The Detroit Red Wings have had quite the off-season and it’s not even July yet. Ken Holland has packed his bags and is now running hockey operations in Edmonton, Alberta for the Edmonton Oilers.
In his place, Steve Yzerman, former Red Wings star and former Tampa Bay Lightning general manager takes over. But, luckily for Yzerman, he’s got a plethora of talent in the Detroit Red Wings’ farm system.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 Detroit Red Wings prospects.
1. Joe Veleno, C, Drummondville Voltiguers (QMJHL)
HT/WT: 6’1″/194 lbs
Drafted: #30th overall in the 2018 draft by the Detroit Red Wings
Joe Veleno is an outstanding centreman. A couple of years ago, he was thought to be in contention for the number one overall selection in the 2018 draft. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Veleno’s offensive production in the season prior to the draft didn’t warrant a number one overall selection. In his 2017-18 campaign, he split time between the Saint John Sea Dogs and the Drummondville Voltiguers. In 64 games that season, Veleno tallied 22 goals and 57 assists. To be honest, those aren’t awful numbers. But, keep in mind that forwards who go number one in drafts usually post 100+ point seasons if they are playing in North America.
But, this past season in Drummondville, he’s proved to the clubs who passed on him that they made a sizable error in judgement. In 59 games with the Voltigeurs, he registered 42 goals and 62 assists. He was the fourth highest player in points in the QMJHL, behind Peter Abbandonato (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies), Ivan Chekhovich (Baie-Comeau Drakkar, San Jose Sharks prospect) and Alexis Lafrenière (Rimouski Oceanic).
He’s an offensive talent, who has great speed and elite vision. He’s got a knack for goal scoring. Whenever he delivers a goal, you can always expect a beautiful celebration immediately afterward. In addition, his stick-handling is top-notch and his passing is NHL-ready.
Veleno could potentially be one of the biggest draft steals.
2. Filip Zadina, LW/RW, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
HT/WT: 6’0″/196 lbs
Drafted: #6th overall in the 2018 draft by the Detroit Red Wings
While you’d think that Zadina should be ranked higher than Veleno as he was drafted higher, that’s not really the case. Zadina took a while to get used to playing in the AHL. He was an absolute stud for the Halifax Mooseheads in his 2017-18 campaign, but his 2018-19 season was a different story. In 59 games with Grand Rapids, he had tallied 16 goals and 19 assists.
Some of his slow production can be attributed to the injuries that he had last season. In December, he was dealing with a groin/hamstring issue and he had an undisclosed injury in March.
Zadina always manages to find open ice, his cross-ice passing is elite, he’s got a cannon of a wrist shot and loves going one-on-one with the goaltender to light up the lamp. Plus, he has a great backhand shot and his skating is sound.
Even though he struggled a tad last season, he still should be considered a top prospect. He’ll likely see some more time in the AHL next season, but if he has an impressive camp, he could be on the Red Wings’ opening night roster.
3. Jared McIsaac, D, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
HT/WT: 6’1″/192 lbs
Drafted: #36th overall in the 2018 draft by the Detroit Red Wings
In last year’s draft, the Detroit Red Wings loved selecting Halifax Mooseheads. They took two, Zadina and McIsaac. Both prospects have a lot of potential and could be mainstays in the NHL for a long time.
In 53 games played last season with Halifax, McIsaac mustered up 16 goals and 46 assists. In addition, McIsaac registered 2 goals and 14 assists in the QMJHL playoffs and in the Memorial Cup. Unfortunately, his production in the Memorial Cup wasn’t enough to propel the Mooseheads to victory.
McIsaac is an outstanding two-way defenseman. He’s great in transition. McIsaac can go from zone-to-zone untouched and unharmed. McIsaac is equipped with a laser of a shot, has exceptional passing skills and top-notch puck-handling.
He might need some time in the AHL, but if he continues to develop, he could be a top 4 defenseman in the NHL soon enough.
4. Dennis Cholowski, D, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL) and Detroit Red Wings (NHL)
HT/WT: 6’0″/194 lbs
Drafted: #20th overall in the 2016 draft by the Detroit Red Wings
Dennis Cholowski had a rough time in the NHL last season. The offensive defenseman truly struggled in his first season in the NHL. He was featured in 52 games and only tallied 16 points (7 goals and 9 assists). But, his 49.6 corsi-for pecentage wasn’t bad at all, especially given his 18:15 ATOI.
It was evident that Cholowski needed some time in the AHL, so former GM Ken Holland sent Cholowski down to the AHL for 25 games. In the AHL, Cholowski produced quite well. He played in 25 games and registered 12 assists. Not too bad. Hopefully some more games at the AHL level next season will get him fully ready for the NHL.
In terms of Cholowski’s playing style, he truly is an offensive defenseman. He loves drawing a pinch in the offensive zone. Anytime that he has the puck on his stick, you can expect something big to happen. The only knock on Cholowski’s playing style is that he can be a tad slow. Hopefully, Cholowski can continue to develop his skating this off-season and be a bit speedier next season.
