There is a changing of the guard coming in Detroit. With Pavel Datsyuk gone to the KHL and Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall both 35-years old, the Red Wings will be looking to the next generation to carry the load and not only keep the playoff streak alive, but to win a round.
That next generation is not clearly defined, but a lot of expectations lie with the likes of Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin, Gustav Nyquist and Thomas Tatar for starters.
The Wings have always done an excellent job of scouting, drafting and developing players and have several players who have recently graduated from the prospects ranks and have several more coming down the pipe.
Top 10 Detroit Red Wings Prospects
1. Anthony Mantha – Right/Left wing
2015-16: Grand Rapids (AHL)
Drafted: 20th overall in the first round of the 2013 draft by Detroit
In his rookie season at the pro level, Mantha struggled coming back off a bad leg injury and struggled with the pace for most of the season. In his sophomore season he had a much better impact and showed significant improvement in the speed of his hands, feet and decision making.
His improved play resulted in his NHL debut as a call up and in ten NHL games Mantha produced two goals and three points. Mantha put the work in over the summer adding even more size to his big frame and has looked noticeably faster at camps this summer as well. Mantha is not a lock to crack the NHL full time, but if he does he could be a Calder Candidate.
2. Andreas Athanasiou – Center/wing
2015-16: Detroit (NHL)
Drafted: 110th overall in the fourth round of the 2012 draft by Detroit
AA is a prospect I have been high on since his days with the Barrie Colts and could never understand why he was never mentioned in Red Wings prospect rankings. Athanasiou had a coming out season as the rest of the world caught up to what I have known for years. AA has speed to burn, soft hands and slick moves.
Athanasiou made his NHL debut and played a total of 37 games scoring nine goals and 14 points while playing just over nine minutes a game. Look for AA to make the team out of training camp and graduate from prospect status to full time NHL player.
3. Evgeni Svechnikov – Left/Right Wing
2015-16: Cape Breton (QMJHL)
Drafted: 19th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft by Detroit
With back-to-back 32 goal seasons in the OHL, the offensively talented Russian will turn pro playing in the AHL this coming season. Svechnikov made his debut in the post season in Grand Rapids, playing in two games and recording one assist. Svechnikov proved to be a prolific scorer at the junior level, but struggled at the WJC and was unable to get on the board in seven games for Russia against the best players in the world in his age group.
He will need to prove he can score at a higher level playing against men in the AHL and keep up with the increased pace of play. He has pro ready size and skill but will need to round out his game for a few years in the AHL as the Wings traditionally slow cook their prospects.
4. Tyler Bertuzzi – Left Wing
2015-16: Grand Rapids (AHL)
Drafted: 58th overall in the second round of the 2013 draft by Detroit
Due to two injury filled seasons in the middle of his junior career, Bertuzzi was an under the radar prospect for a while. In his final year in the OHL he had a breakout season scoring 98 points in 68 games. Following that he joined the Grand Rapids Griffins to make his pro debut and posted 12 points in 14 playoff games. In his first full season as a rookie last year, Bertuzzi posted 30 points and 133 penalty minutes in 71 games and has been turning heads all summer at both the Red Wings prospects and rookie camps giving a glimpse of what is to come.
Bertuzzi plays an aggressive physical and is relentless on the forecheck. He has good skating ability and positioning and has offensive ability with a quick shot and good playmaking vision. Bertuzzi plays a comparable style to valuable NHL players such as Brad Marchand and Brendan Gallagher and will eventually play an important middle six role in Detroit after at least one more season of development in the AHL.
5. Xavier Ouellet – Defence
2015-16: Grand Rapids (AHL)
Drafted: 48th overall in the second round of the 2011 draft by Detroit
Ouellet has been paying his dues in the AHL for the past three seasons, and had a breakout season last year posting 29 points and a plus -18 rating. He earned another NHL call up last year and now has 30 career games under his belt.
Ouellet will compete for a bottom pairing roster spot to start the season and will be one of the first players called up failing that. The two-way defender has a low ceiling but reliable floor to make the NHL sooner than later.
6. Robbi Russo – Defence
2015-16: Grand Rapids (AHL)
Drafted: 95th overall in the 5th round of the 2011 draft by New York Islanders
After playing out his four seasons of NCAA with Notre Dame as an unsigned prospect, Russo became a free agent and signed with the Wings after a breakout senior year where he scored over a point a game with 41 points in 40 games.
In his rookie AHL season he led the team in defensemen scoring with 39 points in 71 games, and led the league in plus/minus with an impressive plus -40. Already 23 years old, he is a mature player and has already made the transition to pro look easy. Russo may need some more development time in the AHL to round out his game but he is a player trending up and quickly and who could be an impact player when he arrives.
7. Joe Hicketts – Defence
2015-16: Victoria (WHL)
Drafted: Undrafted, signed as a free agent in 2014
Signed as a free agent as a rookie camp invitee in 2014, and since that time he has dominated the WHL posting over point per game totals as a defenceman. Hicketts has also been a member of Team Canada at the past two WJC where he helped wing Gold in 2015.
Hicketts is undersized, but compensates for being small with excellent positioning. He reads and reacts to plays extremely well and has strong anticipation. He has obvious offensive upside and has shown strong leadership qualities as Captain in Victoria and an Alternate Captain for Canada. Hicketts has had an impressive summer at the Detroit rookie camps and in preseason, but will play his first pro season in the AHL learning the pro game.
8. Vili Saarijarvi – Defence
2015-16: Flint (OHL)
Drafted: 73rd overall in the third round of the 2015 draft by Detroit
Saarijarvi endured a difficult season as an 18-year-old, with a dysfunctional team in a city with poisoned water. Despite the off ice trials he endured, Saarijarvi was able to demonstrate his excellent skating and playmaking skills as he posted 43 points in 53 games.
After the OHL season ended, Saarijarvi played five pro games in the ECHL for Toledo and was able to post four points and was an important player for Finland at the WJC claiming Gold on home soil with four points in the tournament.
An off season trade will see Saarijarvi move to a more competitive team this season in Mississauga where he will be surrounded with talented players. He may need to compete for ice time with the likes of Sean Day and Nicolas Hague, but he should be given plenty of opportunity to run the power play and refine his all-around game.
9. Dennis Cholowski – Defence
2015-16: Chilliwack (BCHL)
Drafted: 20th overall in the first round of the 2016 draft by Detroit
The Wings first round pick was a steady riser in his draft class coming from virtually off the map at the season start to the first round in Buffalo. The offensive defenceman has committed to play in the NCAA for St. Cloud State where he will play for the foreseeable future as he continues to develop his game against improved competition and will be given the opportunity to add strength to his undersized frame.
The Wings will be patient with their ’16 first round pick slow cooking him in College and likely some AHL time after that.
10. Givani Smith – Left/Right Wing
2015-16: Guelph (OHL)
Drafted: 46th overall in the second round of the 2016 draft by Detroit
The wings added a future power forward in the mold of Wayne Simmonds, in that he can score goals, dish hits and is an accomplished fighter. With 23 goals and 146 penalty minutes last season on the worst team in the OHL, Smith was a one man show most nights and could benefit from a change of scenery to a competitive team.
Smith plays a pro ready game already and is a good skater and good hockey IQ. Smith has a good shot, but should score most of his goals from just outside the crease with rebounds, tips and deflections.