Welcome to the 2018 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2018 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2018 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed.
What we will be doing is linking 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 2018-19 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Detroit Red Wings Prospects
After their 25-year playoff run was broken in 2016-17, it was obvious that the Detroit Red Wings needed to go through a period of rebuilding. That period has started, and the 2017-18 season was one of pain for fans of an organization that had spent over two decades near the top of the NHL. The Wings finished with 73 points, and in 27th overall in the league.
The Wings have had a busy off-season. Free agent Mike Green was re-signed, while the team also brought back a familiar face in Thomas Vanek. In net, Jonathan Bernier was brought in on a three-year deal. Dan Bylsma was also added as an assistant coach. However, Ken Holland‘s most important work this off-season came at the NHL Draft. The Red Wings were widely considered one of the biggest winners of the day and a good return bolsters this team for the future.
2018 Draft Picks: Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno, Jonatan Berggren, Jared McIsaac, Alec Regula, Seth Barton, Jesper Eliasson, Ryan O’Reilly, Victor Brattstrom, Otto Kivenmaki
Graduations: Tyler Bertuzzi, Martin Frk
Top Prospect: Filip Zadina
The Red Wings drafted Zadina with the 6th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Zadina. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#2 Prospect: Michael Rasmussen
Centre — shoots Left
Born April 17th, 1999 — Surrey, British Columbia
Height 6’6″ — Weight 215 lbs [198 cm/98 kg]
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1st round, #9 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Rasmussen had another solid regular season for Tri-City with 31 goals and 59 points in 47 games. However, it was in the playoffs that he really exploded with 16 goals and 33 points in just 14 playoff games. Rasmussen’s strong finish to the season showed why he was worthy of a top 10 pick just one year ago.
Rasmussen is a towering 6-foot-6 centre who is a pretty good skater given his size. He has a strong stride which gives above-average speed and decent agility. While he is not the biggest hitter, he plays a powerful game. He uses his size to win board battles and protect the puck down low on the cycle. A strong core and good balance make him difficult to knock off the puck. Rasmussen also has the power in his stride to fight through checks and take the puck to the net. While it is not a liability, his skating can continue to improve. There is still room to improve his top-end speed, agility and edgework.
Rasmussen’s long reach makes it very hard to get the puck off of him, and he has the slick hands to control it in tight areas or make plays in close to the goalie. This, along with his strength on the puck allows him to extend plays in the cycle game, waiting for teammates to get open. His vision is very good, as is his ability to pass the puck through tight spaces. If Rasmussen is put on a line with at least one other forward who can work this style, he will be able to maintain possession and control the puck down low for long periods of time. When scoring chances present themselves he can take advantage by making a good pass.
Rasmussen can also establish body position in front of the net and uses his size as an effective screen. Rasmussen has the talent to bang in rebounds and tip-in shots. He also has a very heavy wrist shot, with good accuracy and an excellent release. When he does not have the puck, Rasmussen is relentless in his forechecking and puck pursuit. He uses his size and strength to effectively lean on opposing players, and win battles for loose pucks in the corner.
Rasmussen is also very good in his own zone. He brings the same grit and tenacity to the defensive end that he does to the offensive end. He also has very good positioning and his long reach helps him to be very effective at cutting down passing and shooting lanes. Rasmussen is able to contribute on the penalty kill. He must continue to work on his face-off skills.
Rasmussen will head to training camp looking to make the Red Wings Roster. A strong camp could see him earn a nine-game audition to start the season. However, big forwards can take some time to develop and it may serve Rasmussen well to go back to the WHL and spend another year working on his skating and overall game in junior.
#3 Prospect: Filip Hronek
Defence — shoots Right
Born November 2nd, 1997 — Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic
Height 6’0″ — Weight 178 lbs [183 cm / 81 kg]
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2nd round, #53 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Hronek had a solid rookie season in the AHL, putting up 11 goals and 39 points in 67 games. It was enough to earn him a spot on the AHL All-Rookie team. He had just one point in five playoff games, as the Griffins were unable to defend their 2017 Calder Cup. Hronek made the Czech team for the Men’s World Championships putting up a goal and two assists in eight games.
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 defenseman 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 the puck on his stick, and the patience to wait for a shooting or passing lane to open up. He also has the stickhandling 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 slapshot, which he gets through traffic and on the net. It could stand to be a little bit more powerful, but that may come with maturity and upper body strength. Hronek’s hockey IQ and offensive instincts are extremely good.
