Projecting the Prospects: Forward

There’s not much room for anyone to make the roster this coming summer.  Spots are tight. Without going through the upcoming re-signing phase, there are 11 forwards, 5 defensemen, and 2 goalies already slated for Detroit.  That means, pending any moves, there are 2 full time spots and 2 part-time spots for prospects (or free agency acquisitions) to hold. That’s where the issues start.  In my estimation, there are between eight and twelve prospects vying for those spots. Even if Yzerman can make a couple of moves and free up a couple if spots, there’s still not enough room for everyone to make it.  So here’s my estimation at forward, only including the players I believe are possibles for the big club’s roster.

Filip Zadina:

Photo Credit: NHL .com, Zadina’s first NHL Goal

Many Wings fans are optimistic to see what Zadina can do for Detroit.  The youngest and possibly most prolific member of the Filip Trifecta (Larsson, Hronek), Zadina was grabbed at sixth overall in the 2018 Entry-Draft, after sliding down from his originally projected third spot to be available for Detroit.  Zadina was a very skilled goal-scorer in Halifax, gathering 44 goals and 38 assists in his draft year.

Zadina didn’t have quite the camp that Detroit wanted him to.  Much to the dismay of a lot of fans, Zadina was sent to Grand Rapids.  In his pro debut as a 19 year old in a professional men’s league only one step down from the big time, Zadina managed 16 goals and 35 points in 59 games.  He also showed an amazing amount of resiliency, taking hits and bouncing right back up. He also managed a goal and two assists during his 9 game stint in Detroit.

The Prediction: Unless Zadina has a terrible camp or pulls a Dotchin over the summer, I don’t really see a world where he isn’t at the top of the list to make Detroit to start the year.  He was a near miss last year, where they chose Rasmussen over Zadina due to Zadina’s AHL eligibility and Rasmussen’s lack thereof. The full time forward position is his to lose.

Michael Rasmussen:

Photo Credit: Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press

Rasmussen’s rookie year left a lot to be desired.  His previous year in the WHL saw him gathering 31 goals and 59 points in 47 games, and an absolute domination in the playoffs where he gathered 16 goals and a whopping 33 points in just 14 playoff games with the Tri-City Americans.  While no one was expecting Rasmussen to put up 30 goals in his first NHL season, I expected a bit more than 18 points through 62 games.

Rasmussen’s weak performance in the 2018-2019 campaign has dropped him down on the depth chart.  While he was essentially a full time NHLer last year in spite of missing 20 games, he is in no way guaranteed a spot on the big club next season, and will have to reaudition and make the team through camp over other players.  Don’t count him out yet, but the first year wasn’t a very good look.

The Prediction: If Rasmussen has a good summer workout, adds some adult weight to his adult frame, he’s a shoe-in for Detroit right after Zadina.  If he doesn’t, he could very well start in Grand Rapids to continue to grow and develop into his NHL role.

Evgeny Svechnikov:

Photo Credit: NHL .com

Svechnikov is in his final hour here in Detroit.  He’s either going to make it or he’s going to be a bust, after missing an entire season due to injury.  Svechnikov had shown a lot of promise as a possibly elite level player, but it’s looking more like he could be a depth scorer if he can make the NHL and stay there.  

Although there is a decent chance that Svechnikov starts in Grand Rapids to get his timing back, I don’t see a world where Svechnikov doesn’t get a shot in Detroit this year and a good shot at that.  If he can’t make the squad this year, he’s likely going to be traded off to make room for others who can. His position on the depth chart at this point is pretty much unknown.

The Prediction: Depending on camp and preseason, Svechnikov is going to play in the AHL for maybe a month or so, before being called up as a full time Red Wing.  Once there, he’s going to have to be impressive or it might be the end of the road for the former first round pick.

Ryan Kuffner:

Photo Credit: Frank Wojciechowski

There’s not much to say about Ryan Kuffner.  He was mostly invisible during his brief stint with Detroit late last season.  He had just come off a 44 point season with Princeton University, but could not immediately translate his skills to the NHL level.  

The Prediction: Unless he somehow surpasses a lot of big names on the depth chart, Kuffner is off to Grand Rapids to help the AHL team recover at forward.  He will be 23 when the season starts, so there’s only a short amount of time for Kuffner to make the NHL before he’s considered for trade or as a full-time AHLer.  He didn’t do anything in those 10 games last year to make me think otherwise, but time will tell.

