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2008-09 end-of-season: Abdelkader takes top spot

Published Wednesday, June 17, 2009, 12:01 a.m. under RWC Rankings

Detroit Red Wings fans got flashes of the future in Justin Abdelkader’s brief appearance in the NHL playoffs this spring.

The 6-foot-1, 209-pound multi-purpose forward burst onto the scene in his playoff debut, introducing himself to Hockeytown with an assist and 10 hits in his first game. He went on to score pivotal goals in Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final that gave the Red Wings with an unexpected lift.

Abdelkader’s outstanding rookie pro season — which included 24 goals, 52 points and 102 penalty minutes in the American Hockey League — has catapulted him to the top of Red Wings Central’s end-of-season prospect ranking, thanks to the graduation of Jonathan Ericsson and Darren Helm.

His playoff showing demonstrated exactly what will make him an effective NHLer. He can bang, crash and generate energy; play responsible, shut-down hockey; and chip in with a timely goal or offensive play.

If the Red Wings are looking for a little more edge going into the next few seasons, Abdelkader is a guy who can definitely bring it.

Abdelkader held off fellow rookie forward Ville Leino, who checks in at No. 2. Both will challenge for roster spots in Detroit next season.

Goaltender Thomas McCollum — the surest bet in the system to succeed Chris Osgood — climbed four spots to No. 3, while gifted defensemen Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith round out the top five.

The following is a rundown.

1. F Justin Abdelkader (+3) — Abdelkader would be an NHLer already on most teams, but another year in the AHL is possible.

2. F Ville Leino (+3) — With better skating, he could fill a Jiri Hudler-type role in Detroit, and he should start next season in the NHL.

3. G Thomas McCollum (+4) — One of the top junior-aged goaltenders in the world, McCollum will take his act to the pros next season.

4. D Jakub Kindl (-1) — The Red Wings got burned by turnovers in the Stanley Cup Final, and the talented Kindl struggles with them, too.

5. D Brendan Smith (+3) — Smith boasts big-time offensive upside and has yet to put it together at Wisconsin, but could be a revelation as a junior.

6. G Jimmy Howard (-) — Howard’s level of play is up, down and all-around but he remains positioned to back up Chris Osgood in 2009-10.

7. F Cory Emmerton (+3) — The Red Wings like smart, responsible hockey players, and Emmerton, who had a good AHL rookie year, fits the bill.

8. F Joakim Andersson (+5) — He could make a similar NHL impact to Abdelkader, although his skating needs work and he isn’t as physical.

9. F Mattias Ritola (-) — Ritola is entering a critical season where needs to set himself apart and make his case to be in the NHL.

10. F Gustav Nyquist (+4) — Nyquist is an outstanding two-way player who did nothing but impress during his freshman NCAA year at Maine.

11. G Daniel Larsson (-) — Larsson is a good goalie who made a smooth adjustment to North America, but he may have to give way to McCollum.

12. F Dick Axelsson (-) — You never know what you’re going to get with Hat Trick Dick, although the pure skill he offers is undeniable.

13. D Brian Lashoff (+9) — It’s starting to look like the Red Wings nabbed a Kyle Quincey-type defenseman from the free agent scrap heap.

14. D Max Nicastro (+2) — The raw pieces are in place for Nicastro to become a high-end prospect, but it’s still untapped upside at this stage.

15. F Jan Mursak (-) — The highly-skilled winger had a rude awakening as a rookie pro, but don’t write him off. He played well down the stretch.

16. D Sergei Kolosov (+4) — He’s moving up on the depth chart, but his Andreas Lilja-style game isn’t going to dazzle anybody.

17. F Francis Pare (NR) — He had a great AHL rookie campaign and the Red Wings were so impressed they signed him as a free agent.

18. F Brent Raedeke (+3) — The Red Wings compare him to Darren Helm, but he needs to continue developing offensively to be that good.

19. F Julien Cayer (-1) — At this stage, he might be best described as a poor-man’s Justin Abdelkader; still raw, but a big, banging forward.

20. D Logan Pyett (-3) — Pyett struggled defensively as an AHL rookie and needs to find a way to overcome that to move back up the charts.

21. D Sebastien Piche (NR) — Piche is an active defenseman who played a complete game in junior, but his real test will come as an AHL rookie.

22. F Evan McGrath (+2) — McGrath saw a bounce-back campaign cut short with a shoulder injury, but expect him to be re-signed.

23. F Stephen Johnston (-4) — He quadrupled his point total but still has a long way to go if he wants to get a contract next season.

24. G Jordan Pearce (NR) — He’s behind three good, young goaltenders in Thomas McCollum, Jimmy Howard and Daniel Larsson.

25. F Johan Ryno (-) — You could argue Ryno is a write-off, but he could still emerge this season if he gets healthy and finds the right fit.

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