With the current NHL lockout showing no signs of letting up, hockey fans will have to settle for other levels of hockey.
Detroit Red Wings fans that are not interested in European leagues have plenty of prospects to keep tabs on in the North American minor leagues.
Some of these prospects are more valuable than others and, while I cannot read the mind of Ken Holland—and for the sake of argument—here are the five most valuable prospects currently in the Red Wings' North American system.
I'd be flat-out lying if I said the Red Wings had a more NHL-ready prospect in their system than Brendan Smith.
Smith played 14 games with the big club last season, putting up seven points in the process.
If he had kept that up and played all 82 games, he would have put up an impressive 40 points as a rookie.
With the NHL season in doubt (and an 82-game season even more in doubt), Smith will spend this season in the AHL, where he currently has two points (both assists) in four AHL games this season.
One of Smith's biggest concerns coming into this season was taking less penalties because of his temper and "gritty side" (via redwings.nhl.com).
Smith will be a big part of the Red Wings' blue line whenever the NHL resumes action.
Nyquist saw his first NHL action last year as well, but because he only played 18 games, he should still be considered a prospect.
The 23-year-old Swedish forward put up seven points in 10:35 of ice time per game last season.
Nyquist's exceptional hands, vision and skating have only been getting better since he left the University of Maine and he looks to be one of the more promising Detroit Red Wings forwards whenever the NHL resumes.
He put up 58 points in 56 games last season with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL and three points in four games this season. His continued development will be key as he looks to potentially contend for a top-six forward spot in the coming seasons.
If you haven't seen Tomas Jurco's creativity, it rivals that of another player by the last name of Datsyuk.
Obviously, Jurco and Datsyuk aren't even close to being on the same level offensively, but Jurco has shown his ability in the QMJHL to put up 68 points in 48 games. However, he has just one point (a goal) in four games at the AHL level this season.
Jurco's ability to play at an NHL level will depend on him getting more physical with his 6'2" frame, as well as improving defensively.
Petr Mrazek is in no way ready for the NHL or even to start in the AHL, but the young Czech goaltender does bring promise to the Red Wings' goalie prospect pool.
Mrazek is a smaller goalie, but he is extremely athletic and it paid off for the Czech netminder with a 30-13-6 record, 2.84 GAA and 91.7 save percentage last year playing for the Ottawa 67's of the OHL.
He currently plays for the Red Wings' ECHL affiliate in Toledo, where he has a 1-1 record this season with a 93.2 save percentage, giving up just five goals on 69 shots.
Mrazek's progress is a huge step forward for the Red Wings, as the team does not have a proven goaltender after Jimmy Howard.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention Tomas Tatar on this list.
Tatar led the Grand Rapids Griffins in points last season with 58 points in 76 contests, but had just one goal with the Red Wings in nine games last season when he was called up.
The Slovak forward has has the skill, hockey IQ and raw talent to put up huge offensive numbers at the next level, showcasing part of that talent at the IIHF World Championships with five points in 10 games, as Slovakia won the silver medal.
Tatar should be exciting to watch, as he reminds me of a young Jiri Hudler, but with more speed and a little bit more desire to be a playmaker as opposed to waiting for the puck to come to him.
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