Entering this year’s draft, the Detroit Red Wings already had a pretty solid pipeline of prospects that included players at every position with varying levels of potential and upside. With the addition of the eight prospects Detroit added to their pool last month, general manager Steve Yzerman and his staff now oversee a group that many will have ranked inside the top-10 around the NHL, while others may even have them ranked within the top-five. With the exception of a top line center, this is a group that includes a top-tier prospect at every position.
But which prospects are the best of the bunch? A look back at our rankings from June will give you an idea of how most of this will shake-up, but how does the new blood factor in? Here are our updated rankings for the Red Wings’ prospect pool:
25. (C) Liam Dower Nilsson – 2021, 134th Overall
2020-21 Stats: Frölunda HC J20: 16 Games Played (GP), 5 Goals (G), 17 Points (P)
As captain of Team Sweden’s U-18 World Junior team, Dower Nilsson exhibits the kind of high character and leadership that Yzerman seems to be focusing on as he rebuilds the Red Wings. Some in the scouting community had this player ranked as high as a third round talent in this year’s draft, so for the Red Wings to have snagged him in the fifth round has to be seen as a win.
It’s not all character with this player, though. Dower Nilsson has the skill to compliment the other forwards on his line, often feeding his teammates in Frölunda with crisp, tape-to-tape passes. He projects as a bottom six center with the ability to chip in on offense here and there. He’s definitely not the Red Wings’ best prospect, but there’s some real upside here that, if he pans out, could lead this pick to be one of the steals of the 2021 draft.
Dower Nilsson is a player who wins with what is between his ears. He is not the biggest. Not the fastest. He is not the most skilled. But he dictates play when on ice. He is a fantastic facilitator for more talented line-mates. A player who makes line-mates better… even if they are better than him.– Alex Appleyard, Smaht Scouting
24. (LW/C) Otto Kivenmäki – 2018, 191st Overall
2020-21 Stats: Ässät (Liiga): 29 GP, 6 G, 18 P
I’m going to let June’s rankings do the talking for this player:
“Detroit’s seventh-round pick from 2018 missed a good amount of the 2020-21 season with an injury, but still managed to put together an impressive campaign. Kivenmäki skated mostly on the wing for Ässät and his 0.62 points per game ranked 45th among Liiga forwards who played 20-plus games. He will play for Pelicans in Liiga next season.”
Small but elusive winger with good puck handling ability. More of a set up man than a shooter, but he is a dual threat from the half wall on the power play.– Brayden Olafson, Dobber Prospects
23. (C/LW) Red Savage – 2021, 114th Overall
2020-21 Stats: U.S. National U-18 Team: 46 GP, 18 G, 42 P
As the captain of Team USA’s U-18 World Junior team, Savage offers a lot of the same intangibles as Dower Nilsson and, by all accounts, this is a player that will lay it all on the line for his team. If Dower Nilsson’s ability to elevate his teammates is his calling card, then Savage’s calling card is his two-way play. He gets back on defense and plays a positionally-sound game in his own end.
It’s fair to question whether or not his offense will translate at the NHL level – and that’s why he ultimately projects as a bottom six forward – but it’s not out of the question to say that he can become a reliable penalty killer in the NHL that produces upwards of 30 points in a season.
Savage is committed to Miami University for next season.
Savage brings a fantastic two-way game – he’s a Swiss Army knife, to say the least. His ability to get back on the defensive end and shut down the offensive rush is remarkable, and a skill that he can utilize for years to come. He possesses a high hockey IQ that also allows him to carry the puck into the offensive zone and create some scoring opportunities for his linemates.– C.R. Davies, The Hockey Writers
22. (D) Alex Cotton – 2020, 132nd Overall
2020-21 Stats: Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL): 24 GP, 7 G, 26 P
Cotton has recently emerged as a bit of a dark horse prospect to emerge out of Detroit’s 2020 draft class. With a heavy shot and a knack for creating offense, it’s easy to see how he could develop into an offensive force on the bottom pairing of an NHL lineup, with further upside to become a middle pairing guy. His strides on the defensive side of the puck will ultimately decide how far he climbs up the Red Wings’ depth chart.
