Evan McGrath, Niklas Kronwall and Andreas Jamtin have been the stories
of year so far among Red Wing prospects. McGrath, last year’s fourth
round pick, is among the OHL’s leading scorers and playing like the first round pick many once thought he would be.
Niklas Kronwall is playing great in Grand Rapids, tied for the lead among AHL defensemen in points and playing NHL caliber defense. And while the lockout has cut into the development of several European prospects, it seems to have helped Andreas Jamtin, who
seems energized when going into the corners with locked out NHL
defensemen playing hockey in Sweden. Jamtin’s tenacity, by now, is expected. What wasn’t expected was the offense. He has 15 points – most of any Wings prospect in Sweden.
The Wings had two Swedish prospects who were facing a “make it or
break it” year coming into this season. Jari Tolsa and Par Backer both needed breakout years. Instead, they’ve seen diminished ice time and it might be too late for any NHL aspirations.
After a decade of terrible choices, the Red Wings are finally drafting well from North America. Compare this year’s top 20 to that of years past and you’ll note more North American names up higher on the list: Jim Howard, Kyle Quincey, Evan McGrath, Ryan Oulahen.
The Wings stable desperately needs to get bigger and stronger, especially on the wings and on defense. Often, that requires first and second round picks, but the Wings haven’t had many of those recently. Perhaps not surprisingly, we start this mid-term top 20 with the Red Wings’ only first round pick of this millennium.
1. (2) Niklas Kronwall, D 23 Grand Rapids (AHL)
Draft: 1st round, 29th overall in 2000
Projection: first pairing defenseman who could make a few All-Star
Estimated Time of Arrival: As soon as the lockout is over.
Many scratched their heads when the Wings drafted this smallish, slick
skating defenseman from Sweden with their first round pick in 2000. But
the last 24 months, Kronwall has developed into one of the best young
defensemen in the game. A strong skater who reads the play well,
Kronwall is dominating the AHL at both ends of the ice this year. He leads Grand Rapids in points and is tied for first among league defensemen with 30. He possesses a hard slap shot, makes quick outlet passes and is smart in his own end. The only thing keeping Kronwall out of a Red Wings jersey is the NHL lockout.
2. (3) Jiri Hudler, C/W 22 Grand Rapids (AHL)/Vsetin (CZE)
Draft: 2nd round, 58th overall in 2002
Projection: Second line winger who sees lots of power play action.
ETA: Could play today, but probably 2005-2006
Hudler was scoring a point per game in the AHL before returning to the
Czech Republic to be with his ailing father. Hudler has also been
plagued by a nagging ankle injury all season. The pint-sized wonder has had little trouble adjusting to the North American game since crossing the Atlantic prior to last season. He is a terrific stickhandler with a
quick shot and good hockey vision. However, there are still questions
about whether he’ll realize his offensive potential because he doesn’t have the blazing speed possessed by some of the NHL’s other
vertically-challenged offensive wizards. Time will tell. But where ever Hudler plays, he puts up numbers.
3. (1) Igor Grigorenko, RW – 21- Ufa Salavat (RUS)
Draft: 2nd round, 62nd overall in 2001
Projection: If he can make a complete recovery, a top
ETA: May come to Grand Rapids in 2005-06, and start with Detroit in 2006-07
Grigorenko’s comeback from a terrible automobile crash continues in
Ufa, where he was traded after being benched by Lada Togliatti. He’s
seeing more ice time with Ufa, and just recently, he’s begun finding the back of the net. Not surprisingly, Grigorenko has had a tough time
regaining his speed and acceleration. Prior to the crash, Grigorenko was known to bull his way to the net, carrying defenders on his back if
necessary. He’s only 5’10, but he weighs over 200 lbs. Former Wings coach Scotty Bowman said he played like a power forward after seeing him at the World Junior Championships. The Wings are desperate for goal scoring forwards who crash the net. The success of his comeback will say a lot about the Wings’ future outlook.
4. (4) Jim Howard, G 20 Maine (NCAA)
Draft: 2nd round, 64th overall in 2003
Projection: Wings goaltender of the future.
Howard’s numbers have come back down to earth after he put up record numbers
leading Maine to the national championship game last year with a 1.19 GAA, 14-4-3 record and .956 save percentage. This year’s team is much weaker so Howard is facing more shots and better shots. He has a 10-8-4 record, a 2.14 GAA and a .909 save percentage.
Howard is the prototypical modern goaltender. He’s a butterfly goalie who is average-sized and agile. Howard has gained a reputation as a focused, level-headed goalie who competes hard and he is dedicated to his craft.
