The Grind Line: Red Wings Prospects’ 2019-20 Destinations

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, Raymond Harrison, and Tony Wolak are the muckers who makeup THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.

For the first time in awhile, the Detroit Red Wings have a handful of roster spots available and even more players contending for the various roles. The last dozen games of the 2018-19 season showed that Detroit’s young prospects are ready and able when it comes to full-time NHL duties.

In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, The Hockey Writers’ Red Wings coverage team shares their picks for Detroit’s final roster spots. Which prospects will stick around in Hockeytown and which will be jettisoned to the minors?

Related: The Grind Line: Red Wings’ 2019 Draft Strategies

Red Wings’ Forward Prospects

Filip Zadina

Tony Wolak: Grand Rapids – Unless Zadina comes to camp and utterly dominates the competition, he should begin the 2019-20 season with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Like Gustav Nyquist and Anthony Mantha before him, Detroit’s top prospect needs to force Detroit’s hand to earn a full-time NHL roster spot, rather than rely on his pedigree.

Red Wings forward Filip Zadina
Red Wings forward Filip Zadina (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Rachel Anderson: Grand Rapids – His maturation as he progressed through the 2018-19 season was evident but he must consistently produce in order to earn a permanent call up. Just like they did with Filip Hronek, Detroit will sit back and see if he can continue the upward trend before giving him serious consideration.

Raymond Harrison: Grand Rapids – Zadina was promoted to the NHL last season when he was in the midst of a seven-game point streak with the Griffins. He essentially forced the Red Wings to call him up because he was playing so well. As Tony mentioned, he needs to force the Red Wings’ hand again, because he was invisible towards the end of the AHL season.

Joe Veleno

Tony Wolak: Grand Rapids – Video game statistics aside, Veleno could use some time in the minors to adjust to the speed and physicality of the pro game. He may not finish the 2019-20 season in Grand Rapids, but he should certainly start there alongside Zadina.

Rachel Anderson: Grand Rapids – Admittedly, I was more impressed with Veleno at training camp last fall than I was with Zadina. I believe he’ll start in Grand Rapids, but will find his footing much faster. Veleno’s offensive and smooth style is needed in Grand Rapids, and it would be a great test for him to see if his conditioning is up to the caliber needed.

Joseph Veleno Red Wings
How will Joe Veleno adjust to the pro game? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Raymond Harrison: Grand Rapids – Veleno dominated the QMJHL last season and opened a lot of eyes among the Red Wings’ fanbase. It would be nice to see him in the NHL, but getting a ton of playing time with the Griffins is the ideal next step for his development.

Christoffer Ehn

Tony Wolak: Detroit – If the Red Wings are going to go with a grinding fourth line, 23-year-old Ehn should own a full-time role. Strong in the defensive zone, Ehn may not have the most talent, but he can be effective in a limited role, including some penalty kill time.

Red Wings center Christoffer Ehn
Red Wings center Christoffer Ehn (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Rachel Anderson: Detroit – Ehn’s style is a little chunky, but he made great progress over the this season. Everyone is on the same playing field heading into camp this summer, so if he can drive hard and continue to show growth against the top guys, he stands a good chance at being in Detroit.

Raymond Harrison: Detroit – Ehn won a job out of training camp ahead of last season, and he performed admirably in a bottom-six role. He will never be confused for a scorer, but he is only 23 and responsible defensively. He looks primed to be the fourth-line center.

Taro Hirose

Tony Wolak: Detroit – In a perfect world, Hirose would spend some time in Grand Rapids to develop a more well-rounded skill set. But given his NHL track record—albeit a small sample size—and minimal cap hit, the Michigan State product will likely get middle-six minutes in the NHL next season.

Rachel Anderson: Detroit – Hands down, the best rookie start for Detroit since Dylan Larkin. I watched him at Michigan State and can say that his style is gritty, but smart, and that’s a must-have in the NHL today. He’s a quick and enthusiastic learner, which should make his transition from NCAA to NHL manageable.

Raymond Harrison: Detroit – Hirose’s 10-game stint with the Red Wings to end last season should be strong enough to earn him an opening-night role (one goal, six assists). The 22-year-old will likely experience some growing pains throughout the season, but he is an intriguing prospect that looked comfortable playing at the highest level.

