It hasn’t taken Gustav Nyquist to set himself apart from the rest of the Detroit Red Wings’ forward prospects as a pro.
Nyquist, who left the NCAA’s Maine Black Bears after his junior season to sign with the Red Wings, is scoring at a point-per-game pace as an American Hockey League rookie with the Grand Rapids Griffins. His five goals and 11 assists through 16 games are second on the team and he made his NHL debut ahead of schedule with a one-game call-up on Nov. 1.
Nyquist is No. 2 in Red Wings Central’s preliminary prospect ranking for 2011-12, just a hair behind defenseman Brendan Smith.
“He wants the puck and he’s a skilled play who doesn’t scare you to death,” Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock told the Macomb Daily. “He’s good without the puck and he’s been great in the American League.”
Nyquist is one of three prospects to slide past previous No. 2 Tomas Tatar on RWC’s preliminary list. Although Tatar remains an excellent prospect, Nyquist, third-ranked Calle Jarnkrok and fourth-ranked Riley Sheahan have done too much to ignore. Tatar rounds out the top five.
Smith has been slow out of the gate — perhaps in part because of an early-season suspension — and will need to pick up his play to continue fending off emerging talents such as Nyquist, Janrkork and Sheahan. At the same time, Smith is on the verge of graduating to the NHL.
Following is Red Wings Central’s preliminary top 25 for 2011-12.
1. D Brendan Smith, Grand Rapids (AHL). While he can be a risky proposition with the puck, he’ll soon be a full-time NHLer and has upside as a top-three defenseman who can run a power play.
2. C Gustav Nyquist, Grand Rapids (AHL). See above.
3. C Calle Jarnkrok, Brynas (SEL). Jarnkrok had off-season shoulder surgery, but you wouldn’t know it the way he’s started. If Nyquist is ranked ahead of him, it’s by a razor-thin margin.
4. C Riley Sheahan, Notre Dame (NCAA). The offensive dimension the Red Wings saw in Sheahan on draft day is starting to shine through. Add in size and defensive smarts and you have an exciting prospect.
5. LW Tomas Tatar, Grand Rapids (AHL). Tatar has a lot to offer, but slips on the list because others have outplayed him. He has the skill to have a true breakout season in the AHL but it has yet to come.
6. LW Tomas Jurco, Saint John (QMJHL). Jurco has incredible upside and his scoring stats are skyrocketing in major junior. With another lengthy playoff run in the offing for the Sea Dogs, he’s on course for a huge year.
7. RW Teemu Pulkkinen, Jokerit (FIN). Although size and skating are shortcomings, Pulkkinen is loaded with skill and continues to establish himself as one of the Finnish SM-Liiga’s best.
8. G Petr Mrazek, Ottawa (OHL). After a good start, his numbers have started to balloon — but he’s still the top goaltending prospect in the system and has the highlight-reel ability to be an NHL starter.
9. C Joakim Andersson, Grand Rapids (AHL). His sophomore scoring increase is a good sign. Andersson has a good chance of becoming an NHLer, whether it’s as a third-line forward or a fourth-liner/13th forward.
11. D Brian Lashoff, Grand Rapids (AHL). Other than Brendan Smith, Lashoff is basically the only pro defenseman in the Red Wings system with an NHL shot. He’s healthy now and finding his rock-solid game.
12. G Thomas McCollum, Grand Rapids (AHL). For a first-round pick, McCollum hasn’t panned out as the Red Wings hoped. Patience is needed with goaltenders, however, so there’s still some time.
13. D Xavier Ouellet, Blainville-Boisbriand (QMJHL). Although his offensive numbers aren’t eye-catching, he’s one of the best blueliners in the QMJHL and logs big minutes for a rebuilding team.
14. D Ryan Sproul, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL). While he has more upside than Xavier Ouellet, he doesn’t have the same all-around polish. He’s having a good season and could explode with a moment’s notice.
15. D Nick Jensen, St. Cloud State (NCAA). He might just be the most underrated Red Wings prospect. A brilliant skater, Jensen could prove to be one of those “where-did-this-guy-come-from?” type of prospects.
16. D Adam Almquist, HV-71 (SEL). Although Almquist is showing positive signs in the Swedish Elite League, the jury is still out on whether he’s more Miroslav Blatak than Niklas Kronwall or vice versa.
17. RW Mitchell Callahan, Grand Rapids (AHL). If he makes it, it’ll be as a pesky, fourth-line agitator. It’s not easy taking his style of play from major junior to the AHL, but he’s done a good job in limited time.
18. C Landon Ferraro, Grand Rapids (AHL). Ferraro has yet to live up to expectations since being drafted, but he’s played well when healthy as an AHL rookie. He has the talent to climb much higher.
19. D Max Nicastro, Boston U. (NCAA). Nicastro has settled in as a physical stay-at-homer, but needs to show more offensively.
20. C Alan Quine, Peterborough (OHL). The speedy forward is putting up good numbers, but needs to keep rounding out his game.
21. C Louis-Marc Aubry, Grand Rapids (AHL). He’s 6-foot-4, skates like a hockey player and is flashing upside as an AHL rookie.
22. C Brent Raedeke, Grand Rapids (AHL). His speed, defensive effort and penalty killing are tremendous, but is there enough else?
23. RW Trevor Parkes, Grand Rapids (AHL). Although his role is limited, he’s a gritty winger who diligently takes care of the dirty work.
24. LW Andrej Nestrasil, Grand Rapids (AHL). He’s had his moments as an AHL rookie, but he’s a long-term project at this stage.
25. D Ben Marshall, Minnesota (NCAA). His offensive upside is exciting, and he’s made a smooth adjustment to college on a top team.
For the full ranking, visit our prospects section!