The Detroit Red Wings are a team that have found a lot of success by building through the draft, especially in the later rounds. They are also a team that catches a lot of flack for being one of the more veteran teams in the league (their average age this year is 31).
Fortunately for Motor City fans everywhere, the core players of their team still have about half of their careers in front of them, but for the guys from the older generation, retirement is just around the corner, and therefore their places will need be filled by some young talent.
The hockey world already knows about their current late-round gems (Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom and Nicklas Lidstrom), but now let's take a look at their stars of tomorrow. Here are my top 10 Detroit Red Wings prospects.
Cory Emmerton: Emmerton was selected 41st overall in 2006. In totality he spent four years in the OHL with Kingston, establishing himself as well above a point per game player. As he transitioned into the AHL in 2008, he scored 35 and 37 points in his first two years respectively, but with his skills he should be producing at least twice that much.
Now in this third year he has 21 points in 32 games. The reason he doesn't make the cut on this list is because it seems as though he may have plateaued. He has all the skill and scouts say he fits the Red Wings style perfectly, but this is a contract year so he needs to continue this breakout season. If he can keep progressing he could be a top 6 forward in the NHL. As a side note, he just scored his first NHL goal in his first call up on January 22 against the Blackhawks.
Joakim Andersson: Andersson was drafted 88th overall in 2007. He has spent the last 3 years playing with Frolunda (the last 2 in the Swedish Elite League). The Red Wings figure him to be a third line center in the future, so he has put up decent numbers for the kind of player that he is. He is dynamite in the face-off circle like a Kris Draper, but has a size closer to that of Johan Franzen (if he can add 15 pounds). This is his first year in Grand Rapids, and he is doing well. The Wings would like to see some increased production (has 10 points in 43 games), and his face-off percentage has dropped off, but overall Andersson is progressing pretty well. Only time will tell if he can make the jump to the Big League.
Adam Almqvist: This 19 year old defenseman was selected 210th overall in 2009. He spent last year playing with HV-71 in Sweden, and he put great numbers for a defenseman. He is considered to be somewhat of a high risk, but if he can add about 20 pounds to his frame and learn to be stronger on his skates, he could be a great powerplay quarterback at the NHL level. Hakan Andersson (who is responsible for discovering guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg) was quoted as saying he has fantastic hockey sense, "the best I've seen in years". With Andersson's track record I'm inclined to believe him. So keep your eye on Mr. Almqvist, you may see him sooner rather than later.
Lashoff is the only prospect on this list who went undrafted, as the Wings signed him shortly after their Stanley Cup win in 2008. One if his biggest upsides is that he already has the size necessary to compete at the professional level (stands 6'3 and weighs in at just over 200 pounds). He put up good numbers in the OHL, playing for both Barrie and Kingston and the Red Wings seem to think he may surprise them offensively in the future. He is currently in his first season with Grand Rapids, and while the offense hasn't been there, his overall game has improved.
That being said, the Red Wings brass don't expect him to be an offensive defenseman, they project him to be more of shut down guy in the 2nd or 3rd pairing. All signs indicate that he has everything the Wings look for in a defenseman; the puck movement necessary to play Detroit's game, the work ethic is there, and he has the added upside of being a physical presence on the ice (which some would argue is something Detroit needs).
The only knock against him could be his overall skating, and some more consistency to his game. Overall, Lashoff was a good signing and he looks like he could be a solid top 6 (maybe top 4) defenseman.
Detroit drafted Nestrasil 75th overall in 2009. He spent last year in the QMJHL with Victoriaville, scoring just above a point per game pace. This year he is still in the QMJHL, but he is with the P.E.I. Rockets, and his scoring has picked up even more. He currently has 39 points in 31 games and is set to surpass all of his previous offensive totals. He has competed for the Czech Republic in the last 2 World Junior Championships, and he has not disappointed. Last year he posted 7 points in 6 games, and followed it up this year with 3 points in 6 games as well.
Like Lashoff, Nestrasil already has good size at 6'2 and 200 pounds, so that should help him when he makes his transition to the pros. His offensive skills are exemplary, and with his size and skill combination he could easily become a good power forward at the NHL level (not unlike Johan Franzen). From what I have read, he isn't afraid to go the gritty areas to get the puck, has good puck control, can be physical when needed, and is great one-on-one.
His only downfall is his skating. Scouts say he desperately needs to pick up his speed, and apparently his lack of quickness is why he was available so late in the draft. If he can amp up his skating, this guy will be a really solid top 6 forward for the Wings.