Hronek has some solid defensive skills, but his lack of muscle 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 has the skills to project as a two-way, top-4 defender who can contribute in all situations. More development time is needed though. He really needs to continue to get physically stronger to face bigger and more skilled opponents now that he is a professional. Expect to see him back in Grand Rapids, though he may get called up if injuries hit. A more realistic full-time arrival is during the 2019-20 season.
#4 Prospect: Joe Veleno
The Red Wings drafted Veleno with the 30th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Veleno. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#5 Prospect: Dennis Cholowski
Defence — shoots Left
Born February 15th, 1998 — Langley, British Columbia
Height 6’1″ — Weight 200 lbs [185 cm / 91 kg]
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1st round, #20 overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft
Cholowski made the transition from college hockey to the WHL last season. He split time between the Prince George Cougars and Portland Winterhawks after being involved in a trade deadline move. Cholowski scored 14 goals and 52 assists for 66 points in 69 games. He also added five goals and seven points in 12 playoff games. Cholowski got in a single playoff game with the Grand Rapids Griffins at the end of the year.
Cholowski’s speed is slightly above average, but he could improve by working on being more explosive in his stride. His edgework and agility are good, allowing him to walk the line and make those plays in the offensive zone. In terms of lower body strength and power, he could stand to add some muscle. He can be overpowered and outmuscled when fighting for loose pucks in the corner or attempting to clear the front of the net. Cholowski is able to handle most forwards at the junior level, but there is some question if he will be effective at the AHL level. He was noticeably stronger last season than he was in college, but there is still room to improve this area.
Cholowski moves the puck very well. He has a strong first pass out of the zone, starting the 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 stickhandles 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.
Cholowski will head to Grand Rapids for a full-time role in professional hockey next season. He could be a couple of years away from the NHL but has the skill to be a top-four defenceman one day. The Red Wings will be closely monitoring his development.
#6 Prospect: Jared McIsaac
The Red Wings drafted McIsaac with the 36th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on McIsaac. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#7 Prospect: Evgeny Svechnikov
Right Wing — shoots Left
Born October 31st, 1996 — Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia
Height 6’3″ — Weight 212 lbs [191 cm / 96 kg]
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1st round, #19 overall, at the 2015 NHL Draft
After a very strong rookie season in the AHL, Svechnikov fell back a bit in his second campaign. he put up just seven goals and 23 points in 57 games. He also had just one goal in five playoff games. Svechnikov also spent time in Detroit, putting up two goals and two assists in 14 games. Overall, it was a season to forget for the Russian winger.
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 stickhandling 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 snapshot 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 stickhandling 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 forecheck, and battling hard in the corners and in front of the net. He pressures defenders effectively. Svechnikov throws big hits at times. The issue here is consistency. Svechnikov can be a world beater one night, and seem invisible the next. He needs to find a way to bring his elite offensive skills on a more regular basis.
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 hopes to have a strong training camp and put last season behind him. There are some openings in the Red Wings forward group, but with stiff competition for spots, he will need to have a great camp to seize one. At this point, the expectation is that Svechnikov will start the season in the AHL, but could be called up if he is producing well or if injuries hit.
#8 Prospect: Jonatan Berggren
The Red Wings drafted Berggren with the 33rd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Berggren. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#9 Prospect: Gustav Lindstrom
Defense — shoots Right
Born October 20th, 1998 — Ostervala, Sweden
Height 6’2″ — Weight 187 lbs [188 cm / 85 kg]
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2nd round, #38 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Lindstrom had a solid season with Almtuna in the Allsvenskan putting up six goals and 14 points in 39 games. He also played on a deep Swedish blueline at the World Juniors, picking up one assist in seven games and helping the team to a silver medal. Over the off-season, he transferred to Frolunda and is set to play in the SHL next year.
Lindstrom is a strong skater. He has very good speed in both directions, including very good acceleration. Lindstrom can cover a lot of ice. He has good edgework and agility which allows him to keep attackers in front of him. His pivots are crisp and clean. This allows him to transition from defence to offence quickly and vice-versa. Lindstrom could work on his lower-body strength though. He needs to be stronger on the puck and better at winning battles in the corners and in front of the net.
Lindstrom is more of a trigger man than a power play quarterback. He has an excellent slap shot and one-timer. He can also sneak in from the point and unleash a powerful wrist shot from the top of the circles. His shot features a quick release that can surprise goalies. Lindstrom lacks the poise to be a strong playmaker at the point. He moves the puck very quickly, looking to get rid of it to a safe option on the perimeter, rather than make a creative play that leads to a scoring chance.