5. (6) Valtteri Filppula, C 21 Jokerit (FIN)
Draft: 3rd round, 95th overall in 2002
Projection: Second line playmaking center
Continued progress has made Filppula one of Finland’s most enticing
prospects. He’s a swift skating forward somewhat in the mold of Saku
Koivu. As his offensive game develops, he’s become more responsible
defensively and is starting to assert himself along the boards, despite his 5’11 frame. He will need to increase strength to play in the NHL. Few question his commitment.
6. (13) Evan McGrath, C 18 Kitchener (OHL)
Draft: 4th round, 128th overall in 2004
Projection: Second line center with offensive punch.
ETA: 2007-08, although an aging Wings roster could speed things up.
Once regarded as a sure-fire first round pick, NHL scouts soured on
McGrath after poor play in his draft year. The Wings had no problem
scooping up McGrath in the fourth round and they look smart today, as
McGrath is putting up numbers expected of a top prospect, 51 points in 40 games. While not blessed with explosive speed, McGrath is crafty and skilled with the puck. He has good playmaking abilities and is also a talented finisher, thanks to a quick, hard wrist shot. He’ll need to work on skating and strength to realize his potential. His defensive game also needs work.
7. (8) Andreas Jamtin, RW 21 HV71 (SWE)
Draft: 5th round, 157th overall in 2001
Projection: Feisty third liner with some punch
Outside of McGrath, Jamtin has been the biggest surprise of the year
for the Wings. Always pegged as a potential checking line forward, Jamtin has added some offense to his game in the SEL this season, racking up some points to go with all those penalty minutes. Against stronger competition in Sweden this year, Jamtin has shown the ability to play NHL style hockey effectively, winning battles in the corners and charging hard to the net. Many have compared him to fellow Swede Tomas Holmstrom.
Jamtin doesn’t have Holmstrom’s soft hands, but he’s a better skater. A
better comparison may be Kirk Maltby. Jamtin could come to North America to play for Grand Rapids for the start of next season.
8. (11) Kyle Quincey, D 19 Mississauga (OHL)
Draft: 4th round, 132nd overall in 2003
Projection: Second pairing defenseman with character
ETA: 2007-08, with a few call-ups beforehand.
The Wings have an abysmal record of developing North American
defensemen. They haven’t even had a decent prospect in this area since Jesse Wallin, but Kyle Quincey has changed all that. Quincey is the unquestioned leader of the Ice Dog’s defense. He plays in every
situation and logs a ton of minutes every game. He’s solid at both ends of the ice and he’s got decent size (6’2, 195). Quincey, the last cut from this year’s Canadian World Junior team, needs to get stronger and will have to adjust to pro game, which is typically difficult for young
defensemen. He should get a contract this spring and play in Grand Rapids for the start of next season. He has 25 points in 33 games with Mississauga this year.
9. (5) Stefan Liv, G 24 HV71 (SWE)
Draft: 4th round, 102nd overall, in 2000
Projection: Hit or miss prospect, could be a starter, might never come
ETA: Could be with the Wings in 2005-06
Time is running out on Stefan Liv, who should probably have been brought over to Grand Rapids for this season. After a brilliant,
record-setting championship performance in the SEL finals last season, Liv has struggled this season. You can blame some of that on his team’s refusal to pick up North Americans. But there have always been concerns about Liv’s consistency. When he’s on, he’s an acrobatic goalie as and as spectacular as anyone. But he’s not been on much this year and his stock is dropping.
10. (7) Miroslav Blatak, D 22 Zlin (CZE)
Draft: 4th round, 129th overall in 2001
Projection: Fourth or fifth defenseman with power play capabilities
Quietly developing in Europe, Blatak is one of the Czech league’s best
young defensemen. A mobile defenseman with good passing skills, Blatak
played a big role in Zlin’s championship run last season. His smarts
and good lateral movement help him in his own end. However he’s not large by NHL standards at 6’0. Even when he bulks up, he’s going to have to prove he can handle the rigors of North America hockey. He could join the Griffins next season.
11. (16) Eric Himelfarb, C 22 Grand Rapids (AHL)
Drafted: Signed as UFA in 2004
Projection: His style of play says he’s an offensive player, but he might not have second line upside.
ETA: If he continues to develop in GR, he’ll get call ups sooner than
Himelfarb is a speedy, skilled forward who is tricky with the puck. His drawback is that he’s small, 5’10, 170. A rookie out of the OHL, his numbers aren’t bad with 19 points in 36 games. But he’s going to have to improve before getting a real shot with the Wings.
12. (15) Nathan Robinson, C 23 Grand Rapids (AHL)
Draft: Signed as UFA in 2002
Projection: Role player
ETA: He could be a depth player on the Wings as soon as next season.
