Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
I will link you to those articles; as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2017-18 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a dark horse to make the NHL. The cut-off for prospects is typically 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Detroit Red Wings Prospects
All good things must come to an end. After 25 straight seasons in the playoffs, the streak is finally dead. The Red Wings dominated in the 1990s and 2000s, but has grown old. It is time for the club to finally undergo a full scale rebuild. Stockpiling 11 picks in this year’s draft, it is clear that management also sees the writing on the wall and has begun to take the steps needed for that renewal. With the closing of Joe Louis Arena last season, this will be an era of change, both on and off the ice for the Red Wings. It could be a couple of years before the Red Wings bring playoff games to their new home.
2017 NHL Draft Picks: Michael Rasmussen, Gustav Lindstrom, Kasper Kotkansalo, Lane Zablocki, Zach Gallant, Keith Petruzzelli, Malte Setkov, Cole Fraser, John Adams, Reilly Webb, Brady Gilmour,
Graduates: Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Xavier Ouellette, Nick Jensen
Top Prospect: Evgeny Svechnikov
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born October 31, 1996 — Neftegorsk, Russia
Height 6’2″ — Weight 199 lbs [188 cm / 90 kg]
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1st round, #19 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Selected had a strong rookie season with Grand Rapids, with 20 goals and 51 points in 74 games. He also had five goals and 12 points in 19 games. He also played two NHL games. After a tough last year of junior, this was a a big step forward for Svechnikov, and shows that he is on the right path towards the NHL.
Svechnikov is a strong skater with very good speed and acceleration for his size. He loves to drive the net and can finish in close when he gets there. He shows great versatility on the rush. Svechnikov has the speed to take a defender wide, the agility and strong stick handling to beat them with his lateral movement, or by fooling them with changing speeds. He is stronger since his draft year, improving his balance, and becoming tougher to knock off the puck. He has also improved his first step.
Svechnikov has good size. He shows off an outstanding wrist shot and release. He also has an impressive snap shot and a very hard one-timer. When it comes to his shooting arsenal, Svechnikov has pro-ready skills. However, he is not just a one-trick pony as Svechnikov also has excellent vision and passing ability. He shows high-end offensive hockey IQ, making very smart plays with the puck on his stick and finding openings in the defence without it.
Svechnikov has tremendous skill and the stick handling ability to protect the puck and to get by defenders. He also shows the willingness to play a power game when necessary, getting in hard on the fore check, and battling hard in the corners and in front of the net. He pressures defenders effectively. Svechnikov throws big hits at times.
Svechnikov’s defensive game is a work in progress. He tries to help out in his own end and uses his size to battle for pucks. Other areas of his game are improving. Svechnikov’s positioning is better than it was in his draft year. However, he can still get himself out of position and leaves the opposing team with passing lanes from time-to-time. He tries hard, but still makes some mistakes when he doesn’t have the puck. Svechnikov is improving, but still needs some work.
Svechnikov will likely start the season with Grand Rapids. He could make some appearances as a call-up to replace injuries and get more experience. However, the Wings have been patient with prospects in recent years, and he still needs to round out his game. Svechnikov has elite level skill, it will be up to the Wings development staff to make sure he reaches his high potential.
Prospect #2: Michael Rasmussen
The Red Wings drafted Rasmussen with the 9th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Rasmussen. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Prospect #3: Filip Hronek
Defense — shoots Right
Born November 2nd, 1997 — Byst, Czech Rep.
Height 6’0″ — Weight 170 lbs [183 cm / 77 kg]
Drafted by Detroit Red Wings in the 2nd round, #53 overall at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft
Hronek came to North America and finished up his junior career with a huge season for the Saginaw Spirit in the OHL. He put up 61 points in 59 games with the Saginaw Spirit in the OHL. He also added two goals and four points in five games at the World Juniors. Hronek finished his year playing in 10 regular season games and two playoff games with Grand Rapids, as they won the Calder Cup.
Hronek is a solid skater. He has good speed in both directions, and excellent acceleration. Hronek has the agility and footwork to be an extremely mobile defender. He covers large areas of the ice. Hronek is tough to beat one-on-one due to his good feet.
Offensively, Hronek’s agility can combine with his stick handling to make him dangerous moving the puck up the ice. He also has good side-to-side agility, allowing him to walk the line, and open up the passing and shooting lanes. Balance and strength on the puck can be an issue. Hronek needs to bulk up so he does not get pushed off the puck. This will help win battles along the boards and clear the front of the net.
Filip Hronek projects as a puck moving defenceman as he has a number of good offensive skills. He sees the ice extremely well and has very good instincts and passing skills. He can utilize these with a good first pass out of the zone to start the transition game, or to quarterback things on the power play.
Hronek has poise with with the puck on his stick, and the patience to wait for a shooting or passing lane to open up. He also has the stick handling ability to get away from forecheckers, and to maneuver with the puck through the neutral zone. When it does, he can thread a pass through a small opening. Hronek has a decent slap shot, which he gets through traffic and on net. It could stand to be a little bit more powerful, but that may come with maturity. Hronek’s hockey IQ and offensive instincts are extremely good.
