The Detroit Red Wings' 10 Best Prospects Are Ready to Take Flight in NHL
Great organizations get their start by building from within. For the past 20 years, this has been the model that the Detroit Red Wings have used to create a perennial playoff powerhouse. That model has brought the team a bevy of talented prospects who have carried this storied franchise to four Stanley Cups and six Stanley Cup Final appearances since 1995.
After a dismal offseason, the time for a youth movement is now.
Superstars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were eased into the NHL after learning the game from NHL legends like Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille. The Captain hung up his skates in 2006 and players like Pavs and Z, along with Darren Helm, Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula filled the massive workload of Yzerman.
Who will be the next great Red Wings prospect to fill in for Nicklas Lidstrom? Who will make their name as the next legend in red and white?
Read on to find out which 10 prospects were good enough to make the cut.
1. Brendan Smith, Defenseman
Brendan Smith's calling to the NHL was imminent prior to last season. He was one of the last cuts out of training camp, primarily because a lack of roster space. He was also expected to become the first call-up on defense if an injury occurred. Defenseman
Ian White was sidelined for the road trip and the team decided to have Smith join the Red Wings and make his debut in the NHL.
Smith would end up joining the Red Wings for a 14-game stretch that helped elevate his play. He scored his first career goal against the Minnesota Wild on March 2, 2012, and added in six assists along with a plus-3 rating.
Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock told Mlive.com's Ansar Khan that he raves highly about Smith, saying, “What I like about him is skill, and how competitive he is."
Babcock and company will be looking to the team's best prospect to tap that skill and competitiveness over the course of an 82-game season.
2. Gustav Nyquist, Center
It can be said that Gustav Nyquist's official coming-out party was during the preseason campaign. Red Wings fans were given a glimpse of the former Univ. of Maine standout and were immediately impressed with his playmaking and goal-scoring ability.
During his three seasons there, he scored 50 goals and added 94 assists in 113 games (via NHL.com). Nyquist finally got the call to the NHL on November 1st against the Minnesota Wild. He would return later in the season and ended up finishing his rookie campaign with seven points in 18 games (via NHL.com).
With a new season approaching, Nyquist is looking to carry an increased role on the team. He will likely receive time on coach Mike Babcock's second line and have a chance to crack into the team's second power-play unit.
As he begins to take a major step forward in his development into the North American game, Nyquist is ready to become a vital part of the Red Wings' star-studded cast.
3. Calle Jarnkrok, Center
The average Red Wings fan likely has not heard of this slick Swedish center. That is because the 51st overall pick of the 2010 NHL draft has been playing over in his native country, grooming his skills to take the NHL ice in the near future.
He has played two full seasons with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League (Elitserien) and has done well while playing against Sweden's best.
In his 2011-2012 season he had 16 goals and 26 assists in 50 regular season games. In the playoffs, Calle was a point-per-game producer (16 points in 16 games) for his club. He signed his three-year, entry-level contract with the Red Wings on May 30 in a story first broken by Mlive.com.
Calle Jarnkrok brings a multitude of skills to the table. He possesses a strong hockey sense and he is always in the right place at the right time. Elite Hockey Prospects also says that Jarnkrok can be used as point man on the power play with his good puck handling.
He also been converted to the wing for his right-handed shot. Jarnkrok is most likely two seasons away from donning the Winged Wheel.
4. Tomas Jurco, Left Wing
When the Red Wings traded down from the 21st overall selection in the 2011 NHL draft, no one had any idea that Tomas Jurco would be available. A coveted prospect by many scouts, Jurco slipped to the second round of the draft and was selected 35th overall by Detroit.
It was surely a great find for an organization widely renowned for these type of selections in the past.
He has had three stellar seasons for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. During that time, he has been nearly a point-per-game player (175 points in 176 Games) and was a vital part in Saint John winning the 2010-2011 Memorial Cup Championship.
Jurco's future with the Red Wings looks very bright.
On Tuesday, in a story first reported by Mlive.com, the team signed him to his entry-level contract. By doing this, the team expects Jurco to play for the Grand Rapids Griffins next season.
From there, the hope is that Jurco will dazzle everyone in the AHL and warrant a call-up to the NHL in the 2013-2014 season. Whenever this Slovakian prospect does reach NHL ice, expect him to contribute instantly for the Red Wings.
5. Riley Sheahan, Center
The former Notre Dame standout is everything that Red Wings fans have wanted in a center. He has a great hockey frame (6'2", 222 lbs.). He wins faceoffs. He also isn't afraid to be brash against the opposition.
Riley Sheahan fits this bill and then some.
Since he was drafted by the Red Wings 21st overall in the 2010 NHL draft, Sheahan developed a strong defensive game when he arrived to play college hockey.
