Tomas Tatar celebrates a goal during Monday's preseason game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Detroit Red Wings head into the preseason with a good mix of young talent, tremendous experience and a few new faces.
The Red Wings had a surprising playoff run last year, defeating the No. 2 seeded Anaheim Ducks in seven games and then pushed the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to overtime in Game 7.
A lot of new faces are members of last year’s AHL Calder Cup champion, the Grand Rapids Griffins, and are knocking on the big club’s door. The additions of veterans Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss in place of departed forwards Valtteri Filppula and Damien Brunner create a glut at the forward position.
Detroit also chose to bring back forward Dan Cleary, thickening the plot for those hoping to secure a roster spot.
Injuries to key players and lack of production from others led to opportunities for a couple prospects who are looking to build off of their performance and parlay it into a regular NHL spot.
This team knows it can contend now but with a logjam up front, how many of these budding stars can expect to see the NHL this season?
Let’s take a look at the realistic expectations for some of the Red Wings’ most notable prospects.
Gustav Nyquist is ready to take full advantage of a roster spot.
A lot of Red Wings fans became familiar with Nyquist during last year’s playoffs, but this kid has been knocking on the door for a couple of years.
Last season was his longest stint at the NHL level, logging 22 regular-season games and appearing in all 14 playoff games. Unfortunately for Nyquist, he is currently the only forward on the roster who can be sent down to Grand Rapids without having to clear waivers.
However, his new two-year, $1.9 million deal could represent Detroit’s commitment to him at the NHL level. He registered five points in the playoffs, including a clutch game-winning goal in overtime of Game 2 against Anaheim.
The 24-year-old Swede has shown speed and an innate ability to play multiple roles for Detroit coach Mike Babcock. With injuries continuing to plague center Darren Helm, it looks more and more likely that “Gus” will make the roster on Oct. 2.
He told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press:
I’m going to do my best, that’s what I’m planning to do to earn a spot. I’ll have to make it even a harder decision for [Babcock], show him what I’ve got.
In a full season, with the talent this Red Wings team boasts, 15 goals and 40 points isn’t out of the realm of possibility for a talent like Nyquist.
After winning an AHL title, Tatar sets his sights on the NHL.
Tatar is the prospect likely in the most complicated situation this preseason.
As a member of the Griffins last year, Tatar earned the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the Calder Cup Finals MVP and totaled 16 goals and 21 points in the playoffs.
In Grand Rapids last season he was on pace to surpass career highs in goals and points, but was interrupted by an 18-game stretch with the Red Wings in which he totaled four goals and seven points. With 17 forwards vying for just 14 roster spots, it has made camp more demanding for him. As he told Ansar Khan of mlive.com:
It's hard to pretend the forwards are not here, so I know there's lots of players here and everybody is battling for a good spot, so it's a little frustrating. But good teams can choose the players they want to fit into the lineup and I'm going to do my best to fit there, and I think I'm in a good position to do it.
He’s off to a good start after registering a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win over the Penguins in Monday’s preseason opener. While it is just the preseason, he already has GM Ken Holland’s attention as tweeted by Khan.
In his four years in the AHL Tatar has amassed 87 goals and 196 points in 265 games. He would provide good depth and could contribute upward of 10 goals and 25 points and even see time on the second power-play unit.
The team has $6.98 million tied up between Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson and Jordin Tootoo and is almost $2.4 million over the salary cap. Something will have to give and Tatar, with a cheap contract, will likely be the benefactor on the ice.
Ryan Sproul is determined to crack the Red Wings roster.
As most of us know, the Detroit Red Wings like to take their time with their prospects. They prefer to marinade them in the minor leagues until they’re seasoned just right to make the leap to the NHL.
Ryan Sproul may have the opportunity to make the jump sooner rather than later as Detroit’s top-rated defenseman on Red Wings Central’s prospects chart—No. 6 overall. The Wings have a young core on defense returning this season with an average age of 26. Sproul (20) will make his debut in Tuesday’s preseason game in Chicago.
The 6’3”, 185-pound Ontario native is likely to start the year in Grand Rapids, but is determined to make the coaches take notice, according to Brendan Savage of mlive.com.
That's the No. 1 goal, to blow these guys out of the water and make the NHL. I'm going to do whatever I can to do that. I know this is an organization that it could take a while but if they can't do anything about it I'm going to make it hard on them.
He has quality offensive tendencies that combined with his size, could develop into a top defenseman in the NHL. He played with Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL for the past three seasons, earning honors last year as the OHL’s Defenseman of the Year while recording 20 goals and 66 points.
While it’s not likely he’ll see the NHL after the end of training camp, his skill is something to keep a sharp eye on. He’ll have ample opportunity to grow under Griffins coach Jeff Blashill and will likely see top-four minutes and time on the power play.
Tomas Jurco is looking to improve upon his first AHL season.
Tomas Jurco may be the flashiest prospect in the organization. Listed as the third-highest forward on the Red Wings Central's prospects chart, he had a decent first season in the AHL, tallying 14 goals and 28 points in 74 games while also being one of the league’s 10 youngest players.
During the team’s title run, Jurco was clutch in the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Barons. He scored twice in Game 7, including the game-winning goal, to secure a trip to the Calder Cup Finals. He finished with eight goals and 14 points in 24 playoff games.
Detroit spent a second-round pick (35th overall) in the 2011 NHL entry draft after dealing their 24th overall pick to the Ottawa Senators for picks No. 35 and 48. As Red Wings QMJHL scout Mark Leach described him below, he was certainly a talent they couldn’t pass up.
He’s a power forward, a strong skater with very good hockey sense and stickhandling ability. He has a willingness to go to hard areas, willingness to compete in physical situations.
As he looks to build off of a productive first year, he is likely to return to the Griffins in hopes he can develop into the prolific scorer he showed flashes of with Saint John of the QMJHL. In his three seasons with the Sea Dogs, Jurco scored 87 goals and accumulated 175 points in 172 games.
It’s unlikely he’ll make an appearance in Detroit at any point this season, but 20 goals and 50 points isn’t out of the question with Grand Rapids. To know there is a player of this caliber waiting in the wings makes the future in Detroit a brighter one.
After playing in the ECHL, AHL and NHL in 2012-13, Mrazek looks to settle in Grand Rapids.
I included Mrazek because there is an outside possibility he will make at least one appearance at the NHL level this season.
With the laundry list of injuries that limited Jonas Gustavsson to just four starts last season, Mrazek could be the first guy to get the call. Detroit has four goaltenders currently in camp with Gustavsson, Mrazek, Jimmy Howard and Jared Coreau.
In his only two appearances in the NHL last season he showed why he’s Red Wings Central's No. 2 prospect. He went 1-1 with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage, including a 5-1 win over the St. Louis Blues in his first NHL start.
Although he appeared at all three levels of the franchise last season, Detroit will let him settle in Grand Rapids before even considering him as an NHL regular. With Howard receiving a shiny new contract last spring, it is even more likely Mrazek will have to wait a while for a real opportunity.
He’s certainly going to be the starter in Grand Rapids when the season begins, and Holland is sure to implement a long-term development plan similar to that taken with Howard.
It would be more beneficial for the 21-year-old Czech to play most nights in the AHL rather than ride the bench and chart faceoffs in the NHL. Although he does have an AHL title under his belt, let’s not forget he’s only played part of a full season at the professional level.