Top Shelf Prospects: Detroit Red Wings

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Welcome to Today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”.  As we go through the Summer of 2013 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks).  You can find all the articles here.  Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2013 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 2013-14 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 wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 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 (especially due to the fact that the latest NHL season was only 48 games).

TopShelfProspectsThe Detroit Red Wings looked to be in danger of missing the playoffs for the first since forever 1990. Taking things right down to the wire, a late season surge got the team back into the dance. Once there they upset the #2 seed Anaheim Ducks in 7 games and took a 3-1 lead on the Chicago Blackhawks.  However the Blackhawks would win the next three games (including an OT win in game 7) and the Wings 2013 season would come to an end.  For Detroit fans have become conditioned to competing for the Stanley Cup on a regular basis, a second round playoff loss might seem like a disappointment.  However given the amount of experience a number of young Red Wings players got in the regular season, and the strong play these young players showed in the playoffs it can be seen as an important building year for Detroit.

The Wings have long been patient with prospects, and this has lead to a very deep prospect system.  We spoke about the depth of that system in last year’s report, and it became an important source of talent for the Red Wings in 2012-13 as they graduated a number of prospects including Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, and Joakim Andersson this season.

2013 NHL Draft Picks: Anthony Mantha, Zach Nastasiuk, Mitch Wheaton,
Graduates: Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson,

 

Top Prospect, Tomas Tatar, Left Wing
Born Dec 1 1990 — Ilava, Slovakia
Height 5.11 — Weight 176 — Shoots L
Selected by Detroit Red Wings round 2 #60 overall 2009 NHL Entry Draft

Tatar finished his fourth year in the AHL this year, which sounds like a lot but we must consider he went to the AHL as an 18-year-old after being drafted in 2009, so he was always gonna spend more time in that league than your average prospect. Over the last 3 years, Tatar has been remarkably consistent scoring an average of about 0.8 points per game each year.  However it was in the playoffs that Tatar really took off.  He scored a remarkable 16 goals in 24 AHL playoff games in leading the Grand Rapids Griffins to the AHL’s Calder Cup Championship.  Along the way, he got an eighteen game stint with the Red Wings where he put up four goals and seven points.

Tatar might be an undersized forward, but he certainly doesn’t let that stop him from being involved in the middle of the play in the offensive zone.  He is always involved in the centre of the action whether it be battling for the puck in the corners or fighting in front of net.  He is extremely dangerous once he has the puck on his stick, as he has excellent stick handling and puck protection skills.  This allows him to get into great shooting position where he is able to unleash a good wrister with a quick release.  He also has a knack for finding openings in the defence when he doesn’t have the puck, allowing his teammates to set up his shot as well.  He is also a decent playmaker off the wing.

Tatar isn’t the fastest skater out there, possessing merely slightly above average speed and acceleration.  However he has incredible agility and edgework which makes him extremely slippery out there.  Strong hockey sense and anticipation also means he is often in the right place at the right time, and this really helps him to be involved in a lot of plays.  He also has good balance and a powerful stride which allows him to fight through the hits.

Defensively, Tatar continues to make big improvements, but is very much a work in progress.  The strongest part of his defensive game is once again his anticipation and hockey sense as he is able to cause turnovers and start the transition game.  He has become more diligent in his defensive efforts and back checks hard due to the coaching he has gotten in the AHL.  However size continues to be an impediment as he can sometimes be overpowered on the puck.

Tatar has little more to learn in the AHL and I predict that he will make the Red Wings full time in training camp this year.   The Wings are often patient with prospects, but with four years in the AHL, it seems to be Tatar’s time to make the big club.

 

 Top Prospect #2, Calle Jarnkrok, Centre
Born Sep 25 1991 — Gavle, Sweden
Height 6.00 — Weight 176 — Shoots R
Selected by Detroit Red Wings round 2 #51 overall 2010 NHL Entry Draft

Jankrok has been a regular for Sweden at the World Championships the last two years. He has also been a top center for Brynas in the Swedish Elitserien, helping them to the Swedish Championship in 2012. After losing teammate and linemate Jacob Silfverberg (to Ottawa, now Anaheim) and goaltender Niklas Svedberg to Boston Jankrok couldn’t help Brynas to repeat as champions. However Jarnkrok has now signed his ELC and gotten his feet wet with 8 games in the AHL, before playing in the aforementioned World Championships.

Jankrok shows a long, smooth and powerful skating stride that gives him excellent top end speed. However his first few steps are a bit awkward and could use some work as it really robs him of acceleration when he has to change direction, or when starting up. He does have good agility though, and the balance, power and non-stop motor that helps him to fight through checks.