Cotton may very well finish the 2021-22 season with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League (AHL). If he does (and he performs well), this fifth round pick will be well on his way to becoming a diamond in the rough of the 2020 draft.
21. (LW) Cross Hanas – 2020, 55th overall
2020-21 Season Stats: Lincoln Stars (United States Hockey League): 27 GP, 3 G, 16 P
Scott Wheeler of The Athletic wrote the following about Hanas:
He has continued to play a thorny, aggressive, forechecking style that keeps him involved in the play one way or another; and he occasionally flashes some good puck skill in dashes to the front of the net. But I also think the tempo and tenacity that he plays with is more eye-catching than effective, and I think that fooled some evaluators into noticing him a lot. He just hasn’t taken steps forward and can’t seem to score or generate the chances needed to.– Scott Wheeler (From ‘Wheeler: Risers and fallers from the 2020 NHL Draft’ – The Athletic – 4/1/21)
With full season in the WHL next season ahead of him, it is imperative that Hanas take those steps next season, otherwise he’s going to fall down and out of these rankings pretty quickly.
20. (LW/RW) Elmer Söderblom – 2019, 159th Overall
2020-21 Stats: Frölunda HC: 28 GP, 3 G, 5 P
If you’re looking for a prospect with size, this is your guy. Standing at 6-foot-8 and nearly 240 pounds, this behemoth of a player offers a surprising blend of skill and size that screams “Tomas Holmstrom 2.0”. His play at the U-20 World Juniors for Team Sweden cemented his status as a prospect to watch as he scored a couple of nifty goals in-tight on the goaltender.
Still a couple years out from challenging for a spot with Detroit, Söderblom is a player that could add a ton of elements to the Red Wings’ bottom six and power play. If he can produce more offense than he did this past season in the SHL, that will go a long way towards paving a path to the NHL.
19. (C/LW) Chase Pearson – 2015, 140th Overall
2020-21 Stats: Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL): 28 GP, 8 G, 22 P
Once again, I’m going to use June’s rankings to detail this player:
“It was a career year for Pearson in Grand Rapids. The center matched last season’s point total (22) in 31 fewer games, which certainly bodes well for his future. If Pearson is going to carve out an NHL role, it’s likely going to be one on the fourth line – a defensive specialist similar to Luke Glendening. Having offensive touch to go along with defensive awareness gives Pearson a better chance of making Detroit’s roster – potentially as soon as next season.”
With Glendening’s departure this offseason, there is an outside chance for Pearson to grab a roster spot with the Red Wings this season. If nothing else, he could be in line for a cup of coffee in the NHL to help Yzerman and Co. determine whether or not this is a player worth keeping around for.
18. (D) Gustav Lindstrom – 2017, 38th Overall
2020-21 Stats: Detroit Red Wings: 13 GP, 3 P
With 29 NHL games to his credit, Lindstrom is the second-most experienced prospect on this list in terms of the NHL, and it’s fair to debate whether or not he should be in the same discussion as the other players on this list that have not yet played an NHL game. Alas, he is still considered a rookie by the NHL, and he has yet to make the Red Wings’ roster out of training camp. Through two late-season call-ups, the young Swede has displayed all the tools of a stay-at-home, bottom pairing defenseman.
After the Red Wings included him on their protection list ahead of the Seattle Expansion Draft, it’s fair to wonder if the 2021-22 season represents Lindstrom’s best chance to date to join Detroit on a full-time basis. While he doesn’t have the same upside as some of the other defensemen on this list, it seems like he’s ready to play in the NHL now, and that projectability in the short and long-term makes him a worthwhile prospect in the Red Wings’ system.
17. (LW/RW) Givani Smith – 2016, 46th Overall
2020-21 Stats: Detroit Red Wings: 16 GP, 1 G, 4 P
The most-experienced prospect in the Red Wings’ prospect pool with 37 NHL games to his credit, Smith and Lindstrom fall into the same category as highly projectable players with limited upside. Like his Swedish counterpart, Smith was also protected from the Seattle Kraken by the Red Wings, insinuating that an opportunity to join the NHL on a full-time basis is there for the taking.
