What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. Rachel Anderson, Jacob Messing, and Tony Wolak are the muckers who makeup THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
With the 2018-19 season rolling along, the Detroit Red Wings have seen a few exemplary performances from some of their prospects. In fact, Detroit’s prospect pipeline is looking stronger than ever.
In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, The Hockey Writers’ Red Wings coverage team shares their rankings for Detroit’s top 25 prospects and a few highlights from the farm.
Red Wings Cumulative Top 25 Rankings
Below, Tony Wolak (TW), Jacob Messing (JM), and Rachel Anderson (RA) share their top 25 Red Wings prospects, with the players sorted by their average overall ranking.
*Players not ranked received a ranking of 26 to determine their average ranking.
Others receiving votes: Seth Barton, D; Jack Adams, RW; Chase Pearson, C.
Which Position is Detroit’s Biggest Strength?
Tony Wolak: Defense
Overall, the Red Wings have the most depth on defense. Dennis Cholowski is the top dog, with Filip Hronek, Jared McIsaac, Gustav Lindstrom, Vili Saarijarvi, Joe Hicketts, and Libor Sulak not far behind. In addition, the Red Wings could have another prospect or two—Alec Regula, Malte Setkov, Seth Barton—who could develop into an NHL contributor in a few years.
Center and wing have very strong players at the top, but not much depth. If anything, the Red Wings could deal a blue line prospect or two to shore up the forward pipeline.
Jacob Messing: Defense
General manager Ken Holland has made it a point to bolster the backend in recent years with a handful of inspiring defensemen (listed by Tony above). Cholowski has cemented himself as a true NHL defenseman and Hronek recently earned a call-up after a scorching 20 games in Grand Rapids. McIsaac is joining a talent-ridden Team Canada at the 2019 World Junior Championships.
The blue line’s future looks much brighter than the forward group’s. After Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno, the talent ceiling of the offense sees a noticeable drop, pending a breakout from a player or two.
Rachel Anderson: Defense
It’s not often that we’re all in one accord on a subject like this, but Detroit’s defensive depth is incredible. Detroit’s big club has a decently solid setup with a few young guys filling in for the now injured vets, but the biggest promise currently lies with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Filip Hronek (currently with the Red Wings) has had an incredible sophomore season in the AHL – showing his defensive development is on par and he’ll be ready for a full-time NHL spot. Joe Hicketts is another defenseman who is ready for a spot in the NHL. Between Hicketts, Hronek, Cholowski and Vili Saarijarvi, the Red Wings blue line will be held down in the years to come.
Which Red Wings Prospect is Underrated?
Tony Wolak: Keith Petruzzelli
I ranked Keith Petruzzelli a little higher than Jacob and Rachel – I believe he has the potential to be an NHL starter and could be with the Red Wings for a long time. Petruzzelli has been outstanding for Quinnipiac University this year, already registering three shutouts for the Bobcats. It’ll be a few years until we see the netminder in Detroit, though – he’s only a sophomore and will likely need to play a year or two in Grand Rapids before joining the Red Wings.
This Petruzzelli guy is pretty good, eh? pic.twitter.com/xiX1VzOnt1
— Quinnipiac Men's Ice Hockey (@QU_MIH) November 25, 2018
Jacob Messing: Givani Smith
Smith’s average isn’t reflective of his skill, but rather a testament to the strength of other prospects in the organization. There hasn’t been much flash to Smith’s game since being selected 46th overall in 2016. He’s had a slow start to his AHL career with a goal and two assists through 23 games, but Smith’s abrasive game is exactly what you want from a bottom-six forward. Sure, I’d be nice for every prospect to score on command, but role players go a long way in a team’s culture.
Rachel Anderson: Vili Saarijarvi
Vili Saarijarvi is in his second full season with the Grand Rapids Griffins and has shown the most growth among the current prospects. Like Hicketts, he’s fighting an uphill battle due to his size, but he’s packed on weight and skill to match. He’s a proficient skater, works along the boards well, and is one of the most determined defensemen I’ve seen in three seasons. He’s not a massive point producer like other offensive defensemen, but he is a playmaker and does the little things that make all the difference. He’s not quite to the caliber of the NHL, but given another season or so, he should be.
Supplementing the Red Wings Prospect Depth?
Tony Wolak: More Draft Picks
While the Red Wings already have a solid prospect pipeline, they still need to be acquiring draft picks unless there’s a surefire, high-end prospect to be had.
For example, look at potential rentals Jimmy Howard and Gustav Nyquist. I believe that the Red Wings should acquire draft picks for these players rather than 21- or 22-year-old prospects who may be trending for bottom-six or bottom-pairing duties. Draft picks are like lottery tickets, and the Red Wings should shoot their shot and try to land gems beyond the first round.
Jacob Messing: Draft, Draft, Draft
It’s a simple thought process; the more you draft, the greater the chance of finding game-breaking talent. First-rounders don’t always pan out and sometimes seventh-rounders do, so having the chance to draft upwards of the mandated seven annual selections only increases the odds.
Add in the possibility of Steve Yzerman taking over as GM this summer, who was too good at finding talent through the draft, and the Red Wings could be in for a swift rebuild.
Rachel Anderson: Picks and Using Existing Prospects
NHL clubs, I think, can sometimes get so caught up in their number one prospects, that the talent that was obsessed over in seasons prior, gets brushed aside. Though the Red Wings have done a pretty good job utilizing the resources available through their farm systems like Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha, there are several that have been “stuck” for too long in the AHL. It’s expensive hanging on to some veterans that are aging and injury prone. Using talent in the AHL sooner rather than later (or forgetting they’re there) would be ideal. Of course, there’s no room for all, hence the farm leagues.
Drafting is a safe bet as well. Holland has done a great job in the last few seasons, negotiating and acquiring draft picks. Despite people’s protests about his inability to manage the team and so on, he’s proven to have the smarts to get as many picks as we’ve had. If we can keep the ball rolling on drafting efficiently, the future of the team will be secure through development and on the other side of it.
Who are your top 10 Detroit Red Wings prospects? Share your list below.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.