Red Wings’ Prospects Continue to Develop

With The Athletic recently ranking the Detroit Red Wings’ prospect pool fourth in the league, as well as our own writers sharing their top five prospects from the pool, I figured it was a good time to take stock of the Red Wings’ farm system and get a sense where everyone is at (From “Wheeler: 2021 NHL prospect pool rankings” – The Athletic – 2/9/21). After all, this is a team with its eye on the future, and we can only wait it out until the future becomes the present.

While some of the team’s prospects are tearing it up in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins, others are still doing their thing overseas. With roster positions poised to open up in the coming weeks, which kids are about to climb up the depth chart? Let’s take a look.

AHL: Grand Rapids Griffins

(D) Dennis Cholowski

At 23 years old, the Red Wings’ top pick from the 2016 draft is less of a prospect and more of a young guy buried on the depth chart by the organization’s abundance of veterans on the blue line. Nevertheless, Cholowski is off to a roaring start in the AHL. With the directive to become more of a force on the power play, he has done that and currently sits among the team leaders in points with eight through seven games.

With the likes of Marc Staal, Patrik Nemeth and Christian Djoos potentially on their way out soon, Cholowski could be the guy that receives some of that ice time and opportunity with the Red Wings. Their power play, though surprisingly potent against the Chicago Blackhawks on February 27 and 28 and then again against the Columbus Blue Jackets, could use a boost, and the 20th pick of the 2016 draft could be the injection of talent that it needs. While his defensive game still needs some work, his offensive game already looks to have excelled past the AHL level. It’s time to give it a look at the next level: the NHL.

(C) Michael Rasmussen

From the Red Wings’ top pick in 2016 to their top pick in 2017, Rasmussen has had the luxury of already getting into some games in Detroit this season. He had three points in eight games before he was sent down to the AHL with the expectation that he would play top line minutes with the Griffins. In seven games in Grand Rapids, he has six points, and sits third on the team in terms of shots (16) while also holding his own in the face-off circle. But, perhaps most importantly, he has continued to go to the net, setting up shop directly in front of opposing goaltenders, which has led to opportunities for his teammates.

The Red Wings recently called Rasmussen up, though that has a lot more to do with Detroit’s injury situation than anything else. Regardless, he has an opportunity to build on his strong play from his previous eight games in the NHL. Like Cholowski, the ninth pick of the 2017 draft could officially “earn his wings” once the big club deals away some bodies ahead of the trade deadline.

(LW) Taro Hirose

If Cholowski and Rasmussen are turning heads in the AHL this season, Hirose is completely snapping them. The 24-year-old winger is atop the league in terms of points per-game among players to have played a minimum of four games. He has eight points in his four points, highlighted by a whopping seven assists – good enough for second in the AHL. In short: the dude is on a tear.

That shouldn’t be all that surprising, however. Hirose also saw some time with the Red Wings this season. In six games, he had just two points, but he added an element of vision and playmaking that the team was (and still is) sorely lacking – especially on the power play. I’ve already made my case for this kid, now I’m just waiting for him to get the opportunity that he has earned.

(W) Givani Smith

With a Gordie Howe hat trick in the NHL this season, Smith has already made his mark on the Red Wings. And yet, despite that, he finds himself down with the Griffins where he has two points through four games so far.

Givani Smith Detroit Red Wings
Givani Smith, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

The 46th pick of the 2017 draft, Smith isn’t a guy that is meant to light up the scoresheet night-in and night-out, even in the AHL. For him, it’s about asserting himself physically while also making good on the offensive opportunities he does get. We’ve seen it in Detroit – he has the skill to put points on the board, but that’s not exactly how he’ll earn his paychecks. Through his first four games with the Griffins, he is continuing to play like Givani Smith, and that’s a good thing.

Other Notables:

(C) Chase Pearson: 5 games played (GP), 1 goal (G), 2 points (P)
(D) Joe Hicketts: 7 GP, 1 P
(D) Gustav Lindstrom: 5 GP, no points.

College

(G) Keith Petruzzelli

I am ready to make a call: Petruzzelli is currently the Red Wings’ top goaltending prospect. Drafted 88th overall in 2017, the 22-year-old has been a dominant force for Quinnipiac University this season. Though this is his second year as the Bobcats’ top option in net, his game seems to have entered another level this season. He currently has a goals-against average (GAA) of 1.68 and a save-percentage (SV%) of .931. He also has 16 wins through 25 games.

