The term “rebuild” in sports carries a ton of negative connotations. It’s a word that goes hand-in-hand with losing and cheering for positioning in the draft rather than the playoffs. However, the unquestionably biggest positive thing to come from rebuilds are the young players that filter into the lineup over time. For a team that has been rebuilding as long as the Detroit Red Wings have, each year presents opportunities to get acquainted with fresh new faces in the lineup.
While much of the Red Wings’ lineup has been remade via the many free agent signings the club completed over the last couple of weeks, there remains ample opportunity for the team’s best prospects to follow in the footsteps of Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond and give “Hockeytown” a rookie or two to cheer for throughout the 2022-23 season. Here are four prospects that should push to earn that opportunity this coming season:
(W) Jonatan Berggren
The oldest player on this list, Jonatan Berggren was a second round pick back in 2018, the same draft that saw the Red Wings select forwards Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno in the first round. To put that further into perspective, consider that current Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman wasn’t the one that drafted Berggren; that distinction belongs to Yzerman’s predecessor, Ken Holland, as the 2018 draft was the last one before the Yzerman era began.
In the two seasons immediately following the 2018 draft, Berggren managed to play in just 40 games over in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). He was set back by back and shoulder injuries, respectively, and he managed just 15 points in the 40 games he did play in. By the time he turned 20, it seemed like he would be another promising prospect whose future was compromised due to the unforgiving nature of injuries in the sport of hockey.
Berggren managed to stay healthy throughout the next SHL season, and he recorded an impressive 45 points in 49 games along the way. This was perhaps the first time since his draft season that his potential was on full display, and suddenly he looked like the budding top six forward he was drafted to become. That potential and productivity carried over to last season, his first in North America, when he set a new record for rookie scoring (64 points in 70 games) while playing with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League (AHL).
Now 22 years old, Berggren should push hard for an offensive role in the Red Wings’ middle six this season. While he may not arrive in Detroit right out of the gate, this season stands as the most important of his career so far, and the expectation is that he will assert himself as an NHL player by the time the 2022-23 campaign draws to a close.
(W) Elmer Söderblom
In our most recent ranking of the Red Wings’ top-25 prospects, Elmer Söderblom was described as a “unicorn” that combines size, skill and mobility. Standing at 6-foot-8, 249 pounds, even Michael Rasmussen, the tallest player on the Red Wings’ current roster, looks up to him.
Söderblom has been impressive at all levels of competition over the last two years, specifically. A 2019 draftee, he really made a name for himself while representing Sweden at the World Junior Championships. There, he displayed his unparalleled size and his ability to stick-handle in-close on the goaltender. This led to highlight reel material like this:
This past season in the SHL, Söderblom led all U22 skaters in goals (21) and points (33), impressing in a league that is known for being hard to score in. After signing his entry-level contract with the Red Wings this summer, he is set to embark on his first season in North America. His size should allow him to thrive in the physical elements of the game, and it won’t be long before Red Wings fans are chomping at the bit to see this behemoth hold down a spot in Detroit’s lineup.
Söderblom presents a unique package that should earn him a long look in training camp. If the opportunity doesn’t come right away, don’t worry – his time to shine is coming soon.
(D) Albert Johansson
There are two defensemen in the Red Wings’ system right now that seem like they’re ready to be a factor right away, and Albert Johansson is one of them.
After leading the SHL in scoring among U21 defenders, Johansson arrives in North America as one of the Red Wings’ most NHL-ready defensemen, or at least so it seems. He plays a sound two-way game that would compliment any of Detroit’s right-handed defensemen. He has good instincts on the ice, and he should be a stand-out once training camp opens up.
As silly as it might be to say, as a 2019 draftee, he’s slowly becoming one of the “older” prospects in the Red Wings’ system. Given all the team’s action in the free agent market, training camp should be a very competitive environment this year, and there should be some expectation that Johansson does stand out among his peers. If he can translate his game to the North American sheet of ice, he’ll be knocking on the NHL’s door sooner rather than later.
(D) Simon Edvinsson
This is probably the first name you thought of when you read the title. If it wasn’t the first, I’m guessing it was the second.
The Red Wings’ top pick in the 2021 draft is also set to embark on his first season in North America, but unlike Söderblom and Johansson, there seems to be an aura certainty around Simon Edvinsson that he is, in fact, ready to challenge for an NHL roster spot. He is without a doubt the Red Wings’ top defensive prospect, and the left side of their blue line currently lacks a dynamic presence similar to what Moritz Seider provides on the right side. Much like Lucas Raymond last year, if Edvinsson can prove that he’s ready to go right away, he’ll be a Red Wing on opening night.
Realistically, all four of these players are not going to crack the Red Wings’ opening night roster. One, maybe two could pull it off, but the benefit of the Red Wings’ moves in free agency is that they do not have to rush their prospects; the AHL is a viable place to play competitive hockey and develop as a player, and there’s value in spending some time there before joining the bright lights of the NHL. But make no mistake, all four of these players will be pushing for spots in the Red Wings’ lineup right away.
It’s just a matter of when they’ll earn that opportunity.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.