The Achilles' Heels for Detroit Red Wings' Top 5 Prospects
When it comes to the future of an organization, the buzz around impending prospects tends to focus on the upside.
While that is what makes a player attractive to a team, it is the weaknesses that need the most attention in order for that individual to improve.
Only a microscopic number of players enter the professional ranks without a hole in their game or aspects that require extensive attention.
The Detroit Red Wings are a franchise that puts a great deal of emphasis on growth and progression through their farm system. With some budding stars putting up good numbers and garnering a lot of attention, Detroit makes sure these players are more than prepared for their opportunity.
There has been a lot of conversation regarding the prospects in Detroit’s system as eight of them have made their NHL debut this season.
Some of their biggest prospects still have not made the jump yet, but that is only a matter of time. As Detroit moves forward in their playoff push, these young players will continue to hone their skills.
While looking forward to the talent these promising youngsters possess, these are the Achilles’ heel for each of Detroit’s top prospects not currently in the NHL.
Ryan Sproul has a very bright future ahead of him.
As one of Detroit’s top defensive prospects, he provides excellent mobility and great vision. He is gifted offensively and could be a quality blue-line threat down the road.
Sproul is ranked second among AHL rookie defensemen in scoring with nine goals and 27 points in 64 games with Grand Rapids.
What he adds offensively, unfortunately, has been a bit of a detriment defensively. Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill told RedWingsCentral.com:
Ryan is a guy who has dynamic, dynamic skating ability and dynamic shooting ability. He’s learning to maximize his offensive abilities in a harder game—in a game where you can’t just break people down, in a game where you have to think a couple of steps ahead offensively. He’s learning to do that. And he’s really come a long way in his defensive game and that’s because he cares and he wants to get better.
Defensive responsibility has been an apparent issue in Sproul’s game, even in junior hockey. With the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL he scored 153 points in 182 games, but was just plus-one. He has shown improvement in the AHL, but is still just plus-two through 64 games.
He’s a talented player with good instincts, and if he can make great strides defensively, he could be in for a lucrative professional career.
It is very difficult to find fault in the play of a guy who is running away with a league scoring title, but Anthony Mantha isn’t perfect—yet.
Mantha has dominated the QMJHL all season with 120 points in 57 games and is a shoo-in for the Jean Beliveau Trophy as the league’s regular-season scoring champion.
While there is no glaring hole in his game at the junior level, a better idea of his talent will be on display when he joins the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL.
Can he adjust to a faster, more physical game? How will he fit on a team whose style of play won’t run through him? It will be intriguing to find out.
Mantha has the skill to take over a game and the size (6’5”, 204 pounds) to play the physical game. His game is weighted on the offensive end, but two-way hockey is a staple in Detroit’s system and it can be taught.
Detroit is a team that preaches “200-foot hockey” and focuses just as much on keeping the puck out of its net as it does putting it in the opposing goal. If Mantha can demonstrate he is just as responsible defensively, he may be on the fast track to the NHL.
He is RedWingsCentral.com’s top-rated prospect, and with attention comes added pressure. He’s proven that he can score, so it is up to him to show he can excel in every aspect of the game.
Adam Almquist continues to rack up points in the AHL, and is the only blue-line call-up that has registered a point with Detroit this season.
In 63 games with the Griffins he has four goals, 46 points and is plus-eight. He is third among defensemen in AHL scoring and second on the team in total points.
Almquist has a great shot and excellent vision, but unfortunately he lacks size. At 5’11” and 178 pounds, his frame could make him a liability in the physical aspect of the game.
However, his scoring touch isn’t something Detroit can ignore. His hockey sense was deemed “as good as I’ve seen in many years” by Detroit’s director of European scouting, Hakan Andersson.
If he can add muscle and build strength, there is no reason he can’t succeed in the NHL. Defensemen Phil Housley and Brian Rafalski had tremendous professional careers under 6' in height, so it’s not a deal breaker.
Detroit has the eighth-least points from defensemen (122) in the league, led by Niklas Kronwall’s 44. No one else on the team has more than 19.
Almquist will bring a powerful shot on the power play, and his instincts at both ends of the ice will earn him a shot in the NHL. Simply bulking up could make or break his professional career.
There isn’t much left for Petr Mrazek to prove in the minor leagues.
In his first professional season he led the Grand Rapids Griffins to a Calder Cup championship, as well as earning a victory in his first NHL start.
This season he’s tied atop the AHL with a 2.12 goals-against average and holds a solid 19-6-1 record. In eight appearances with Detroit this season, he is just 1-4-0 with a 2.01 goals-against average.
The average height for NHL goaltenders is 6’2”, leaving Mrazek slightly undersized. The most concern is drawn from his lack of technical definition.
Mrazek has an unorthodox goaltending style that closely resembles the butterfly. Without a defined approach, he relies primarily on reflexes. He is a very athletic goaltender but can be victim to openings left high.
Dominik Hasek and Tim Thomas are prime examples of goaltenders who have succeeded without a defined goaltending technique. Both are multiple Vezina Trophy winners and Stanley Cup champions.
He is just 22 years old and signed through 2014-15. By then he could already be the backup or even challenge Jimmy Howard for the starting gig.
In his brief experience in the NHL he has shown he can sustain the professional tempo. If he can shore up his deficiencies, he’ll without a doubt be the heir to Detroit’s goal crease.
Teemu Pulkkinen has shown tremendous growth in his first season playing North American hockey.
The 22-year-old Finland native has enjoyed an excellent season in Grand Rapids posting 27 goals and 52 points in 61 games, good for second in rookie scoring.
Pulkkinen has been inconsistent in multiple facets of the game before coming stateside. He has an outstanding shot, which has often made him one-dimensional. His defensive play and exertion without the puck have been lacking in reliability and regularity, rather than effort.
It is the part of his game that, when developed, makes him a very dangerous commodity. Blashill told RedWingsCentral.com:
The thing I like about Teemu is he wants to get better. He listens, and he’s working at trying to get better. When he gets better (in the defensive zone), and when you have that ability to score…boy, you become a commodity in a hurry.
His talent is evident and his shot has drawn comparisons to Brett Hull.
Pulkkinen skated in three games with the Red Wings this year registering no points but showed a lot of energy. Rounding out his play in all facets will determine what kind of player he develops into.
Where he stands now shows tremendous upside, and with continued progress, he could become a decent scorer in the NHL.
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