TSP: Detroit Red Wings Prospects

Welcome to the 2014 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”.  As we go through the Summer of 2014 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) and 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 2014 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 2014-15 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.

2013-14 saw the Red Wings prospect depth get tested as the team had to scramble to replace numerous veterans who went out with injury.  It wasn’t just the supporting cast either, as stars like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were sidelined for long periods of time.  Players like Gustav Nyquist,  Tomas Tatar, and Riley Sheahan (amongst others), came through with flying colours though, as the Red Wings kept their playoff streak alive, taking the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Wings though are hoping for a bit of an easier time in the 2014-15 season, and to get back to allowing their prospects plenty of time to develop in the AHL.

2014 NHL Draft Picks (reviewed by LWOS): Dylan Larkin, Dominic Turgeon
Graduates: Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Luke Glendening, Brian Lashoff, Riley Sheahan (49 GP)

Top Detroit Red Wings Prospects

Top Prospect: Anthony Mantha, Left Wing
Born Sep 16 1994 — Longueuil, PQ
Height 6.05 — Weight 205 — Shoots Left
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1st round, 20th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft

Anthony Mantha had a monster season, averaging a goal per game throughout the year and the playoffs and leading Val D’Or to the QMJHL title. He also had a huge World Junior Tournament for Canada. Unfortunately he couldn’t bring home a medal from the World Juniors, and the Foreurs fell in triple OT in the Mem Cup Semi-final, but none of this can be attributed to his play.

At 6’5″ Mantha has really impressive size. What is really intriguing though is that Mantha couples that impressive size, with great offensive skills. He’s not just a player who scores in junior hockey because he is physically bigger and stronger than his fellow teenagers, but instead has skill to pair with that impressive physique. Mantha has a great wrist shot. It is heavy and accurate, and is paired with a tremendously quick release which fools goalies and helps him to put the puck in the back of the net. He also has a great one timer. Many have criticized Mantha for being too much of a perimeter player, but I don’t make that criticism. The thing is you see his size and want a power forward, but thats not his game. He’s tremendously skilled and can score by getting open and using that great shot. When it becomes necessary Mantha can get involved physically and dig hard along the boards and he always fights for his space in front of the net, where he causes havoc for goalies. Mantha is a goal scorer and he does get to those dirty areas to score those goals. Of course, we’d like to see more big hits and a bit of a mean streak out of him going forward, as well as a bit more bulk on his frame. While Mantha is more a goal scorer than a playmaker, his vision and passing skills are good as well and he can make plays with the puck on his stick.

Mantha is also an outstanding skater for his size. He has very good top-end speed, and great acceleration, which allows him to drive wide on defenders and take the puck to the net. As defenders need to back off and defend his speed game, he also has the ability to pull up and let go that tremendous wrister off the rush. He couples his size with good balance which makes him a force on the boards, and helps him to fight through checks and create offense.

Defensively, Mantha’s game is inconsistent. I have seen him be an effective backchecker in his own end of the ice, but I’ve also seen games where he doesn’t get involved enough defensively. He will need to be more consistent in that area of his game and get rid of his bad habit to puck-watch at times. When he does put in the intensity, he’s an effective backchecker, who plays his man and keeps him to the outside of the rink. He takes the body and wins his battles on the boards, and helps out with back pressure. He’s even been known to drop the gloves on occassion, but should not be thought of as a fighter.

Mantha likely starts this season in the AHL where he will work on showing a more consistent effort level defensively, and on developing his offensive game at the next level.


Prospect #2: Tomas Jurco, Right Wing
Born Dec 28 1992 — Kosice, Slovakia — Shoots Left
Height 6.02 — Weight 193
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2nd round, 35th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft

Tomas Jurco was a Point per game player in the AHL this season and also put up 15 points in 36 games with the big club. He even went to the Olympics, scoring 1 goal in 4 games with Slovakia. Overall it was in impressive season for the 21 year old as he took a big step forward in his second pro season, continuing his strong play from the 2013 AHL playoffs where he helped the Grand Rapids Griffins to the Calder Cup.

Jurco is an excellent skater. He has a strong and powerful stride that gives him good speed, and also gives him the balance to fight through checks when driving the net. His acceleration and agility are very good allowing him to go wide on defenders and to create separation once he gets a step on them.

Jurco is an outstanding puck handler. He has the ability to pull off dekes that most players wouldn’t even try and is the very definition of a player who can “stickhandle in a phone booth”. He also has an impressive shot, and good vision. The biggest difference in Jurco’s game between his pedestrian 2012-13 regular season, and his strong 2013 playoffs and 2013-14 season was being a lot more gritty. He seemed afraid to battle in front of the net or in the corners as an AHL rookie, but once he started doing that and driving hard to the front of the net, his game really took off and the point totals really increased.

