One of the best things about going through a rebuild is seeing the team’s prospect pool get filled up. Like watching an actual pool get filled up, it gets you excited knowing that as it gets deeper and deeper, fun times lay ahead. For the Detroit Red Wings, their pool is already getting to a point that it’s not too early to break out the floaties and pool toys.
That fact will be put on display starting next month as the 2022 World Junior Championships Tournament (WJC) is set to begin on Dec. 26. This tournament involving U-20 players will feature some of the best prospects already drafted, as well as some of the best prospects set to hear their names called at next year’s draft in Montreal. When a team has a lot of quality prospects, that team is bound to be well-represented at the tournament, and that projects to be exactly the case for the Red Wings.
Some of the names on this list are a given to represent their countries at this tournament. Others may squeak in, or may find themselves just on the outside looking in. Either way, with representatives from all over the world, you’ve got to like the odds that at least one Red Wings prospect is going to skate away from this tournament with a gold medal around their neck.
(G) Sebastian Cossa
The Red Wings’ “goaltender of the future” is a virtual lock to represent Canada at this tournament, with odds looking just as high that he will be Canada’s main man in net. The 15th pick of the 2021 draft is off to a strong start this season in the Western Hockey League with the Edmonton Oil Kings. He has a 11-3-3 record, a 2.14 goals-against average (GAA) and a save-percentage (SV%) of .929. What’s crazy to think about is that this stat line represents a bit of a decline from last season where he had a record of 17-1-1, a GAA of 1.57, and a SV% of .941. Those numbers were almost certainly going to regress this season, however, as last season was a funky year that saw limited games, a limited player base and minimal traveling (meaning that teams played the same teams a lot) due to the pandemic.
This is a goaltender that is clearly one of the best among his age group, but questions still remain about whether or not the Red Wings picked the right goalie at 15th overall, given that Swedish netminder Jesper Wallstedt was ranked ahead of Cossa by most people in the scouting world. This year’s WJC not only presents Cossa with an opportunity to represent his country on a grand stage, but it also gives him the opportunity to answer some of those questions. Sweden and Canada could very well face-off in the gold medal game, and outdueling Wallstedt would go a long way towards paving Cossa’s path to the NHL.
(D) Donovan Sebrango
Since he was drafted 63rd overall in the 2020 draft, few players have been as exciting and encouraging to watch as Sebrango. Due to the Ontario Hockey League delaying and then cancelling their 2020-21 season, he was able to practice his trade in the American Hockey League (AHL) last season and, remarkably, did not look out of place as an 18-year-old. This season, he has played 14 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins and leads the team in terms of plus/minus. While the offensive side of his game is limited but fine, he plays a two-way style that has already endeared himself to Griffins head coach Ben Simon, and would likely do the same for Team Canada’s coach Dave Cameron.
That Sebrango is even included in this list is a testament to the growth in his game. He was not a part of last year’s squad that finished with a silver medal, but his addition to this year’s team – even in a bottom pairing role – would help fortify Canada’s defense, and it would give the Ottawa-native the kind of competitive experience that you simply cannot duplicate. He is far from a lock for a roster spot, but his inclusion should be seriously considered.
(C) Red Savage
As the captain of the Americans’ U-18 team last year, Savage already has experience playing on the international stage, and in a leadership role to boot. While it is unlikely that he will retain the “C” for the U-20 team, his maximum-effort playing style could translate well on the Americans’ fourth line, especially if they want to have a match-up line that can slow down the Canada and Swedens of the world.
The 114th pick of the 2021 draft has five points (all assists) through 12 games this season with Miami University (Ohio). Savage isn’t setting the world on fire offensively, but that has never really been his game. He’s a two-way player that gives it his all in both ends and will battle his opponents until they have to skate off in exhaustion. Those hard-nosed type of players are what an effective fourth line usually consists of, and Team USA would do well to include him on theirs.
(LW) Carter Mazur
Mazur is off to a great start this season with the University of Denver. Through 12 games, he has seven goals and 10 points, and good things tend to happen when he’s on the ice, generally speaking. The native of Jackson, Michigan is a player who thrives in offensive situations, though his ceiling ultimately isn’t as high as some of the other American wingers that are considered locks for this year’s team.
In fact, it’s that upside, or lack thereof, that could be what holds him back from making the team. Mazur has done enough early on this season to warrant some national attention – and that remains true even if he doesn’t make the team – but it comes down to other players and how the Americans want to build their squad. When you’re building a team consisting of the best of the best young players from a given nation, there’s going to be a lot of good players that are left on the outside looking in. If he can make this year’s team, that’s a real testament to the work he’s put in this season.
(D) Simon Edvinsson
There are two players in the Red Wings’ prospect pool that are locks for this tournament. One of them is the aforementioned Cossa, and the other is the other player Detroit took in the first round of the 2021 draft. Since hearing the Red Wings call his name at sixth overall, Edvinsson has done nothing but impress. He’s playing a solid 20 minutes a night for a very good team over in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and has 10 points through 17 games this season. He’s a player that already seems to have made some strides from his draft season, and he may very well slot-in as Sweden’s top defender at this tournament.
