Red Wings’ 2019 Prospect Update

As the Detroit Red Wings rebuild, they desperately need their prospects to develop in the minor-league, amateur, and European ranks.

During the 2018-19 season, there were certainly a few highlights, with 2018 first-round pick Joe Veleno headlining the list. The high-flying center dominated the QMJHL and looks primed to make an impact with the Grand Rapids Griffins next season.

In this edition of the 2019 Red Wings Summer Rebuild Series, we’ll recap the respective seasons of Detroit’s prospects and share which look ready for the next step. Be sure to stick around, as we’ll cover a number of Red Wings topics throughout the offseason:

Note: Prospects who spent the majority of the 2018-19 season with the Red Wings were excluded from this analysis. Check out their grades in the link above for more on their campaigns.

Related: The Grind Line: Red Wings Prospects’ 2019-20 Destinations

Red Wings’ 2018 Draft Class

RdPosPlayer2018-19 Stats2018-19 Team
1LWFilip Zadina59 GP – 16 G – 19 A – 35 PTSGrand Rapids (AHL)*
1CJoe Veleno59 GP – 42 G – 62 A – 104 PTSDrummondville (QMJHL)
2RWJonatan Berggren16 GP – 0 G – 3 A – 3 PTSSkelleftea AIK (Sweden)
2DJared McIsaac53 GP – 16 G – 46 A – 62 PTSHalifax (QMJHL)
3DAlex Regula66 GP – 11 G – 28 A – 39 PTSLondon (OHL)
3DSeth Barton33 GP – 2 G – 8 A – 10 PTSUMass-Lowell (NCAA)
3GJesper Eliasson33 GP – 2.43 GAA – .919 SV%Vaxjo (SuperElit)
4CRyan O’Reilly57 GP – 14 G – 16 A – 30 PTSFargo/Green Bay (USHL)
6GVictor Brattstrom23 GP – 2.81 GAA – .897 SV%Timra (Sweden)
7RWOtto Kivenmaki34 GP – 2 G – 14 A – 16 PTSAssat Pori (SM-liiga)

*Also played for the Red Wings.

In five years, it’s entirely possible that the Class of 2018 will be Detroit’s best of the 2010s. Headlining the group are Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno, who followed up their selections with impressive draft-plus-one years. In fact, only Anthony Mantha had a better season immediately after the Red Wings drafted him when evaluating performances using Emmanuel Perry’s NHLe model:

Detroit Red Wings recent first round picks and NHLe points per game.
Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno both had strong draft-plus-one seasons after being selected by the Red Wings. (Tony Wolak/The Hockey Writers)

Rachel Anderson, who spent many nights in the Van Andel Arena press box, noted that Zadina improved the finer points of his game while adjusting to the pro speed. Among them was his board play, which will come in handy at the NHL level.

“He got knocked around quite a bit at the beginning of the season, but learned to throw his body and defend himself,” Anderson said.

Veleno followed a similar path, albeit in the QMJHL. The center was asked by the Red Wings to step up his game at both ends of the ice and contribute more on special teams, including the penalty kill, as noted by The Athletic’s Max Bultman:

The list he brought back from Detroit this fall included items like defensive aggressiveness, simply having his head on a swivel and playing 200 feet. He wants to be ‘an animal every shift.’

(from ‘Joe Veleno and the pressures of being exceptional’ – The Athletic Detroit – 12/3/18)

Second-rounders Jonatan Berggren and Jared McIsaac differed greatly during the 2018-19 season. Berggren was hurt early on and could only manage to suit up for 16 games in Sweden’s top league. He was able to score a highlight-reel goal during Champions League play, though:

McIsaac, on the other hand, took tremendous strides as Halifax’s number-one defenseman. The blueliner led the Mooseheads to the Memorial Cup Final, totaling 79 points in as many games across the regular season, QMJHL playoffs, and Memorial Cup tournament. McIsaac’s 62 regular season points—and 1.17 points per game—ranked second in the QMJHL among all defensemen.

While he greatly improved in his draft-plus-one year, McIsaac’s 2019-20 season will be delayed a bit – the blueliner recently underwent shoulder surgery and is expected to miss five-six months. Once fully recovered, McIsaac will return to action with the Mooseheads, as he’s not yet eligible to play in the AHL.

