Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). 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 this year. 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 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. 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.
TSP: Detroit Red Wings Prospects
The streak is intact. The Detroit Red Wings took third place in the Atlantic Division last season, qualifying for the playoffs once again. Getting to 25 was not easy. The Red Wings had to deal with the loss of coach Mike Babock, who left for the Toronto Maple Leafs. They squeaked in on the thinnest of margins, tying the Boston Bruins at 93 points, but having more ROW. The off-season would bring more change. With superstar Pavel Datsyuk, going home to Russia; Brad Richards retiring; and Kyle Quincey currently sitting as an unrestricted free agent. The Wings have brought in Frans Nielsen, Thomas Vanek, and Steve Ott to try and fill some holes.
The future of the streak belongs to the next generation though. Dylan Larkin was increadibly impressive as a 19-year-old rookie. He joins other recent graduates Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Petr Mrazek and Alexey Marchenko as being the leaders of the next generation of Red Wings. They will be joined by these prospects.
Detroit Red Wings Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Andreas Athanasiou
Center — shoots Left
Born Aug 6 1994 — London, ONT
Height 6’2 — Weight 192 lbs [188 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in round 4, 110th overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
As injuries hit the Red Wings, Athanasiou got plenty of opportunities with the big club. He scored nine goals and 14 points in 37 games with big club. He also played in all five playoff games, coming up with his first playoff goal. Athanasiou also put up 16 points in 26 AHL games, and 5 points in 6 AHL playoff games.
Athanasiou has tremendous skill. He is one of the fastest and best skaters in the AHL. His top end speed is off the charts. He has great acceleration and agility, and can make pivots and change directions with ease. His edgework and balance are also exceptional. All of this makes him a very difficult player for defenders to handle off the rush.
Athanasiou also has incredible stick handling ability. He has soft, quick hands and can make extremely creative dangles with ease. He has the ability to stick handle in a phone booth, and is a menace to goaltenders in the shootout. Athanasiou combines this with a hard, accurate shot, and quick release, which makes many believe he can be a goal scorer in the NHL. He also has decent vision and good passing skills. The big knock when he was drafted was based on attitude (he clashed with London’s coaches) and consistency. Athanasiou left London after being drafted. Almost overnight, those concerns disappeared. The consistency is there, and the clashes with coaches are not.
Athanasiou’s defensive game is a work in progress. He has become better as time has gone on, improving his positioning and curing his tendencies to fly the zone early looking for a long breakaway pass. He supports his defense down low, and provides back pressure. It is unlikely that Athanasiou will ever develop into a Selke Trophy contender, but he’s not the liability he was when drafted.
The Red Wings traditionally take plenty of time with prospects, making Athanasiou’s opportunity all the more unique. The Wings did give Larkin time last year though, and Athanasiou has NHL experience. A good camp could see him crack the lineup full time.
#2 Prospect: Anthony Mantha
Right Wing — shoots Left
Born Sep 16 1994 — Longueuil, PQ
Height 6’5 — Weight 204 lbs [196 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in round 1, 20th overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
After a somewhat pedestrian rookie year in Grand Rapids, Mantha improved his numbers in year two. He put up 21 goals and 45 points in 60 games. Mantha also added four goals and 11 points in nine playoff games. Along the way, he also earned an NHL call-up, scoring two goals and adding an assist in 10 games.
Mantha is 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.
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 scored in junior hockey because he was 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. The shot 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 that is not his game. Tremendously skilled, Mantha scores goals 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 play maker, his vision and passing skills are good as well and he can make plays with the puck on his stick.
Defensively, Mantha is extremely inconsistent. He can be an effective back checker in his own end, but there are also games where he doesn’t get involved enough defensively. He must be more consistent and get rid of his bad habit to puck-watch at times. When he does put in the intensity, he’s an effective back checker, 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.
As mentioned, Ken Holland‘s philosophy has traditionally been to allow prospects to be overripe, rather than underdeveloped. In many organizations Mantha would be in the NHL this year. However, that may not happen in Detroit. He will compete with Athanasiou in camp. However, do not be surprised if Mantha is sent back to Grand Rapids.
#3 Prospect: Evgeny Svechnikov
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Oct 31 1996 — Neftegorsk, Russia
Height 6’2 — Weight 199 lbs [188 cm / 90 kg]
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in round 1, #19 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Selected one year ago by the Red Wings, Svechnikov had a difficult post draft season. His numbers in the QMJHL took a very small rise (on a goals-per game and points per game basis); and he was largely ineffective with no points in seven games at the World Juniors. He’s still very talented, but did not take the steps forward that the Red Wings brass likely would have liked to see.
Svechnikov is a strong skater with very good speed and acceleration. He loves to drive the net and can finish in close when he gets there. He shows great versatility on the rush. Svechnikov has the speed to take a defender wide, the agility and strong stick handling to beat them with his lateral movement, or by fooling them with changing speeds. He could add lower body strength and be a bit stronger and more balanced on the puck. He could stand to work on his first step as well.