Robinson is one of the fastest players in pro hockey. He’s been unable to duplicate the offensive he showed last year of 50 points in 69 games, before an injury slowed him down. This season he has 16 points in 34 games. But in terms of his value to the organization, offensive numbers may not matter. Although small (5’9, 175), Robinson could use his speed to carve out an NHL career as a pesky defensive forward, if he commits to defensive hockey.
13. (NR) Ryan Oulahen, C 19 Brampton (OHL)
Draft: 5th round, 164th overall in 2003
Projection: Checking line forward
Oulahen struggled somewhat last year. He’s rebounded this year, putting up 34 points in 43 games, nearly matching last year’s total already. But what scouts like is that he’s doing this while going up against some of the best players in the OHL. Oulahen is consistently matched up against the other team’s best line and he consistently wins the battles. He’s a big kid who’s fleet afoot and strong on his skates. Barring a second half collapse, he’ll earn a contract from the Wings at the end of this season.
14. (NR) Darryl Bootland, RW 23 Grand Rapids (AHL)
Acquired: Signed as UFA in 2002
Projected: Depth player
ETA: Injury call up
Bootland was impressive early during his 22-game call up with the Wings early last season. He showed grit, hustle, and provided some toughness. However, as the stint went on, he became less effective. He never seemed to regain his game after being sent back down to the AHL. This year, however, Bootland seems to have rebounded. He has 18 points in 35 games and is +3. He has the heart and the determination to play a grinder’s role in the NHL. But the big question is his skating. He has made strides in this area, but he’s still a below average skater.
15. (NR) Siarhei Kolasau, D 18 Minsk (BEL)
Draft: 3rd round, 151st overall in 2004 draft
Projected: Defensive third pairing defenseman
ETA: A long way away
The Wings hoped Kolasau would develop his game in the WHL this season, but he elected to stay in Belarus. Judging by his performance at the
WJC’s, the decision hasn’t hurt his progress. The 6’4, 190lb defenseman
hammered opposing forwards along the boards and did a good job clearing
the crease. He still has a lot to learn about positioning and he won’t
win awards for his transition game, but Kolasau is an intriguing
16. (10) Derek Meech, D 20 Grand Rapids (AHL)
Draft: 7th round, 229th overall, 2002
Projection: Depth defenseman
ETA: Still a long way from a call-up
Meech was one of the WHL’s best defensemen last year, but he’s had a difficult time making the transition to the pro game this season. The bigger and faster AHL players are quick to bear down on the 5’11 rearguard, who is accustomed to having more time and space to direct the transition game — his strength in junior. Meech needs to stay active in the weight room. He’s going to need to get bigger and play bigger if he wants to make the NHL. And he’s going to have to make decisions more quickly. He has four points on the season and is –11.
17. (18) Todd Jackson, RW 23 Grand Rapids (AHL)
Draft: 8th round, 251st overall, 2000
Projection: Defensive forward/depth player
ETA: He’s still a long way from a cup of coffee
Considered one of the best defensive forwards in college hockey,
Jackson has had difficulty with the pace and hitting in the AHL game in his first pro season. He’s got the speed for it, but his timing is off. He could also stand to gain a few pounds and play more physical. He has two points in 30 games and is –4.
18. (NR) Jonathan Ericsson, D/F 20 Sodertalje (SWE)
Drafted: 9th round, 291st overall, 2002
Projection: Potentially a big, crease-clearing defenseman
ETA: Several years away, if he ever makes it.
Ericsson has been shuttled around this year. He’s bounced
between leagues in Sweden, and, even stranger, between positions. The
6’5 defenseman has played fourth line center during several elite-league stints. Ericsson’s potential lies in his size. He has some skating ability
and some puck moving ability. But he needs to put bulk on that big
frame and develop a mean streak. He’s still years away, but he’s one to
keep an eye on.
19. (NR) Alexander Seluyanov, D 22 Togliatti (RUS)
Drafted: 4th round, 128th overall, 2000
Projected: A long shot defenseman with offensive upside
ETA: He might never come over.
Seluyanov is a slick blue liner who has a good shot and loves to join the rush. Over the past two seasons, he’s taken on more defensive
responsibilities as per the demands of a defense-first coach. However, Seluyanov is still prone to bad giveaways and his work ethic has been questioned.
20. (NR) Anton Axelsson, LW 19 Frolunda (U20 Junior team)
Draft: 6th round, 192nd overall in 2004
ETA: At least two full seasons in Sweden, in the Elite league before being invited to North America
Younger brother of Bruins’ checking forward PJ Axelsson, many said Anton was suited for the same style. He’s opened eyes this season, scoring 31 points in 21 games for Frolunda’s Under-20 team. A strong skater with decent size (by Red Wing standards), Axelsson is responsible defensively. His stock will rise if he makes the senior team next season.
Graduated: Joey MacDonald, G due to age
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