Fellow rearguard Alec Regula did not have the same fortune as McIsaac when it came to the depth chart – he was stuck behind 2018 top-10 picks Evan Bouchard and Adam Boqvist on the London Knights’ blue line. Regula was still able to up his goal and point totals, and even found a gig as London’s net-front presence on the power play with Bouchard and/or Boqvist manning the point.

Detroit Red Wings draft pick Alec Regula.
Alec Regula will play one more season in London before turning pro. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Back in the United States, fellow third-round pick Seth Barton carved out a nice role with the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks during his freshman season. The defenseman utilized his smooth skating and strong hockey IQ to earn more ice time throughout the season.

He’ll be joined in the collegiate ranks next season by the other Ryan O’Reilly, who will be enrolling in the University of Denver after one final USHL season. There, O’Reilly will look to regain his scoring ways after only notching 14 markers with the Fargo Force and Green Bay Gamblers last season.

Overseas, Detroit’s three remaining 2018 draft picks each had standout seasons. Goaltenders Jesper Eliasson and Victor Brattstrom both stood on their heads for their respective clubs, giving the Red Wings a couple more options for the future. Eliasson dominated Sweden’s under-20 league after he was passed over for the 2019 World Junior Championships. Brattstrom split time with Niklas Svedberg on an abysmal Timra squad, who were relegated to Sweden’s second-tier league for the 2019-20 season.

Finally, Detroit’s seventh-round pick Otto Kivenmaki proved that his slender stature doesn’t matter with his immense talent. After starting the 2018-19 season slowly with Assat’s top team, the shifty forward was sent down to their under-20 club, where he absolutely dominated. After producing 35 points in 23 games, Kivenmaki was called back up to the Liiga team, where he earned a place on Assat’s top line and produced enough to stay there through the end of the season.

Related: 4 Directions for the Red Wings’ Roster

Red Wings’ 2017 Draft Class

RdPosName2018-19 Stats2018-19 Team
1CMichael Rasmussen62 GP – 8 G – 10 A – 18 PTSDetroit (NHL)
2DGustav Lindstrom40 GP – 3 G – 3 A – 6 PTSFrolunda HC (Sweden)
3DKasper Kotkansalo38 GP – 0 G – 11 A – 11 PTSBoston University (NCAA)
3RWLane Zablocki22 GP – 4 G – 8 A – 12 PTSKelowna (WHL)
3CZach Gallant30 GP – 13 G – 12 A – 25 PTSPeterborough (OHL)
3GKeith Petruzzelli14 GP – 2.42 GAA – .904 SV%Quinnipiac (NCAA)
4DMalte Setkov16 GP – 0 G – 5 A – 5 PTSIK Pantern (Allsvenskan)
5DCole Fraser60 GP – 5 G – 16 A – 21 PTSPeterborough (OHL)
6CJack Adams38 GP – 10 G – 12 A – 22 PTSUnion (NCAA)
6DReilly Webb62 GP – 1 G – 14 A – 15 PTSSaginaw (OHL)
7CBrady Gilmour64 GP – 15 G – 24 A – 39 PTSSaginaw (OHL)

If 2018 was Detroit’s best draft year of the 2010s, then 2017 could be one of their worst.

The Red Wings opted not to sign five of their draft picks—Lane Zablocki, Zach Gallant, Cole Fraser, Reilly Webb, and Brady Gilmour—before the June 1 deadline.

Ken Holland’s goal for each draft was to find three NHL players, regardless of which round they were selected in. While that’s still possible—and though Holland is no longer with Red Wings—it does sting when nearly half of your draft class doesn’t develop enough to warrant an entry-level contract.

Now for some positivity: The Red Wings like Gustav Lindstrom’s development. Assistant general manager Ryan Martin was very complimentary of the young defenseman when speaking with Max Bultman of The Athletic:

We’re happy with his development. He’s a smart player. He’s gotta work on his mobility and his foot speed a little bit. He’s got to get stronger physically. He’s in a really good spot.