Lindstrom makes a solid first pass out of the zone, but again it is more of the safe type of play than one that creates offensive chances. He moves the puck to an open man and gets back into position. He is not one to skate the puck out of danger or make plays rushing the puck through the neutral zone. Instead, Lindstrom plays the safe and simple game.
Lindstrom is a smart defensive player. His strong skating and smarts allow him to maintain good gap control. He forces attackers to the outside and into non-threatening areas. While he is not a big hitter, he uses his frame effectively to shut down passing lanes and take away shooting opportunities. He is also willing to battle in the corners and in front of the net, but could stand to get stronger.
Lindstrom will likely spend a season or two more in Sweden before making his way over to North America. The Red Wings have traditionally been patient with prospects, and this should not be an exception. Lindstrom has real potential but is several years away from being NHL ready.
#10 Prospect: Vili Saarijarvi
Defence — 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 Draft
Saarijarvi split time between Grand Rapids in the AHL and Toledo in the ECHL. He had 11 assists in 42 games for Grand Rapids but struggled at times with the speed and size of professional forwards. He also had two goals and four assists in 10 ECHL games.
Saarijarvi has a smooth, near text-book stride. He generates great speed in both directions and reaches that top-end speed with quick acceleration. Strong edgework 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. Saarijarvi could increase his lower body strength and improve his balance. He can be knocked around by bigger opponents and has trouble winning battles along the boards and in front of the net. His slender frame is the biggest issue facing him and slowing his development right now.
Saarijarvi 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 the net, leading to tip-ins and rebounds. He also has good hockey sense, making smart plays with the puck on his stick.
Saarijarvi 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 separate 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 are big issues right now. He needs to get a lot stronger to succeed in the pro game. One area that really helps is how quickly Saarijarvi 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.
Expect Saarijarvi to start next season in Grand Rapids. It is hoped that with another year of experience and physical development, he is ready to take a big step forward this season. Saarijarvi has elite skating skill and can drive the transition game, but also needs to improve in some areas before he is ready to play in the NHL.
Sleeper Prospect: Filip Larsson
Goalie — shoots Left — Catches Left
Born August 17th, 1998 — Stockholm, Sweden
Height 6’2″ — Weight 196 lbs [188 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 6th round, #167 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Larsson made his way to North America and played for the Tri-City Storm in the USHL last season. He put up incredible numbers, with a 1.65 goals-against average and .941 save percentage. The save percentage set a league record. His remarkable season earned him the USHL Goaltender of the Year Award. Larsson also played on Sweden’s entry in the World Juniors, appearing in one game as a back-up. He is set to attend the University of Denver this fall.
Skating and Talent Analysis
Larsson plays deep in his crease, protecting the net with his quick reflexes. He has very quick legs and takes away the bottom of the net. Like many young goaltenders, he could work on his rebound control. Larsson stays square to the shooter and is ready to make the next save when he does give up a rebound. He is good at tracking the puck and gets post-to-post quickly. Larsson gets his glove hand in front of shots but needs to be better at catching the puck to shut down rebounds. He also has a good blocker.
Larsson stays in his net and does not come out to play the puck. His puck skills could use some work going forward, but he is more likely to just let his defenders handle things.
Larsson does not let things phase him. It can sometimes be an adjustment for goaltenders moving from big ice to the smaller surface. Increased traffic in front of the net can take some adjusting too. This wasn’t the case for Larsson who did not let it bother him and just kept playing his game. He does not dwell on bad goals but is quick to recover and get ready to make the next save.
Like many young goaltenders, Larsson will need plenty of development time. He will get that with four years of eligibility at the University of Denver, a perennial NCAA power. Larsson showed elite potential this past season, but there is still plenty of development needed.
The Red Wings have potential high-end talents at forward in Zadina and Rasmussen. This draft also helped add depth with Veleno, Berggren and Ryan O’Reilly added to the mix. Beyond them, Dominic Turgeon, Lane Zablocki, Zachary Gallant, and Givani Smith have potential but are further down the depth chart.
The Wings have really improved their defensive depth in recent years. They took three defencemen in the top 81 picks in this year’s draft. In addition to the defenders already mentioned, Joe Hicketts is knocking on the door of an NHL job while Malte Setkov, Libor Sulak, and Kasper Kotkansalo are also in the system. In goal, the Wings also have a strong prospect in Keith Petruzelli.
The Wings have built excellent depth in their system, but need to add a few more elite level prospects before their rebuild will truly be considered successful. The team is well on their way.
Main Photo: DALLAS, TX – JUNE 22: Filip Zadina reacts after being selected sixth overall by the Detroit Red Wings during the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 22, 2018, in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images Sport)