Hronek has some solid defensive skills, but his lack of size and strength can be a detriment to his game. He has a quick stick which he can use to poke the puck off of an attackers stick. He has good positioning, reads the play well and cuts down passing lanes. However Hronek’s lack of muscle makes it difficult for him to clear the front of the net, or contain bigger forwards in the cycle game.
Hronek should head to the AHL this season. He will need time to adjust to the quicker speed of pro hockey, and round out his game before being ready to play in the NHL full-time. He may get some callups to gain experience. Hronek has the potential to be a top-four defenceman and key weapon on the powerplay. He needs time to bulk up in order to play better defensively.
Prospect #4: Dennis Cholowski
Defense — shoots Left
Born February 15th, 1998 — Langley, British Columbia
Height 6’1″ — Weight 185 lbs [185 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by Detroit Red Wings in the 1st round, #20 overall at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft
After being drafted out of the BCHL, with the Wings 20th overall pick in the first round, Cholowski attended St. Cloud University. It was a bit of an up and down freshman season, and he finished with one goal and 11 assists for 12 points in 36 games. Following the season Cholowski decided to turn pro, signing with the Wings. He got in one AHL game with Grand Rapids.
Cholowski’s speed is slightly above average, but he could improve by working on being more explosive in his stride. His edgework and agility is good, allowing him to walk the line and make those plays at the offensive blue line. In terms of lower body strength and power, he could stand to add some muscle. He can be overpowered and out muscled when fighting for loose pucks in the corner or attempting to clear the front of the net. Cholowski works hard down low, but the muscle just isn’t there to be effective right now. He has a very skinny frame right now, and there is certainly room to add some muscle over the next several years.
Cholowski moves the puck very well. He has a strong first pass out of the zone, startingthe transition game. At the offensive blue line, he is poised with the puck on his stick, and willing to hold onto it and move laterally in order to create passing and shooting lanes. He has good vision and can make tape-to-tape passes through small openings. Due to high-end hockey sense and IQ, Cholowski often makes the right play with the puck on his stick. Cholowski does not have a cannon from the point, but it has decent power. More importantly he keeps it low and gets it on net through traffic. He stick handles well. Cholowski has the skill to also get involved in leading the rush, or carry the puck through the neutral zone.
Cholowski is a very smart defender. He seems to always be in the right position. He keeps attackers to the outside, keeping himself between the puck and the net at all times. Cholowski maintains good gap control as well. As mentioned he will need to add muscle to his frame in order to be more effective when facing big and physical forwards. He is willing to block shots and uses an active stick to cut down on passing lanes. Cholowski retrieves pucks quickly, has the ability to avoid forecheckers, and gets the puck out of the zone quickly and into the offensive transition.
Moving from Junior A hockey into the NCAA, and then the pro ranks is difficult. The game is faster, and Cholowski made a big jump last season. He needs time to get comfortable and develop before moving up. It is likely the Wings assign him to Grand Rapids. However he is young enough that they could assign him to Prince George in the WHL as well. How he looks in camp will be a big determining factor. He’s a few years away from the NHL.
Prospect #5: Tyler Bertuzzi
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born February 24th, 1995 — Sudbury, Ontario
Height 6’1″ — Weight 190 lbs [185 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by Detroit Red Wings in the 2nd round, #58 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Bertuzzi had a strong second year as a pro. Despite playing in 23 less games, he matched his AHL goal total, and scored seven more points than his rookie year. He was even better in the Calder Cup Playoffs, scoring nine goals and 19 points in 19 games, and helping the Griffins take home the Calder Cup. The Griffins team was mostly led by veterans, and Bertuzzi was the most promising of their prospects, and he was named the Calder Cup Playoff MVP.
Bertuzzi has a very unorthodox skating style. It features a wide stride and looks a bit awkward. It does not seem to hold him back though, as he gets around the ice quickly enough to keep up with the play. He is also quick to get in on the forecheck. Bertuzzi has excellent lower body strength and real power to his stride. This helps him to win battles on the boards and in front of the net. Bertuzzi fights through checks, and is strong on the puck as he drives to the net.
Bertuzzi plays a very physical game, getting in hard on the forecheck, winning battles on the boards and establishing position in front of the net. He plays a gritty game. After a whistle, you can find Bertuzzi in the middle of any scrums that might form. He has a knack for agitating and irritating opponents. He also has a very good shot, and an excellent release. With the puck on his stick he’s always looking to drive the net. He plays a very simple game and is more likely to go through a defenceman than to try to make fancy moves to go around him. As Bertuzzi continues to add muscle to his frame, he becomes more effective with each passing season.
Bertuzzi plays his gritty style in all three zones. He is always ready to compete for loose pucks on the board, or to throw a hit to regain the puck. Bertuzzi is willing to do what it takes to win, back checking hard, supporting the defence down low, and even blocking shots.
With the season that Bertuzzi had, and with the Red Wings going into rebuild mode, he should be given an real opportunity to make the club out of camp. However, Bertuzzi likely needs to keep crack the top nine, or the Wings will send him to the AHL. It just does not make sense from a developmental perspective to put a 22-year-old with promise on the fourth line. He could be up this year, but should be in the NHL by 2018-19 at the latest.
