Jimmy Howard’s career is drawing to a close with the Detroit Red Wings. There has already been some questioning as to who will be sharing the crease with Jonathan Bernier upon Howard’s departure. Though the 36-year-old goalie has not officially announced his retirement, the writing is on the wall.
He’s had a long career in Detroit dating back to being selected in the 2003 draft. In recent seasons, he’s battled through injury and inconsistencies in the crease to the point where retirement seems like a natural next step – if not part of a trade.
In light of that, the goaltending situation in Detroit is one to be excited about. The familiar faces will begin to disappear, starting with Howard, and make way for the currently developing skaters. Though still a few seasons out, the Red Wings goaltending prospects have been making excellent progress which will help shape the new structure of the franchise.
Keith Petruzzelli Dominating in Quinnipiac
Keith Petruzzelli was the second-highest Quinnipiac University player to be drafted in the college’s history. Selected 88th overall in 2017, he’s been having an impressive collegiate development period following an equally impressive USHL career. His list of accomplishments at the university level is a mile long and definitely something to boast about. He was voted MVP, had three ECAC Goaltender of the Week selections, and started all 34 games for Quinnipiac in 2019-20 alone.
Season after season, his understanding of puck movement, agility, and controlling the play has increased. His development has been one of the more promising ones in the Red Wings goalie prospect pool due to his consistent growth. Many of the coaches and staff at the AHL level I’ve spoken with, have praised him highly for not only his work ethic but ability to take critic and execute accordingly.
Following his time in Quinnipiac, I wouldn’t be surprised if Detroit makes a move to put him with Grand Rapids right away to start his entry-level contract. Though the younger goaltenders recently have been spending time at the ECHL level, Petruzzelli doesn’t fit that developmental mold – which is very exciting for both the AHL and NHL clubs.
Don’t Write Off Filip Larsson Yet
I’ll be the first to admit that Filip Larsson’s performance in his rookie campaign in Grand Rapids with the Griffins was underwhelming to me. Larsson inked an entry deal with Detroit following a fantastic freshmen season at Denver University where he finished with a 1.95 goals-against average (GAA) in 22 games but that didn’t seem to translate as we all had hoped.
Prior to his university start, talks of Larsson being a high-end professional goalie were swirling. The coaching staff in Grand Rapids were excited about what he could be at that level. Unfortunately for him, his rookie season with the Griffins did not go as planned. He had only seven starts where he recorded a 2-5-0. According to the coaching staff, he was mentally not prepared and in some cases, did not seem to have the urgency to improve that would be required in such a situation. As such, he was sent to their ECHL affiliate, the Toledo Walleye, for further work.
Though it was a rocky start, and he had to share the crease often in Toledo, he improved his 4.01 GAA to 2.72. He has been given individual and precise instruction and developmental benchmarks which have helped boost not only his confidence but an understanding of his situation.
Larsson shouldn’t be written off quite yet and could still be a very exciting prospect for Detroit. He has a strong skill set and has an “athletic” and agile style which will be useful in a faster-paced environment. Its believed that if he starts in Toledo for 2020-21, it’ll bring a more intense level of urgency to him knowing he’s battling for the AHL spot with not only Kaden Fulcher, but the very experienced veteran, Pat Nagle.
Victor Brattstrom Bound for U.S.
The 2018 draft pick has an interesting couple seasons ahead of him – which will likely land him in Grand Rapids for 2021-22. The Red Wings had to sign Victor Brattstrom to an entry deal though he’ll be playing in Finland, or they were at risk of foregoing his NHL rights. On paper, Brattstrom is headed for Grand Rapids. In reality, he’ll remain in Finland for the 2020-21 season to finish out his obligations there while on loan in the Liiga.
That being said, his pending arrival is exciting. He’s an older player, now 23, and well adjusted to his position. Until this coming season, he’s spent the whole of his adult career developing at the higher SHL levels in his home country of Sweden. He was sixth overall in save percentage which is no small feat against the elite European players.
Brattstrom could be a “shoe-in” for Detroit when his trip to the States comes to fruition. Not only is he well developed at this stage in the game physically, but he’s well-conditioned mentally for a higher level. He has a strong awareness of the puck and the ability to understand and control the play. By the time he’s ready to get brought over, there’s a good chance he would be placed as a backup in Detroit perhaps after a brief stint in Grand Rapids to adjust.
Exciting Things to Come
Detroit’s goaltending is a tough topic. Prospects in and of themselves are gambles. Some could blow you away and be NHL ready right away and some could fall flat. Its the way it works. With so few goaltenders picked in the draft in general, those conditions seem to be magnified.
The Red Wings have a lot to be excited about, however. Though the full development of some of these players is still two to four seasons out, they present a fresh take on what the crease could look like as this rebuild keeps plugging away.
Jimmy Howard has been a long-time staple in Detroit but as his career closes out, it directs a bit more attention on the youngsters making their way up. (from ‘Howard’s future, Larsson’s potential keys to Red Wings’ goaltending outlook, Detroit News, 08/12/2019) They’re making steady progress and showing some very positive signs for the club’s future.
By no means are these prospects guaranteed a spot in the NHL – that is entirely up to how much work they’re willing to put in. Steve Yzerman could make some moves and land goalies in the coming seasons for the time being, but ideally, those moves spur on the youngsters to work harder and earn that spot in the franchise’s future.
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.