With Brendan Smith as the only high-end defense prospect in the entire organization, the Red Wings used five of their nine selections on blueliners — with Ouellet and Sproul at the top of the list — and the investment appears to be paying off.
Ouellet and Sproul, who emerged as Canadian Hockey League stars over the past two seasons, have made smooth adjustments to the American Hockey League as rookies with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
“Extremely bright futures,” said Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill. “The Red Wings scouting staff has done a great job of drafting both players. Both of them have been really impressive.”
The Red Wings selected Ouellet from the QMJHL’s Montreal Juniors with the “bonus pick” they acquired after trading the 24th overall selection to the Ottawa Senators for the 35th pick (Tomas Jurco) and 48th pick. They then selected Sproul from the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds with their own choice at 54th overall.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Ouellet, a two-time QMJHL all-star who represented Canada at the 2013 IIHF world junior championship, debuted with the Red Wings earlier this season — the youngest defenseman to do so since Jiri Fischer — and has four goals and 12 assists along with a plus-1 rating in 58 games with the Griffins.
“Xavier is a little bit more of being strong on the puck — he knows how to manage his game, he’s got a good shot, good offensive ability,” Blashill said. “But I think he’s going to be an NHLer as a guy who does a little bit of everything.”
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Sproul, last year’s CHL defenseman of the year, is fourth in AHL rookie defense scoring with eight goals and 16 assists for 24 points in 61 games.
Although Sproul is not quite as polished or as complete as Ouellet, he’s a prolific offensive defenseman with very high upside.
“Ryan is a guy who has dynamic, dynamic skating ability and dynamic shooting ability,” Blashill said. “He’s learning to maximize his offensive abilities in a harder game — in a game where you can’t just break people down, in a game where you have to think a couple of steps ahead offensively. He’s learning to do that. And he’s really come a long way in his defensive game and that’s because he cares and he wants to get better.”
Blashill said the best indication that Ouellet and Sproul have made a smooth adjustment to the AHL is the fact that they’ve handled plenty of ice time on a team that is near the top of the AHL with a .667 winning percentage.
“Those two have prime-time roles and we have a really good record,” Blashill said. “That shows you they’re not just good young pros, they’re guys who are helping an American Hockey League team be successful — right now.”
Not only did the Red Wings nab Ouellet and Sproul in that 2011 draft, they also picked up two other legitimate prospects in Alexey Marchenko, who played in the AHL all-star game and also made his NHL debut this season, and Mattias Backman, one of the top dozen defensemen in the Swedish Hockey League. Richard Nedomlel was the other blueliner drafted that year and he’s a darkhorse prospect currently playing in the ECHL with the Toledo Walleye.
But as the Red Wings hoped on draft day in 2011, Ouellet and Sproul look like solid bets to lead the next wave of defensemen in Detroit.
“They both can be regular NHLers and really impactful NHLers if they continue to progress,” Blashill said.
