The Detroit Red Wings are an organization that has enjoyed decades of success. While that is a tremendous achievement, the downfall is a low draft ranking. This past draft marked the first time since 1990 that Detroit had selected a draft pick in the single digit range when they selected Keith Primeau third overall 28 years ago. The 25-year streak of playoff appearances meant the team was always picking later than the 20th overall selection if they had a first-round pick at all.
Despite being deprived of the easy picks in the draft, the Wings were able to constantly find value in the later rounds with players like Henrik Zetterberg (210th overall in 1999), Valtteri Filppula (95th overall in 2002), Johan Franzen (97th overall in 2004) and Andreas Athanasiou (110th overall in 2012) and the list goes on and on.
The Wings playoff streak has ended, and the team is on a downward trend to be sure, but the future is not bleak for the Wings as they have a number of good prospects in the system.
They may lack a superstar potential prospect at this time, but there are quality assets on the roster in Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin, and Anthony Mantha who look to be the future core of the team, with more help on the horizon.
1. Michael Rasmussen, C – Tri-City (WHL)
Drafted: Ninth overall in the first round of the 2017 draft by Detroit.
As mentioned, the last time Detroit drafted inside the top ten of an NHL Draft was back in 1990, so it is safe to say Wings fans should be excited about Rasmussen. The big Canadian center looks to form a formidable and intimidating duo in the future with Anthony Mantha (6-5, 221 pounds) as both are massive and highly skilled players. Rasmussen missed the end of his draft year with a hand injury, and is again injured in his D+1 year, but has improved his offensive production and been named team Captain. As we know the Wings like to slow cook their prospects, letting them play out their junior eligibility and then letting them develop in the AHL for several years before placing them on the NHL roster. Often bigger players need some extra seasoning time as well, so expect the wait on Rasmussen to be several years, but he should prove to be well worth the wait.
2. Tyler Bertuzzi, LW/RW – Grand Rapids (AHL)
Drafted: 58th overall in the second round of the 2013 Draft by Detroit.
Bertuzzi has been derailed by injury several times in his career but perseveres. He played in only 29 games in his D+1 year, was poised to make the team out of training camp last year but was injured in preseason, and again started the year injured this year. Despite all his injuries, he continues to develop and improve his stock in the organization. Bertuzzi has been magnificent for Grand Rapids in their postseason runs with a Calder Cup Championship including being named Playoff MVP in 2016-17. Currently called up to Detroit, this may be the opportunity for Bertuzzi to stick on the Wings roster to stay as he is a fiercely competitive player that is physical, aggressive, skilled and a strong skater. His versatility should ensure him a roster spot.
3. Evgeni Svechnikov, RW/LW – Grand Rapids (AHL)
Drafted: 19th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft by Detroit
This was a year many were looking for Svechnikov to make the jump to the NHL after a strong rookie AHL season posting 51 points in 74 games. He made his NHL debut playing in two games towards the end of last season, and a very impressive postseason scoring 12 points in 19 games. However, the Wings choose not to rush the prized prospect and return him to the AHL for another year of development. The decision may have been the correct call as his production has dipped slightly as he endures the sophomore slump in the AHL. With any luck, the Wings will have a top three draft choice for the first time in 28 years and pick his younger brother Andrei Svechnikov.
4. Filip Hronek, D – Grand Rapids (AHL)
Drafted: 53rd overall in the second round of the 2016 draft by Detroit
Hronek had a breakout year in his North American debut playing just north of Detroit in Saginaw of the OHL where as a rookie import defenseman he posted 61 points in 59 games for the Spirit. Hronek finished the year in the AHL posting a goal and two points in ten games showing he was ready for the pro. This year he is an AHL rookie in Grand Rapids and is hovering around a half a point per game pace with an impressive plus -11 in his first half of the season. Hronek is a prospect rising fast within the Wings organization.
5. Vili Saarijarvi, D – Grand Rapids (AHL)
Drafted: 73rd overall in the third round of the 2015 draft by Detroit.
