Now that the Detroit Red Wings have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, focus for Wings fans has shifted to Grand Rapids, where the Griffins are making an underdog playoff push of their own. As Andreas Athanasiou makes his way back to support the Griffins now that his NHL season is over, the team managed to steal game one and game two of their first round series against the division-winning Milwaukee Admirals.
While I’ve already written quite a bit about the future of Detroit Red Wings defence, let’s take a look at their forward crop. It’s important to note that I’ve left big names like Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou off this list because we’ve all seen them play at the NHL level and are very familiar with their styles and potential. So here’s a primer on six other Red Wings prospects.
Position: Center; Hometown: Cherry Hills Village, Colorado; Age: 20; Height: 6’2”; Weight: 196lbs; Shoots: Left
In his 54 game debut season for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL in 2012-13, Dominic Turgeon put up 3 goals and 8 points. Doesn’t sound like much, but he was only sixteen years old at the time. He only progressed from there, putting up 31 points in 65 games the following season and 43 points in 67 in 2014-15. This slow start to his WHL career was due to him needing to find his role on a team where Derrick Pouliot, Nic Petan, and Brendan Leipsic were leading the way. The Wings must have seen greater potential in him because they drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft (63rd overall). And it would turn out that they had a good hunch, because once he found his confidence, his numbers really improved.
His latest season was proof of this. In 2015-16, Turgeon was given more responsibility when he was made captain of the team. He didn’t disappoint as he led the team in scoring with 69 points in 71 games. His postseason was cut short, though, after 2 games when he was sidelined for shoulder surgery.
Traditionally, Turgeon has been used in a defensive role, playing against other teams’ top lines and leading his team’s penalty kill. The fact that his numbers continue to improve shows that he has a huge offensive upside. While Turgeon is eligible for one more year in the WHL, due to his dominant season in Portland, it’s expected he’ll start the 2016-17 season in Grand Rapids donning a Griffins jersey. He’s still a few years away from the Winged Wheel, but if his game transitions well to the AHL and he continues to put up numbers while helping out on the backcheck and penalty kill, Turgeon could be a great bottom-6 centreman for the Wings, a la Luke Glendening.
And yes – his uncle is Pierre Turgeon.
Position: RW; Hometown: Arvidsjaur, Sweden; Age: 19; Height: 6’1”; Weight: 198 lbs.; Shoots: Left
We all know how the Wings love their Swedes. They drafted Axel Holmstrom 196th overall in the 7th round of the 2014 NHL Entry-Level Draft. Let me get this out of the way right now: there is no relation to former Red Wing Tomas Holmstrom. Or if there is, I couldn’t find it.
Axel has performed well as a teenager in the Swedish Hockey League. In his first season with Skelleftea AIK, he put up 10 goals and 20 points in 44 games. This tied him for 2nd overall in the SHL among junior-aged players in scoring. Through the playoffs, he led the league in scoring with 7 goals and 11 assists in 15 games. This broke the record for points in the playoffs led by a junior player, a record previously held by Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Internationally, Holmstrom has been a big part of National Swedish U18 and U20 teams. He’s played in 2 World Junior Hockey Championships where he went 1 PPG and 0.9 PPG respectively, as Sweden fell to Slovakia and the U.S.A. in bronze medal games both years.
Holmstrom has great offensive upside. He sees the ice very well and has high hockey IQ, but his skating needs some work. Due to his limited physical play, Holmstrom’s defensive game is not very strong. But that will get better as he adds more strength and fills out his 6’1” frame. It’s important to remember that Axel’s only 19 years old. His best years and better-than-best years are still ahead of him and hopefully they’ll happen while he’s wearing a Red Wings jersey.
Position: LW; Hometown: Neftegorsk, Russia; Age: 19; Height: 6’3”; Weight: 205 lbs; Shoots: Left
Evgeny Svechnikov is probably the most hyped prospect on this list. He’s definitely the only one that was drafted in the 1st round.
Coming up through the Russian hockey system, Svechnikov always performed at the top of his age-class. He’s had a ton of experience at the international level, but has mixed stats. Most recently, he was held pointless through seven games at the 2015-16 World Junior Hockey Championships where Russia lost the gold medal game to Finland.
That being said, Svechnikov has been dominating the ice here in North America. In 2014-15, he made his North American debut for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the CHL. In 55 games, Svechnikov put up 78 points. In 2015-16, he continued his impressive point scoring with 79 points in 50 games. This put him in the top-20 point-getters in the QMJHL. He also put up 15 points in 13 playoff games.
Upon completion of the Screaming Eagles season, a second round playoff exit, Svechnikov was sent to Grand Rapids to help the Griffins in their playoff run. At the time of this writing, he hasn’t played a game with the Griffins yet.
Svechnikov’s calling to the NHL will be his shooting capabilities. He’s got quick wrist and snap shots and is able to find the tiniest openings through goalies. He’s also a strong skater and has quick hands that have been described as “magic”. Where he needs to work on his game is on the defensive end, as he often leaves his defensive duties for offensive opportunities. This is being worked on as he adjusts to the physicality of the North American game.
Keep an eye on this one. He is going to do amazing things on the ice and will be a top-6 forward for the Detroit Red Wings.
Position: LW; Hometown: Sudbury, Ontario; Age: 21; Height: 6’0”; Weight: 179 lbs; Shoots: Left
Tyler Bertuzzi is probably the prospect on this list who is closest to playing full-time in the NHL with the Red Wings. A 2nd round draft pick in 2013, Bertuzzi is a tough, gritty player much like his uncle, Todd.
