Injuries Slowing Red Wings’ 2018 Draft Class

Headlined by first-round picks Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno, the Detroit Red Wings’ 2018 draft class initially looked like a gold mine for the rebuilding franchise. That favorable evaluation was based on then-current talent levels and potential. And potential can only be achieved through player development.

But how can prospects develop if they’re not playing? The Red Wings certainly had to entertain that question this season as a handful of their 2018 selections missed time with various ailments.

Injuries are arguably one of the most frustrating things to see when tracking prospects’ development. Sure, there’s the glass-half-full argument that players benefit from watching the game up high to see a different perspective of how much time and space there is on the ice. But the fact is, when prospects aren’t playing, their development is stunted. 

It wasn’t all bad news for the Red Wings, though. There were some bright spots that emerged as the 2019-20 season progressed.

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Red Wings 2018 Draft Class

Here’s how Detroit’s 2018 draft picks fared two years after joining the organization:

ProspectPos2019-20 Stats2019-20 Team(s)
Filip ZadinaRW21 GP – 9 G – 7 A – 16 PTSGrand Rapids (AHL)
Joe VelenoC54 GP – 11 G – 12 A – 23 PTSGrand Rapids (AHL)
Jonatan BerggrenLW24 GP – 2 G – 10 A – 12 PTSSkellefteå AIK (SHL)
Jared McIsaacLD28 GP – 4 G – 15 A – 19 PTSHalifax/Moncton (QMJHL)
Seth BartonRD30 GP – 3 G – 12 A – 15 PTSUMass-Lowell (NCAA)
Jesper EliassonG25 GP – 3.09 GAA – .887 SV%
1 GP – 4.50 GAA – .857 SV%
1 GP – 0.00 GAA – 1.000 SV%
Almtuna IS (Allsvenskan)
Växjö (SHL)
Växjö J20 (SuperElit)
Ryan O’ReillyRW43 GP – 17 G – 15 A – 32 PTSGreen Bay (USHL)
Victor BrattstromG45 GP – 2.13 GAA – .914 SV%Timrå IK (Allsvenskan)
Otto KivenmäkiC53 GP – 5 G – 16 A – 21 PTSÄssät (Liiga)
No longer with the Red Wings: Alec Regula, RD.

Injuries Hampering Prospects’ Development

Injuries can happen to anyone, including Zadina, Detroit’s prize of the 2018 draft. The highly skilled winger was limited to 59 games this season between Detroit and Grand Rapids (the Red Wings played 71 games this season, while the Griffins skated in 63 contests). The most infuriating part was the fact that he was clicking in Detroit’s top-six when he fractured his ankle.

Likewise, Jonatan Berggren was making great progress with Skelleftea AIK before a shoulder injury ended his season. This was the second year in a row that injuries have shut down Berggren prematurely. The slick winger has tremendous promise, but has yet to complete a full campaign as a member of the Red Wings organization.

Similarly, Otto Kivenmaki’s season was cut short. His injury was much more serious, though. Initially feared as career-ending, Detroit’s 2018 seventh-round pick sustained a nasty check to the head that left him bloodied on the ice. Fortunately for Kivenmaki, he’s expected to be fully healthy for the start of the 2020-21 season.

Unlike the three mentioned above, Jared McIsaac’s ailment didn’t occur during the 2019-20 campaign. Offseason shoulder surgery delayed the start of McIsaac’s season until Nov. 30. McIsaac rebounded, though, and was named to Canada’s World Junior Championship team, which eventually took home gold. Still, a fully healthy season would have been better off for the defenseman. McIsaac will certainly get the chance to start fresh with the Griffins once the 2020-21 season kicks off.

Related: Red Wings: Draft Lottery Fallout

Zadina & Veleno Progressing in Grand Rapids

Injuries aside, Zadina’s overall game progressed this season – both in Detroit and Grand Rapids. In particular, his confidence continued to grow as a second-year professional.

