PROSPECT REPORT: Detroit’s run of success finally caught up to themTOP PROSPECT. Michael Rasmussen is the player to watch among Red Wings’ prospects. Photo: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
After an unprecedented two-decade-long period of success that saw four Stanley Cup championships and the Hall of Fame careers of players like Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidström, and Pavel Datsyuk over a period of 25-consecutive playoff appearances, the Detroit Red Wings have found themselves in purgatory. They’ve now missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, something that hadn’t happened to the franchise since all the way back in the early 1980s.
Despite owning an underwhelming roster loaded with salary cap problems, the Red Wings continue to refuse a rebuild. The team is sticking with long-term general manager Ken Holland who continues to push for the team to contend in the short-term rather than biting the bullet and blowing up the roster for the long-term.
5. Vili Saarijärvi, D, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Drafted in the third-round of the 2015 draft, Saarijärvi is a smooth skating defender with offensive upside to this game. His first professional season in North America split between the ECHL and AHL was somewhat underwhelming, but the Finn boasts the hockey IQ and skating ability to become a top-four defender.
4. Evgeni Svechnikov, RW/LW, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Detroit’s 19th overall pick from 2015, Svechnikov has flipped back-and-forth from the AHL to the NHL the past couple seasons. He’s a very skilled offensive winger with a great shot to go along with good hands, but has failed to stick thus far because of his poor two-way game.
3. Dennis Cholowski, D, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Detroit’s first-round pick from 2016, Cholowski projects to be a high-upside offensive defenceman in the NHL. He split the 2017-18 season with Prince George and Portland of the WHL producing at just under a point-per-game clip.
2. Filip Hronek, D, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Likely the best all-around defender in Detroit’s system, Hronek had a very strong transition to the professional North American game last year in the AHL. He scored 39 points in 67 games while also putting up an impressive +24 rating.
1. Michael Rasmussen, C, Tri-City Americans (WHL)
Detroit’s first high draft pick in quite some time. Michael Rasmussen was somewhat of a controversial choice at ninth overall in 2017 as he doesn’t boast elite upside. Still, Rasmussen is a big centre who skates well and goes to the net, which is a recipe for success in the NHL.
Dennis Cholowski. Photo: Uffe Bodin
Detroit has a strong group of prospects in the AHL who are close to helping the team at the NHL level. Obviously, given the fact they haven’t had a high choice in years, they don’t have a super elite player in their system who can jump to the NHL level and turn things around for the franchise. Instead, they have a wealth of auxiliary players who can augment an already-good team.
Unfortunately, the Wings aren’t already a good team. They finished with a 30-39-13 record, good for 73 points, which was their lowest total since 1989-90 in a non-lockout season. The team is also loaded with bad contracts and no-movement clauses, making it difficult for them to improve through trade or free agency.
The best thing the Wings can do right now is try to sell where they can and continue to build through the draft. One thing they’ve done very well over the years is find players in the later rounds, brings them through the system slowly, and have them break onto a successful team with a winning culture. Obviously that winning culture isn’t there right now, but they can still find success slowly bringing players up on a good AHL team, as we’re seeing right now with guys like Hronek and Svechnikov.
Though the Wings do boast some solid prospects who are close to contributing at the NHL level, there’s nobody with the potential to turn the franchise around. That means Detroit could be in for a long period of darkness before the team rises again.
EP PROSPECT REPORT
* Buffalo Sabres: Need to win the draft lottery
* Arizona Coyotes: Better than they seem
* Ottawa Senators: Strong at center, in need of game-changer
* Carolina Hurricanes: Svechnikov or Zadina – tough choice awaits
* Montréal Canadiens: Can the reload after disappointing season?