While his rookie and sophomore years of junior with the Guelph Storm of the OHL weren’t much to write home about, Bertuzzi has experienced a steady growth in his offensive production. In 2013-14, he put up 35 points (10G, 25A) in 20 regular season games before being sidelined with head and neck injuries. He returned in the playoffs and put up 17 points in 18 games. The following season, with an ‘A’ on his jersey, Bertuzzi was even more impressive, leading the team in scoring with 98 points in 68 games, good for 10th in the league with guys like Connor McDavid, Mitch Marner, Dylan Strome, and Max Domi ahead of him. He followed it up with 8 points in 9 playoff games. When the season ended, Bertuzzi joined the Griffins in Grand Rapids and made an immediate impact, scoring 1 goal in the 2 regular season games he took part in. He was also a huge part of the Griffins playoff run, posting 12 points in 14 games as the Griffins fell to the Rochester Americans in the conference finals.
This season, Bertuzzi has put up 30 points in 71 games for the Griffins and he’s also been leading the charge in the playoffs with 3 goals and 5 shots through the first two games, which were both Griffins victories.
His scoring is a huge upside to his gritty defensive play. Bertuzzi led the Griffins in penalty minutes this season with 133. He plays every shift hard and isn’t afraid of a fight. He tends to get under the skin of his opponents. But, despite this, he has proven that he can find the back of the net. He’s just on the bubble of playing for the Wings, but due to the logjam of forwards in Grand Rapids who are NHL-ready, I suspect he’ll play another season in the minors before getting the call-up.
Position: RW; Hometown: Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic; Age: 22; Height: 6’1”; Weight: 198lbs. Shoots: Left
Martin Frk was drafted only 9 spots ahead of Tyler Bertuzzi in the 2nd round of the 2013 NHL Entry-Level Draft. Having come up through the Czech hockey system, Frk was always a point-per-game player overseas. In international play, he played in two World Junior Championships and recorded 10 points through 12 games.
Having played junior for the Halifax Moosehead of the QMJHL, Frk played a strong offensive game producing at a 1.07 PPG rate through three seasons. His offence didn’t follow him to Grand Rapids, though. In his first season with the Griffins, Frk only put up 12 points in 50 games before being sent down to Toledo to finish off the season with the Walleye in the ECHL. In his second season with the Griffins, he put up 12 points in 32 games before being sent back down to Toledo. Finally, this season, Frk started to find some offense with the Griffins, posting 44 points in 67 games. And it’s followed him into the playoffs, where he’s put up four points in the first two games of the Griffins first round playoff series against the Milwaukee Admirals.
This type of production is important for Frk at this time of his career, as he’s in the final year of his 3-year entry-level contract with the Wings. This is his window to make an impact and get the attention of Ken Holland and Jeff Blashill. He is a talented goal scorer. He’s got good hands, sees the ice well, and has a killer shot. Where his game lacks is on the defensive side. He’s not a great skater. All that being said, he shows signs of improvement every year. Now it’s time that he proves himself.
After a season where they were in dire need of goals, the Red Wings might be able to use the kind of offense Frk is capable of providing.
Position: C; Hometown: Skara, Sweden; Age: 20; Height: 6’3”; Weight: 181lbs; Shoots: Left
A 4th round draft pick in 2014, Christoffer Ehn is one of two players on this list who hasn’t played junior or pro hockey in North America yet.
Ehn came up through the Swedish junior hockey system and made his pro debut for Frolunda in the SHL at only 17 years old. He was held pointless through two games. In 2014-15, Ehn captained a Frolunda J20 team that saw fellow Red Wing prospect Axel Holmstrom lead the league in playoff points. Through the regular season, Ehn put up 36 points in 40 games. He was a plus-10 and posted 61 PIMs. With clear potential, Ehn was given a shot at the head club, but had zeros across the board, except for 2 PIMs, in 6 games. In 2015-16, Ehn saw more regular time with Frolunda HC, but only managed to put up 2 assists in his 37 games played.
Ehn has played a lot for his country at the international level. He’s taken part in two World Junior Championships, but only managed to put up 4 points through his 14 games played in both tournaments.
In the SHL, Ehn generally gets bottom-6 minutes, playing less than ten minutes a game. He’s a good skater for being 6’3” and is a great two-way centreman. Though his offense isn’t much to write home about, he’s a solid forechecker. He’s still young, so he’s filling out, but his offense is expected to improve some more. He’ll make a dependable 3rd or 4th line centreman one day.
He’s currently not on an entry-level contract with the Red Wings, but they have his rights until 2018 so they have some time to see if his offence improves at all and if he’s worth the risk.
These guys are all worth keeping an eye on for the next couple of years. As they develop and mature, they provide the Red Wings plenty of options when it comes to offensive options, both in the top-6 and bottom-6 categories. As the Wings continue their search for a bonafide top-2 defenceman, don’t be surprised if one of these guys ends up being shipped out of the Wings system, as they are all appealing pieces to package up in a trade.
Of the six prospects listed in this article, Tyler Bertuzzi and Martin Frk are closest to being NHL-ready, but Evgeny Svechnikov could sneak in there too if his game adjusts well in the AHL. Detroit’s always been a tough locker room to break into as a young player, but there’s no real reason against giving the young guys a shot. We’ll just have to wait and see what training camp brings.