Ryan Kuffner

Tony Wolak: Grand Rapids – Let Kuffner start the 2019-20 season in Grand Rapids and continue his educational track under Ben Simon. There’s no sense in keeping Kuffner in Detroit  as a fourth-liner/healthy scratch.

Rachel Anderson: Grand Rapids – Kuffner didn’t get much of a chance to exhibit his skillset during the 2018-19 season, so Detroit won’t have a good gauge yet of how he meshes with the team. Grand Rapids will serve as a testing platform for him and help the conditioning from NCAA to pros.

Raymond Harrison: Grand Rapids – Kuffner was only with the Red Wings in 2018-19 due to a rash of late-season injuries. The undrafted free agent out of Princeton (NCAA) will likely spend a majority, if not all, of the season in the AHL.

Evgeny Svechnikov

Tony Wolak: Grand Rapids – Unless Svechnikov comes to camp at full speed and looks like his old self during the preseason, the former first-round pick should spend some time in Grand Rapids reacclimating to professional hockey. There, Svechnikov can play top-six minutes until the Red Wings deem him ready for the varsity team.

Evgeny Svechnikov
Evgeny Svechnikov will need a big camp to make the Red Wings. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Rachel Anderson: Grand Rapids – Coming back from injury is no easy task and Svechnikov has a long way to go. His drive in his downtime and his ability to fight back is admirable, but he’ll need plenty of time to ease back into the pace.

Raymond Harrison: Grand Rapids – I wholeheartedly believe that Svechnikov will be up with the Red Wings at some point next season, and I remain hopeful that he can become a useful NHLer. Remember, Anthony Mantha was labeled a disappointment early in his stint in the Red Wings organization and lost almost an entire season due to injury. The jury is not out on Svechnikov yet.

Michael Rasmussen

Tony Wolak: Detroit – After he played the entire 2018-19 season in Detroit, I don’t think sending Rasmussen down to the minors would be the best move for his confidence. The hulking forward should spend another season alongside Frans Nielsen learning how to play center at the NHL level.

Rachel Anderson: Detroit – Though Rasmussen would be better suited in Grand Rapids for a bit more conditioning, the logjam they’ll be facing will enable him to start up instead of down. He was underwhelming last year at camp and pretty clumsy, so he’ll have to take care of that before Detroit makes a final decision.

Michael Rasmussen - Red Wings
Can Michael Rasmussen avoid a sophomore slump? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Raymond Harrison: Grand Rapids – Rasmussen endured a tough rookie season that combined long stretches of inconsistency with some tantalizing flashes of his potential as a power forward. He is unquestionably part of the future in Detroit, but an early-season stint with the Griffins that focuses on helping him regain his confidence would be a welcomed decision.

Dominic Turgeon

Tony Wolak: Other AHL Team – You heard it here first: Turgeon will be placed on waivers by the Red Wings and claimed by another team, then subsequently assigned to the AHL.

Dominic Turgeon, Grand Rapids Griffins
Dominic Turgeon has been a key penalty killer for the Griffins. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Rachel Anderson: Grand Rapids – I’d like to believe they’d give Turgeon a long look, but I don’t think Detroit will. He’s one of the best penalty killers on the Griffins, which I do believe higher management sees. But his production has been inconsistent over the last few seasons and his injury late this season really dampened what would have been a big season.

Raymond Harrison: Grand Rapids – Turgeon and Ehn are almost interchangeable players. I expect one to start with the Griffins and one to start with the Red Wings, but either player can fill the NHL role.

Related: Red Wings Rebuild: Grading the Young Guns

Red Wings Blue Line Prospects

Dennis Cholowski

Tony Wolak: Detroit – Unless Niklas Kronwall returns, Cholowski should start the new season with the Red Wings, where he can develop under the tutelage of Mike Green. There, the blueliner could earn some power play time and start most of his shifts in the offensive zone while his defensive game comes along.