The abrasive forward notched a Gordie Howe Hat Trick (a goal, an assist and a fight) this past season on Feb. 7 against the Florida Panthers. While that was easily the highlight of his season, the rest of the season was a constant cycle between the being on the Red Wings’ roster, on their taxi squad and down in the AHL with the Griffins. Smith needs to assert himself a little bit more at the NHL level to seize the opportunity in front of him.
16. (LW) Carter Mazur – 2021, 70th Overall
2020-21 Stats: Tri-City Storm (USHL): 47 GP, 20 G, 44 P
Committed to play for the University of Denver next season, Mazur is a prospect whose upside is very similar to fellow Red Wings prospect Robert Mastrosimone (more on him in a bit). As Tri-City’s captain, this player exhibits the character that Yzerman and his scouts love, and his willingness to listen to his coaches could be what helps him leapfrog other prospects on this list. It also helps that Red Wings Director of Scouting Kris Draper was his coach throughout his early teenage years.
Mazur projects as a third line “energy” forward that has enough offensive skill to pose a threat in the offensive zone. The key for him will be physically maturing and adding weight (he currently weighs in at just 168 pounds on a 6-foot frame.) If/when he adds that muscle, his game should mature along with it.
(Mazur) already has a good shot, but he’ll need to practice finding new areas of the ice to score from against tougher competition, and could also work on forechecking and applying pressure to opponents in their defensive zone when he doesn’t have the puck.– Brandon Seltenrich, The Hockey Writers
15. (D) Donovan Sebrango – 2020, 63rd Overall
2020-21 Stats: Grand Rapids Griffins: 31 GP, 4 P
Playing in the AHL as a 19-year-old is an anomaly that could only happen due to special circumstances, such as a global pandemic. Playing in the AHL as a 19-year-old and looking good in the process is an even bigger anomaly, but don’t tell that to Sebrango. While the young defenseman did not light up the scoresheet this season by any stretch of the imagination, he never really looked out of place while playing smart, two-way hockey. According to Darren Dreger of TSN, Sebrango may even have the option to return to Grand Rapids next season instead of reporting to the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL):
While this does not guarantee that the young defender will return to the AHL next season, the Red Wings do have options with a defender that very well could have been overlooked in Detroit’s 2020 draft class. Instead, he’ll be one of the most exciting names to watch over the coming years.
14. (C/LW) Robert Mastrosimone – 2019, 54th Overall
2020-21 Stats: Boston University: 15 GP, 3 G, 8 P
Much like Mazur, Mastrosimone projects as a tenacious, third line forward with some offensive upside. Through 49 games with Boston University, he has just 25 points, so you would like to see his offense find another gear entering next season. That being said, it’s too early to start writing off this forward, especially coming off of a Covid-shortened season.
The 2021-22 season will be a big one for the 5-foot-10 forward. His offense needs to be apparent, and his skating needs to take a step forward as well. Mastrosimone possesses a dangerous shot, and his offensive IQ was on display throughout this past season. The tools are all there – he just needs to pull them all together.
(Mastrosimone is an) undersized but tenacious winger with good vision and puck handling ability. Potential middle six offensive threat, but must add more quickness to his game as he matures.– Brayden Olafson, Dobber Prospects
13. (D) Eemil Viro – 2020, 70th Overall
2020-21 Stats: TPS (Liiga): 53 GP, 4 G, 14 P
Standing at 6-foot and 165 pounds, Viro is a lean machine that simply plays smart hockey. He allows his play in the defensive end to lead to offense at the other end of the rink; while his point totals may be a bit modest, those totals came against men in the top Finnish league, and a good save here or a missed shot there held him back from posting more impressive totals. Good things happen when he is on the ice, as evidenced by his plus-7 plus/minus rating through seven games for Team Finland at the World Juniors last winter.
Already signed to an entry-level deal, Viro will more than likely spend next season in the Liiga once again. Following the completion of his team’s season, a late-season cup of coffee with the Griffins is not out of the question, depending on how he fares in Finland. He has the potential to become a middle-pairing defenseman in the NHL that can provide some offense while maintaining a solid presence in his own zone.
