The World Junior Championship has wrapped up, and players have returned to home ice. For Detroit Red Wings fans, they have many reasons to be thankful – the WJC showcased several of Detroit’s top prospects on the international stage (from ‘Two Detroit Red Wings win gold with Canada in world junior hockey tournament,’ Detroit Free Press, 01/05/2020). From Joe Veleno bringing home the gold with Team Canada and Moritz Seider serving as captain of Team Germany, Detroit got a good taste of what the future will look like.
As the dust settles, and prospects return to their respective teams, the Grind Line wanted to take some time to highlight the encouraging growth of our home team. Development is hard and rebuilding has been brutal to watch – but there is hope for the future of the Red Wings. Each season we watch the world’s best junior players and this year, Detroit fans got to boast five players participating.
The Grind Line picks who we think was a standout during the tournament and why you should be excited too.
Rachel Anderson: Jonatan Berggren
Berggren is one of two Swedish-born Red Wings prospects that were invited to participate in the WJC this season. While helping his fellow Swedes earn a bronze medal, Berggren showed quite a bit of offensive growth since his draft in 2018.
In seven games, Berggren quietly tallied five points. His experience playing in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) this season appeared to be a tremendous benefit. Having the patience and physical ability to work against men much larger than him, translating that ability back a junior level didn’t appear to be a challenge. He’s a tenacious skater as it is, but his footwork seems to have improved. Berggren will likely spend another season in Sweden.
At only 19 years old, Berggren has much more development to do but his steady production during the WJC is showing a very bright future for him in North America should the Red Wings bring him over. While his fellow prospects like Joe Veleno and Moritz Seider stole the show for Detroit fans, Berggren is steadily catching up and could pose a viable winger option sooner rather than later.
Tony Wolak: Moritz Seider
Of Detroit’s five prospects who took part in this year’s World Junior Championships, Seider had the most impressive tournament. The 2019 first-round pick was a force at both ends of the ice for Germany, playing upwards of 25 minutes every game.
Seider was tasked with shutting down the world’s best under-20 prospects and he did just that. It was something that Detroit’s management team asked Seider to do heading into the tournament, according to WingsNation’s Tom Mitsos.
“I was talking to Detroit, and they clearly said you have to be very solid defensively, and I think I did that very well. It was nice getting a lot of minutes and only a few goals against.”
To be exact, he was on the ice for only three goals against at five-on-five.
Now that Seider is back with Grand Rapids, he can parlay his WJC performance into a strong second-half with the Griffins. You have to imagine that he’ll get a shot with the Red Wings later on this spring considering the success he’s been having at all levels this season, just like Filip Zadina last year. That’s something to be excited about – it’s only January and Seider is already making a legitimate case for NHL minutes.
Devin Little – Joe Veleno
Veleno’s play won’t stand out on the statsheet, but the guy they call “Poison” showed plenty of promise during the tournament. He played a staggering 25:20 while recording an assist in the gold-medal game for Canada, showing the ability to be trusted at both ends of the ice. He was Canada’s top center throughout the tournament and that bodes well for the Red Wings’ future down the middle.
Veleno also demonstrated strong chemistry with linemate Alexis Lafrenière – the star winger who looks poised to go first overall in the 2020 draft. Given the Red Wings’ spot in the standings, it is encouraging that the organization’s top center prospect already has a proven track record with the player they hope to select in the draft. Veleno didn’t need to “carry” the top line, but he was more than able to play with and against some of the top young players in the game.
His play in the tournament further revealed a comparison to the Red Wings’ top center, Dylan Larkin. Although Larkin is not a high-end point producer like other top centers, he excels at creating offense and back-checking on defense. This rings true of Veleno too, and the World Juniors was another stage to put that on display. If Veleno’s play can continue the trajectory it’s on right now, he’ll not only spark the Grand Rapids Griffins, but he may find himself previewing life as a Red Wing before the season is done.
I am a Detroit Red Wings prospect journalist for Access Hockey MI covering the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toledo Walleye prospect development. Draft analyst for USHL hockey with the Muskegon Lumberjacks.