There is a very pervasive feeling of an end for the AHL and NHL in 2020. Though neither have officially ended their seasons, no final decision has been made yet which leads to much doubting and time ticking by. The feeling of an end is becoming more prevalent.
Along with the dreadful reality that the 2019-20 season is probably over, there are many questions regarding prospects’ futures. Contracts and development have been stunted which leaves me personally questioning what the teams will do. Will they carry on as if it were just an early off-season or will they extend contracts to allow the missed time to be made up?
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For the Detroit Red Wings, their list of free agents and prospects reaching the end of their deals at the AHL level is quite long. Players who were planning on this season being their breakout year are now facing potentially being traded off in spite of the situation being beyond anyone’s control.
There are a few prospects facing this unfortunate reality – they may be done with Detroit. Though many fans would say that’s a blessing for these players, they themselves are now surrounded by premature uncertainty.
The Svechnikov Debate
Evgeny Svechnikov has been a big question mark for two seasons now. The 2019-20 season marks the end of his entry-level contract. After one full season was eaten by injury, which thankfully didn’t count towards his entry contract, Svechnikov’s future lays in question. As of the conclusion of this season, he’ll be a restricted free agent which has many speculating what Yzerman will decide to do with him.
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From a personal standpoint, I believe they’ll extend him one more season – giving him the benefit of the doubt as it were. Beyond my personal opinion, there are rumors about him joining younger brother, Andrei Svechnikov with the Carolina Hurricanes. Though there’s no certainty to those rumors, it seems like it could be a fair option.
Svechnikov struggled when returning to the AHL line up but eventually found a healthy stride before the season suspension hit. He has been showing positive growth this season. What remains to be seen, however, is if Detroit believes this growth is enough to retain him.
Dominic Turgeon’s Contract Extension Expires
Dominic Turgeon is a player who is elite in the AHL but hasn’t had the consistent opportunity to develop at the NHL level. The 2019-20 season was his final season as a Red Wings prospect as far as anyone knows. He signed a one-year deal in the offseason which has now come to an unofficial close.
Turgeon has been a tremendous special teams leader throughout his three-year entry-level contract and his extension. I’ve talked about him often because he is a very talented and focused player. He’s got a lot of potential at a higher level but with the path Detroit is on now, there may not be another extension following the season suspension.
Turgeon was offered a one-year deal and took it as is, according to Griffins defenseman, Joe Hicketts who discussed it during an intermission radio interview with broadcaster, Bob Kaser. There was no debating or arguing for a longer contract which leads me to believe that he may be looking for a better chance in light of the youngsters now ready to come up.
Could Detroit Re-Sign Matt Puempel
The case of Matt Puempel is one that has baffled me. He was acquired by Detroit in 2017 in exchange for Ryan Sproul and then signed in 2018 to a two-year contract with Detroit. Since then, he’s been in Grand Rapids. Only suiting up for a few games in Detroit over the last three seasons, Puempel seems to be one of the veterans who are destined to be AHL lifers.
I love the AHL and believe it to be an incredible league, but for a person with the caliber of mature play as Puempel, I’m surprised he hasn’t been given more of a chance in the NHL.
Puempel is consistently the top scorer with the Griffins, eats up tons of minutes, and is a steady point leader. In three seasons with Grand Rapids, he has continually put up almost a point-per-game. He’s served as a well-rounded veteran who has helped guide and develop up and coming forwards.
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Puempel’s contract is expiring after this season and so far, there’s been no word regarding an extension. He’s a valuable top-line forward who is an excellent teacher, so my guess is they’ll bring him back for one more season, but that’s speculation. Based on conversations I’ve had with him, he’s happy in Grand Rapids and feels at home, so staying would be great for him. The Red Wings haven’t made any indication, however, as to how much longer this will be home for him.
More Unknowns for Red Wings
There are several players hitting the free-agent market following this season’s end. The prospects currently in Grand Rapids, including seasoned-vets, will be facing the free agency without any certainty. Detroit’s rebuild is in full swing, and looking to the future, there are many young prospects looking to make the jump to the AHL. In light of that, roster spots are needing to be opened and that process has now been expedited.
The untimely pause in play brings these contracts and questions to the forefront a lot sooner than anyone was anticipating. The team will undoubtedly do what they feel best for the further growth of the future, but will those decisions be made sooner than the official offseason?
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There’s no way to know till it happens of course, but without the promise of playoffs, the unknowns seem to be amplified. Should the season end here, many players’ careers for Detroit may also end as promptly.
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.