Jurco also has a solid defensive game, killing penalties in Grand Rapids, and using his grit along the boards in the defensive zone as well. He will need to keep working on his fundamentals, and on getting stronger to bring this game consistently in the NHL, but it seems that its only a matter of when, not a matter of if he becomes an effective two-way player.

With the recent signing of Dany Cleary, and a potential signing of Daniel Alfredsson, there is some question if there will be enough room on the NHL roster for Jurco to start the year in the NHL. This is a similar conundrum as what Gustav Nyquist faced last year. However Jurco has proven he can play in the NHL and would likely be the Wings first forward call-up if he doesn’t crack the roster full-time.


Prospect #3: Xavier Ouellet, Defence
Born Jul 29 1993 — Terrebonne, PQ
Height 6.00 — Weight 187
Drafted by Detroit Red Wings in the 2nd round, 48th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft

Xavier Ouellet had a solid first pro season, putting up 17 points in 70 games with Grand Rapids. He also got in 4 NHL regular season games, making his NHL debut with the Red Wings this year and even got in a playoff game as well. While he didn’t put up any points, he also wasn’t a liability and showed that he’s not far off from regular duty.

Ouellet proved in junior that he was a strong offensive defenceman and as he gains experience we should expect his point totals to increase. Effective in joining the rush or from the point, he has a very good wrist shot with a quick release. His slapshot is powerful and he has a dangerous one timer. Ouellet is very poised on the powerplay and has excellent vision and creativity to create plays. He is agile and can walk the line to open up passing and shooting lanes.

He is a great skater and it is this mobility that helps his game at both ends. He has a strong stride and good acceleration in both directions. He also pivots well, and has great edgework and agility, giving him the ability to quickly transition all 360 degrees and cover the ice extremely effectively. He is strong on his skates and has decent balance for board battles and in front of the net, but bulking up his core strength would help his game take the next step.

Don’t be fooled though, Ouellet is no one trick pony, as he also is a good defensive defenceman using his solid positioning and good hockey sense to keep opponents at bay as well. He anticipates extremely well and cuts down passing and shooting lanes. Ouellet is not afraid to block shots and to take a hit to move the puck out of the defensive zone.

Ouellet will likely spend another year in the AHL, but could be ready for fill in duty if injuries arise. There are a number of good defencemen in the Wings system though, and Ouellet is certainly being pushed for his current spot as the top Wings defensive prospect by players like Ryan Sproul and Alexey Marchenko.

Super Sleeper: Petr Mrazek, Goaltender
Born Feb 14 1992 — Ostrava, Czech Rep.
Height 6.03 — Weight 185 — Shoots/Catches Left
Drafted by Detroit Red Wings in the 5th round, 141st overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft

After winning the Calder Cup in 2013, Mrazek had another solid season and was once again named an AHL All-Star. He even played 9 games for the Wings when injuries hit putting up an impressive 1.74 goals against average and .927 save percentage in the NHL in that time.

Mrazek is an aggressive goalie who seems to attack the puck. He loves to get out of his crease, cut down angles and really challenge shooters. He has the strong footwork and puck tracking to recover when doing so, and is an extremely athletic goaltender. Mrazek can amaze with his ability to make saves on cross ice passes and his side to side mobility. Mrazek’s style is a bit unorthodox and he doesn’t play a traditional butterfly. He is especially effective with his quick legs. though and really takes away the bottom of the net well. While his glove and blocker are good, they aren’t at the level of his legs and if he is beaten on a shot it is usually high. Like many young goalies he needs some work on his rebound control. Mrazek is mentally strong, he doesn’t let one bad goal rattle him and doesn’t seem to let things spiral. He displays confidence, almost cockiness, in his demeanor no matter what the situation.

Mrazek is extremely good at playing the puck. He is aggressive in getting to dump ins and can make the long pass that can catch the other team on a bad change. He is like a third defenceman back there and this really helps his team out in moving the puck out of his own end.

With the Wings re-signing Jonas Gustavsson, Mrazek is likely headed back to the AHL for one more season. He seems to be poised to take over as Detroit’s back-up in the 2015-16 season (when he will no longer be able to go to the AHL without clearing waivers first).


The Wings prospect depth took a serious hit with 6 graduations last year. Still it is impressive that they have three high end defencemen in Ouellet, Sproul, and Marchenko; a high end goalie in Mrazek, and two high end wingers in Mantha and Jurco. Sure none of these may be blue chip NHL Superstars, but they can still be highly effective and contributing players. On the wing there is more depth in Martin Frk, Andreas Athanasiou, Zach Nastasiuk, and others and Jake Paterson has some potential in goal. If there is a weakness in the system (other than the lack of a true blue chip player, and not many teams have those) it would be at centre, where the graduations have really stripped the system. However that must be tempered by saying its not a bad thing that those youngsters are having success in the NHL at a relatively young age.

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