The temperatures and the leaves are dropping, which can mean only one thing:
Hockey is (almost) back.
Over the last week and a half, Traverse City, Michigan played host to prospects from eight NHL teams who competed tirelessly to win the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup.
The Detroit Red Wings, after careful consideration, chose 27 of their most highly-touted young prospects, including rookie phenoms Joe Veleno, Filip Zadina, and 2019 NHL Entry Draft first-round pick Moritz Seider. The prospects showed immense potential, scoring high, hitting hard, and winning the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup by defeating the Dallas Stars 6-5 in a high-scoring spectacle.
While successes were abound for Detroit, there were several highlights that towered above the rest. Today, we’ll take a look at five of the biggest takeaways from the Traverse City Prospects Tournament. From impressive performances to surprising auditions, the Prospects Tournament gave us a closer look at what the future might hold for the Red Wings.
1. Veleno’s Elite Potential
Veleno was a monster on the ice, scoring eight points in just four games while leading the Prospects Tournament with seven goals. The high-flying forward made his presence known on every play, blowing past his opposition with speed, skill, and poise. His elite potential began before his time in the Prospects Tournament, though.
At age 15, his was granted exceptional status within the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), allowing him to play against better competition at a younger age. This additional experience, coupled with his raw talent, have helped him to polish every aspect of his game to develop the elite potential he showcased in the Prospects Tournament.
Watching him play alongside Zadina was a treat; the two combined for ten points over four games. Five of Veleno’s seven goals were assisted by Zadina. Watching the duo develop chemistry provided a brief glimpse into the Red Wings’ potential future. If both players pan out, they will be a source of points for Detroit for years to come. Expect to see one or both of Zadina and Veleno on the Red Wings’ roster at some point this season. If the Prospects Tournament is any indication of their potential, it’s without a doubt a great sign.
2. Seider’s Poise & Maturity
Seider received his first experience on North American ice last week, beginning the Prospects Tournament on the Red Wings’ top line. While he was no stranger to mistakes at first, he showcased a surprising amount of maturity for someone his age. When he was penalized, he didn’t get discouraged; instead, he was seen refocusing his efforts on the bench and returning with an urge to improve. He seemed relentless. Even the Red Wings’ Director of Amateur Scouting Kris Draper had to remark on his nearly unstoppable urge to compete:
Kris Draper, Director of Amateur Scouting
“The first game he took a pretty good shot from Kirby Dach and we thought he responded well. Everyone was wondering how that would go. He stayed on the bench, talked to the trainer and you could see a little fire there; he wanted to get back on the ice and that’s something you certainly love to see.”
Seider showed remarkable poise and maturity befitting of a veteran on the ice. When the opposition went low, he went high; literally. It’s clear that he’s a near-perfect match for the Red Wings, but his NHL readiness is still up for debate. Judging by his most recent interview, it seems that he’d like to spend his next season in North America, adjusting to the smaller ice and speedier play style. If that’s the case, he will likely join the Grand Rapids Griffins’ defensive corps as the team prepares for another successful season. No matter where he winds up, though, he will no doubt be a boon both on and off the bench.
3. Zadina’s NHL Readiness
Zadina spent the majority of his last season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, putting together a solid 35 points in 59 games. During the end of the 2018-19 season, he scored a goal and two assists in a nine-game stint with the Red Wings. The tournament saw him showcase the talent that earned him a pick at sixth overall during the 2018 NHL Entry Draft as he scored five assists in four games. He was the primary catalyst for Veleno’s offensive outbursts, making space and creating openings so the duo could capitalize on defensive errors by the opposition.
While Zadina was initially drafted for his ability as a goal-scorer, he showcased some remarkable potential as a playmaker and two-way player throughout the tournament. He nearly led the Prospects Tournament in assists while making very few defensive errors against some tough teams. He’s shown that he has the potential to make the roster. Now, all he has to do is impress at Development Camp and he’s nearly a lock for the 2019-20 season.
4. Chase Pearson’s Surprise Performance
One of the biggest surprises of the entire Prospects Tournament was recent free agent signing Chase Pearson. After serving as the University of Maine captain for two years, he quickly signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Last year, he appeared in ten games, scoring two goals while playing on the Griffins’ bottom-six. During his time in Maine, the all-situations center put up 78 points in 107 games, playing for three years on the team’s top-six unit. He’s a smart two-way player with a focus on responsibility without any loss to production.
The Prospects Tournament saw Pearson soar, scoring a shocking six points in just four games. He scored a hat trick and the game-winning goal in the tournament semifinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs, securing the Red Wings’ championship berth with a beautifully-timed goal. While it’s unlikely that we’ll see him in Detroit anytime soon, his potential as a force in Grand Rapids is worth noting. If he pans out as planned, it’s likely that he will earn time in Detroit on their bottom-six.
5. The Future Is Bright in Detroit
No matter where you look, optimism is in the air with the Red Wings. Whether it’s through impressive performances from high-potential players like Veleno and Zadina, or breakouts from players like Givani Smith and Pearson, there’s something to smile about almost everywhere on the roster. A surprise audition from rookie goaltender Sean Romeo revealed a potential face for the Red Wings’ system in the future. A young, eager goaltender like Romeo could serve wonderfully developing into a starter or backup for any one of the Red Wings’ prospect teams.
If the Prospects Tournament is any indication of the Red Wings in the coming years, it’s that the future is bright. From high-flying forwards to dominating defensemen, it’s clear that the Red Wings’ prospect pipeline is in a great place. The addition of more prospects in the 2020 Prospects Tournament is enough to make any Red Wings fan smile. It’s entirely possible that this roster is a window into the future of the Red Wings’ roster and its unbridled potential.
For now, though, the best thing Red Wings fans can do is hope for the best.