Red Wings’ Top 10 Prospects: Impressive Early Returns

For the first time in what seems like decades, there is genuine excitement about the Detroit Red Wings’ prospect pipeline. After years of dealing early-round draft picks to bolster the team for a playoff run, general manager Ken Holland changed course and began hoarding those selections. Add in mediocre seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18 and the Red Wings were able to quickly put together a stable of high-caliber prospects.

The job isn’t done yet – the Red Wings still need a difference-maker or two before they can seriously consider a return to contention. But in the meantime, their top-notch prospects are hope that the once-proud franchise can return to glory. Here’s a look at how Detroit’s top prospects have fared this season and how their early 2018-19 performance could impact the future.

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Red Wings’ Top 10 Prospects

Rank Player (Pos) Team (League) GP G A PTS
1 Filip Zadina (RW) Grand Rapids (AHL) 13 4 4 8
2 Joe Veleno (C) Drummondville (QMJHL) 18 11 12 23
3 Michael Rasmussen (C) Detroit (NHL) 15 2 2 4
4 Jonatan Berggren (RW) Skelleftea AIK (SHL) 15 0 3 3
5 Filip Hronek (D) Grand Rapids (AHL) 7 1 2 3
6 Dennis Cholowski (D) Detroit (NHL) 15 2 6 8
7 Jared McIsaac (D) Halifax (QMJHL) 14 4 10 14
8 Evgeny Svechnikov (LW) Detroit (NHL) 0 0 0 0
9 Gustav Lindstrom (D) Frolunda HC (SHL) 16 2 1 3
10 Vili Saarijarvi (D) Grand Rapids (AHL) 13 1 3 4

Filip Zadina Learning the Ropes in Grand Rapids

Since he was loaned to his now former QMJHL team, Filip Zadina has the ability to play in the AHL if the Red Wings prefer. He hasn’t exactly taken over as an offensive force there but it takes time to adjust to the professional level. To aid his development—and because he’s just an 18-year-old – Detroit’s 2018 first-round pick moved in with Griffins assistant coach Mike Knuble, where he can pick the long-time NHLer’s brain on the nuances of professional hockey.

Filip Zadina of the Detroit Red Wings.
Filip Zadina is still feeling out the professional ranks with the Grand Rapids Griffins. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Don’t expect to see Zadina in Detroit anytime soon. Jeff Blashill wants him to learn how to dominate at the AHL level first and he’s not quite there yet, despite having scored four goals in 13 games. However, Zadina has been on the ice for far too many goals against, something that needs to be resolved before joining the Red Wings.

It’s a long season, so there’s plenty of time for him to adjust his game, catch fire, and force the Red Wings to call him up. A recall around the trade deadline isn’t out of the question.

Joe Veleno On Fire

As Jacob Messing noted in last week’s The Grind Line column, Joe Veleno has been dominating the QMJHL with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. He also has a chance to become a valuable contributor to Team Canada at the World Junior Championships later this winter. If anything, Veleno’s impressive five-on-five play, scoring touch, and defensive awareness are preparing him for a possible role with the Red Wings next season.

Michael Rasmussen Debate

For now, the discussion over Michael Rasmussen’s long-term destination is over. The Red Wings rightfully decided to keep their young power forward in Detroit, rather than send him back to junior.

Michael Rasmussen of the Detroit Red Wings.
Michael Rasmussen is starting to look like he belongs in the NHL. (Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports)

With the Red Wings, Rasmussen has helped turn around their maligned power play with his net-front presence and great hand-eye coordination. He’s still getting used to the speed and pacing of five-on-five play and how to use his size to his advantage but he is coming along nicely in his first professional season.

Young Defensemen Making an Impact

We’re all aware of how impressive Dennis Cholowski has been since, well, the annual NHL Prospect Tournament. He’s aced every test, including preseason action, regular season top-four minutes, and power play duties.

Detroit’s other blue line prospects deserve some credit, too. Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek, and Libor Sulak all gained valuable experience playing high-impact minutes while Red Wings regulars sat out with various injuries. Vili Saarijarvi was the Griffins’ top defenseman in their absence after spending the previous year fighting for consistent AHL playing time. And while the latter trio has now joined Saarijarvi in Grand Rapids, they’re becoming better all-around players capable of holding down NHL jobs.

Filip Hronek of the Detroit Red Wings.
How long until Filip Hronek is back with the Red Wings? (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

During Hicketts, Hronek, and Sulak’s time in Detroit, they were exposed to the speed and physicality of the NHL game and after playing in a handful of contests, they—along with help from the coaching staff—identified holes in their game that could be worked on in the slightly slower-paced AHL. The same goes for Saarijarvi and the top-pairing minutes he saw with the Griffins.

Expect to see some of these defensemen with the Red Wings again later this season, but with a little more poise to their game.

Evgeny Svechnikov Done for the Year

After a strong showing during the preseason, Evgeny Svechnikov underwent knee surgery which will sideline him for the next five-to-six months. It’s possible that he could return in April for a few games or contribute to a Griffins’ playoff return, but Detroit may opt to let him rest, get strong, and gear up for the 2019-20 season.

Final Word

While the Red Wings could still use a couple more high-caliber prospects to aid their rebuild, the early returns on the current prospects are impressive. These players are expected to lead Detroit forward along with Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, and Anthony Mantha. Their continued progress could help shave a year or two off of the rebuild period, something that the organization and fans would enjoy.