Red Wings Mailbag: Rasmussen, Grand Rapids, Prospects & More

Now that we are a little over the quarter mark of the season, I figured now was a good time to open up my mailbox and see what kind of questions you want have about the Detroit Red Wings so far this season. Needless to say, you guys did not let me down.

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This time around, we’re going to be looking at Michael Rasmussen’s role with the team, how the cupboards are looking down in the American Hockey League (AHL), which prospects are set to make their debut in the foreseeable future, and what the Red Wings’ primary focus will be during the 2022 offseason. Strap yourself in, it’s time to sort through the mail.

Is There A Chance the Red Wings Pull the Plug On Rasmussen this Season?

@BillyDHowell

Short answer: yes.

Long answer: it’s been a bit frustrating to watch Rasmussen this season. After making strides in his development last season, it seems this year that he has stagnated at best, and regressed at worst. While he still does some of the things that earned him a spot in Detroit last season, he doesn’t do those things nearly enough to feel confident that his game is heading in the right direction. As one of five players the Red Wings have signed past the 2022-23 season, you’d like to see the sizeable center really start to entrench himself as a staple of Detroit’s bottom six.

Michael Rasmussen Red Wings bench
Michael Rasmussen, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Instead, Rasmussen finds himself struggling to consistently impact the game while playing on the Red Wings’ match-up line that also features Vladislav Namestnikov and Adam Erne. He has seven points through 22 games and a minus-6 rating while averaging 15:26 in ice-time. While I don’t think he’s been bad this season, he also doesn’t make me feel confident that his spot is secured. If Anthony Mantha can get traded fresh off of a new contract, then so can Rasmussen.

However, I don’t think general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman is necessarily in a hurry to move Rasmussen. Still just 22 years old, Rasmussen is a player that still has time to develop as a player, and the work he put in last year to grab a spot in Detroit should still serve as an example to the other younger guys in the Red Wings’ system. He very much still has the potential to develop into a top-tier match-up center, and that’s exactly what the team is trying to mold him into. If they can get him there, he’ll become a highly valuable member of this team.

If there’s another team out there that agrees with that assessment and likes the term and cap hit on Rasmussen’s contract, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear his name in the rumor mill. The Red Wings are not going to give him away for a fourth round pick; if they move on from a player like this at this stage in his career (he still has only played 124 games in the NHL) it will be because they received an offer that is too good to pass up. It’s on the other 31 teams in the league to make that offer.

How Strange Is It That the Cupboards are So Bare in Grand Rapids?

@AllThingsDET

I had the pleasure of taking in my first Grand Rapids Griffins game of the season this past weekend, and I was disappointed to see how relatively easily they folded after coughing up a 3-0 lead they held heading into the third period. You see, I was disappointed not because they lost the game, but because they have the talent and players needed to put games like that away, even if the team isn’t loaded with first round picks like it was a couple of seasons ago.

This question does raise a good point though. While the Griffins do have some highly skilled young players in the form of Taro Hirose, Jonatan Berggren, Kirill Tyutyayev, Jared McIsaac and Donovan Sebrango, the Red Wings’ prospect pool as a whole sees most of its talent playing elsewhere, be it overseas in Europe or at the junior level here in North America. Meanwhile, the Griffins rely on AHL veterans like Riley Barber, Brian Lashoff and Kyle Criscuolo to provide the necessary depth that the team needs.

Related: Unsung in Detroit, A Leader in Grand Rapids: the Brian Lashoff Story

Kyle Criscuolo Grand Rapids Griffins
Kyle Criscuolo, Grand Rapids Griffins (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

So why is that? Some of it comes down to playing time and the fact that not every prospect the Red Wings have is under contract. The only forward prospect under the age of 23 the Red Wings have under contract is Berggren. On defense, the Red Wings have McIsaac and Sebrango that fit that same criteria, but they also have Eemil Viro and Albert Johansson under contract, but they’re playing overseas. Even Tyutyayev, while a Red Wings draft pick, is technically only on an AHL contract with the Griffins.

I think the metaphorical “cupboards” are bare in Grand Rapids because of a few reasons.

  1. The Red Wings, as well as any team in the NHL, can only have 50 contracts on the books at a given time. The Red Wings currently have 43 on the books, and you can bet that they want to save room for some of their other prospects that are playing in Europe and at the collegiate level, as well as any waiver or trade pickups they might make.
  2. Playing time is crucial. It makes more sense for a player like Viro to play as many minutes as possible in Finland than it does to fight Sebrango and McIsaac for top four minutes with the Griffins.
  3. The Red Wings’ front office may very well be evaluating the Griffins’ coaching staff to see how they fare with a team that isn’t star-studded like some of the other teams Griffins head coach Ben Simon has had. While Yzerman and Griffins GM Pat Verbeek seem content with Jeff Blashill behind the bench in Detroit, I think the jury is still out on whether or not they want Simon to be the man behind the bench in Grand Rapids going forward.