Anaheim Ducks Cam Fowler Detroit Red Wings Dennis Cholowski
Dennis Cholowski needs to improve his defensive play to stick around with the Red Wings. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Rachel Anderson: Grand Rapids – Defensively, I don’t believe Cholowski is anywhere close to where he should be to be considered in Detroit. Without totally drilling his game, I’ll just say he’s not “there” yet. He needs to have more push when it comes to his defensive game and his offensive edge is lacking as well.

Raymond Harrison: Detroit – The Red Wings need to embrace their youth, especially on defense. Cholowski returned to the Griffins last season after his defensive miscues became apparent at the NHL level. The former first-round pick deserves to get another taste of NHL action with the Red Wings to further enhance his development.

Filip Hronek

Tony Wolak: Detroit – Did you see his performance at the 2019 World Championships? Hronek deserves to start with the Red Wings.

Rachel Anderson: Detroit – Hronek has produced and continued to produce. He proved during his stint in Detroit that the transition to the NHL was no problem and that he had the game for it. He’s smart, fiery, but throws his all into every shift. Having back-to-back impressive developmental seasons, he’s forced his way into Detroit.

Raymond Harrison: Detroit – It may not be egregious to suggest that Hronek is already the Red Wings’ best defenseman. He was impressive throughout his rookie season and is coming off of being named the best defenseman at the World Championships. He belongs with the Red Wings, and he should play upwards of 20 minutes a night.

Joe Hicketts

Tony Wolak: Detroit – Hicketts cannot be sent down without having to pass through waivers first, so it’s unlikely that the Red Wings risk losing him for nothing. The diminutive defenseman has some promise as a third-pairing defender and could turn into the next Nick Jensen.

Rachel Anderson: Grand Rapids – It won’t be long until Hicketts joins the NHL – with the Red Wings or elsewhere. Detroit needs help in front of the net, and Hicketts is the type of player to make sure the crease is clear. He’ll start in Grand Rapids, but my anticipation is that he’ll get called up within a few months.

Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Trevor Moore and Detroit Red Wings defenseman Joe Hicketts
Joe Hicketts has the fight in him, but can he stick around for an entire NHL season? (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Paul Sancya)

Raymond Harrison: Grand Rapids – Hicketts plays a fearless game at a tough position, despite being undersized. He is capable of filling in at the NHL level when an injury bug plagues the team and has been with the organization for three seasons. He needs a new contract, and the Griffins have several defensemen on the roster, but I expect Hicketts to stick around.

Libor Sulak

Tony Wolak: Europe – Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And MLive’s Ansar Khan previously reported that Sulak is considering a return to Europe. I think another year of AHL hockey will help Sulak develop his game, but it’s ultimately his decision on where he wants to play.

Libor Sulak, Grand Rapids Griffins AHL
Is Libor Sulak headed back to Europe? (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Rachel Anderson: Grand Rapids – Sulak is a big body and strong skater, but he needs a bit more work on his precision. He’s always the first to create a rush or jump in one, which shows a lot of ambition I think, but his shooting and puck-handling execution is a bit lacking right now.

Raymond Harrison: Grand Rapids – Sulak is another piece of the Griffins’ defensemen myriad. Ideally, the Red Wings can get a look at him in the NHL at some point this season, but it is incredibly likely that he starts the year off in the minors.

Oliwer Kaski

Tony Wolak: Grand Rapids – The 2018-19 SM-Liiga MVP will need some time to adjust to the North American style of play, so starting out in Grand Rapids wouldn’t be the worst thing. He may not stay with the Griffins very long, especially if the Red Wings part with their rental defensemen—Green, Trevor Daley, and Jonathan Ericsson—at the trade deadline.

Rachel Anderson: Grand Rapids – Many of the prospects’ placement will be subject to the roster jams at both the AHL and NHL level. If there’s room, Kaski will remain in Grand Rapids to adjust to the U.S.-style of play and that’s about it. As long as he performs well there during the 2019-20 season, 2020-21 will be an NHL season for him.

Raymond Harrison: Grand Rapids – Kaski will get every opportunity to compete for an NHL job at training camp, but with so many defensemen already on one-way contracts, it may be hard to make the jump right away. The Finnish League MVP will likely be one of the first players called up if there is an injury on the blueline.