Jankrok has an outstanding wrist shot and release that are near NHL ready. He also is a very good puck career and protects the puck well in the corners and down low on the cycle game. A tenacious forechecker he fights hard in the corners when the puck is loose as well. He’s not a big hitter, but he’s a battler who just never gives up on the play. His good vision, playmaking and hockey sense can lead to some great passes and set ups for teammates, but he also has a tendency to rely too much on his shot at times.

I expect to see Jankrok make his way to North America this season. With the Wings organizational philosophy, I would expect him to play a year in the AHL before being ready to make the jump to the pros.

 

Super Sleeper, Dan DeKeyeser, Defence
Born Mar 7 1990 — Clay Township, MI
Height 6.03 — Weight 190 — Shoots L
Signed as a free agent with the Detroit Red Wings, April 2013

After another successful season at Western Michigan, DeKeyser was the prize of the NCAA undrafted free agent crop. Nearly every team in the NHL expressed interest in the Junior, but it was the hometown Red Wings who eventually got him signed. DeKeyser would quickly make his NHL debut and did not look out of place in 11 games for the Wings, as well as 2 playoff games. Once the Wings were eliminated he would help Grand Rapids to the Calder Cup.

DeKeyser is a fantastic skater, he shows excellent acceleration and has very good top end speed. He combines that with very good edge work, agility, and the ability to pivot quickly in all directions. These skills make him extremely mobile on the blue line and have aided him in being a top notch offensive and defensive defenceman in the college game. He is very difficult to beat one on one, and almost always in the right position. DeKeyser isn’t a huge hitter, instead he plays the game with great instinct, and solid fundamentals. However he isn’t afraid to battle in front of the net or in the corners either.

Offensively there is real untapped potential here. DeKeyser has a good hard slap shot which he understands how to get on net, and keep low to aid his teammates in getting rebounds and deflections. He also has good vision and passing skills as well. Poised with the puck on his stick he can take his time and set up the play from the blue line. While he’s not elite in these skills he is good, and while he likely won’t ever lead the Red Wings powerplay, he certainly has the skill to contribute to the second unit.

DeKeyser did not look out of place during his time in the NHL last season. I think he has a real shot to make the Wings out of training camp and to spend the full season with the big club. He could be a valuable two-way contributor in Detroit, who have lost a lot of veteran defenders in recent years.

 

The Detroit Red Wings certainly appear to have a deep prospect group, and they have gotten a ton of hype at other sites for the depth of the group.  I’m not as high on them as some are though.  I don’t see a surefire elite prospect in the group, and Detroit has long been living on a reputation as the best drafting team in hockey.  I take nothing away from their drafting from the early 90s to 2004, they got multiple superstar late round picks, such as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.  Even in 2003 they were grabbing Jimmy Howard and in 2004 Johan Franzen.  However since the 2005 draft I really don’t think the Wings have deserved the reputation they’ve been given.  Even with their slow tendency to promote prospects, we still have not seen the team draft a single legitimate top-6 NHL forward since 2005, and that was 8 years ago.   On defence we have only seen one player, Jakub Kindl, play 1 shortened 48 game season, as a legit top 4 defenceman in the NHL.  Brendan Smith hasn’t proven that he can handle top 4 minutes yet, and no other defender has come close.  Meanwhile the Wings also haven’t drafted a goalie who has shown the ability to make it in the NHL yet, though Mrazek has potential.  To summarize, in 8 years we have no top 6 forwards, one top 4 defender (and one that is still somewhat unproven), and no current NHL goalies drafted.

If it was any other organization, there would be talk about being amongst the worst drafting teams in the NHL since the 2004-05 lost season.  There are many publications and prospect sites that seem to automatically give Detroit a top 10 or top 5 prospect rating just because they are Detroit, and surely are the best drafting team in hockey right?  Not so fast, as that is starting to change.  Just look at the THN Future Watch who had Detroit at 24th and a C- in their latest issue, or HockeysFuture.com who dropped the Wings to 11th this spring.  Perceptions are slowly starting to change.

All that said, there is a group including Nyquist and Smith already in the NHL who are threatening to change that stat, and Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Landon Ferraro, Tomas Jurco, Petr Mrazek and the Red Wings AHL club in Grand Rapids won the Calder Cup.  Xavier Ouellet, Martin Frk, and Ryan Sproul all had good seasons for their clubs in junior hockey.  The system is deep, there is no doubt about that.  There is a lot of good talent here.  I just question if there is the high end talent that is needed to replace the retired Nick Lidstrom, and the aging stars in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

 

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