At least two members of Red Wings Central’s end-of-season prospect ranking, and maybe more, are expected to graduate to the Detroit Red Wings next fall.
Top-ranked defenseman Brendan Smith and second-ranked left-winger Gustav Nyquist are both poised to crack the big club full-time next fall. Forwards Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson have paid their dues on the farm and are at least ready for part-time roles. Throw in a fifth wildcard — center/winger Riley Sheahan — and the Red Wings have excellent depth to draw from depending on injuries and how aggressively they dive into the unrestricted free agent market.
Not to be outdone, forwards Calle Jarnkrok, Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen, defensemen Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet and goaltender Petr Mrazek all continued to emerge with excellent seasons and give the Red Wings 11 prospects with solid NHL potential.
There are also intriguing prospects outside the competitive top 11, but there is a dividing line as far as upside and NHL readiness. Following is a look at the top 25:
1. Brendan Smith (–), D, Grand Rapids (AHL), 56-9-25-34, plus-2, 113 shots.
Long criticized for his offensive risk-taking, Smith worked hard this season to make better choices and cut down on his turnovers. His skating, skill and physical edge will be a welcome addition to the Red Wings’ blue line as he progresses toward a top-four NHL spot.
2. Gustav Nyquist (–), LW, Grand Rapids (AHL), 56-22-36-58, plus-7, 152 shots.
Nyquist put together a tremendous season, producing with amazing consistency in the AHL and showing tremendous potential in 18 NHL games. He has upside as a top-six forward but is well-rounded enough to break into the NHL on any type of line.
3. Calle Jarnkrok (–), C, Brynas (SEL), 50-16-23-39, minus-3, 109 shots.
Jarnkrok is right there with Gustav Nyquist and should take over the No. 1 spot next season. His skill and work ethic make him a potential cornerstone for the Red Wings, and he’ll spend one more season in Sweden before attempting to crack the NHL lineup.
4. Petr Mrazek (–), G, Ottawa (OHL), 30-13-6, 2.84 GAA, .917 Sv%.
Mrazek put together one of the best seasons of anybody in the Red Wings’ system and has established himself as the franchise’s goaltender of the future. But as Thomas McCollum can attest, the AHL is a whole new world. The next level awaits.
5. Tomas Tatar (+1), LW, Grand Rapids (AHL), 76-24-34-58, plus-4, 224 shots.
Tatar not only finished the AHL season on fire, he kept it going at an even higher level with a strong performance for Slovakia at the IIHF world championship. While Tatar didn’t get an NHL look this season, it’s going to be hard to ignore him next fall.
6. Riley Sheahan (-1), LW, Notre Dame (NCAA), 37-9-16-25, even, 118 shots.
Sheahan finished his college season in a horrendous scoring slump and his lackluster production at Notre Dame has many fairly questioning his offensive upside. While he has the tools to be an NHL role player, how he produces as an AHL rookie in 2012-13 will be telling.
7. Tomas Jurco (–), RW, Saint John (QMJHL), 48-30-38-68, plus-46, 186 shots.
Playing on one of the top junior teams in Canada, Jurco has never been the leading offensive man. Still, he’s done nothing but produce points and improve his game and was recently compared to Marian Hossa by assistant GM Jim Nill. Next stop: the AHL.
8. Ryan Sproul (+5), D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL), 61-23-31-54, plus-16.
Any time a defenseman finishes the season on a 20-game scoring tear at a pro-rated pace for 44 goals, he makes the hockey world notice. Sproul is big with immense offensive upside and, with a steadily improving defensive game, is rising very, very quickly.
9. Joakim Andersson (–), C, Grand Rapids (AHL), 73-21-30-51, plus-5, 145 shots.
Prospects of Andersson’s ilk don’t get much attention but are highly valuable once they get to the NHL. Just look at how coveted Sammy Pahlsson has been over the past decade. After a breakthrough year, Andersson is knocking on the door for an NHL job.
10. Xavier Ouellet (–), D, Blainville-Boisbriand (QMJHL), 63-21-39-60, plus-16, 202 shots.
Ouellet is neck and neck with Ryan Sproul, but they’re completely different defensemen. While Ouellet doesn’t have Sproul’s upside, he’s more steady and polished. He’ll be one of the best defensemen in the Canadian Hockey League next season.
11. Teemu Pulkkinen (-3), RW, Jokerit (FIN), 56-16-21-37, even, 235 shots.
Pulkkinen slips outside the top-10 after an underwhelming end to the season that saw him assigned to Jokerit’s junior team for a brief stint in the playoffs. He’s the most one-dimensional player on the prospect list but boasts far and away the best goal-scoring potential.