This young swede was taken by Detroit 51st overall in 2010. He has spent nearly his entire hockey career with the Brynas organization over in Sweden. This is his first full year at the Elite League level, and he is enjoying a pretty productive year (20 points in 35 games). Jarnkrok also competed in this years WJC in Buffalo, and he played well, potting 5 points in 6 games for his native Sweden. His upside definitely rests on the offensive side of the puck, but to fit in with Detroit he will need to shore up his defensive skills. Jarnkrok is known as more of a playmaker and a powerplay specialist, and when given room to showcase his abilities he can be lethal.
His transition to the Red Wings should be made easier because of his puck possession style of play. Jarnkrok is another young player who has the ability to dazzle in one-on-one situations, and has a great offensive hockey sense. His biggest downfall is his size. At 5'11 and just 156 pounds, he is basically a beanpole. If he wants to make any kind of an impact at the professional level, he really needs to dedicate a bulk of his time to getting physically stronger in every possible way.
He has the talent to be a good forward for the Wings, but as stated, he needs to bulk up and learn the defensive side of hockey. Could he be yet another strong Red Wings talent from Sweden?
McCollum was taken by Detroit 30th overall in 2008. Simply put, this kid is probably the best goaltending prospect the Red Wings have had in quite some time. McCollum is one of those bigger goalies that many NHL teams have a sweet spot for these days (stands 6'2, weighs in 205-210 pounds) His first 2 seasons in the OHL were spent with the Guelph Storm, where his GAA was 2.50 or lower and his Sv% was .910 or higher. His 3rd year ended with him in Brampton, and he was lights out. He posted a GAA of 1.98 and his Sv% was .929. He certainly was living up to his billing as the top ranked North American goalie in the 2008 draft.
Last year was his first year in the AHL, and his numbers with Grand Rapids were not pretty. A GAA approaching 3.50 and a Sv% closer to .880 is not what anybody in the Red Wings organization had in mind. His numbers in Grand Rapids are better this year, but only slightly. I really wanted to place McCollum higher on this list because he really does have the talent to be a solid goaltender, but he seems to have lost his faith in his ability.
He is renowned for his incredible positioning and quick reflexes, the fact that he cuts down the angles, and that he DOES have self-confidence. If he can push out everything that has happened, and regain that confidence in his amazing ability, the Red Wings will have a really good goalie on their hands.
The Red Wings drafted Pulkkinen 111th overall in 2010, and this could already be a huge steal for Detroit. He has spent the heavy majority of his hockey career with Jokerit in Finland, and has impressed on every level.
Last year, he absolutely destroyed the Jr. A SM-liiga, scoring 41 points in just 17 games played. That was no fluke either, he has been well over a point per game in nearly every season he has played. He has won 2 bronze medals with Finland in his international play as well. He participated in the most recent WJC in Buffalo, and again he performed well (scored 9 points in 6 games). He is described as a "pure sniper" and "underrated as a playmaker". One scout even likened him to Jarri Kurri; he certainly has a long way to go before that discussion can even begin to be had, but that is still quite the the compliment.
How did someone like this slip so low in the draft? Well, his skating is very very average, maybe even below average. He was widely considered to be at least a top 20 pick, but his lack of skating ability really hurts him. He could also stand to add about 10-15 pounds to his frame to really fill out. Speed is key in today's NHL, so if Pulkkinen wants to show the world how good he is, he will need to build up some more strength and be quicker on his feet. He has the potential to be a top line player for Detroit.
Detroit selected Mursak 182nd overall in 2006, and he is the first of 2 prospects on this list that has already had a stint with the Red Wings this season. He spent his OHL career with Saginaw and Belleville. His best statistical season was 2006-2007 with Saginaw, when he put up 80 points in 62 games played, and he followed it up the next year by being runner up in the polls for most underrated player and best stickhandler.
He had a really bad rookie season in the AHL 2 years ago, as he was a healthy scratch on a regular basis, and he only scored 9 points in 51 games. Fortunately, last year he had a huge rebound season, finishing second on the team in goals with 24 in 79 games. At the start of this year he had 10 goals and 23 points in 33 games before being called up to Detroit, where he has since scored his first NHL goal. His best assets are his speed and skating, which many compare to Darren Helm, and his stick-handling abilities.
Mursak is a very shifty player, who seems to think the game well, and is willing to dig the puck out in the corners. The only concern for him, is that most scouts think he has yet to fully reach his potential offensively, and that even though he has added 20 pounds to his frame, he still needs to add some strength to be successful at the NHL level. If he can do those things, there is no doubt that he has the talent and work ethic to be a top 6 forward.
Sheahan was selected by Detroit 21st overall in 2010, which makes him the second highest draft pick the Red Wings have had since 1991 when they took Martin Lapointe at number 10 (Jakub Kindl was taken 19th in 2005 as a lottery pick after the lockout). If all goes as planned, Sheahan could end up being a home run pick for Detroit.