Listed at 6-foot-5, 185 pounds, Petruzzelli has good size in the crease, though he will likely have to add some weight as he takes his talents to the pro level. A native of Wilbraham, Massachusetts, he was designated as a bit of a project pick with high potential back in 2017. He has the physical tools and skills to become a solid goaltender in the pro leagues, but he will almost certainly require a full season in Grand Rapids before fans in Detroit can get a good look at him. However, the Red Wings have yet to get him signed to a contract, and that situation will draw more attention to itself the longer that it goes on.

(D) Antti Tuomisto

The newly-named Rookie of the Week for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) has had a solid season so far for the University of Denver.

The 35th pick of the 2019 draft is leveraging his on-ice vision, as well as his size (6-foot-4, 194 pounds) to make an impact on both offense and defense. After having a very successful season last year in the Finnish Junior League, it took him a few games to get acclimated to his new team and his new surroundings, but has really taken off in the last couple of weeks. With two goals and 11 points through 22 games this season, Tuomisto is showing why the Red Wings were eager to use a high second round pick on him almost two years ago.

Tuomisto is still a couple of years out from challenging for a spot in the NHL, but that’s fine – the Red Wings have other young guys, such as Cholowski, Lindstrom and their top pick from the 2019 draft (more on him in a bit), that Detroit should be able to filter into their lineup in the meantime. There’s no need to rush him.

(F) Robert Mastrosimone

The 54th selection of the 2019 draft, this kid has some Tyler Bertuzzi in him, though I wouldn’t say that’s a direct comparable. Mastrosimone has been a solid presence in all areas of the ice for Boston University this season. With eight points in 12 games, his offensive game continues to develop, but it’s his willingness to do the necessary things on the ice that could lead him to success once he turns pro.

If he makes it to the NHL, he’ll likely carve out a role as a guy that can chip in 30 points on a regular basis with the possibility of cranking that number up to 40 if he’s playing with highly-skilled line mates. I bring up Bertuzzi because they play similar styles and I think Mastrosimone can play a similar role on a scoring line. I see him as a third line guy in the NHL that can also spend some time on both special teams units. He is still years away from challenging for a spot with the Red Wings, but his continued growth since draft day is a promising sign.

(G) Carter Gylander

In his freshman season with Colgate University, goaltender Carter Gylander has wrestled away the starting role and has seen action in 16 games this season. In comparison, Petruzzelli saw 17 games of action his entire freshman season, and he had not earned the starting role by that point. The 191st pick of the 2019 draft has inspired confidence early on despite being a relative afterthought of his draft class.

At 6-foot-5, 185 pounds, Gylander has size to spare just like Petruzzelli. He holds a 2.44 GAA and a .910 SV%, and though his 5-7-4 record doesn’t exactly sparkle, he’s giving his team a chance to win whenever he takes the crease. By all accounts, he has the right mindset to continue to push himself forward, a key thing here considering he is still pretty raw and will need time before we can talk about seeing him in the pro ranks. Goalies typically need a little extra time anyways, so I don’t think the Red Wings are in any hurry to push him along. The early results are promising, but we’re going to have to wait and see if he can continue to progress.

Other Notables:

(D) Cooper Moore: 15 GP, 2 G, 5 P
(RW) Sam Stange: 24 GP, 5 G, 6P
(F) Ryan O’Reilly: 21 GP, 3 G, 12 P

Europe

(D) Moritz Seider

Less than two years after general manager Steve Yzerman shocked the hockey world by selecting this goofy German defenseman with the sixth pick of the 2019 draft, Seider has become one of the hottest prospects in all of the sport. He’s on track to have the greatest season by an under-20 defenseman in the history of the SHL; he hasn’t just been good for his age group, he’s been one of the best players, if not THE best player, across the entire league. No other prospect in the Red Wings’ system looks as NHL-ready as he does.

