The Red Wings’ Rebuild Goes Through Grand Rapids

No matter what form the Detroit Red Wings’ roster takes, there will be plenty of deserving candidates heading west to Grand Rapids Griffins. They will begin their seasons in the AHL, which is a good thing for their individual development as well as the product on the ice at Van Andel Arena.

In fact, fans from around the state who desire to see the fruits of the ongoing Red Wing rebuild will find it on display with the Griffins. It starts down the middle with two first-round picks on the verge of breaking out in Michael Rasmussen and Joe Veleno.

The Centers

Rasmussen, of course, spent last season with the Red Wings, but never seemed comfortable at the NHL level. The 20-year-old put up 18 points in 62 games, with a handful of really strong games thrown in throughout. However, fans might be shocked to find out that his relative-corsi number (6%) was higher than that of Andreas Athanasiou (5.17%) according to Corsica Hockey. Rasmussen seems hungry this preseason, but he’ll get the reps at center he needs with the Griffins.

Michael Rasmussen Detroit Red Wings
Michael Rasmussen, Detroit Red Wings, Nov. 2018 (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Veleno, on the other hand, might be the Red Wings’ most enticing prospect. After a dominating performance during the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, his two-way game during the preseason has received rave reviews. The coach seems to like him, and the fans are excited to see him play meaningful hockey for the Red Wings. However, his first order of business is to light the AHL on fire.

The Wingers

Somewhere along the way, Filip Zadina has gone from the Red Wings’ most exciting prospect to their most polarizing. The sixth selection of the 2018 draft seems in a rut as the season approaches. He can’t buy a goal to save his life, but he is creating offense in other ways.

Zadina’s playmaking ability was on display in Traverse City, a welcome development in his game. When he’s not trying to force things on the ice, his offensive IQ sets him apart from most players on the ice. If he finds consistency at the start of the season with the Griffins, look out.

Evgeny Svechnikov
Evgeny Svechnikov, Detroit Red Wings, Sept. 2018 (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Evgeny Svechnikov is kind of the forgotten prospect among the Red Wings’ prospect pool. Despite being a first-round selection in 2015, he has only 16 games of NHL experience. The 2019-20 season marks his first full season back from a knee surgery that completely eliminated his 2018-19 season.

Svechnikov has looked deadly at times this preseason, and he claims to not yet be at full strength. Any and all development he has with either the Red Wings or the Griffins can only be seen as a good thing. The clock is ticking on this player, and he can probably hear it. This is a great thing for Griffins coach Ben Simon.

The Defenders

Dennis Cholowski has to feel like he’s an NHL-er at this point in his career. He spent over half of last season with the Red Wings, and he seems to have made some progress over the summer. However, given the current logjam on defense, the Red Wings may opt for the 21-year-old to absorb high-end minutes with the Griffins instead of fighting for bottom-pair minutes in Detroit.

Dennis Cholowski - Red Wings
Dennis Cholowski, Detroit Red Wings – Dec. 18, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Cholowski is a defender who needs to work out the kinks in his defensive game. When he’s playing an offensive game, he’s a strong option on the back end. However, his decisions on the ice don’t always endear him to coach Jeff Blashill, and it’s there where time with the Griffins will serve him well.

Then there’s the talk of the town this summer. The sixth pick of the 2019 draft, Moritz Seider has been everything and more that fans could have expected. Realistically, the young German could play in the NHL today. However, he’s another case where top minutes with the Griffins will serve him better.

Moritz Seider Red Wings Draft
Moritz Seider, Detroit Red Wings, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers

Seider makes the mistakes with the puck that you’d expect an 18-year-old to make. He is also learning to play on a smaller sheet of ice, as well as all the difficulties that come with immigrating to a new country. He is way closer to the big leagues than many thought, but time in the minors will definitely help the Red Wings’ top defensive prospect. He’ll bring skill and a welcome physical edge to the Griffins.

The Goalie

Don’t forget about Filip Larsson. He’ll likely serve as just a back-up in his first professional season, but having a guy like Calvin Pickard in front of him will only help foster his growth. Pickard is a veteran of 104 NHL games and a Calder Cup champion in 2018.

Larsson has his own credentials to fall back on. Last season, he was one of if not the best goalie in all of college hockey while playing with the University of Denver. The 21-year-old was named to the NCAA (NCHC) All-Rookie Team for his efforts. He is easily the top goalie prospect in the Red Wings’ pool, and a strong showing with the Griffins will go a long way to securing the future of the crease in Detroit.

Putting It All Together

The Griffins’ roster features plenty of high-end AHL veterans who are capable of complimenting the youth around them. There’s also plenty of mid-tier prospects like Joe Hicketts and Givani Smith that need a strong showing of their own to secure a place in the Red Wings’ future.

Joe Hicketts Grand Rapids Griffins Detroit Red Wings
Joe Hicketts, Grand Rapids Griffins, Nov. 2018 (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

As injuries on the Red Wings’ roster pile up, opportunities will come to some of the names listed here. As these players try to lay claim to a spot in Detroit, an opportunity for more playing time will present itself in Grand Rapids. This is how pipelines begin, and a strong pipeline is key to sustaining organizational success.

The 2019-20 season is the first benchmark of how the Red Wings’ rebuild is going. However, the results won’t necessarily be gathered in Detroit. Instead, the results will be gathered around 160 miles west at Van Andel Arena, or wherever the Griffins are playing.