12. (D) Jared McIsaac – 2018, 36th Overall
2020-21 Stats: Grand Rapids Griffins: 10 GP, 2 P
McIsaac finally got some games in at the pro level this season after missing time due to a shoulder injury. While 10 games is not nearly enough to get a clear read on where this player is at, Griffins head coach Ben Simon did like what he saw at the AHL level:
I think that he did show glimpses of what he is: two-way guy that can contribute offensively. Things happen a little bit quicker at this level, so again, the more you’re put in those situations, the better served you’re going to be in the future. And we tried to put him in those situations: PP, PK. Hopefully he’ll take those experiences and be better for them next season.– Ben Simon (From ‘Jared McIsaac’s resilience from shoulder woes could pay off for Red Wings: ‘He’s got a bright future’ – The Athletic – 5/13/21)
While McIsaac is slowly starting to drift into Evgeny Svechnikov “held back by injuries” territory, there is still plenty of promise left in this player. A healthy, productive 2021-22 campaign with the Griffins would go a long way towards reaffirming his place in Detroit’s future.
11. (D) Antti Tuomisto – 2019, 35th Overall
2020-21 Stats: University of Denver: 24 GP, 2 G, 11 P
From June’s prospect rankings:
“Tuomisto didn’t set the world on fire during his freshman year at Denver, but did show flashes of his top-four potential. The defenseman has an absolute cannon from the point and can get shots through – something that’s not always a given for blueliners. His skating, though, will be a point of emphasis as Tuomisto develops at the NCAA level.”
The key for Tuomisto entering his sophomore season with Denver will be to, yes, improve his skating as well as take his offensive game to another level. With a shot like his, it’s easy to envision him unleashing cannonballs on the power play and taking a shift during key offensive moments. Taking steps in these two areas could be the difference between him becoming a legitimate middle-pairing defender or just a fringe sixth or seventh defenseman.
10. (C/RW) Theodor Niederbach – 2020, 51st Overall
2020-21 Stats: Frölunda HC: 20 GP, 3 G, 5 P
At 5-foot-11 and 172 pounds, Niederbach is another player that could use some additional muscle. His offensive IQ is very high, and he projects as a third line playmaker from the wing. At his current size, he can be a bit too easy to throw around, especially if he is along the boards. Adding more core strength should help him hold on to more pucks which will give him the opportunity to create more chances for his teammates.
If you’re shooting for the stars in terms of his potential, you’d like to see him develop into a Valtteri Filppula-type of player. The offensive creativity is there, and a successful season in the SHL next season would do wonders for his confidence and development as a player. That being said, he is still a few years out from sniffing the NHL (or the AHL for that matter).
An extremely smart and skilled offensive player with top-six upside. A pass-first type player with high-end playmaking abilities. A natural center but there are some concerns about his ability to play down the middle at the pro level.– Jokke Nevalainen, Dobber Prospects
9. (D) Shai Buium – 2021, 36th Overall
2020-21 Stats: Sioux City Musketeers (USHL): 50 GP, 4 G, 26 P
While the decision to trade up to draft the San Diego-native is the topic of debate amongst the fandom, there’s no denying that the Red Wings seem to have added a quality defensive prospect with their lone second round pick in the 2021 draft. At 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, Buium already has NHL size, and he could still grow. Committed to the University of Denver for next season, adding muscle during his time there could see him become a bit of tank on the blue line.
It’s not all about his size, though. Buium knows his way around the offensive zone, carries the puck with ease and makes a great first pass that should help spark Denver’s attack – which could also help bring out the best in teammate Tuomisto’s game.
Buium projects as a number three defenseman, anchoring the second pairing while also playing big minutes in all situations. The safe bet is that it will take him a couple seasons before he can challenge for a spot with the Red Wings, but a strong freshman season with Denver could potentially accelerate that timeline.
8. (D) William Wallinder – 2020, 32nd Overall
2020-21 Stats: MODO (HockeyAllsvenskan): 43 GP, 1 G, 6 P
When this pick was made almost a year ago, a prevailing sentiment was that Yzerman was able to snag a first round talent with the first pick of the second round. While Wallinder’s talent is evident, he still remains a bit of a “project pick” – we’re likely still at least three seasons away from him challenging for an NHL roster spot. Simply put: his game still has a lot of maturing to do.
