in the offseason, but it remains to be seen if the Red Wings are willing to gamble on him.

18. Anton Axelsson, LW 5.5C
6th round, 192nd overall, 2004

Axelsson started the season on fire and it seemed as though he could be on his way to stardom in Sweden, but after a handful of games he seemed to cool off and was on his way down in the lineup. He has seen very limited ice time overall this season and that is the main reason why he didn’t choose to renew his contract with Frölunda for the next season.

He’s now looking for a new home, and that might very well be in Grand Rapids as the Red Wings might want to try him in the AHL. He’s a good skater with tons of intensity and a very good work ethic. He also has good hockey sense and vision. On the down side, he’s still a bit light and doesn’t have the finishing skills to be an effective scorer.

His future is a bit uncertain right now, but in a couple of months we may know a bit more on his potential outlook.

19. Gennady Stolyarov, RW 5.5C
8th round, 257th overall, 2004

Stolyarov was an intriguing prospect when he was drafted as he was rated pretty high with Central Scouting heading into the draft. The Red Wings took a shot on him late in the draft. This season he has started to come out of his shell, as he earned a regular spot with the Dynamo Moscow team in the Russian Super League.

Stolyarov is seeing ice time on the third and fourth lines and isn’t used very much on special teams. Yet, he has managed to collect five goals and three assists in 34 games so far this season. Those numbers aren’t very impressive, but they’re encouraging.

Stolyarov has great size and is a solid skater, but he remains thin and weak. He doesn’t really use his body as well as he should and could, and his defensive game needs a lot of development. But he has some intriguing offensive potential. He will be a high-end player if he pans out, but chances are very slim that he’ll ever make it over the pond.

20. Juho Mielonen, D 6.0C
6th round, 175th overall, 2005

Mielonen has all the tools to be a very good defenseman, but unfortunately he has been hampered with injuries for the last two to three years. He has yet to play a full season of senior hockey in Finland.

Mielonen was drafted because of his size, mobility and solid offensive skills. But with all the injuries, he hasn’t been able to continue his development and is now looking like a long shot of getting a contract with the Red Wings.

His potential is a No. 4-6 defenseman with offensive upside, but as it looks now he’ll take another three or four years before Mielonen can be reevaluated because of his lost time to injuries.

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