Taro Hirose:

Photo Credit: NHL .com

Signed in the same timeframe as the aforementioned Kuffner, Hirose left a different impression in Detroit and it’s no surprise.  The Hobey Baker top ten finalist went on a scoring streak right away, finishing his 10 game stint with an impressive 7 points.

Hirose clearly does not need much more development when it comes to his offense.  Hirose was a scoring threat from his NHL debut, and his vision and passing were immediately noticeable.  However, he showed a need to improve when it came to his complete game.

The Prediction: Like Kuffner, Hirose is more than likely going to start the year in Grand Rapids due to the lack of space in Detroit and the need to round out his game to the pro-level.  I would imagine Hirose to be near the top of the recall list, however, in the case of injury or trade. Unless he completely bombs in the AHL, I’d imagine Hirose makes the squad sooner than later.  

Joseph Veleno:

Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire

As with any player attempting to adjust from juniors to the pros, Veleno is difficult to predict.  He fell in the draft last year to what would’ve been Vegas’ pick (thank you Tuna) and put on a show in the juniors.  Veleno finished fourth in QMJHL scoring with 42-62-104 in just 59 games. He was second in the league in points per game with 1.76.  

Veleno has a tremendous upside, especially for how late he was taken.  Thanks to being granted Exceptional Player Status in the Q, Veleno is available to Grand Rapids a year early, being this coming year.  

The Prediction: Veleno’s placement is going to depend entirely on his preseason performance.  As a young prospect with tremendous upside, he’s the guy that could push Rasmussen and Hirose to the minors depending on his performance.  My guess is he starts in Detroit, with the benefit of the doubt, and likely loses the job to Rasmussen at some point by late 2019 to grow in Grand Rapids rather than rush it.  

Christoffer Ehn:

Photo Credit: NHL .com

Ehn was the biggest surprise last season, making the team out of training camp.  Most casual fans knew of Ehn but had no idea who he was as he played the previous season in the SHL, so it was a huge surprise when Ehn came out of nowhere and leapfrogged Turgeon and Holmstrom to make the NHL.  

Although Ehn did spend some time in Grand Rapids this past season, including Grand Rapids short playoff run, for all intents and purposes he played a full NHL season with 60 games.  He needs to work on his offensive game, showing touches of scoring late last year, but posted only 9 points in 60 games for Detroit.

The Prediction: Ehn will float around between center and wing in the bottom six, depending on what Yzerman does with some of the other non-prospect forwards clogging up the roster.  Ehn had 7 points in 17 games with Grand Rapids so as a defense-oriented forward, it’s easy to argue time in Grand Rapids next year would serve no purpose.

Dominic Turgeon:

Photo Credit: NHL .com

Turgeon, at 23, has had more than a few injury inspired setbacks in his pro career.  He had 20 points in 72 games for Grand Rapids last year, and is currently a pending RFA.  

After being passed by Ehn on the depth chart playing essentially the same role, Turgeon coming back to Detroit is a question mark.  Aside from having a big role in Grand Rapids, Turgeon’s chances to make the NHL in Detroit are practically gone.

The Prediction: IF Turgeon is re-signed by Detroit, I imagine he is destined for the AHL.  The only way around that, unless we have an issue where half the NHL roster is injured again, is if Stevie decides to give Turgeon one last chance to prove himself over other prospects that might be more deserving but have more time.  

Honorable Mentions:

Martin Frk: After a couple of chances, should be done in Detroit.  He’s another expiring contract from the minors. If he decides that he wants to stay in Grand Rapids, I don’t imagine they’ll chase him out.  However, Frk expressed previously a desire to return to Europe if he wasn’t in the NHL. He may try his luck as an unrestricted free agent if Detroit chooses not to send him a qualifying offer, but Europe is my guess for Frk.

David Pope: There was some hype behind Pope as a dark horse candidate to make Detroit last year, but he fell short of that.  He then failed to hold a spot in Grand Rapids and was sent to play in Toledo. Pope still has a year left in his deal, and I imagine he will play mostly in Toledo next year.  

Givani Smith: Smith had a decent first pro year with Grand Rapids.  He wasn’t exactly big on the score sheet, but was noticeable in other ways.  I don’t imagine him being much of a factor to make Detroit, but will continue to grow in Grand Rapids.

By: Jesse L


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