NOTES: Right-winger Anthony Mantha (Val-d’Or, QMJHL) won the Jean Beliveau Trophy as QMJHL scoring champion, finishing with 57 goals and 63 assists for 120 points in 57 games. He had an 11-point edge over Rouyn-Noranda’s Marcus Power … Forward Andrej Nestrasil (Grand Rapids, AHL) has four goals and four assists in his past nine games, taking on an expanded role with the departure of Calle Jarnkrok, among others. In the final year of his entry-level contract … Defenseman Adam Almquist (Grand Rapids, AHL) is third in AHL defense scoring with 45 points in 60 games … Left-winger David Pope (West Kelowna, WHL) saw his season come to an end after his club was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Vernon Vipers. Pope is an underrated prospect who could make a name for himself the next four years in the NCAA with Omaha-Nebraska … Defenseman Marc McNulty (Prince George, WHL) saw his season come to a close as well, as the Cougars missed the WHL playoffs. The 6-foot-6 blueliner had a solid season, finishing tied for fifth in WHL defense goal-scoring with 17, along with 25 assists for 42 points in 67 games. He logged big minutes against top lines for a weak team … Right-winger Teemu Pulkkinen finally got the call to Detroit and appeared in two games with the Red Wings, including his NHL debut. He averaged close to eight minutes per game and had two shots, while receiving time on the power play. “He’s got to take care of the puck a little bit better, but he can sure shoot it and he had good energy and he can skate well,” Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock told the Detroit Free Press … Goaltender Petr Mrazek got a start in Detroit on March 11, stopping 33 of 37 shots in a 4-1 loss to Columbus. He’s appeared in eight NHL games this season, with a 1-4 record, a 2.01 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage … Right-winger Tomas Jurco was sidelined 2-4 weeks with a broken rib. As a rookie, Jurco has five goals and five assists for 10 points in 26 games … With 15 points in 27 games, Riley Sheahan continues to impress in Detroit. He’s scoring at a 45-point clip as a rookie and showing the kind of offensive potential the Red Wings saw in him when they drafted him 21st overall in 2010. “We play him as a one or two (first- or second-line) guy and he’s played real well for us,” Babcock told the Detroit News … Left-winger Andreas Athanasiou (Barrie, OHL) finished the season with 49 goals along with 46 assists for 95 points in 66 games, which should be good for fifth in OHL scoring when the league’s final game is played this week. He tallied 41 times in his final 45 games, a pro-rated 62-goal clip … There will be no RWC Report for the week starting March 24. It will return for the week of March 31.
Sarah Lindenau contributed to this report.
SKATERS: REGULAR-SEASON REPORT
|Almquist, Adam||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||60||4||41||45||52||+8||114|
|Callahan, Mitchell||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||63||22||14||36||51||+18||173|
|Jurco, Tomas||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||32||13||19||32||14||+10||91|
|Marchenko, Alexey||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||49||3||15||18||14||+11||34|
|Sheahan, Riley||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||31||8||10||18||12||-2||51|
|Sproul, Ryan||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||61||8||16||24||45||+3||124|
|Glendening, Luke||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||18||5||7||12||18||+8||26|
|Jarnkrok, Calle||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||57||13||23||36||14||+19||99|
|Pulkkinen, Teemu||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||60||26||25||51||30||+20||175|
|Frk, Martin||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||40||2||7||9||20||-12||34|
|Jensen, Nick||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||33||0||6||6||6||+11||24|
|Tvrdon, Marek||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||1||0||0||0||0||0||3|
|Ferraro, Landon||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||60||13||15||28||44||-1||161|
|Aubry, Louis-Marc||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||28||1||1||2||14||-2||36|
|Fournier, Gleason||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||16||0||1||1||0||+5||10|
|Parkes, Trevor||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||28||3||3||6||19||+4||41|
|Nestrasil, Andrej||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||57||10||13||23||18||-2||87|
|Ouellet, Xavier||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||58||4||12||16||22||+1||73|
|Nedomlel, Richard||Grand Rapids||AHL||PRO||3||0||0||0||2||-2||1|
|Nastasiuk, Zach||Owen Sound||OHL||CHL||62||23||28||51||26||-14||–|
|McNulty, Marc||Prince George||WHL||CHL||67||17||25||42||115||-10||–|
|De Haas, James||Clarkson||ECAC||NCAA||37||6||7||13||18||-12||49|
|McKee, Mike||W. Michigan||BIG-10||NCAA||19||1||0||1||52||-4||7|
|Pope, David||W. Kelowna||BCHL||USHL/JR-A||45||27||23||50||20||–||–|
GOALIES: REGULAR SEASON REPORT
|Coreau, Jared||Grand Rapids||AHL||5||0||4||0||0||4.39||.873|
|Mrazek, Petr||Grand Rapids||AHL||24||18||5||1||2||2.01||.928|
|McCollum, Thomas||Grand Rapids||AHL||40||21||11||3||2||2.29||.923|
SKATERS: PLAYOFF REPORT
|Pope, David||W. Kelowna||BCHL||USHL/JR. A||6||2||4||6||2||—||—|