In 114 games with ND, Sheahan had 20 goals and 44 assists. He was called up from the Grand Rapids Griffins to play in the regular season finale against Chicago on April 7. Sheahan told Mlive.com that he was "pretty nervous" during the game.
Sheahan is expected to begin the season in Grand Rapids. Assistant GM Jim Nill stated Riley Sheahan can develop "into a second- or third-line center," as told to Brendan Savage on Mlive. Sheahan also is admired for being a strong center with excellent defensive skills according to Elite Hockey Prospects.
The power forward will take his time to reach the NHL once again.
6. Teemu Pulkkinen, Left Wing
When you warrant comparisons to the legendary Brett Hull, the team with your rights is always grinning from ear to ear. Those were the words that assistant GM Jim Nill used to describe this Finnish forward in an Mlive story.
Standing at 5'10" and weighing 193 lbs., Pulkkinen was selected as the 111th pick overall in the 2010 NHL draft.
He has spent the last two-plus seasons playing in Finland's highest league with Jokerit Helsinki of SM-liiga. During that time, he scored 35 goals and tacked on 59 assists in 123 games. He has also been consistent during international competition; here, he racked up 37 points in 29 total games.
Pulkkinen's best asset is his goal scoring ability. He has produced nearly a point per game in every competition and has natural playmaking ability, according to Elite Hockey Prospects.
There have been questions about his capabilities on the defensive end of the ice, but the Red Wings are hoping that hitting Grand Rapids in 2013-2014 will aid in that progression.
7. Tomas Tatar, Right Wing
There are times that I wish Tomas Tatar would get more opportunities to play in the NHL. Then there are those moments where the young Slovakian has made major gaffes that have set him back from returning to the NHL.
He scored his first NHL goal in his first game on New Year's Eve 2010 against the New York Islanders. And then Tatar went quiet for eight more games before being shipped back down to Grand Rapids.
He was anything but quiet, though, prior to his stint with Detroit.
He had 16 points in 11 games playing for Slovakia in the under-20 World Junior Championships. In his most recent season in GR, he put up 58 points in 76 games (via NHL.com).
The biggest setback for Tatar has been a logjam of forwards in the Motor City.
He has shown he can play with the game's best players and flourish. But he also still has to work on his defense needs to add some size (5'11", 176).
It is unlikely that Detroit will have room for Tatar this year. And the team might look towards the trade market to give this prospect his due playing time.
8. Ryan Sproul, Defense
Detroit's defensive core is ailing. Fans are clamoring for Brendan Smith (No. 1 prospect) to fill the enormous shoes left by a legend in Nicklas Lidstrom. Then there is supposed to be a stark drop off in talent.
Ryan Sproul is full of talent and ready to be given an opportunity in the NHL. Selected as the 55th overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft, Ryan Sproul has quietly been developing into a premiere first-pairing defenseman.
In 2010-2011 season with Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League, Sproul had 33 points in 61 games (via NHL.com). In his second season in the Soo, he was nearly a point-per-game player (54 points in 61 games) (via Hockeydb.com).
His offensive upside has been clearly documented. He also is better at getting back on defense. His lanky frame still has time to mature as he is only 19 years old.
But being a 6'4" defenseman with a strong shot and a offensive mindset, his path to the NHL might come in three years. And the Red Wings are more than happy to wait for this puck mover to grow even more.
9. Petr Mrazek, Goaltender
Having a little depth in your system is a good thing. The Red Wings are confident with their young backstop in Jimmy Howard. They brought in Jonas Gustavsson during the offseason to continue his learning and development but also provide Howard with a reliable backup.
Then begins a cesspool of goalies vying to become the starting goaltender in Detroit. The team most certainly believes in this Czech-born backstop who has Ontario Hockey League fans taking notice.
Mrazek is expected to compete for the starting job in Grand Rapids next season, according to an article written by George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press. He will have to fight with 2008 first-round pick Thomas McCollum for starts between the pipes. Though it is an arduous task, Mrazek looks to become the new face of Detroit's goaltending club in the very near future.
10. Xavier Ouellet, Defense
As part of trading down from the 21st overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft, the Red Wings used their three picks to select Tomas Jurco, Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet. Selected as the 48th pick, Ouellet has played in the QMJHL for the Montreal Juniors/Blainville-Broisbraind Armada. He was the captain of the young team in 2011-2012 and that affected his play in positive ways.
He had 60 points in 63 games last season in the "Q."
Ouellet's biggest problem is his small frame. Ansar Khan of Mlive reported what TSN scout Grant McCagg has said about Xavier's game: "[Ouellet] lacks typical blueliner size...Not the greatest quickness."
He only stands at 6'0" and 176 lbs., so there is room for this prospect to grow. Yet the Red Wings aren't in a need to rush this 19-year-old prospect from Bayonne, France. The team views him as more of a long-term project to develop this defenseman.