Top Shelf Prospects: Detroit Red Wings
Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects” a team by team look at the top prospects in the NHL. Today, as I continue my alphabetical journey through the NHL I bring you a look at the Detroit Red Wings. As always you can find a complete listing of my previous articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2012 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2012-13 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick. A player who was either drafted in the 4th round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those asking the cut off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 45-50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Top Prospect: Brendan Smith, Defence
Born Feb 8 1989 — Toronto, ONT
Height 6.01 — Weight 199 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Detroit Red Wings in Round 1, #27 overall at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft
For the last few years Brendan Smith has been touted as the future of the Detroit Red Wings defence, and with good reason. He might be the best defensive prospect outside of the NHL right now, and even if he faces a challenge to that thrown by recent draftees, he’s certainly the most NHL ready of the contenders. Smith has outstanding puck movement skills, and it starts with his stickhandling and puck control. He has very soft hands and can dangle his way out of even the stickiest of situations. His quick dekes, feints, and toe drags have left many defenders in their wake throughout his career. He is a good skater with good speed, acceleration and agility and combines these with his stickhandling to create offence by leading the rush. His good vision and crisp passing skills help to create offence for teammates as he sets up good scoring chances in these odd man rush situations. With a quick and accurate wrist shot, and a bomb for a slap shot, Smith is also effective at being the trailer on the rush. Smith also has the hockey sense, and hockey IQ necessary to combine all these skills and become an extremely effective power play quarterback.
Defensively, Smith is very good in his own end of the ice. He is strong positionally and works hard on the boards and in front of his own net. He reads the play well, with great hockey IQ, and his skating, puck control, and passing skills are very effective in getting the puck out of his end of the ice. He effectively starts the transition game and his ability to minimize the time spent in his own end of the rink is invaluable. However Smith does still have aspects of his game that need some work. He can be vulnerable at times to being beaten one on one off the rush by a forward attacking him with speed. This is something he will need to continue to work on in Detroit.
Brendan Smith has been patiently waiting for his opportunity since being drafted by the Red Wings in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He has performed admirably at every level, whether it was putting up 15 goals and 52 points in 42 games in his junior season at Wisconsin, or turning pro and putting up 32 points and 34 points in his first two AHL seasons. Smith even joined the Red Wings for 14 games last year scoring his first NHL goal and putting up 7 points.
With Nicklas Lidstrom retired, Brad Stuart in San Jose, and no major additions to the Red Wings blue line this offseason, Brendan Smith’s time is now. There is a top 4 spot waiting for him on the Detroit backend and its up to him to seize the opportunity. Smith appears to be ready to seize the opportunity and has the talent to do so. I fullly expect him to make the team, and watch for Smith to be highly rated in my Calder Trophy Preview. The biggest issue for Smith will be living up to expectations. He’s been highly hyped and will be coming in as the greatest defenceman of this generation levels. Smith is very talented, but I’m not sure he’s a true number 1 defenceman going forward, more like a solid number 2 or 3, and he certainly will never fill the shoes of Lidstrom. Lets hope for his sake, the media and fans aren’t hoping for too much.
Number 2 Propect: Gustav Nyquist, Left Wing
Born Sep 1 1989 — Halmstad, Sweden
Height 5.11 — Weight 185 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Detroit Red Wings in round 4 #121 overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Gustav Nyquist could have qualified for our sleeper section, but after being better than a Point Per Game player for Grand Rapids in the AHL, and after playing 18 games for the Red Wings last season, he’s made too much noise to be considered a sleeper. In fact I rank him as the number two prospect in the Red Wings system. Nyquist is the latest in a long, long line of talented Swedes who have called Detroit home. However, like Carl Hagelin of the New York Rangers, he took the non-traditional route for Swedes in that he played NCAA hockey at Maine. Nyquist was extremely impressive there putting up a ton of points and finishing in the top 3 in Hobey Baker Award voting. Nyquist jumped to Grand Rapids of the AHL this season and was equally impressive at the pro level. He seems to be knocking on the door for a spot with the big club.
