What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. Rachel Anderson, Tony Wolak, and Jacob Rivard are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
The Detroit Red Wings have stocked up on prospects over the last few seasons, giving fans quite a bit of hope for the team’s future. As the 2019-20 season edges closer, the Red Wings and their AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, have shifted their rosters and made some changes. They’ve made room for several upcoming prospects now entering their entry-level contracts and embarking on their next seasons of development.
There are a few players still pending a final decision, Joe Hicketts and Dominic Turgeon both have received qualifying offers, which could alter the prospect pool a bit more. In the meantime, however, The Grind Line has a few that will be in the system for sure, that we’re especially excited for.
Rachel Anderson – Filip Larsson and Joe Veleno
Ever since being drafted in 2016, Larsson has been a prospect worth watching closely. Coming back from a season-crippling injury, he finished his first full season as the Denver University’s starting goaltender was a tremendous success. Posting back-to-back shutouts in the Pioneer’s Frozen Four appearance, Larsson solidified pro path.
I’m excited for Larsson not only because he’s proven to be able to bounce back from injury, but because his mind is focused on his development. He recently told Helene St. James, “There are still two great guys up there but they’re getting older. But I’m not looking at NHL next year — for me, I want to make that AHL team and I want to get as many games as possible to develop and in future years maybe get that (NHL) opportunity.”
Joe Veleno is another one that is incredibly exciting. Obviously, he had a very good 2018-19 season in the OHL (104 points in 59 games), but he shows mature enough ability to have that translate to a higher level. He’s a very smart and controlled skater. It’s my estimation, he won’t stay in Grand Rapids long. Much like his fellow first round pick, Filip Zadina, Veleno carries a lot of promise but I believe he’ll execute much faster.
On top of a high level of maturity, he shows an ability to adapt quickly to situations. He’s a scorer, but can also make plays and has a very focused drive. Adapting to the speed of the AHL won’t be a problem for him which will make his presence with the Griffins a valuable one.
Tony Wolak: Evgeny Svechnikov & Jonatan Berggren
It’s easy to be excited about the development of Veleno and Zadina – arguably Detroit’s future up front. But the progress of Evgeny Svechnikov and Jonatan Berggren should not be taken lightly. The two forwards are coming off major injuries and it will certainly be interesting to see how they fare once the 2019-20 season ramps up.
Svechnikov tore his ACL last fall and spent the entire 2018-19 campaign rehabbing with the Red Wings. He was able to skate toward the end of the season but never saw game action. The big Russian winger will likely start in Grand Rapids unless he’s able to show the Red Wings that he’s 100 percent healthy and can reacclimate to NHL speed quickly in the preseason.
Though Berggren is spending the coming season in Sweden’s top league, you should keep your eyes on him. His speed and finesse game are top-six material and Berggren did look like his old self during development camp after winter back surgery. A breakout 2019-20 campaign with Skelleftea AIK would be a jolt of energy for Detroit’s prospect pipeline.
Related: Red Wings’ 2019 Prospect Update
These two players could have a significant impact on Detroit’s rebuild, and that all hinges on Svechnikov and Berggren’s development across the next two seasons. Do they fizzle out like Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen or are they middle-six role players with some offense? (Think Jiri Hudler and Justin Abdelkader.) Or are Svechnikov and Berggren the next tier up – consistent top-six contributors?
Jacob Rivard – Oliwer Kaski and Joe Veleno
The most exciting prospect to join the Griffins’ system is Joe Veleno. After an amazing season with Drummondville in the QMJHL, Veleno seems ready to make his mark in the AHL while centering one of the Griffins’ top lines. In terms of sheer potential, I could see Veleno fitting in as a powerful 2C behind Larkin. When the time comes for the one-two punch of Larkin and Veleno, the rest of the NHL should be on high alert.
I’m definitely most excited to see if Oliwer Kaski can crack the NHL roster. He was signed shortly after a breakout season in the Finnish Liiga, earning MVP honors, a championship, and World Junior gold in the process. He’s a low-risk, high-reward player with plenty of upsides and will be sure to battle for a spot on the blue line. If he pans out, he has the potential to become a mainstay with the Red Wings. If he doesn’t crack the roster right away, though, there’s always an opportunity for him to play top minutes in Grand Rapids. Either way, Kaski will no doubt see plenty of time on the ice in either league.
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.