This opportunity to play against the best players in his age group should help Red Wings fans get a better idea of where he is at in his developmental timeline. If Sweden finds success in this tournament, Edvinsson is going to play a big part in it, and that would mean that you can expect him to make an impact in Detroit sooner rather than later. To be honest, he might be THE player to watch as far as Red Wings fans are concerned based solely on the fact that Detroit’s defense this season really highlights the fact that 20-year-old Moritz Seider could use some help heading into the future.
(D) William Wallinder
If there were question marks about Wallinder’s inclusion on Team Sweden heading into this season, those questions have mostly been silenced through the early going this season. He’s got three goals and nine points through 18 games this season, and he’s impacting the game in a way that he simply wasn’t last season. In short, he’s starting to look like the player the Red Wings envisioned when they picked him 32nd overall in the 2020 draft.
Wallinder could slot in on either the second or third pairing depending on how Sweden wants to deploy their defensemen. He may receive power play time, and possibly even penalty kill time depending on who else joins him on the blue line. Assuming he makes the team, this year’s WJC should offer a proper gauge of where he is at in his development. I’m of the opinion that he’s still a couple years out from challenging for an NHL roster spot, but a standout performance at this tournament could adjust that timeline a bit.
(F) Theodor Niederbach
Edvinsson’s teammate with Frölunda, Niederbach is having himself a solid season in the SHL, recording five points through 21 games while playing steady minutes in Sweden’s top league – something that wasn’t the case last season. As is his role with Frölunda, he likely fits Sweden’s puzzle as a third line forward that doesn’t hurt his team defensively and can chip in all over the ice. He’s a Swiss Army Knife-type of player that does many things well, but doesn’t necessarily excel at any one thing.
Niederbach’s versatility as a forward makes him a candidate to factor in on Sweden’s special teams, but he could really announce himself as a prospect depending on if some part of his game really stands out. The 51st pick of the 2020 draft is the type of quality depth player that championship teams usually possess, and he’ll look to make a difference for Sweden if he secures a roster spot.
(C) Liam Dower Nilsson
To be honest, you could copy most of Savage’s entry and paste it here. Like Savage with the Americans, Dower Nilsson was the captain of Sweden’s U-18 team last year, and he plays a strong two-way, give-it-your-all game that translates well in a bottom six role. Also like Savage, Dower Nilsson would likely slot in as Sweden’s fourth line center if he makes the team.
Dower Nilsson isn’t a lock for a spot however. While he already has experience on the international stage, the 134th pick of the 2021 draft has spent most of this season playing for Frölunda’s J20 team (it’s worth noting that he has played very well at that level, recording 18 points in 15 games.) He’s not a top-tier player, which means that he’s one of many lower-tier players that are, theoretically, interchangeable. He’s got the goods to make this team, but a simple matter of preference could prevent him from making it.
(D) Eemil Viro
Full disclosure: I love this player. Viro is a two-way defender who provides quality play at both ends of the ice. While the Finnish defenseman doesn’t have the upside of Edvinsson or even Wallinder, he’s a player that can play important minutes, and he should be in a position do to exactly that for Team Finland next month. That’s not too crazy to expect, either, because he played a similar role on last year’s team as well.
The 70th pick of the 2020 draft recorded two points through seven games in last year’s tournament and was a plus-7 en route to Finland’s bronze medal finish. Viro isn’t going to join the attack with the frequency and effectiveness of Edvinsson, but good things typically happen when Viro is on the ice, which is a statement to his well-rounded game. Like Edvinsson, if Finland is going to have a successful tournament, Viro will more than likely have a large say in it. If you tune-in to any of Finland’s games during the tournament, expect to hear his name often.
(G) Jan Bednar
A member of last year’s squad representing Czechia, Bednar did not see any game action at last year’s tournament, but that could change this year. The 107th pick of the 2020 draft is having a solid season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season, posting a 7-5-1 record, a 3.19 GAA and a .905 SV% for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
Team Czechia is not expected to make a ton of noise at this year’s tournament, but that should not preclude them from being a worthwhile watch. Last year’s team was filled with players looking to make a name for themselves on the national stage, and this year’s team is no different. One of those players is Bednar, and this year’s tournament represents and opportunity for him to really put himself on the map in terms of the goaltenders in the Red Wings’ prospect pool. It’s not going to be about how many goals he does or doesn’t give up, it’s going to be about how he plays and whether or not he’s giving his team a chance to win – if he’s the one in the crease of course.
R̵e̵d̵ Gold Wings
As has already been said, the Red Wings and their fans have plenty of opportunities to see important pieces of the future finish this year’s tournament with gold medals around their necks. Shoot, with this many players that have a chance of representing their countries, there’s a real chance that there will be Red Wings representatives wearing silver and bronze medals as well. While those team achievements are important and the memories are irreplaceable for the players, the most important thing from an NHL perspective is that these players perform well for their respective countries regardless of whether or not they place at that tournament.
With this year’s tournament just over a month away, we’re all about to get a real good look at just how good the Red Wings’ prospect pool looks. By the time the new year rolls around, we should have a very good idea of whether or not it is, in fact, time to break out the floaties and pool toys.
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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.