Projecting the Prospects 2: Defense

Detroit’s season last year left a lot to be desired. Another bottom tier finish and another fall in the lottery left many looking towards the future instead of the present, which is as it should be during a rebuild.

With the arrival of new General Manager Steve Yzerman, speculation began to run rampant. From the return of Datsyuk to the idea of waiving Justin Abdelkader, all the way to the idea that Yzerman is going to completely change the roster prior to October.

While a drastic overhaul is not likely, nor necessarily ideal, Yzerman could possibly open up an extra spot or two on the roster. So here goes the second round of predictions as to who makes it, this time on the back end.

Madison Bowey

Photo Credit: David Guralnick

Bowey came to Detroit as part of the deal that sent Nick Jensen to the Washington Capitals. A former second round pick in the 2013 entry draft, Bowey had struggled to assert himself into the Capitals lineup.

At 24 years old, the right handed shooting defenseman is hoping that a change of scenery can bring new life to a career that has yet to get going. Generally known as an offensive defenseman, Bowey has only 22 points (2-20) in 101 NHL games, with 4 of those points (1-3) coming from his end of season ride with Detroit.

Bowey carries low risk for Detroit. He has one year left at a meager $1M cap hit, where the Wings can give him his final shot to rise to the potential he was drafted for. If he doesn’t, Detroit can let him walk after a year. If he does, Detroit could likely sign him to a 4 or 5 year deal at an affordable price at the conclusion of the 2019/2020 NHL season.

The Prediction: Bowey, even with his limited exposure late last season, seemed like he belonged. He appeared to be just as good, if not better, than the defensemen we were fielding aside of Hronek. He’s going to start in Detroit.

Dennis Cholowski:

Photo Credit: NHL .com

After a lot of hard work over the summer, Cholowski took training camp by storm and made the roster straight away. Not only did he make the roster, but he stayed over half the season as a rookie defenseman.

The issue with Cholowski is he hit a wall. He seemed great at the beginning of the season. He was drawing (ill-conceived) comparisons to Lidstrom. He was in the conversation for the Calder Memorial Trophy. Then he hit a wall. He became predictable. He had so many turnovers that bakeries were calling him with job offers. His inexperience and youth began to show themselves.

His send down to Grand Rapids was seen as a bit of a dirty move. He was a healthy scratch against Vancouver in his hometown and on his bobblehead night at Little Caesar’s Arena, before they officially announced a demotion. Cholowski’s pro journey didn’t get much better from there.

In 25 games with Grand Rapids, Cholowski posted 12 assists and an even +/- . Decent stats for a rookie in any pro league. However, during his time with Grand Rapids, the Griffin’s only posted 10 wins, including a terrible 9 game losing streak when they back doored their way into the playoffs.

The Prediction: Cholowski is going to have to once again prove himself in camp. There’s already a logjam at defense, pending any moves, and Hronek has clearly surpassed him in the depth chart. Bowey and possibly Kaski also being in the mix spells trouble for Cholowski. Unless he has a terrific training camp to reassert himself as the top defensive prospect, Cholowski is more than likely going to start in Grand Rapids. The one benefiting factor for Cholowski is he plays LD. Hronek, Bowey, and Kaski all play LD. If Kronwall isn’t back for 2019/2020, Cholowski might make the roster if Daley doesn’t move over.

Jared McIsaac

Photo Credit: NHL .com

Jared McIsaac was another quality pick for the Detroit Red Wings in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Unfortunately for Detroit, and of course for McIsaac, he was injured during the annual Prospect Tournament in Traverse City. We didn’t get to see too much of him.

After recovering from injury, McIsaac had a good year in the QMJHL. He helped Halifax reach the President’s Cup Finals, where they lost to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. With Halifax as the host city, the Moosehead sought redemption and fought their way to a bye straight to the Memorial Cup Final. In a cruel twist of fate, Rouyn-Noranda once again defeated Halifax to win that trophy as well.

The Prediction: McIsaac shows a lot of promise, but I don’t think he shows enough promise or will have made enough progress to be much of a factor for NHL roster decisions this year. Add in the existing log jam at defense, McIsaac is a possible candidate for the 2020/2021 season. He’s most likely to return to Halifax for one more year.

Gustav Lindstrom:

Photo Credit: Frölunda HC

The main hype behind Lindstrom when he was drafted seems to have been his name’s similarity with The Perfect Human. He’s a solid defenseman from Sweden, and it has already been made official that he’s coming to North America to play with either Grand Rapids, Toledo, or Detroit.

Lindstrom is coming off of a 40 game season playing with Frolunda in the SHL. He did fairly well for himself in the top men’s league, registering 6 points and a -5.

The Prediction: I don’t think Lindstrom is going to be a factor in determining Detroit’s opening night roster. Anything can happen, but given his age and current position on the depth chart it’s more likely he starts his adjustment to North American professional hockey in the AHL. Depending on his performance there he could even be relegated to Toledo in the ECHL.