5. Filip Larsson, G, University of Denver (NCAA)
HT/WT: 6’2″/181 lbs
Drafted: #167th overall in the 2016 draft by the Detroit Red Wings
Filip Larsson is looking like the Detroit Red Wings’ number one goalie down the road. In his last two seasons (2017-18 with Tri-City Storm and 2018-19 with the University of Denver), he’s been unstoppable. In 2017-18, he appeared in 20 games with the Storm and owned a 1.65 GAA and a .941 SV%. This past season in Denver, he played in 22 games and had a 1.95 GAA and a .932 SV%. His SV% last season was the sixth highest in the NCAA, following Andrew Shortridge (Quinnipiac University), Filip Lindberg (UMass Amherst), Devin Cooley (University of Denver), Tommy Nappier (Ohio State University) and Cayden Primeau (Northeastern University).
Unfortunately, with two high-caliber goaltenders in Denver (Cooley and Larsson), they’ve had to share the net. But, they were the best tandem in college hockey.
When Larsson is in net, he’s a brick wall. His body is essentially body armor. Nothing gets past Larsson. He uses his chest like a shield and quickly maneuvers his glove onto his chest when the puck is fired at his chest. He’s got great reflexes and superb vision. Plus, he’s no slouch in high traffic situations.
6. Jonatan Berggren, LW/RW, Skellefteå AIK (SHL)
HT/WT: 5’10″/181 lbs
Drafted: #33rd overall in the 2018 draft by the Detroit Red Wings
Last season, Berggren dressed for 16 games with Skellefteå AIK (SHL). In that span, Berggren collected 3 assists and 4 PIM. While his production might seem low, he’s relatively young and playing in the highest level of Swedish hockey. The season prior, he got a lot more ice-time in the SuperElit and had outstanding offensive production.
In terms of Berggren’s playing style, he’s kind of a blend between Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal Canadiens and Andreas Johnsson of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Berggren has great speed and uses it to his advantage to evade traffic and got right to net, which is similar to Johnsson. Given his size and shot selection, he also reminds of me Gallagher as they both are under-sized but love sniping the puck from either the point or beyond the face-off circle hash marks.
7. Taro Hirose, LW, Detroit Red Wings (NHL) and Michigan State University (NCAA)
HT/WT: 5’10″/161 lbs
Hirose is coming off a great season with Michigan State University. In 36 games, he registered 15 goals and 35 assists. Great offensive production at the NCAA level. The Red Wings were well-aware of Hirose’s skill-set and when the collegiate season was over, they signed him to an entry-level contract.
Right away at the NHL level, Hirose showed Red Wings fans what he was capable of. He didn’t miss a beat at all. In 10 games with the Red Wings, he notched 1 goal and 6 assists.
During his stint with the Red Wings, he played alongside Andreas Athanasiou. With Athanasiou’s speed and Hirose’s great offensive positioning, they are a lethal combo. While they are second line forwards (would be third line depth on some clubs), they are a tough combo to play against and Hirose could have a breakout season next year.
8. Yevgeni Svechnikov, RW/LW, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL) and Detroit Red Wings (NHL)
HT/WT: 6’3″/212 lbs
Drafted: #19th overall in the 2015 draft by the Detroit Red Wings
The brother of Carolina Hurricanes forward, Andrei Svechnikov is having a tough time breaking out of his shell. Red Wings fans had hoped that Svechnikov would have been a full-time NHLer at this point, but his development has been slow.
Last season, he played the majority of his season in the AHL with the Griffins (57 games), but did have a 14 game stint in the NHL with the Red Wings. Sadly, his production at both levels wasn’t great. He had 23 points in the AHL and 4 points in the NHL. Unfortunately, this isn’t a great sign, especially given his age, but Red Wings fans shouldn’t give up on him yet.
Svechnikov has a fierce one-timer and his stick-handling is solid. When Svechnikov is on fire, the opposition can’t slow him down. He’s just too dominant. So, hopefully, he can start next season on a hot streak and jumpstart his development.
9. Axel Holmström, C/LW, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
HT/WT: 6’1″/218 lbs
Drafted: #196th overall in the 2014 draft by the Detroit Red Wings
Last season, Axel Holmström played for the Grand Rapids Griffins. In 65 games, he tallied 12 goals and 13 assists. Unfortunately for Holmström, the production just isn’t there. He’s capable of it and he’s shown in the past in Sweden that he is a talented forward. But, his play hasn’t transitioned well. Next season, he returns to Sweden and he’ll be playing for the HV71 of the SHL. Hopefully, another season or two in the SHL will help Holmström re-discover his offensive talent.
His playing style reminds me a bit of James van Riemsdyk of the Philadelphia Flyers. He’s got a big body and he does his best work directly in front of the net. Holmström can be used as a distraction on the power-play, similar to JVR. He’ll stand right in front of the net, block the goalie’s sight and deflect pucks in net. Holmström will also look for optimal situations near the crease and deliver again and again.
10. Ryan Kuffner, LW, Princeton University (NCAA) and Detroit Red Wings (NHL)
HT/WT: 6’1″/194 lbs
After a strong display last season with Princeton (22 goals and 22 assists in 31 games), Kuffner was highly coveted by NHL squads as soon as he hit the free agent market. The Red Wings scooped him up and brought him to Detroit Rock City.
After signing his entry-level contract, Kuffner appeared in 10 games with the Red Wings, but failed to grab his first NHL point.
In terms of Kuffner’s playing style, he’s a natural scorer, but his skating is rocky. He doesn’t have speed and he isn’t a puck carrier. Kuffner does his best work in the offensive zone and likely could see a decent amount of time on the power-play. But, he’s not defensively sound and he needs to improve his skating, otherwise his career in the NHL will be a short one.