He is highly skilled offensively, and dominated in junior hockey with the St. Catharine's Falcons, blowing past the point per game mark both years (61 points in 45 games and 73 points in 40 games respectively). What makes him a great fit for the Red Wings is that he already plays proficient two-way hockey. He has the right combination of size and skill to be a big time power forward in the NHL, but he takes a lot of pride in his defensive game as well. The Hockey News was quoted as saying he was "the most complete player in the 2010 draft", and they may have been right. Last year he was a freshman at Notre Dame and scored 17 points in 37 games. Not nearly as gaudy as his junior numbers, but the Red Wings are more than willing to give him ample time to develop with the Fighting Irish.
His big downfall is that he was arrested for an underage drinking incident last year. It seems as though that is behind him, and he will be focused more this season. So far he only has 11 points in 22 games, so it's pretty clear that he needs to start producing a lot more if he wants to make the next jump. If he can overcome these early offensive struggles, he could be a force for Detroit in the future.
The Red Wings took Nyquist 121st overall in 2008, and he is another player who appears to be a late round gem. He spent his junior career playing for the Malmo organization over in Sweden, and in 2008 he made the decision to take the NCAA rout, and he joined the University of Maine. He had a sparkling freshman season last year with 32 points in 38 games, and he was considered by his coaches to be the best player on the team. He got even better last year as a sophomore, doubling his offensive output to 61 points in 39 games and was a top 3 finalist for the Hobey Baker award, awarded to the Nation's top college player. Now in his junior year, he is continuing to be productive, as he currently has 26 points in 20 games.
According to Hakan Andersson, he absolutely hates losing the puck, and will use his good work ethic to get it back. Based on other scout comments that I have read, he seems to have a similar style to Datsyuk and Zetterberg. His two-way game allows him to play in all situations, is proficient at stealing pucks, and is capable of controlling the pace of the game.
His downfall is his size. He stands 5'11, but is only weighing in at around 170 pounds. He needs to put serious work into training so he can add about 25 pounds onto his frame, otherwise he won't be able to make the same impact in the pros. As it is for a lot of young forwards, he could also stand to shoot the puck a little more often. Nyquist has the skill to be a solid top 6 forward for Detroit.
Detroit took Tatar 60th overall in 2009. Like his teammate Mursak, Tatar has also been given his first NHL call up this year. Tatar spent his junior years playing for various teams in Slovakia, where he achieved a good deal of offensive success. His most productive season came in 2007-2008 when he scored 76 points in 42 games.
Last year was his rookie season in the AHL, and he surprised everyone as he scored 16 goals and 32 points in 58 games, and he was the youngest player in the league. He started off this year with 30 points in 36 games before being called up, so his offense seems to have picked up. Every time I read about this kid, it's always about how impressed the Red Wings are with his offensive skills, and how well he has adjusted to the North American system at such a young age.
His best quality is his passion. He brings a ton of energy to every shift, and the puck just seems to find him in the offensive zone. He can shoot the puck well, he can set up his teammates, he goes into traffic, and is yet another prospect for this team that can be a threat one on one.
His only problem is that like a lot of the others on this list, he is too small. He stands around 5'10 and will need to add about 15 pounds to his 180 pound frame in order to stay competitive. His defensive game needs a lot of work too, and according to scouts is "far from a complete player" in that regard. That being said, Tatar is definitely one of the more impressive forward prospects this team has. Without question he can be a top 6 forward for the Wings.
Brendan Smith was drafted 27th overall by Detroit in 2007. In 2007-2008 he started his stint in the NCAA with the University of Wisconsin. He got off to great starts and put up productive numbers in his first 2 injury plagued years (12 points in 22 games and 23 points in 31 games respectively). Last year as a junior, he got a full year under his belt, and he was absolutely lethal. He scored 15 goals and 52 points in 42 games, which led all NCAA defenseman in scoring, and his performance got him nominated as a finalist for the Hobey Baker award. After all of that, nobody was surprised when he left Wisconsin early to go play in the AHL for Grand Rapids.
Smith has played great for the Griffins this year, he has 8 goals and 22 points in 40 games, and he was recently named to the AHL's Western Conference All-Star team as a rookie. Smith has a great shot, passes the puck very well, he can skate well, is great on the powerplay, and everything just comes naturally to him. His area of concern? His defensive game is not up to par with his offense, and scouts always point out that he pinches in too much He has also been involved in off-ice incidents including DUI and disorderly contact, after getting into a fight outside a Madison home. He has said that several teammates in Grand Rapids have helped him past that ordeal. It is also clear that being in the pros has helped him mature, and his defensive game has improved a lot since being with the Griffins.
Ken Holland actually believes he could be in the NHL right now, but thought it would be prudent to give him another year to mature and add some more strength to his frame. With his skill, look for Smith to force his way into the Red Wings line-up as early as next season. He could be the next great powerplay quarterback in Detroit.