Filip Hronek:

Photo Credit: Ande Ringuette IIHF

Hronek (part two of the Filip Trifecta) went from the extra pick in the Datsyuk trade, and turned into possibly one of the most exciting prospects in Detroit’s system. He climbed the ranks with alarming speed, and despite a brief demotion to Grand Rapids, ended the season as a full time Red Wing.

Then Hronek took the IIHF World Championship by storm. He was named the IIHF’s top defenseman for the tournament. He helped the Czech Republic, who were all but completely void of NHL-caliber players into the elimination rounds. Although his team lost to Canada in the Semi-Finals, and then in a shootout in the Bronze game to Russia, Hronek was a star in the tournament.

Able to climb the depth chart and surpass a lot of others, Hronek is already on the cusp of being the highly talented puck moving defenseman that Detroit still seems to be searching for. He finished his rookie campaign with Detroit, at 21 years old, with an even .5 points per game average. Doesn’t sound that impressive, but when you consider the current state of the team, it’s a standout fact.

Barring some ill-conceived trade that would suddenly make me miss Ken Holland, Hronek is now a bonafide Red Wing. He’s going to remain that way for quite some time.

The Prediction: Hronek is going to have his chance to become a legitimate top four defenseman in Detroit. I don’t really see any feasible way that he isn’t in Detroit next year from start to finish.

Hronek is going to have his chance to become a legitimate top four defenseman in Detroit. I don’t really see any feasible way that he isn’t in Detroit next year from start to finish.

Vili Saarijarvi:

Photo Credit: NHL .com

Vili Saarijarvi and Joe Hicketts have one issue in common: Size. They both will have to work twice as hard to get the same chances that a player over 6’0″ gets. Saarijarvi, the 2015 3rd round draft pick (73rd overall), has been slowly climbing his way up the depth chart.

While size isn’t everything, it’s certainly a factor. Especially for a defenseman. Standing in at 5’10”, Saarijarvi still has time and promise. He’s worked his way to the OHL, ECHL, and now AHL, finding success at every level. It’s only a matter of time before he makes the NHL and has his chance to make an impact.

The Prediction: While Saarijarvi’s progression has been very textbook, with a stop at each level along the way, he’s not quite there yet when it comes to the top league. He will start in Grand Rapids, and it would take a significant injury issue to have him in Detroit next year at all. Look for the little Fin in 2020/2021.

Joe Hicketts

Photo Credit: NHL .com

Little Joey has a lot of heart and a true competitor’s drive to succeed. He has been an essential cog in the machine of what makes Grand Rapids successful for a few years now. That said, similar to Saarijarvi, size does become a bit of an issue. Especially on defense.

Hicketts isn’t really a puck moving defenseman like Saarijarvi, but more of a solid two way defender. He’s able to block shots, win battles, and force turnovers in the AHL. His end-of-season run with Detroit was another big audition for Hicketts, playing over 20 minutes a night for most of that stretch. He didn’t necessarily do poorly there, but he didn’t stand out as much as he needed to in order to guarantee himself a spot for this coming season.

The Prediction: Joe Hicketts is going to get his break, but it won’t be to start the season. Partially due to his small stature, he’s still behind a number of prospects on this list, and there’s only so many spots to be had in Detroit. As the season wears on and spots open up, Hicketts is going to be recalled and given the chance to stay.

Libor Sulak:

Photo Credit: David Guralnick

I think it’s a fair assumption here that the Sulak experiment is wrapped up. Sulak impressed a lot of fans with his speed and playstyle during the preseason and his brief exposure at the beginning of the regular season. But that wasn’t enough for management.

Libor spent the majority of his year with the Griffin’s, and it wasn’t very impressive. In 51 games with Grand Rapids, Sulak posted only 11 points and an even +/-. He was a skilled shot blocker, but his shortcomings with lateral movements likely cost him his shot in Detroit.

The Prediction: Oliwer Kaski’s signing by Detroit at the conclusion of the IIHF World Championship was the final blow for Libor Sulak’s short tenure in Detroit. He will likely be released from his RFA status shortly. I imagine he takes a stab at the free market before returning to Europe.

Oliwer Kaski:

Photo Credit: Timo Savela

I can’t really watch European hockey. Between the time zone difference, working full time, and a family to look after, the SM-Liiga is one of those leagues that alludes me. So my only exposure to Kaski, aside from highlight reels, were in the IIHF World Championship.

Kaski is coming off of an elite level season for the Liiga. He finished the season with 51 points (19-32) in 59 games. That left him sixth overall in the league for scoring, and top amongst defenseman. He won the Lasse Oksanen Award as the MVP of the regular season.

He then went on to the international tournament, where he won Gold with Team Finland, despite the team being short of much NHL talent. This included beating an absolutely stacked Team Russia and Team Canada, as well as Team Sweden in the first round.

The Prediction: As impressive as Kaski’s Liiga and IIHF performances were, and the hardware he has on his shelf after completing them, it’s still decently long odds for him to make Detroit straight away. While he could very well do so after an impressive camp and preseason, Kaski might join many others beginning the season in Grand Rapids. I can’t imagine him coming over and immediately passing Bowey, Hronek, or Cholowski on the depth chart.

  • Jesse L


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