Svechnikov has good size at 6’3. He shows off an outstanding wrist shot and release. He also has an impressive snap shot and a very hard one-timer. When it comes to his shooting arsenal, Svechnikov has pro-ready skills. However, he is not just a one-trick pony as Svechnikov also has excellent vision and passing ability. He shows high-end offensive hockey IQ, making very smart plays with the puck on his stick and finding openings in the defence without it.
Svechnikov has tremendous skill and the stick handling ability to protect the puck and to get by defenders. He also shows the willingness to play a power game when necessary, getting in hard on the fore check, and battling hard in the corners and in front of the net. He pressures defenders effectively. Svechnikov throws big hits at times.
Svechnikov needs a lot of work in his defensive game. He tries to help out in his own end and uses his size to battle for pucks, but the other areas of his game are weak. Svechnikov gets himself out of position and leaves the opposing team with passing lanes on a regular basis. He tries hard, but needs coaching on what to do when he doesn’t have the puck. Svechnikov could improve with time, but right now his defensive game looks weak.
Svechnikov will likely spend the season with Grand Rapids, looking to make the jump to playing against men on a full-time basis. He has elite level skill, it will be up to the Wings development staff to make sure he reaches his high potential.
#4 Prospect: Dennis Cholowski
The Red Wings drafted Cholowski with the 20th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Cholowski. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#5 Prospect: Xavier Ouellet
Defense — shoots Left
Born Jul 29 1993 — Bayonne, France
Height 6’1 — Weight 200 lbs [185 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in round 2, 48th overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
In his third pro season, Ouellet again improved his output at the AHL level. He scored four goals and 25 assists for 29 points in 61 games. He also added four points in nine playoff games. Ouellet got in another five games at the NHL level as well.
Ouellet 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 edge work and agility, giving him the ability to quickly transition all 360 degrees and cover the ice extremely effectively. Ouellet 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.
Ouellet has proven that he has offensive skill. As he gains experience, he continues to increase his point totals as well as become more effective in the offensive end of the rink. Effective in joining the rush or from the point, he has a very good wrist shot with a quick release. His slap shot could stand to be more powerful though. He excels at getting the puck through traffic, and keeping it low and on net. This creates rebounds and tip-in opportunities for his teammates. Ouellet is very poised on the power play and has excellent vision as well as the creativity to create plays in tight spaces. He is patient with the puck, waiting for teammates to get open and for plays to open up. He is also very agile and can walk the line to open up passing and shooting lanes.
Don’t be fooled though, Ouellet is no one trick pony, as he also is a good defensive defenceman. He uses 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.
The time has come for Xavier Ouellet to take the next step and make the NHL on a full-time basis. That should happen out of training camp this year. With Kyle Quincey gone, the Red Wings have opened up a spot for him on the blue line.
#6 Prospect: Givani Smith
The Red Wings drafted Smith with the 46th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Smith. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Super Sleeper: Joe Hicketts
Defense — shoots Left
Born May 4 1996 — Kamloops, BC
Height 5’8 — Weight 177 lbs [173 cm / 80 kg]
Hicketts went undrafted in 2014 due to concerns about his size. The Detroit Red Wings invited him to camp, and then gave him an entry level contract in what is currently looking like a real coup. He finished up a solid junior career with the Victoria Royals.
Hicketts is an impressive skater. He has great top end speed, excellent acceleration and a great first step. He also has excellent agility, edge work and pivots. This allows Hicketts to cover a lot of ice, and to transition from offence to defence quickly, and vice-versa. As a result, Hicketts plays a very effective two-way game.
Hicketts has great vision and passing ability. He is a natural on the powerplay, walking the line, opening up passing and shooting options, and generating points. He is also able to start the rush, either by skating the puck up the ice himself, or by making an effective first pass out of the zone. Hicketts also has a very good wrist shot and a quick release. He uses this effectively when he is under pressure or when there is a lot of traffic in front of the net. He can also use his wrist shot to score off the rush. Hicketts has very high hockey IQ, and always seems to make the right play with the puck.
Hicketss is very strong positionally, and uses a low centre of gravity to be strong on the puck and play effective defense. He cuts down passing and shooting lanes and always keeps himself between the puck and the net. Hicketts moves the puck out of his own zone effectively. He gets back quickly on dump ins, retrieving pucks quickly and moving it up the ice. It remains to be seen if his size will be a concern against bigger and stronger forwards.
Hicketts should be done in the WHL and ready to make the jump to the AHL this season. Expect him to spend a few seasons working on his game in Grand Rapids. If he can overcome the size concerns, the Wings could have an effective NHL defencemen on their hands.
The Wings continue to show excellent prospect depth. There defence is impressive with Cholowski, Ouellet, Hicketts, Filip Hronek, Vili Saarijärvi, Robbie Russo and Ryan Sproul. While Mrazek graduated there is still some potential in goal with Jared Coreau and Jake Patterson. The forwards also have depth with Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Sadowy, Givani Smith, Axel Holmstrom, Zach Nastasiuk, Martin Frk, Tomas Nosek, and Dominic Turgeon. The Wings have consistently built their team by drafting and developing talent, and their system shows no signs of slowing down.