It’s no secret that the Detroit Red Wings‘ prospect pool boasts its greatest depth on the blue line. After drafting a total of 13 defensemen over the last three drafts, the Red Wings seem poised for a future where defense will be the strength of the team. The guys on this list are a big reason for that, and their continued development outside of the NHL has been encouraging to watch.
We’ll start in North America, specifically with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League (AHL), where a certain 19-year-old defenseman is taking advantage of his exemption from playing in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) this season.
AHL – Grand Rapids Griffins
Donovan Sebrango – Defense
THW Rank: 15
Games Played: 12
Stat Line: No Goals (G), 1 Point (P)
Make no mistake, Sebrango’s stat line isn’t exactly where he would like it to be, but it’s also not like he’s struggling in his second season in the AHL. In fact, his plus-5 rating actually leads the team, and that’s a fairly impressive plus/minus total given that the Griffins have started off stuck in neutral to start this season. He’s not playing top line minutes by any means, but his positive impact on the play in front of him could lead to a steady increase in playing time as this season goes on.
While I wouldn’t call Sebrango a defensive-defenseman, he is more than likely going to carve out a role for himself at the next level by playing sound, defensive hockey. His offense simply doesn’t pop at the AHL level, and while there is certainly time for that aspect of his game to develop further (he is still a teenager after all), we’re likely looking at a defenseman whose offensive totals top out at 25-30 points at the NHL level – and that’s fine. That he’s already displaying good defensive instincts and is a net-positive player at this level bodes well for his future. If injuries hammer the Red Wings’ blue line this season, it wouldn’t completely shock me to see him get his first taste of the big leagues.
Sebrango needs to continue to build on the success he has found to start his professional career, but if he does, he could be a real threat to claim an NHL roster spot starting next season.
SHL – Färjestad BK
Albert Johansson – Defense
THW Rank: 7
Stat Line: 1 G, 9 P
Of all the defensemen in the system that seem to be on a collision course with Detroit at some point in the future, Johansson is the shortest, standing at an even 6 feet. His two-way game is noticeable when you watch him, and I am of the opinion that he will make his NHL debut before the 2021-22 season comes to a close. If Sebrango is going to challenge for a roster spot next season, Johansson will be right there with him, likely vying for the exact same spot.
The 60th pick of the 2019 draft is currently outproducing his scoring rate from last season. With 19 points through 44 games last season, Johansson has already exhibited his ability to read a play in the offensive zone and put the puck where it needs to go. While he’s not as offensively dynamic as Moritz Seider was last season in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), he still projects as a solid middle pairing guy that can potentially play on the second power play and penalty kill units.
Färjestad BK, Johansson’s SHL club, currently sits ninth in the league with a record of 7-10. They’re a team to keep an eye on if my prediction about him crossing the pond this season is going to come true….
NCAA – University of Denver
Shai Buium – Defense
THW Rank: 9
Stat Line: 0 G, 4 P
The native of San Diego has started off his college career with some mild success. Buium, the 36th pick of the 2021 draft, is making a name for himself with the 11th-ranked Pioneers by picking and choosing his spots to assert himself offensively, though you can tell he’s got a bit of explosiveness in his toolkit. Honestly, what we’re seeing here is an 18-year-old developing a two-way game and finding out how to transfer his raw talent into a package that will one day be suitable for professional hockey.
With 20 shots through his 10 games, he’s averaging two shots a game while mostly playing the role of puck-distributor from the back end. His plus-2 rating ranks near the bottom of the team among players that have played all 10 games, so there are some growing pains at play here. That being said, there seems to be more good going on here than bad; the “bad” is more of a side-effect of being a Freshman and all the learning that that entails. All that considered, Buium is still more than likely a two-to-three years out from making an honest push towards the NHL.
Antti Tuomisto – Defense
THW Rank: 11
Stat Line: 0 G, 3 P
One of the more convenient aspects of Buium heading off to the University of Denver was that he would get the opportunity to play alongside Tuomisto, whom the Red Wings drafted with the 35th pick of the 2019 draft. Both defensemen play a skilled game, and both were sort of seen as “project picks” from the moment the Red Wings called their names. That they’re both playing with a good program in Denver should bode well for them as they continue to mature.
Tuomisto is tied with forward Carter Savoie (an Edmonton Oilers prospect) for the team lead in plus/minus (plus-9). Still just 20 years old, Tuomisto still seems to be finding that balance between flexing his high-end skill while also maintaining solid defensive positioning. That’s the thing with project picks: they tend to take some time to put it all together.
Still though, it should be seen as a positive sign that good things tend to happen when Tuomisto is on the ice. Now in his Sophomore season with the Pioneers, the 6-foot-5 defenseman is looking to build on last season where he collected 11 points through 24 games, albeit in a truncated, Covid-influenced season. I still have him projected as a middle-pairing defenseman that has the potential to become a strong number three defenseman on a good team, but this year is a big one for his projectability. Having a “fine” season isn’t going to cut it; you want to see him continue to get better and better over the course of the season, and start putting his overall package together as a player. He’s off to a good start this season, now he has got to continue to build on it.
WHL – Vancouver Giants
Alex Cotton – Defense
THW Rank: 22
Stat Line: 6 G, 9 P
Coming out of the Traverse City Prospects Tournament a couple months ago, one of the players that seemed to make a nice impression on fans was Cotton, whom the Red Wings added with the 132nd pick of the 2020 draft. His offensive instincts were on display throughout the tournament, and at times he looked and moved like a player destined to start the season in the AHL, not the Western Hockey League (WHL). Since then, he has moved around a bit.
The Vancouver Giants acquired Cotton’s services from the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Nov. 5 in exchange for four draft picks and defenseman Hunter McInnes. Since the trade, he has posted two goals and three points through four games with his new team. With twice as many goals as he has assists, nobody would fault you if you mistook him for a forward rather than a defenseman.
Needless to say, Cotton is definitely considered an offensive defenseman. When put in offensive situations, he displays the ability to read the play, find himself a shooting lane, and then let it rip. He’s somebody who could be dropping bombs from the point on the Griffins’ power play starting next season. It’s not just goals, though. By reading the play, he finds optimal passing lanes which helps facilitate the attack. That I have him projected as a bottom pairing defenseman is in no way an indictment on his offensive play – it’s his defensive play that needs tidying up.
Even though Cotton is scoring goals and putting up points, he still finds himself with a minus-10 plus/minus rating this season. Sure, the Hurricanes haven’t been a good team this season, and a lot of his plus/minus rating comes from the eight games he played there this season, but he’s already sitting at a minus-1 with the Giants, who currently have a respectable 7-5-1 record. This also speaks to the issues that we saw while he donned the winged wheel during the prospects tournament and preseason. Simply put: this isn’t a guy that you want on the ice if you’re nursing a one-goal lead. Still, though, his offensive upside is enough to whet your appetite when thinking of where he might be in a couple year’s time….
Who would you like an update on next week? Is there anybody I missed this week that you would like to highlight? Be sure to leave a comment 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.