The defending Prospects Tournament champion Detroit Red Wings will look to protect their title at this year’s tournament. The Red Wings, along with seven other NHL clubs, will sport teams of prospects in Traverse City from Sept. 12 to Sept. 16.
The Red Wings announced their roster of prospects in late August, and it contains a mix of recent draftees, signees and free agent invites.
Here are five Detroit Red Wings prospects to watch for at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament.
You can’t have a list of prospects without mentioning Anthony Mantha. We all know Mantha’s accolades by now — top-20 draft pick in 2013, 81 goals in 81 regular season and playoff games last year, QMJHL champion with Val-d’Or — and he has a better than average shot of making the Red Wings compared to the rest of the prospects.
The signing of Daniel Cleary made it exponentially harder, but if Mantha can wow general manager Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock enough, he could skip the AHL and go straight to the NHL.
At 6-foot-4, 217 pounds, Mantha has a big body, and he’s got speed to go along with it, which makes for a lethal combination. Mantha admits that his defensive game needs work, and he said he hopes to continue to improve that during the Prospects Tournament and in training camp.
Andreas Athanasiou got a taste of the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins last year once he finished his final season of juniors with the OHL’s Barrie Colts. He played in two regular season games and six playoff games finishing with four points.
Athanasiou’s strength is his speed. This kid can fly. He reminds me of Darren Helm, but he’s bigger and doesn’t have hands of stone. In fact, he almost has too much speed, as I remember watching him overskate the puck on a number of occasions during the Red Wings development camp in July.
However, there’s no doubt in my mind with a little coaching and guidance from Griffins coach Jeff Blashill, he will be able to harness that speed and make it tough for opposing players to contain him.
Another big-bodied future Red Wing, Tomas Nosek is a 6-2, 201-pound center from the Czech Republic. He was signed back in June after racking up 44 points in 52 games for HC Pardubice in the Czech league. Nosek went undrafted for four consecutive years, but he could be another late bloomer Holland has snatched.
He’ll almost certainly start the year in Grand Rapids, but he’s a guy I won’t mind being there. He’s coming over from the Czech league, which doesn’t boast the highest caliber of players. However, Red Wings director of player development Jiri Fischer had a lot of good things to say about Nosek, according to Red Wings Central.
He’s versatile, he can play center, wing, top six, bottom six, whatever the need. He kills penalties, takes faceoffs, plays on the power play. He’s a guy who fits in with teammates on all lines and that’s exciting.
The Red Wings could use help at the center position. They traded away one of their top center prospects in Calle Jarnkrok in order to get David Legwand at last year’s deadline, and Luke Glendening and Joakim Andersson aren’t the greatest two-way players in the game.
When the Red Wings drafted Todd Bertuzzi’s nephew Tyler Bertuzzi in the second round of the 2013 draft, I was a bit perplexed by the selection. At the time, it seemed like a “let’s keep him in the family” type of move. However, Tyler Bertuzzi proved he can play the game and might even surpass his uncle.
He led Guelph Storm to an appearance in the Memorial Cup final and led all players in scoring with five points in four games. His biggest strength is as an agitator, much like Jordin Tootoo or Glendening. However, Bertuzzi can also put the puck in the net, something most agitators are not paid to do.
He missed a couple of months with concussion-like symptoms last year, but made the most of his time during the regular season with 35 points in 29 games. He has another year of juniors before he has a chance with the Red Wings, but he will probably suit up for the Griffins in 2015-16.
The only defenseman on the list, Ryan Sproul made his NHL debut last season, appearing in a 3-0 win against the St. Louis blues on April 13. He didn’t register a single point and was even in plus/minus, but I remember watching his rocket of a shot and thinking “I can’t wait to see that guy in a Red Wings uniform full time.”
And you know Holland and Babcock especially love Sproul because he’s right-handed, something the Red Wings have been looking for ever since Brian Rafalski retired in 2011.
At 6-3, 185 pounds, he’s got good size. He may need to bulk up a bit if he wants to secure a spot in the NHL, but he does a lot of things well. He knows when to jump into the play, and he is also a solid puck-moving defenseman.
Sproul could see some time with the Red Wings this season should they experience injuries on the blue line. He’s one of, if not, the top defensive prospect the Red Wings currently have.
In an ideal situation, Sproul would be with the Red Wings and Jakub Kindl or Brian Lashoff would be elsewhere, but Sproul has the ability to overcome those two and be an everyday player.
Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.