(from ‘Red Wings prospect report: Gustav Lindstrom’ – The Athletic Detroit – 2/14/19)

The blueliner often played top-pairing and power play minutes for Frolunda throughout the 2018-19 season, but went down with an injury in January and couldn’t regain his spot in the top-four. Nonetheless, Lindstrom still helped Frolunda win the SHL championship and will play the upcoming season in North America, most likely in Grand Rapids.

Like Lindstrom, goaltender Keith Petruzzelli also had an impressive season suddenly halted, albeit not from injury. Unfortunately for Detroit’s 2017 third-round pick, his goaltending partner, Andrew Shortridge, caught fire in the second half and did not yield a start to Petruzzelli. This won’t be the case next season, though, as Shortridge signed with the San Jose Sharks, leaving Petruzzelli as Quinnipiac’s 2019-20 starter.

Detroit Red Wings draft pick Keith Petruzzelli.
Keith Petruzzelli looks to be Quinnipiac’s starter next season. (courtesy United States Hockey League)

Elsewhere in the NCAA, defenseman Kasper Kotkansalo continued his development into a well-rounded defenseman during his sophomore campaign. The Hockey Writers’ Drew Johnson got to see plenty of Kotkansalo this season as he covered college hockey in the Boston area:

“[Kotkansalo] was trusted with penalty kill time thanks to his solid defense, using his size and strength to thwart puck carriers,” Johnson said. “Kotkansalo isn’t afraid to play physically. He sticks up for his teammates after whistles and thrives under a chippy game, but seems to keep his composure to avoid needless penalties when a crowd of players swarms.”

Union forward Jack Adams also took a step forward during his second season of NCAA hockey, where he notched 10 tallies after only scoring four goals as a freshman. Like Adams, defenseman Malte Setkov is a project player still a couple years away from reaching Grand Rapids. Setkov needs to add strength to his 6-foot-7 frame – he was constantly pushed around during the 2019 World Junior Championships as the go-to blueliner for Denmark.

Red Wings’ 2016 Draft Class

RdPosName2018-19 Stats2018-19 Team
1DDennis Cholowski52 GP – 7 G – 9 A – 16 PTSDetroit (NHL)
2LWGivani Smith64 GP – 6 G – 7 A – 13 PTSGrand Rapids (AHL)
2DFilip Hronek46 GP – 5 G – 18 A – 23 PTSDetroit (NHL)
4DAlfons Malmstrom37 GP – 1 G – 4 A – 5 PTSBodens HF (Division 1 – Sweden)
5DJordan Sambrook67 GP – 17 G – 32 A – 49 PTSSault Ste. Marie (OHL)
6GFilip Larsson22 GP – 1.95 GAA – .932 SV%Denver (NCAA)
7LWMattias Elfstrom35 GP – 13 G – 22 A – 35 PTSHanhals IF (Division 1 – Sweden)

The 2018-19 campaign was a developmental one for 2016 second-round pick Givani Smith. The winger mostly skated in Grand Rapids’ bottom-six with a glut of AHL veterans ahead of him on the depth chart. In a lesser role, Smith was able to work on his game while adjusting to the speed of professional hockey.

“His skating has improved to be much more fluid and strong,” Anderson said. “His biggest area of growth, though, has been is self control on the ice.”

Smith may not come with as much flash as fellow 2016 draft picks Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek, but he’s working hard to become an NHL regular one day.

Givani Smith of the Detroit Red Wings.
Givani Smith rounded out his play in the bottom-six for Grand Rapids. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

He’ll be joined in Grand Rapids next season by goaltender Filip Larsson, who signed an entry-level deal with the Red Wings after only one season at the University of Denver. There, the netminder only added fuel to the fire with regard to his standing as Detroit’s top goaltending prospect.

Once he fully recovered from an offseason groin injury, Larsson quickly seized the starting role with the Pioneers and didn’t look back. He won 13 of his 22 starts en route to an NCAA Tournament berth, where he recorded two shutouts and helped Denver reach the Frozen Four.

Alfons Malmstrom and Mattias Elfstrom are unlikely to factor into Detroit’s future. The two haven’t been able to reach Sweden’s top league, though Malmstrom is slated to play for AIK in the second-tier Swedish league next season.