Wallinder projects as a big-bodied, two-way defender that can play big minutes on his team’s middle pairing, possibly even as a number two defender alongside a bona fide number one guy. He can be careless with the puck which puts him in unenviable positions in the defensive end. His offensive numbers leave something to be desired, especially considering he played in a league this past season that is essentially Sweden’s equivalent of the AHL. It’s all raw potential with this player and only time will tell whether or not he can make good on it.
(Wallinder is) a puck-rushing defenseman with great size and skating ability. Not the most natural offensive threat but has good puck skills and a decent shot. Brings value to the team with excellent transitional play. Has a lot of room for improvement in his defensive game and decision-making.– Jokke Nevalainen, Dobber Prospects
7. (D) Albert Johansson – 2019, 60th Overall
2020-21 Stats: Färjestad BK (SHL): 44 GP, 8 G, 19 P
Prior to the 2021 draft, Johansson was easily the most exciting Swedish defender in the Red Wings’ system. With three points through five games for Team Sweden at the World Juniors last winter, he announced himself as a player that is capable of defending and producing offense against the best of his peers. 19 points in the SHL as a 20-year-old is nothing to scoff at either.
Already signed an entry-level contract with the Red Wings, Yzerman and Co. decided to loan Johansson back to the SHL for the 2021-22 season with the expectation that he will receive much more responsibility than he would have if he had joined the Griffins next season. He likely tops out as a number three defenseman, but it’s looking more and more like Detroit found themselves a bit of a second round steal in 2019.
6. (C) Joe Veleno – 2018, 30th Overall
2020-21 Stats: Malmö (SHL): 46 GP, 11 G, 20 P
One of the biggest highlights of the final weeks of the Red Wings’ 2020-21 season was when Veleno made his NHL debut. Shortly after, he scored his first NHL goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets on May 7.
After spending the 2019-20 season in Grand Rapids and then playing well in 46 games in the SHL this past season, it appears that Veleno is knocking on the door of the NHL. If this list was based solely on NHL-readiness, he would rank second. As it is, he projects as a middle six center in the NHL with a gift for puck possession and a strong two-way game. Even if he doesn’t start the 2021-22 season with the Red Wings, the odds of him playing more than five games in Detroit next season are very high.
5. (G) Sebastian Cossa – 2021, 15th Overall
2020-21 Stats: Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL): 17-1-1, 1.57 Goals-Against Average, .941 Save Percentage
Entering the 2021 draft, the Red Wings’ pool of goaltending prospects was filled with a bunch of “ifs” and “maybes”. After making the bold decision to trade up from pick 23, Yzerman controversially selected Cossa ahead of fellow goaltending prospect Jesper Wallstedt. While there’s still plenty of room to debate that decision, there is little doubt that the Red Wings now have a goaltending prospect that many around the league expect to develop into a true starting goalie – and a damn good one at that.
Honestly, Cossa could be Detroit’s most important prospect. While they have impactful prospects at every position, their newest goaltending prospect represents their best chance to add a top-tier goaltender to their team at some point down the line. He will report to Edmonton of the WHL next season and hope to improve upon his stellar play through two seasons with the Oil Kings. The assumption (as is the case with most goalies) is that it will take him upwards of five years to reach the NHL, but it would not surprise me one bit if he’s knocking on the door of the NHL sooner rather than later. He is uber-confident, technically sound, ultra-competitive and he has the desire to learn and improve himself as a goalie and as a person. That’s something to be excited about.
4. (LW/RW) Jonatan Berggren – 2018, 33rd Overall
2020-21 Stats: Skellefteå AIK (SHL): 49 GP, 12 G, 45 P
After finally putting together a healthy, productive season in the SHL, the Red Wings signed Berggren to an entry-level deal, and it looks like he’s never been closer to realizing his dream of playing in the NHL:
Berggren is a high-end playmaker that makes things happen from along the boards. He gets criticized for being a “perimeter player”, but even that doesn’t hold a ton of water as he does put himself in a shooter’s position from the slot, though maybe not as much as some would like. His ability to make things happen is what makes him such a tantalizing prospect, and it’s because of it that you can project him playing anywhere in his team’s top three lines, as well as playing a key role as a puck-mover on the power play.