Saarijarvi is a highly skilled offensive defenseman. He has enjoyed success in the junior level and on the international stage with Finland winning the Gold Medal at the World Junior. He is an excellent puck distributing and skating defenseman that excels at the offensive transition game. In his final season of junior he had a strong playoff run with Mississauga posting 15 points in 20 games as their top offensive defenseman. In his first year as a pro, he started in the AHL but has since been assigned to the ECHL as the jump to the pro level has been a difficult transition for the undersized Finn. The future is still very bright for the right-shot defenseman as he continues to mature physically and add strength as he adjusts to the pro game.
6. Givani Smith, RW/LW – Kitchener (OHL)
Drafted: 46th overall in the second round of the 2016 draft by Detroit
As the NHL generally seems to be rending towards skill and speed, the Wings are adding bulk and size in Mantha, Rasmussen, and Smith. Smith is another big, strong winger that racked up 139 penalty minutes last year in Guelph on the OHL. But he has a nose for the net as well as he also scored 26 goals. Smith played in three games in the AHL late last season with Grand Rapids but was held pointless. Smith was moved to the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL at the trade deadline and will be poised for his first look at some playoff action since his rookie season when he posted five points in nine games. This is Smiths final year of junior, and he will look to make his pro debut next year as an AHL rookie where he likely sees several years of development.
7. Dennis Cholowski, D – Portland (WHL)
Drafted: 20th overall in the first round of the 2016 draft by Detroit
Drafted out of the BCHL, Cholowski spent his D+1 year in the NCAA with St. Cloud State but signed his ELC with Detroit after his first year. He finished the season in the AHL with Grand Rapids and was assigned to his junior rights holder Prince George to start this year. He has since been traded to the Portland Winterhawks after posting 39 points in 37 games with the Cougars. Cholowski has filled out physically since his draft and has developed his offensive game at the junior level. Cholowski will get a better playoff experience in Portland before he embarks on his pro career in the AHL next year in Grand Rapids.
8. Jared Coreau, G – Grand Rapids (AHL)
Drafted: Undrafted, signed as a free agent in 2013
The Wings don’t always rely on the draft to find gems as they added a potential starting goalie as a free agent from the NCAA. Coreau backstopped Grand Rapids to their 2016-17 Calder Cup Championship and played his way into 14 NHL games last year after injuries opened the door, and he did not look out of place. After exposing Mrazek in the expansion draft, the Wings have shown their confidence in Coreau, and he has a future with this organization as soon as a contract on the roster can be moved.
9. Joe Hicketts, D – Grand Rapids (AHL)
Drafted: Undrafted, signed as a free agent in 2014
The undrafted, undersized defenseman continues to defy the odds. His rookie AHL season has to be considered a success, with 34 points, a plus -15 and another eight points in 19 playoff games. He seems to be suffering the sophomore slump with only seven points in his first 40 games this year, but Hicketts game does not rely on his offensive output despite his small size. He is a fearless and aggressive player to the point where he could be accused of overcompensating for his size. He is a strong skater with a high hockey IQ on both sides of the puck, and he has a high compete level. He is amassing an impressive resume which now includes a World Junior Gold Medal, Calder Cup Championship, and an Ivan Hlinka Gold Medal to name a few achievements. There seems to be no stopping Hicketts from reaching the NHL, and it is likely a matter of time before he makes his debut in Detroit.
10. Jordan Sambrook, D – Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Drafted: 137th overall in the fifth round of the 2016 draft by Detroit.
Sambrook is another great example of a great value draft by the Detroit scouting staff. Sambrook is a well-rounded, two-way defenseman that is somewhat of a jack of all trades, and master of none. He is not going to be a first pairing defenseman as he is not dominant in any one aspect of the game. But he has good size, is a good and mobile skater and is reliable in all zones and in all situations. He comes loaded with big game experience including an OHL Championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup with Erie last year. Sambrook was traded to the OHL powerhouse Greyhounds along with Taylor Raddysh for another playoff and Memorial Cup run to wrap up his OHL career. He projects as a big minute player that can play late in a game either up, or down by a goal.