Red Wings’ 2015 Draft Class

RdPosName2018-19 Stats2018-19 Team
1RWEvgeny SvechnikovDid Not Play – InjuredDetroit (NHL)
3DVili Saarijarvi70 GP – 2 G – 14 A – 16 PTSGrand Rapids (AHL)
4GJoren van Pottelberghe24 GP – 2.29 GAA – .921 SV%EHC Kloten (NLB)
5CChase Pearson34 GP – 16 G – 13 A – 29 PTSMaine (NCAA)
6DPatrick HolwayDid Not Play – TransferringMaine (NCAA)
7LWAdam Marsh11 GP – 2 G – 5 A – 7 PTSRapid City (ECHL)

In his first full season with the Griffins, Vili Saarijarvi was able to improve his game, especially the mental aspect of it.

“He’s admitted that [the mental side has] been the biggest challenge for him over the last few seasons,” Anderson said, “but his on-ice decisions dramatically improved.

“He’s got very good stick handling skills and has finally been able to put on the weight he needs for a physical edge.”

Anderson noted that Saarijarvi is primed for a big 2019-20 season if he’s able to put it all together. After being scratched for all but one of Grand Rapids’ playoff games, Saarjarvi has the motivation to come to camp hungry in the fall.

Vili Saarijarvi of the Detroit Red Wings.
Vili Saarijarvi celebrates a goal with the Grand Rapids Griffins. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Former fifth-round pick Chase Pearson wrapped up his Maine career and joined Smith and Saarijarvi in Grand Rapids just before the end of their season. As a junior, Pearson set career-highs for goals and points before signing an entry-level contract with the Red Wings.

He’s obviously a terrific player. I think he has some abilities [as a leader]. [He] practices hard, putting extra work in on his individual skills and development.

Maine coach Red Gendron to THW’s Drew Johnson

Pearson’s teammate his first two years at Maine, Patrick Holway, opted to transfer before the campaign. He enrolled at Merrimack College and will be able to suit up for the 2019-20 season.

Across the Atlantic, Joren van Pottelberghe was thrown a curveball heading into the 2018-19 season. His Swiss club, HC Davos, brought in Anders Lindback to pair with Gilles Senn for their goaltending tandem.

van Pottelberghe’s only action with the top team came during the Swiss Cup—just one game—and otherwise spent the campaign in the second-tier Swiss league. He’s expected to return to HC Davos’ NLA team for the 2019-20 season, with Senn joining the New Jersey Devils’ AHL affiliate and Lindback heading to the KHL.

Additional Red Wings Prospects

Acq.PosName2018-19 Stats2018-19 Team
3 (‘14)CDominic Turgeon72 GP – 6 G – 14 A – 20 PTSGrand Rapids (AHL)*
5 (‘14)GChase Perry1 GP – 1.58 GAA – .944 SV%R.P.I. (NCAA)
7 (‘14)CAxel Holmstrom65 – 12 G – 13 A – 25 PTSGrand Rapids (AHL)
7 (‘14)LWAlexander Kadeykin56 GP – 6 G – 14 A – 20 PTSSalavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
4 (‘13)LWDavid Pope28 GP – 2 G – 1 A – 3 PTSGrand Rapids (AHL)
TradeLWDylan Sadowy43 GP – 23 G – 23 A – 46 PTSToledo (ECHL)
UFADLibor Sulak61 GP – 5 G – 9 A – 14 PTSGrand Rapids (AHL)*
UFAGKaden Fulcher28 GP – 3.00 GAA – .899 SV%Toledo (ECHL)*
UFADJoe Hicketts64 GP – 3 G – 24 A – 27 PTSGrand Rapids (AHL)*
UFADOliwer Kaski59 GP – 19 G – 32 A – 51 PTSPelicans (Liiga)
UFALWRyan Kuffner31 GP – 22 G – 22 A – 44 PTSPrinceton (NCAA)*
UFALWTaro Hirose36 GP – 14 G – 35 A – 50 PTSMichigan State (NCAA)*
UFAGPatrik Rybar37 GP – 2.49 GAA – .908 SV%Grand Rapids (AHL)

*Also played for the Red Wings.

It’ll be a make-or-break camp this fall for both Dominic Turgeon and Joe Hicketts – the two cannot be sent down to Grand Rapids without having to pass through waivers first. Though he took a step back production-wise, Turgeon was constantly counted on to kill penalties and win faceoffs for the Griffins. He could end up centering Detroit’s fourth line next season or—just as likely—find himself playing elsewhere during 2019-20 season.