Yzerman has indicated that he wants to give Berggren every opportunity to make the Red Wings’ roster out of training camp, though the most-likely outcome is that he starts out in Grand Rapids. He’s another guy that’s knocking on the door, though, and it’s just a matter of time before he brings his playmaking skills to Motown.
3. (D) Simon Edvinsson – 2021, 6th Overall
2020-21 Stats: Frölunda HC: 10 GP, 1 P
The Red Wings’ top pick in the 2021 draft is a tower of power that possesses the skating ability of somebody much smaller, while also displaying the two-way game that makes him a relatively safe bet to crack an NHL lineup at some point in his career. Edvinsson’s ultimate potential is as a top-pairing, minute-munching defenseman that can play in all situations while making an impact in both the offensive and defensive zones. Whether or not he reaches that potential will depend on how he matures as a player.
I describe Edvinsson as being “a little rough around the edges” because he currently plays an immature game; he tries to force plays that aren’t there, and he overextends himself in the name of trying to make an impact for his team. When he’s playing within himself, he’s a sound two-way player who, like Viro, allows his defense to lead to offensive opportunities. He is dynamic in his own zone; if he can figure out how to pick his spots better on the offensive side of the puck, Detroit may have their future number one defenseman in the system.
Delivering the puck comes effortlessly for Edvinsson, whose combination of fluidity and swagger can make a simple lead pass look fancy. He has very strong wrists that help him fire crisp stretch passes of his back foot, and his accuracy in any direction or off the boards is usually pinpoint.– Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst
2. (RW) Lucas Raymond – 2020, 4th Overall
2020-21 Stats: Frölunda HC: 34 GP, 6 G, 18 P
The story surrounding Raymond in his draft year was his lack of playing time. This past season, the story surrounding the highest-drafted Red Wing since Keith Primeau in 1990 was an elbow injury that prematurely ended the young winger’s season. Prior to that injury, however, he was well on his way to confirming what most scouts thought of him leading up to the 2020 draft: the kid’s a stud.
With Team Sweden at the World Juniors last winter, Raymond had five points through five games and was among the tournament leaders in terms of possession and expected goals-for. Like Berggren, good things happen when Raymond is on the ice. What sets the 19-year-old apart from his Swedish counterpart, however, is his ability to finish:
Raymond can make plays just as easily as he can finish them. Armed with an entry-level contract, the assumption is that he will join training camp this fall in the pursuit of a roster spot with the Red Wings. While he could report to the Griffins in the AHL, he may very well find himself back over in Sweden if he falls short of his training camp goals. Whether it’s in Sweden, the AHL or even the NHL, expect him to have a big 2021-22 season.
1. (D) Moritz Seider – 2019, 6th Overall
2020-21 Stats: Rögle BK (SHL): 41 GP, 7 G, 28 P
Not since 2015 when Dylan Larkin was arriving has Hockeytown felt this confident about a rookie player making the Red Wings’ roster out of training camp.
“He’s a great young player, his next move is to the NHL,” Yzerman said on May 18.
Seider is a panzer tank with a heart of gold. He dominated the SHL as a 20-year-old. When his team was eliminated in the Finals of the SHL playoffs, he was the first one to go around and pat every one of his teammates on the back. I could go on, but I’ll let his play do the rest:
Fans at Little Caesar’s Arena will be lining up to buy this kid’s jersey.
A Better Tomorrow
With the players on this list as well as the many players that did not make the cut, the Red Wings’ prospect pool is the deepest it has been in a long time. There are at least four blue-chip, top-tier prospects, and many others that seem on track to outperform their draft slot. This is how you build a contender – just ask the Tampa Bay Lightning.
These are the fruits of a rebuild that has been in motion for roughly four years. While the Red Wings’ rebuild has seemed to drag on at times, this list should leave little doubt that the worst days are winding down and the best days are yet to come.
What prospects are you most excited about? Are there any that you have your eye on that did not make this list? Share your thoughts in the comments section down below!
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.