His defense has always been his calling card. Whether it’s a thundering hit or a sneaky play to strip the opposition of the puck, Seider does everything you want in the defensive end. He might very well develop into the top penalty killer in Detroit given his ability to contain threats in his own zone. His biggest development this season has been the offensive side of his game, however. He has more confidence in his shot and his ability to facilitate offense this season, and it shows on the scoresheet. With 26 points in 36 games this season, he is outpacing his play in the AHL last season. This is as confident a kid as you’re ever going to see, and his ceiling seems to get higher with every passing week. He will undoubtedly join the Red Wings on a full time basis starting next season.

(W) Lucas Raymond

Depending on your expectations of Raymond, you might be a little disappointed in the fourth pick of the 2020 draft. While 18 points in 34 games isn’t bad by any means, it isn’t exactly lighting the league on fire in the way that you might expect from a player drafted so high. However, that mark represents the second-best mark by an under-19 player in the SHL, and that also dismisses the forward’s strong play during the World Juniors Championship where he was an expected-goals darling. Also, there’s this:

The player I like to compare Raymond to is Henrik Zetterberg, and it appears as though the soon-to-be 19-year-old has that same element of leadership and dependability that No. 40 brought to Detroit. He has only scratched the surface of what he can be – his potential is what made Yzerman so bullish about him – and I would expect to see him sign a contract with Detroit at the end of the SHL season so that he can make plans to cross the pond ahead of next season. As for where he’ll play next season, I foresee a season in the AHL to get acclimated to the North American style, just as the Red Wings did with Seider last season. How he fares with the Griffins will determine how soon Red Wings fans can expect to see him wear the winged wheel.

(W) Jonatan Berggren

The 33rd pick of the 2018 draft has finally arrived. When Berggren was drafted, many in the scouting community had him labeled as a potential steal given that he fell out of the first round despite possessing immense talent. Since then, well, you know the story. In his first season without a health-related hiccup, he has scored at almost a point-per-game pace, collecting 40 points through 44 games in the SHL.

Berggren excels at making plays from the outside, similar to Hirose. However, the young Swede has a bit more of a scoring element to his game, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Detroit’s development coaches place emphasis on utilizing his shot once he crosses the pond. This is a guy with 60-point potential that could play a top six role at his peak. Much like Raymond, his adjustment to the North American game will play a big role in determining when he makes his Red Wing debut. That being said, he should be able to challenge for a roster spot ahead of the 2022-23 season.

(C) Joe Veleno

The Red Wings’ top center prospect without any NHL experience, Veleno is on a slow and steady ascent to the NHL. The 30th pick of the 2018 draft had a solid, if unspectacular season with the Griffins last season where he notched 23 points in 54 games. However, he looked a lot better as the season progressed, and he likely would have finished strong if the AHL season hadn’t been cut short by the pandemic. On loan over in the SHL this season, he has continued his solid play while suiting up for one of the weaker teams in the league.

Joe Veleno Grand Rapids Griffins
Joe Veleno, Grand Rapids Griffins (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

In 39 games this season he has 18 points, but it’s his overall play with the puck that has drawn rave reviews. Veleno has the makings of a possession monster as he does a very good job of shielding the puck from opposing forecheckers and defensemen. Regardless of whether the puck enters the net or not, he generally is able to keep the puck in the offensive zone – a promising development given the collection of talent he is playing with in the SHL. Put him on a line with players that have skill and finishing ability and you could have the making of a really solid scoring line.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play another year in Grand Rapids next season, likely as the team’s top pivot, and potentially alongside a guy like Raymond. He should see some NHL time next season, but he’s more than likely not going to challenge for a full time spot until the 2022-23 season.

Other Notables:

(F) Theodor Niederbach: 14 GP, 2 G, 3 P
(W) Elmer Soderblom: 23 GP, 3 G, 5 P
(D) Albert Johansson: 36 GP, 7 G, 17 P

Final Thoughts

In case you haven’t noticed, 2022 should be a big year for the rebuild in Detroit. This is when players like Raymond, Veleno and Berggren should all be knocking on the door while guys like Seider and Rasmussen have already taken spots in the NHL. Yzerman is creating a pipeline that should produce NHL talent on a year-in and year-out basis – it’s already begun as winger Filip Zadina made the team this season after a couple of years in the system. There are plenty of guys I did not mention that have legitimate NHL upside as well; in other words, while it’s hard to see the fruits of the rebuild here in 2021, that should begin to change very soon. Brighter days are ahead, and if you don’t believe it yet, you will soon.

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