Filip Zadina of the Detroit Red Wings
Filip Zadina did not disappoint after being called up to Detroit. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“Since his rookie season, Zadina has struggled with the mental side of transitioning to the professional ranks,” noted THW’s Rachel Anderson. “Last season, he took great strides not only mentally, but he also allowed his confidence to translate physically.”

Zadina’s poise with and without the puck certainly showed toward the end of the 2019-20 season. The flashes of talent he showed in juniors became more and more frequent, especially with the Red Wings.

In addition, Veleno initially experienced confidence issues before finding his rhythm late in the season. Most first-year professionals need time to acclimate to the AHL’s speed and physicality, so Veleno’s early struggles were not unusual.

Joe Veleno of the Detroit Red Wings.
Joe Veleno struggled early on with the Griffins before finding his game. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

“Veleno came into the AHL with the physical ability to play in the league, but he struggled with finding a way to adapt to his new surroundings,” said Anderson. “Midway through the 2019-20 season, it really clicked for Veleno, who found a way to make his body and mind work in sync each shift.”

Overall, both Zadina and Veleno made solid progress in their development this season. Zadina will be ready to join the Red Wings full-time next year. Veleno, on the other hand, still needs more seasoning in the AHL. That said, he should have a prominent role in the Griffins’ top-six.

Bulls & Bears: Stock in Red Wings Prospects

For the remaining four players from Detroit’s 2018 draft class, let’s take a look at which direction their respective trajectories went during the 2019-20 season.

Seth Barton: Stock Up

As a sophomore at UMass Lowell, Seth Barton improved on the defensive side of the puck, adding to his above-average offensive mindset.

“I think he’s evolving and growing up at a fine pace. I think you’re not considered to be able to play the next level until you prove yourself as a defender first. And it doesn’t mean you have to be a defensive specialist, but it means you have to be able to take care of your own zone before you contribute offensively and I think he’s taking steps towards that.”

–UMass Lowell head coach Norm Bazin to The Athletic’s Max Bultman (from ‘Progress report on Seth Barton and the Red Wings’ other Boston-area collegiate prospects’ – The Athletic Detroit – 11/26/19)

There’s still plenty of time for Barton to grow into a well-rounded defenseman. He has two more years of college eligibility and will likely be signed by the Red Wings once he’s ready to turn pro.

Jesper Eliasson: Even

A former third-round pick, Jesper Eliasson was just OK in the Allsvenskan—Sweden’s second-tier professional league—this season. Some nights, he was dialed in. And others, he struggled to track the puck and was not economical with his crease movement. Eliasson signed a two-year contract with Farjestad of the SHL, so he’ll get the opportunity to develop further in Sweden’s top league next season.

Ryan O’Reilly: Stock Down

In three full USHL seasons, Ryan O’Reilly has been remarkably consistent, totaling 34, 31, and 32 points. In this case, consistency isn’t great – one would expect O’Reilly to improve year-over-year. The forward will skate with Arizona State next season, where he’ll continue to round out his game.

Victor Brattstrom: Stock Up

A towering presence in the crease, Victor Brattstrom dominated this season, producing a 2.13 GAA in 45 games. There’s still room for improvement in Brattstrom’s goaltending, though. I noticed a few too many goals going in through traffic – he’ll need to track the puck better next year. In addition, Brattstrom was a little slow to react off rebounds or broken plays in some instances. However, he used his size and reflexes to his advantage and earned himself a promotion for the 2020-21 season. Brattstrom will join KooKoo in Finland’s top league, where he’ll have the chance to start for a strong team.

Related: The Grind Line: Red Wings’ Replacement for Jimmy Howard

Final Word

Once 2020-21 seasons across the world kick off, several Red Wings prospects will need to make up for lost time. The organization needs Berggren and McIsaac to stay healthy and continue along their development tracks. The two are key cogs in Detroit’s rebuild; you can’t just rely on first-round picks to build a competitive roster. The “draft and develop” roster construction model only works if teams and prospects are able to follow through on the second half of the plan.