One thing is for certain: the Griffins are underperforming right now, holding a 7-7-2 record, good for fourth place in the AHL’s Central Division. If they don’t pick up the pace soon, it will be interesting to see what Yzerman and/or Verbeek do to rectify the situation.

When Can We Start to See Some North American Prospects Make the Jump to the AHL or Even NHL Level?

@ZackTrathenn

It’s always difficult to nail down NHL, or even AHL timelines because there are so many different factors and variables that have to be considered, and a number of them we don’t necessarily find out about until well after the fact. There’s also the fact that there’s a finite amount of roster spots on the NHL and AHL team, and the Red Wings definitely aren’t going to fill either roster entirely with rookie players. So with that in mind, let’s look at who could challenge for the NHL team first.

Donovan Sebrango Kitchener Rangers
Donovan Sebrango, pictured with the Kitchener Rangers. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

With every left-handed defenseman on the Red Wings’ roster not named Jordan Oesterle on an expiring contract, there should be an opening for Sebrango to really make a push for the NHL next season. Honestly he, along with Johansson and Simon Edvinsson, could all be playing for the same roster spot(s) next year, depending on if the Red Wings are active in free agency (more on that in a bit.) Sebrango has been very impressive since joining the Griffins last season and has continued that strong, responsible play this season.

Another player that could be knocking on the door soon is defenseman McIsaac. He’s kind of become the forgotten man from the 2018 draft class even though he was taken just three picks after the Red Wings scooped up Berggren early in the second round of the draft. He scored his first professional goal against the Chicago Wolves this past Friday, and at some point, the Red Wings will probably want to see what they have with this prospect.

As for player looking to make their AHL debut, it’s worth noting at the top that these players will debut towards the end of this season, if at all, because they have to finish up with their current teams before heading to Grand Rapids. What’s more likely in almost all cases here is that they make their debuts next season.

Cross Hanas (55th overall, 2020) is having a productive season with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League with 19 points through 20 games. He’s creating plays consistently, and there’s just an aura of confidence around him that wasn’t really there last season. Personally, I would still like to see him take his game to another level, and I worry a little bit about his discipline, but he’s looking like he should be worthy of an entry-level contract once his season with the Winterhawks is done.

The other forward that I think could transition to the AHL next year is Robert Mastrosimone (54th overall, 2019). Now in his Junior season with Boston University, he has 11 points through 15 games so far this season while continuing to play the maximum-effort, two-way game that made him a second round pick. I’m not entirely convinced that he’s going to go pro after this season – he just hasn’t taken the leap forward like you’d like to see – but unless he wants to finish out his degree, it may be time to continue his development against pros in the AHL. File this one under “we’ll wait and see.”

Will the Red Wings Seek Out A Top Center in the Draft and A Left-Handed Defenseman in Free Agency?

@dyllooo42

Yes.

To elaborate a bit, the Red Wings’ motto heading into the draft will undoubtedly be “best player available”. However, considering their depth on the blue line, if the “best player available” is a defenseman or even a goalie, I think they’ll look elsewhere. The hope and the prayer around Hockeytown should be that they can land one of the top centers available in next year’s draft (Shane Wright, Matthew Savoie, Conor Geekie, Brad Lambert), but if they find themselves in a position to add one of the top wingers (Ivan Miroshnichenko, Danila Yurov, Joakim Kemell) that would certainly help the Red Wings’ search for star power up front as well. I’m somebody who fiercely advocates for building up on the wings, so if they can’t bag one of the top centers, this draft is still far from a lost cause.

Related: The Red Wings Should Build Up On the Wings

As for free agency, a lot of it will hinge one two things:

  1. What do they do with Nick Leddy?
  2. How many prospects, if any, do they anticipate joining the blue line?

I think Leddy has fit in very well this season. At 30 years old, he’s somebody that still has tread left on his tires and offers that veteran presence this team needs as it continues to get younger and younger, especially on the blue line. I would seriously consider offering him a two-year extension, but it probably goes without saying that if Yzerman can find a good enough offer out there for Leddy’s services, he’s going to pull the trigger.

Nick Leddy Detroit Red Wings
Nick Leddy, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

I also think that Edvinsson is going to get a good long look during training camp next season, and if he can lock down a roster spot, he’s going to play enough minutes to warrant playing in Detroit over Grand Rapids or Sweden. If they retain Leddy on top of that, they just need to fill the left side on the third pair, and the Red Wings will have many options to fill that need. If they don’t retain Leddy, and one of the kids fails to seize a roster spot they will need to fill that hole somehow. While I advocate for calling up the Colorado Avalanche, free agency has a few options that could be worthwhile (Hampus Lindholm of the Anaheim Ducks being the biggest fish currently projected to be available.)

When Will I Get the Official Recognition from the Red Wings as Team Mom?

@Adri_Unsung

After seeing your Mickey Redmond and Robby Fabbri posters, I think it’s only a matter of time.

Next Mailbag

I anticipate doing another one of these around the halfway mark of the season. If you would like to have your question included in the next one, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@HockeyWithDevin), or leave a comment down below!


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