12. Nick Jensen (+2), D, St. Cloud State (NCAA), 39-6-26-32, plus-14, 68 shots.
It’s hard not to love Jensen’s tremendous wheels and the progress he’s made in two college seasons. A great find as a fifth-round pick, the Red Wings will consider signing him and yanking him out of college if he takes another step forward in 2012-13.
13. Marek Tvrdon (-1), LW, Vancouver (WHL), 60-31-43-74, plus-1.
Tvrdon put injuries behind him and produced excellent numbers in the WHL. But there are big concerns about his up-and-down intensity level and inconsistent play. If he can address those areas next season, he could have a dominating year in 2012-13.
14. Louis-Marc Aubry (+6), C, Grand Rapids (AHL), 62-5-11-16, minus-6, 91 shots.
The numbers don’t show it, but all you have to do is watch Aubry for a few shifts to see why the Red Wings have such high hopes for him. Big, mobile, smart and skilled, Aubry is a raw project who has still only scratched the surface of his potential.
15. Brian Lashoff (-4), D, Grand Rapids (AHL), 76-8-11-19, minus-5, 107 shots.
He’s established himself as a solid third-pairing defenseman at the AHL level, but has more potential than that. A big, strong, stay-at-home blueliner in the mold of Brad Stuart, Lashoff needs to elevate into the top four next season and make more of an impact.
16. Adam Almquist (-1), D, HV-71 (SEL), 42-3-8-11, plus-16, 66 shots.
Highly skilled but extremely undersized, Almquist is expected to put up numbers and hasn’t done so yet. The Red Wings felt Almquist wasn’t given the offensive role he deserved in the Swedish Elite League, but he’ll get that chance in the AHL next season.
17. Mattias Backman (-1), D, Linkoping (SEL), 42-1-7-8, plus-7, 60 shots.
There’s nothing about the steady, mobile Backman that will wow you, yet he put himself on the map by earning a job in the Swedish Elite League and winning gold with Sweden at the IIHF world junior championship. He looks like a safe depth defenseman.
18. Landon Ferraro (-1), C, Grand Rapids (AHL), 56-9-11-20, minus-6, 87 shots.
After wrapping up his junior career with two sluggish seasons — and that’s putting it politely — Ferraro recovered with a respectable rookie pro campaign. Drafted to be a second-line center, a more reasonable act to follow is that of Cory Emmerton.
19. Alan Quine (-1), C, Peterborough (OHL), 65-30-40-70, minus-19.
Quine elevated himself well past the point-per-game plateau and has an intriguing set of skills, including impressive skating and quickness. But he’s not an elite scorer nor is he an adept checker, so finding his identity will be a big part of his continued development.
20. Alexey Marchenko (NR), D, CSKA Moscow (KHL), 6-0-0-0, minus-4, three shots.
A forgotten man earlier this season, Marchenko battled back from a tough knee injury and finished the season strong with CSKA Moscow’s junior team. The Red Wings think highly of the final-round pick but he needs to stay healthy for a full season.
21. Thomas McCollum (-2), G, Grand Rapids (AHL), 11-16-0, 3.49 GAA, .891 Sv%.
After three underwhelming seasons, McCollum has flopped as a first-round pick. With Petr Mrazek turning pro and Joey MacDonald under NHL contract, he’ll need a huge performance at training camp to avoid being squeezed out of an AHL job in Grand Rapids.
22. Mitchell Callahan (–), RW, Grand Rapids (AHL), 48-6-3-9, minus-3, 58 shots.
It’s not easy for a scrapping agitator to make the jump from junior to the pros, but Callahan did a solid job of it. He played with energy and threw down his gloves a team-high 14 times in 48 games but now needs to show he can stay in the AHL lineup every night.
23. Brent Raedeke (–), C, Grand Rapids (AHL), 64-11-10-21, plus-1, 108 shots.
He continued to establish himself as a solid AHL role player but it’s not clear if he’ll ever be more than that. His speed, energy and defensive smarts are terrific qualities, but he needs to take that next step toward an NHL job similar to Joakim Andersson this season.
24. Ben Marshall (–), D, Minnesota (NCAA), 41-4-9-13, plus-13, 79 shots.
Marshall stepped into the lineup of a top NCAA program and didn’t miss a beat, logging regular minutes and contributing at both ends of the rink. His size works against him, but the Red Wings covet talented puck-movers of his ilk, so he’s worth keeping an eye on.
25. Trevor Parkes (–), RW, Grand Rapids (AHL), 44-2-6-8, even, 66 shots.
The gritty winger was in and out of the Grand Rapids lineup, received a brief ECHL assignment in Toledo, and battled injuries. Parkes will obviously need to establish himself as an AHL regular sooner than later, but he’s no stranger to beating the odds.