Prospect #6: Vili Saarijarvi
Defense — shoots Right
Born May 15th, 1997 — Rovaniemi, Finland
Height 5’10” — Weight 165 lbs [178 cm / 75 kg]
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 3rd round, #73 overall, at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Wrist surgery last summer had Saarjarvi miss the start of the 2016-17 season. When he did return, he put up 11 goals and 31 points in 34 games for the Mississauga Steelheads. Despite the short season, he was still nominated for OHL defenceman of the year. He also had five goals and 15 points in 20 games as the Steelheads reached the OHL final. Saarjarvi was one of the bright spots for Finland at the World juniors with four points in six games.
Saajarvi has a smooth, near text-book stride. He generates great speed in both directions, and reaches that top end speed with quick acceleration. Strong edge work and agility allow him to skate the puck out of danger, or get by opponents on the rush. He also does a really good job of walking the line, and opening up passing and shooting lanes. Saajarvi could use a little more lower body strength and balance. He is strong on the puck in junior, but will soon be facing much stronger opponents.
Saarjarvi is an offensive defenceman. He combines his smooth skating with skilled puck handling ability in order to start the transition game, and can even lead the rush. He has the vision and passing skill to make long passes for breakaways, and to quarterback the power play from the blue line. Saarjarvi has a decent shot, which he keeps low and on net, leading to tip-ins and rebounds. He also has good hockey sense, making smart plays with the puck on his stick.
Saarjarvi is very strong positionally. He has good gap control, and funnels attackers to the outside. While he isn’t the most physical defender, he has a knack for using his stick to seperate his man from the puck. He will dig in the corners and fight for pucks, but can have issues with bigger forwards. Clearing the front of the net, and containing big forwards on the cycle can be issues. He needs to get stronger for the pro game. One area that really helps is how quickly Saarjarvi is able to get the puck out of the zone and transition up the ice. He needs to pick his spots joining the rush though, as he can sometimes get caught out of position.
Saarjarvi is likely headed to Grand Rapids this year. He has high end offensive potential, but will need some time to get stronger, and round out his game. He might get a few call-ups if injuries hit, but full-time NHL duty is a bit down the road.
Sleeper Prospect and Prospect #7: Joe Hicketts
Defense — shoots Left
Born May 4th 1996 — Kamloops, BC
Height 5’8″ — Weight 177 lbs [173 cm / 80 kg]
Signed with the Red Wings as a free agent
Hicketts went undrafted in 2014 due to concerns about his size. The Detroit Red Wings invited him to camp, and then gave him an entry level contract in what is currently looking like a real coup. In his first pro season, he had 34 points in 73 regular season games and eight points in 19 playoff games in helping the Griffins to the Calder Cup.
Hicketts is an impressive skater. He has great top end speed, excellent acceleration and a great first step. He also has excellent agility, edge work and pivots. This allows Hicketts to cover a lot of ice, and to transition from offence to defence quickly, and vice-versa. As a result, Hicketts plays a very effective two-way game.
Hicketts has great vision and passing ability. He is a natural on the power play, walking the line, opening up passing and shooting options, and generating points. He is also able to start the rush, either by skating the puck up the ice himself, or by making an effective first pass out of the zone. Hicketts also has a very good wrist shot and a quick release. He uses this effectively when he is under pressure or when there is a lot of traffic in front of the net. He can also use his wrist shot to score off the rush. Hicketts has very high hockey IQ, and always seems to make the right play with the puck.
Hicketts is very strong positionally, and uses a low centre of gravity to be strong on the puck and play effective defense. He cuts down passing and shooting lanes and always keeps himself between the puck and the net. Hicketts moves the puck out of his own zone effectively. He gets back quickly on dump ins, retrieving pucks quickly and moving it up the ice. It remains to be seen if his size will be a concern against bigger and stronger forwards.
Hicketts may need to spend another year in the AHL. If he takes as big a step as he did in his rookie year he could be ready for the Red Wings sometime during the 2018-19 season.
A boatload of draft picks have helped stock the system. Rasmussen, Lane Zablocki, Zach Gallant, Jack Adams and Brady Gilmour stock the system. Svechnikov, and Bertuzzi are joined by Givani Smith, Jordan Sambrook, Axel Holmstrom, Chase Pearson, Dominic Turgeon, and Christoffer Ehn as solid prospects. Its make or break time for Martin Frk, who was great in the AHL last year. The Wings waived him when he didn’t make the team last year and he ended up in Carolina for a short stint, but made his way back to the team.
Gustav Lindstrom, Kasper Kotkansalo, Malte Setkov, Cole Fraser and Riley Webb are added to a blue line that already featured Saarijarvi, Hronek, Hicketts, Cholowski, Robbie Russo and Ryan Sproul. The defence has real depth, but lacks a true blue chipper. The Wings must hope one emerges from the pack, or find one in future drafts. Jared Coreau, Keith Petruzelli, Matej Machovsky, and Filip Larsson provide depth in the crease.
Main Photo via Getty Images