Last season, the Detroit Red Wings were paper thin in organizational defensive depth. Now, their blueline is quietly becoming a position of strength.
The savvy draft selections of Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul and Mattias Backman, combined with the steady development of Nick Jensen, Adam Almqvist and Brian Lashoff, gives the Red Wings a half-dozen prospects with a shot at becoming NHL defensemen.
It’s those blueliners who are fighting to be the Red Wings’ top defense prospect with Brendan Smith on the verge of official graduation to the NHL.
Ouellet holds that title in Red Wings Central’s mid-season ranking, checking in at No. 10, while it’s Sproul who got the nod from The Hockey News, taking the No. 10 spot on that list. Both were second-rounders in last June’s draft — Ouellet at No. 48 and Sproul at No. 55 —both enjoyed tremendous campaigns, and both signed three-year entry-level contracts last week.
Ouellet is one of three finalists for the QMJHL’s Emile Bouchard Trophy as the league’s top defenseman after recording 21 goals and 39 assists for 60 points in 63 games, including 44 points in his final 35 games while captaining the surprising Blainville-Boisbriand Armada to the QMJHL’s third playoff seed.
Sproul scored an OHL-best 23 goals this season while finishing third with 54 points in 61 games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. More importantly, he made strides in his defensive game, improving last season’s plus-minus by a whopping 31 slots to plus-16.
The 6-foot Ouellet is considered a slightly more polished two-way defenseman, while the 6-foot-3 Sproul is more of a raw, high-upside project with a cannon of a shot from the point.
The 6-foot-2 Backman, meanwhile, established himself as a Swedish Elite League regular at age 19 and ended up logging top-four minutes for Sweden en route to a gold medal at the IIHF world junior championship in January.
The wildcard of the group might be the 6-foot-1 Jensen, who doesn’t get the attention of prospects but had a tremendous NCAA sophomore season at St. Cloud State. He’s the best skater of the bunch by a country mile and had 32 points in 39 games, including 21 in his final 21 contests.
Almqvist, an undersized power-play quarterback, and Lashoff, a Brad Stuart defensive type, have been working hard to establish themselves at higher professional levels.
The Red Wings had several other strong seasons from defensemen, including Ben Marshall with the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Richard Nedomlel with the Swift Current Broncos. Meanwhile, Alexei Marchenko of CSKA Moscow is a favorite of the Red Wings scouts but barely played because of injuries.
NOTES: Forward Calle Jarnkrok (Brynas, SEL) is tied for sixth in playoff scoring with 10 points in 11 games to help his team qualify for the league final. He’s also second in the league with a plus-10 rating … Defenseman Adam Almqvist (Grand Rapids, AHL) joined the Griffins after finishing his Swedish Elite League season with HV-71. He’s played in two AHL games … Forward Riley Sheahan (Grand Rapids, AHL) has a goal and an assist in his first six professional games … Forward Francis Pare (Grand Rapids, AHL) was named was named the Griffins’ Man of the Year for his contributions to the community … Goaltender Petr Mrazek (Ottawa, OHL) helped his team get out of the first round of the playoffs with a .934 save percentage while facing close to 38 shots per game. Ouellet and winger Tomas Jurco (Saint John, QMJHL) are the only other junior players still alive in the chase for the Memorial Cup … The aforementioned Marshall is vying for an NCAA championship at the Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla., this weekend.
Following is this week’s statistical report.
SKATERS: REGULAR-SEASON REPORT
|Coetzee, Willie||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||54||9||11||20||23||-5||125|
|Ferraro, Landon||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||56||9||11||20||47||-6||87|
|Nyquist, Gustav||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||56||22||36||58||18||+7||152|
|Tatar, Tomas||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||69||19||30||49||39||+2||199|
|Andersson, Joakim||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||66||18||26||44||28||+4||130|
|Aubry, Louis-Marc||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||55||5||9||14||32||-6||85|
|Callahan, Mitchell||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||48||6||3||9||103||-3||58|
|Ehrhardt, Travis||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||34||1||4||5||19||+8||37|
|Lashoff, Brian||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||69||7||11||18||37||-9||96|
|Pare, Francis||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||68||14||28||42||14||-6||157|
|Parkes, Trevor||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||44||2||6||8||23||0||66|
|Raedeke, Brent||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||57||11||7||18||28||0||94|
|Smith, Brendan||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||50||10||24||34||78||+5||101|
|Pyett, Logan||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||66||2||21||23||48||-4||149|
|Nestrasil, Andrej||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||18||2||1||3||2||-4||20|
|Fournier, Gleason||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||13||1||3||4||14||0||4|
|Sheahan, Riley||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||6||1||1||2||0||-2||5|
|Almqvist, Adam||Grand Rapids||PRO||AHL||2||0||0||0||0||-1||0|
|Nedomlel, Richard||Swift Current||JR||WHL||72||10||36||46||83||-35||N/A|
|Sproul, Ryan||Sault Ste. Marie||JR||OHL||61||23||31||54||53||+16||N/A|
|Jurco, Tomas||Saint John||JR||QMJHL||48||30||38||68||37||+46||186|
|Jensen, Nick||St. Cloud State||COL||NCAA||39||6||26||32||4||+14||68|
|Nicastro, Max||Boston U.||COL||NCAA||27||3||6||9||32||-2||41|
|Sheahan, Riley||Notre Dame||COL||NCAA||37||9||16||25||24||0||118|
|Marchenko, Alexei||CSKA Moscow||EUR||KHL||6||0||0||0||2||-4||3|
|Marchenko, Alexei||CSKA Moscow||EUR-JR||MHL||5||2||4||6||10||+2||7|
GOALIES: REGULAR SEASON REPORT
|Pearce, Jordan||Grand Rapids||AHL||17||3||7||1||1||3.53||.874|
|McCollum, Thomas||Grand Rapids||AHL||22||9||12||0||0||3.48||.893|
SKATERS: PLAYOFF REPORT
|Marchenko, Alexei||CSKA Moscow||EUR||KHL||5||0||0||0||4||-1||8|
|Jurco, Tomas||Saint John||JR||QMJHL||4||3||8||11||2||+6||11|
GOALIES: PLAYOFF REPORT