Hicketts’ second stint with the Red Wings was promising, with the defenseman seeing upwards of 20 minutes each night. In Grand Rapids, the diminutive defenseman thrived under first-year coach Ben Simon.

“He’s a confident player, but his biggest development this past season has been his hockey IQ,” Anderson recalled. “He was smart already, but was able to anticipate plays more accurately and create more opportunities for the forwards than seasons prior.”

If Hicketts can come to camp hungry, he could stick around in Hockeytown as a bottom-pairing or seventh defenseman.

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Joe Hicketts
Can Joe Hicketts crack the Red Wings’ lineup this fall? (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Paul Sancya)

The same could be said of Oliwer Kaski, who just wrapped up a season for the ages. The former Western Michigan defenseman was named the MVP of Finland’s top league and won gold at the 2019 World Championships, earning more ice time as the tournament progressed. He signed a one-year, entry-level contract shortly after the World Championships concluded.

The Red Wings also signed Taro Hirose and Ryan Kuffner as undrafted free agents this spring. Hirose, a Hobey Baker candidate from Michigan State, concluded his junior season with an NCAA-high 50 points before joining the Red Wings. The winger’s vision is his best attribute, as evidenced by his six assists in just 10 NHL games.

Kuffner is more of a goal-scorer. He racked up 51 goals over his past two NCAA campaigns and likes to set up shop as the off-wing shooter on the power play.

“I try to be the most competitive guy out there,” Kuffner told Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News, “that’s the biggest thing, working as hard as I can. Get to spots, and after that, execute. I want to use my shot as much as possible and know where the guys are with me.”

After Hirose and Kuffner joined the organization, Libor Sulak and Axel Holmstrom opted to leave, signing with European clubs. Neither produced overly impressive numbers in Grand Rapids – the Red Wings were hoping Sulak could adapt to the speed of NHL decision-making, but ultimately looked lost during his brief NHL stint. He’ll join Alexander Kadeykin in the KHL, who isn’t likely to come to North America anytime soon, if ever.

Libor Sulak of the Detroit Red Wings.
After one season, Libor Sulak is no longer with the Red Wings organization. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Chase Perry and Dylan Sadowy aren’t likely to factor into Detroit’s future either. Perry played just 38 minutes his junior year at R.P.I. and Sadowy wasn’t able to lock down a full-time role with the Griffins for the third-straight season. The latter isn’t expected to be retained by the Red Wings this summer.

Ideally, David Pope can avoid the same fate as Sadowy. The former college star struggled during his first professional season, only recording two goals with the Griffins and spending some time in the ECHL. Anderson noticed that his open ice play was strong, but the forward did not exert a satisfactory amount of effort away from the puck. Pope, who will turn 25 before the 2019-20 season starts, appears to be headed for a career-defining campaign.

In net, Patrik Rybar could be the man this season for the Griffins. The pending restricted free agent looked promising during his first taste of North American hockey and was sensational for Slovakia during the 2019 World Championships. Rybar seals off the bottom of the net well and has strong lateral pushes, but plays small and can struggle with screens at times. Having Rybar and Larsson split time in Grand Rapids next season would probably be the best approach for the organization as Larsson adapts to the pro game.

So where does that leave fellow goaltending prospect Kaden Fulcher? The first-year professional backed up Pat Nagle in Toledo this past season and produced pedestrian numbers for the second-best ECHL team. The organization could give Fulcher a few more starts next season to see if there’s more to his game and possibly pair with Larsson in Grand Rapids down the road.

Final Word

While the likes of Larsson, McIsaac, and Veleno took giant steps this season, seeing five players from the 2017 draft class go unsigned and Svechnikov lose a season to injury was discouraging for the rebuilding organization. However, six selections in the first 100 picks of the 2019 NHL Draft will certainly help the organization add more depth to their prospect pipeline and build for the future.

Stats courtesy of Elite Prospects and methodology courtesy of Emmanuel Perry of Corsica Hockey.

Which Detroit Red Wings prospect are you most excited about? Which is underrated? Share your thoughts below.