The Grind Line: Detroit’s Best International Prospects

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, Tony Wolak, and Devin Little are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.

It’s no secret that the European leagues harbor a wealth of untapped talent and the draft is only a small sampling of that. The Detroit Red Wings have taken advantage of that talent pool in the recent drafts, including the 2019 NHL Entry Draft where they selected seven international skaters including hidden gem, Moritz Seider.

With how much return they’ve seen from their investment this season, it begs the question, “how much more talent is hiding in the prospect pipeline?” Seider came bursting out of the gates, but the Red Wings have drafted very well in terms of international skaters in the last three seasons. Pulling from Finland’s Liiga, the Kontinental Hockey League, and the Swedish Hockey League, Detroit’s international scouts have been doing phenomenal work to bring the franchise the best of the best.

Moritz Seider Grand Rapids Griffins
Moritz Seider, Grand Rapids Griffins (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The future of the Red Wings is relying heavily on the up and coming talent. That being said, the Grind Line takes a look at Detroit’s last three drafts to assess what international skaters are stealthily making their way through the pipeline from overseas. 

Rachel Anderson

Thankfully its easier to describe Kirill Tyutyayev’s play than it is to say his name. Selected in the 2019 Entry Draft, Tyutyayev is honing his skills with the Avto Yekaterinburg of the MHL – a top Russian junior league. He’s a fast skater with mature forethought in terms of playmaking ability. Tyutyayev has averaged a point a game last season and this season. He has only played four games in 2019-20 but if he can keep on that pace, he’ll hopefully be an offense edge in Detroit. He’s young and skates like he’s cocky, but he can shoot the puck and he knows it. 

In terms of defensemen, Detroit is finally seeing a return from previous picks like Filip Hronek and Joe Hicketts. Recent pick Albert Johansson is one to keep an eye on. He was playing with he Farjestad BK J20 of the SHL (Swedish Hockey League) but has since moved to Farjestad BK. Both Farjestad levels are considered junior, but he’s none-the-less shown progress. 

As a defenseman, he’s not a massive point producer, but he’s smart. He’s not bashful when he’s got a clear shot, but he can also read a developing play. The ice is larger in European rinks so the game will speed up if it makes it to the United States, but he seems adaptable thus far which will help in years to come as the team transitions fully into the Yzerman era.

Detroit hasn’t drafted Euro-heavy with goaltenders, but the ones they have selected will likely give the domestic goaltenders a run for their money. Victor Brattström consistently posts steady numbers with Timra IK, part of Allsvenskan of the SHL. Brattstrom has a leg up, so to speak, on current prospect Filip Larsson in the sense that he has much more experience playing experienced players. If Larsson’s game doesn’t step up to meet expectations this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brattstrom got the call to make his way to the States. 

Filip Larsson Grand Rapids Griffins
Filip Larsson, Grand Rapids Griffins (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Tony Wolak

Towering over the competition at 6-foot-7, Elmer Soderblom has dominated Sweden’s under-20 league this season. The center leads Frolunda HC with 31 points in 20 games, but may not be around much longer.

The hope is that Soderblom can develop into an effective NHL role player down the road. If his skating can continue to progress, that’s certainly possible. The center’s hands, size, and board play are already intriguing assets.

Across the Gulf of Bothnia, fellow 2019 draft pick Antti Tuomisto has been equally as impressive in Finland’s under-20 league. The defenseman has been playing in all situations for Assat, averaging north of 20 minutes per game. Tuomisto has registered 25 points through 24 games, using his heavy shot to get pucks on net.

Tuomisto’s plan is to enroll in an American university and play college hockey next season. That way, he can easily adapt to North American ice and the different style of play. The blueliner has not committed yet, but will certainly be a valuable contributor once he chooses a school and begins playing next fall.

Finally, Jesper Eliasson is an interesting prospect to watch in net for the Red Wings. He has played the majority of the 2019-20 season with Almtuna in Sweden’s second-tier professional league and has underwhelmed there so far.

As a former third-round pick, the organization is hoping Eliasson can develop into an NHL-calibre goaltender and challenge Filip Larsson and Keith Petruzzelli on the depth chart. But since he was drafted, Eliasson hasn’t overly impressed. The Red Wings desperately need stronger play from their goaltending pipeline and haven’t been able to develop many netminders in the past. If Eliasson can grow into an NHL goalie, that would be a nice surprise for the Red Wings.

Devin Little

I’ll start by discussing the prospect with perhaps the most familiar unfamiliar name in the Red Wings’ prospect pool: Gustav Lindstrom. Selected 38th overall in 2017, Lindstrom is a defender with decent size whose game lacks an offensive element. Last season in the SHL, Lindstrom managed a meager six points in 40 games with Frölunda HC. That offensive output has translated over to Grand Rapids this season as the defender has just one assist through 16 appearances. Lindstrom projects to be a safe stay-at-home defenseman, which at the end of the day is fine considering the team has other defensive prospects with offensive upside.

Gustav Lindstrom Grand Rapids Griffins
Gustav Lindstrom, Grand Rapids Griffins (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Now we jump ahead to the 2018 Draft. While the noise around that year’s draft coup surrounded Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno, the Red Wings’ first selection of the second round made plenty of noise too. Winger Jonatan Berggren suffered an injury-shortened 2018-19 season, only appearing in 16 games in the SHL. However, this year he’s healthy and has amassed seven points (all assists) through 16 games. 

The shifty winger is still likely a couple of years away from appearing at the NHL level, but that’s fine. Once he does arrive, the Red Wings could have a high-end, playmaking winger; he’s Taro Hirose with true top-six potential.  

Lastly, despite being born in 1997, goaltender Victor Brattström was the 160th pick of the 2018 Draft. That means at 22 years old, Brattström is theoretically further along in his development than some of the team’s other goalie prospects. But after spending last season in the SHL, a promising step in his development, Brattström finds himself back in the Swedish equivalent of the AHL this season. 

With the likes of Filip Larsson, Keith Petruzzelli and Carter Gylander marinating in the system, Brattstrom needs to take that next leap forward. Otherwise, he’ll be left behind. 

Who do you think is the Red Wings’ best current international prospect?