Detroit Red Wings need an influx of prospects. Here’s who is on the horizon

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings need an influx of young talent before they can approach this time of year with the anticipation of a playoff run.

They’ll be sellers at the trade deadline yet again this spring, with the likes of Bobby Ryan, Luke Glendening and Marc Staal among the names who’ll draw interest as April 12 approaches. It’s not where the Wings want to be, 13 years after their last Stanley Cup, but the franchise has been here before: When Steve Yzerman lifted his first Stanley Cup in 1997, 14 years had passed since he was drafted by the Wings.

Two years into his reign as general manager, Yzerman already has put his imprint on the rebuild. His first draft pick, defenseman Moritz Seider (taken sixth overall in 2019), is having a spectacular season in the Swedish Hockey League. Seider is one of several Wings prospects playing in Sweden because of the pandemic. Lucas Raymond, the fourth pick in 2020, was playing for Frölunda, but he’s recovering from surgery. Jared McIsaac, drafted 36th in 2018, is recovering from shoulder surgery.

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The NHL isn’t a developmental league, so putting a date on when prospects will be ready to put on a Wings jersey is tricky. But help is on the way. Shawn Horcoff keeps close tabs on the next generation in his role as the Wings’ director of player development, and he shared his insight into how select top prospects are faring.

F Jonatan Berggren

The 33rd pick in 2018 has been the other great Wings story to come out of Sweden this season. “He has been one of the best players in the league,” Horcoff said. Berggren, 20, has added muscle to his 5-foot-11, 183-pound frame after missing significant time the previous two seasons because of injuries.

“I still believe that time off was really good for him, because he had a long ways to go in terms of his physical strength and just overall body composition,” Horcoff said. “The injuries allowed him time to focus on those areas. He learned a lot about his body and also about the deficiencies in his game that he really needed to work on. To his credit, he put in the work and he’s had a fantastic season.

Berggren first played in the SHL in 2017-18. He came into this season having appeared in 50 games, with two goals and 13 assists. This season, he has 12 goals and 32 points in 48 games with Skellefteå.

F Albin Grewe

The 66th pick in 2019 debuted Friday with the Grand Rapids Griffins, with whom he’ll stay while he waits to find out if the Ontario Hockey League will stage a season. (If that happens, he’ll join the Saginaw Spirit, who own his rights through the OHL import draft.) The 20-year-old is a 6-foot, 176-pound barrel of grit — a personable pest who models his game after NHL über-agitator Brad Marchand. That kind of game made Grewe stand out in his native Sweden.

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“He’s more your typical Canadian, really — he’s a kid who goes out there and gives it his all every shift,” Horcoff said. “He’s proven he can score as well, can play on the power play.”

Grewe tallied three goals and three assists in 39 games with Djurgarden in the SHL. This was the first season he didn’t also spend time in lower Swedish leagues. “He’s figured out the sacrifice, the dedication that it takes to be a pro and making a pro team,” Horcoff said. “He had a really, really good summer last year and it showed in his play in Djurgarden. He carved out a nice little role there and played well.”

It should make for a fun sight down the road when both Tyler Bertuzzi and Grewe are getting under opponents’ skin.

D Albert Johansson

The 60th pick in 2019 is playing in the SHL with Farjestad, where he has eight goals and 10 assists in 40 games. “He’s come a long way the second half of the season, especially offensively,” Horcoff said. “I don’t think he realizes how good he can be offensively with the tools that he has. He played pro early in his career, and I think a lot of games he just played it safe. He’s a very, very good skater, and a lot of games he just relied on that, or passed the puck because he was hesitant to keep it himself or join the rush.”

Johansson, 20, is at a disadvantage in that he’s only 168 pounds, but that will change as he physically matures. Once that happens, he’ll be able to defend against bigger opponents.

“One thing we are happy with is where his offensive game is at right now, because he’s become much more aggressive up the ice, much more active on the offensive blue line, shooting the puck more, and it shows,” Horcoff said.

D Moritz Seider

The 6-foot-4 righty has starred for Rögle this season, tallying 28 points in 41 games. “Seider has really come into his own,” Horcoff said. “I’ve heard a lot people say he’s best the d-man in the league. Going to the SHL was a really good move for him. He plays in a lot of situations, plays a ton of minutes. He’s got a great partner in Eric Gelinas, he really enjoys playing with him.

Seider, who turns 20 on April 6, is already in his third season playing in a men’s league and is all but a lock to be with the Wings next season.

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D Antti Tuomisto

Drafted at 35th in 2019, he was Yzerman’s second pick as Wings GM. The 20-year-old also needs to gain strength — he’s 6-foot-4 but just 194 pounds— but his skill set will allow him to dominate as he matures. He spent the 2020-21 season at the University of Denver, where he logged two goals and nine assists in 24 games.

“He’s a big kid, just kind of skinny,” Horcoff said. “But he’s put about 10 pounds of good weight strength, of muscle, since last offseason. He’s got a great shot. He moves the puck well under pressure. He thinks the game well, has good sense. it’s just a matter of strength and working on his skating.”

F Joe Veleno

Another pick from the 2018 draft (at No. 30), Veleno was earmarked for another season with the Griffns until the pandemic, and instead has played for Malmo in the SHL.

It has benefited Veleno tremendously.

“He had a really, really good summer last year,” Horcoff said. “He put a lot of strength on, and you see that on the ice. He’s a much more intense player all over the ice — he hunts pucks better now, he’s physical.”

That mirrors the development of Filip Zadina — Veleno’s fellow 2018 first-rounder — whose intensity level is significantly improved from last season, and who now will chase the puck down instead of waiting for a teammate to get it on his stick.

Veleno has played better than his numbers indicate — 10 goals and nine assists in 44 games — and has emerged as a more versatile player.

“He’s played some games at center but he’s also learned to play wing,” Horcoff said. “He’s running a power play. He’s become better defensively. He’s just become a better all-around player. Playing in the SHL was a very, very good move for him.”

D Eemil Viro

He projects as something of a stealth pick, drafted at 70th in 2020. Viro turns 19 on April 3 and is already in his second season with TPS in the SM-liiga, Finland’s top professional league. “He’s played the the entire year in the league; as an ’02, that’s very difficult to do,” Horcoff said. “He plays top minutes, he plays 18-19 minutes a night. He’s a kid we’re very excited about.” Viro has 13 points in 45 games. He also looked good at the World Juniors, where he had two assists in seven games.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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