Things have been a bit bleak in Motown of late. While the Detroit Red Wings capped off their recent homestand with a 6-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks, the team went 1-3-1 over that five-game stretch. With just two weeks left in December, the Wings have a record of 3-4-2. Considering the way the team has been outshot and outscored during the month, they are going to have to play more like they did against Anaheim if they want to finish December on a high note.
With the Wings’ recent struggles, now is as good a time as any to take a look at some of their budding prospects. While there are a handful of young players on the Wings’ roster now, I am going to limit the list to prospects playing outside of the NHL. With that out of the way, here are some of the Red Wings who have stood out during the 2016-17 season.
C – Tomas Nosek (Grand Rapids Griffins)
24 years old, 6-foot-2, 210 pounds
Drafted: Signed as a free agent in 2014
Tomas Nosek started the 2016-17 season on the injured reserve list, after sustaining a knee injury due to a collision with Steve Ott during the preseason. Since his return to the lineup, Nosek has collected 15 points in 17 games for Grand Rapids. While he projects as a bottom-six forward, it is nice to see him produce some offense. Considering this is the last year Nosek is exempt from waivers, the Wings will need to make a decision with him heading into the 2017-18 season.
RW – Martin Frk (Grand Rapids Griffins)
23 years old, 6-foot, 200 pounds
Drafted: 2012 – 2nd round, 49th overall
Whether or not Martin Frk still qualifies as a prospect is up for debate, but his ability to score goals makes him one of the Wings’ top players in Grand Rapids. Before rejoining the Red Wings’ organization, the 23-year-old forward spent some time with the Carolina Hurricanes earlier this season.
Through 20 games with the Griffins, Frk has scored 10 goals, along with five assists. Despite his ability to produce offensively in the AHL, players like Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou have moved ahead of him on the depth chart. It is doubtful that the Czech sniper has much of a future in Detroit.
RW – Givani Smith (Guelph Storm)
18 years old, 6-foot-2, 209 pounds
Drafted: 2016 – 2nd round, 46th overall
Givani Smith possesses the kind of size and strength the Wings lack in their pool of prospects. It was music to the ears of Red Wings’ fans when Smith said he models his game after Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Through 30 games with the Guelph Storm this season, Smith has registered 17 goals and 11 assists, along with 77 penalty minutes. While those point totals may not pop off the page, the rugged winger’s style of play is something many Detroit fans are likely to appreciate when he eventually finds his way onto the Wings’ roster.
D – Robbie Russo (Grand Rapids Griffins)
23 years old, 6-foot, 195 pounds
Drafted: Signed as a free agent in 2015
When Robbie Russo joined the Grand Rapids Griffins roster, he worked his way into a crowded defense corps. With two of those defenders now in Detroit –Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul – Russo has taken on a large role with the team.
With 14 points through 27 games, the 23-year-old blueliner is scoring at a clip of 0.52 P/GP, just shy of the 0.55 P/GP pace he posted last season. Like Nosek, Russo’s exemption from waivers ends next season, as does his current contract. Considering the number of NHL-ready defensemen in the Red Wings’ system, it is difficult to say where fits in with the team moving forward.
D – Vili Saarijärvi (Mississauga Steelheads)
19 years old, 5-foot-10, 165 pounds
Drafted: 2015 – 3rd round, 73rd overall
After the bizarre situation in Flint last season, Vile Saarijärvi was looking for a change of scenery heading into the 2016-17 season. The team honoured his trade request, sending him to the Mississauga Steelheads in exchange for forwards Everett Clark, a second round pick in 2017, a fifth round pick in 2019 and a conditional second round pick in 2023.
Despite missing the start of the season while recovering from wrist surgery, Saarijärvi picked back up where he left off last season. Through nine games, the Finnish blueliner has registered 12 points, along with a +3 rating. Currently, his 1.33 P/GP places him first among all defensemen in the OHL. While there was a chance the 19-year-old could have turned pro this season, it is encouraging to see him excel at the junior level this season.
D – Filip Hronek (Saginaw Spirit)
19 years old, 6-foot, 170 pounds
Drafted: 2016 – 2nd round, 53rd overall
It thrilled the Red Wings’ brass when Filip Hronek made the decision to cross the pond and play for the Saginaw Spirit. The rangy rearguard is a smooth skater and possesses strong puck-moving skills and offensive instincts. Like Saarijärvi, Hronek is one of the top offensive defenders in the OHL this season. Through 27 games, his 23 points and.85 P/GP, placing him 9th among defensemen in the league in points per game.
D – Dennis Cholowski (St. Cloud State Huskies)
18 years old, 6-foot-1, 185 pounds
Drafted: 2016 – 1st round, 20th overall
When Jacob Chuychrun was available at the 16th spot in the 2016 NHL entry draft, Wings fans were salivating at the prospect of drafting the 6-foot-2, 205-pound defender. Instead, general manager Ken Holland moved the pick, along with Pavel Datsyuk’s contract to the Arizona Coyotes. With one of the draft picks they received in the trade, they selected Dennis Cholowski at 20th overall.
So far, Cholowski has posted a respectable nine points through 16 games. He possesses strong skating ability and plays smart positional hockey. Considering Cholowski elected to go the college route, he will have plenty of time to mature at St. Cloud State before making the jump to pro-level hockey.
G – Jared Coreau (Grand Rapids Griffins)
25 years old, 6-foot-6, 220 pounds
Drafted: Signed as a free agent in 2013
It is fair to say that Jared Coreau has exceeded expectations since the Red Wings signed him in 2013, slowly climbing up the depth chart in each consecutive season. After splitting starts with former Griffin Tom McCollum, the 6-foot-6 netminder entered the 2016-17 season as the number one goaltender in Grand Rapids.
Red Wings collapse in third period, lose in Jared Coreau’s debut https://t.co/LAh3wVPo74 pic.twitter.com/ESjFJKMJFx
— Detroit Informer (@Detroitinformer) December 4, 2016
Through 17 games, Coreau has collected 11 wins (third among qualified goaltenders) and posted a 2.18 GAA and .924Sv% (both rank in the top 10 among qualified goaltenders). With his success in Grand Rapids, he may very well be ready for backup duty in the NHL. Depending on how Holland handles the team’s current goaltending situation, Coreau’s opportunity could come with the Red Wings, or perhaps another team in the league.