Nyquist is a talented offensive winger, whose biggest asset is his skating. He is extremely fast with very good acceleration, good agility, and great edgework. This allows him to beat defenders wide with pure speed and then cut to the net, or to make a series of quick moves and cut hard to the inside, leaving a defender either in his dust, or at times forcing him to hook or hold Nyquist in order to prevent a scoring chance, resulting in a power play for the Griffins. Nyquist also has extremely quick soft hands which also help him to generate offence. He is blessed with high level hockey IQ and makes smart plays and good crisp passes to teammates. He also has the ability to find holes in the defensive coverage and get open for a quick wrist shot or one timer. Nyquist’s is a willing battler on the boards and in front of the net, but he is a little undersized as well. He’ll need to work on his upper body strength to be more effective in these areas.
With Jiri Hudler gone and Tomas Holmstrom seemingly gone, there is an opening in the Detroit forward unit. With an impressive camp, that spot will become Nyquist’s to lose. Hoever it would not be a huge surprise to see him spend another 1/2 season or full season in Grand Rapids as extreme caution with prospects still appears to be a Detroit organizational philosophy.
Sleeper Pick: Teemu Pulkkinen, Right Wing
Born Jan 2 1992 — Vantaa, Finland
Height 5.10 — Weight 194 — Shoots R
Selected by the Detroit Red Wings in round 4 #111 overall of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Pulkkinen has proven to be an offensive force for Finland at the international level. In the last two World Junior tournaments he has put up a very impressive 19 points over 13 games. Pulkkinen has been among Finland’s biggest offensive weapons over that time. He has a fantastic, NHL ready, wrist shot and release. He gets the puck off his stick in lightning quick manner and that makes it very difficult for goalies to prepare. He also does it with the power and accuracy necessary to put it past those same goalies. Pulkkinen is a smart winger who is also a creative playmaker. He is able to feather passes to the tape of teammates that many players would avoid. He usually has great success doing so, and his teammates beenefit with prime scoring opportunities. Moving forward the Wings must work to get Pulkinnen over to the AHL and to refine his defensive game, so that he can avoid being a liability and get the ice time necessary to use his offensive talents. This is not a major issue though, a young player can be taught to play in the defensive zone, but a young, defensively skilled players can not be usually be injected with the talent to create offence. It is this talent that makes Pulkkinen so intriguing.
For years the Red Wings were known as the best drafting team in hockey, and from 1989 to 1999 few can argue with that ranking. To find sure fire Hall of Fame players like Sergei Fedorov and Nicklas Lidstrom, along with current NHL superstars like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg where they did is quite remarkable. However, this reputation may be becoming a little outdated. The Zetterberg pick in 1999 is the last true superstar pick the Red Wings have made. They had good success from 2000-2004 still finding very good players like Niklas Kronwall, Tomas Fleischmann, Jiri Hudler, Jimmy Howard, and Johan Franzen, but quite simply were not on the same level as their 90s success. Since the lockout the Wings drafting has produced little of substance with only third and fourth liners like Darren Helm, Shawn Matthias, and Justin Abdelkader being selected by the Wings. The Wings have always been patient in developping their prospects, and obviously with Smith and Nyquist being part of the 2007 and 2008 drafts, there is time to produce some good players out of those crops. However, while the current prospect pool is deep and there are good prospects behind those profiled in the likes of Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan, Ryan Sproul, Xavier Ouellet, Calle Jarnkrok, Tomas Tatar and Peter Mrazek in the pipeline, it is doubtful any of these players is a true home run pick like we’ve seen before. While the Wings have depth, Detroit must find another way to replenish the superstars who have left, and those aging stars still on the roster, in the coming years. This will be Ken Holland’s challenge, if the Wings are to retain their lofty status as perennial contenders.
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