Where the heroes of the Prospect Tournament will play in 2021-22

Winging It In Motown

The Prospect Tournament has come and gone. Featuring flash, flair, and some of the funniest names in hockey (T-Bone Codd, anyone?), the tournament gave Detroit Red Wings fans a closer look at how the team’s prospects stack up. Despite their 1-2 record, the team showed immense promise. From Lucas Raymond’s flashy goals to the stalwart presence of Donovan Sebrango on the blueline, there was no shortage of excitement in every game.

All this preseason hype has left many wondering where the heroes of the Prospect Tournament will play. Seven names in particular made an outstanding impression during the tournament. How many are headed to Grand Rapids — and how many are ready for the NHL?

This season’s Training Camp has a refreshing air to it. Comments from head coach Jeff Blashill and captain Dylan Larkin suggest that there’s a much more competitive feel to everything. Many of the team’s younger prospects are vying for spots on the roster. Some are making very convincing cases. The biggest roadblock in the way of a full-blown youth movement, however, remains the roster’s size.

The current roster makeup for the Red Wings leaves only a few open roles. The Red Wings are planning on taking eight defensemen with them this season, which means they’ll travel with just 13 forwards. In addition, the team will need to consider deployment. Players with top-six potential need to play within the top-six; putting them on the fourth line and offering limited minutes would only stall their development. Earlier this week, general manager Steve Yzerman had this to say regarding the roster:

“[The prospects] need to show that they can keep up and be positive contributors to the team…I have no interest in sitting the kids in the stands during games. I want them playing meaningful minutes. In order to do that, they first need to make the team.” – Steve Yzerman, Red Wings Training Camp Press Conference

It’s safe to assume that, if the prospects don’t outperform NHL regulars during Training Camp and the preseason, they’ll head to Grand Rapids or their respective league. In all likelihood, we’ll see a few names throughout the season, but Opening Night may only feature one or two rookies. Who among the seven most outstanding players from the Prospect Tournament could make the jump? Let’s take a closer look:

Alex Cotton

Cotton has been classified as a late bloomer by Scott Wheeler of The Athletic. When the Red Wings drafted him with the 132nd overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, Cotton was already 19. Since then, he has come into his own, posting 29 points in 26 games in the WHL last season. The 6’2” defenseman made a great case for himself in the Prospect Tournament playing alongside Donovan Sebrango on the first defensive pairing.

Cotton will continue to develop during 2021-22. How he performs during Training Camp and the preseason will determine where he develops. Lethbridge Hurricanes general manager Peter Anholt said that, should Cotton return to the WHL, he will be tasked with developing his defense to match his offensive output. The odds appear to be in favor of Cotton spending one last season in the WHL — though that could change at any time.

Kirill Tyutyayev

Hockey Twitter’s favorite mystery man wasted no time during the Prospect Tournament, raking in two goals in his first game. The seventh-round pick was among one of the most electrifying in the Prospect Tournament. His presence in the offensive zone was noticeable with every shift. This outing, coupled with Yzerman’s comments regarding his performance, suggests that Tyutyayev is due for big things this upcoming season.

Tyutyayev was born in Yekaterinburg, Russia, home of the iconic Pavel Datsyuk. His meteoric rise as a seventh-round pick draws parallels to Datsyuk — though it’s important to note that they are two completely different types of players. Last season, Tyutyayev played 43 games for Yunost Minsk of the Belarus Hockey League, scoring 32 points in the process. Tyutyayev signed a contract with the Grand Rapids Griffins this offseason and looks poised to make the roster out of camp.

Donovan Sebrango

Sebrango, another prospect with a lot of promise, looks to continue this season of development with the Griffins. His situation is a unique one; typically, a CHL player under the age of 20 that isn’t retained by an NHL club has to be assigned to their junior team. The COVID-19 pandemic changed that eligibility for many players. Last season, the OHL went on hiatus. Without a team to call his own, Sebrango joined the Griffins for 31 games. His time in Grand Rapids allowed him to reach the minimum eligibility to play in the AHL full-time instead of returning to the OHL.

At 19 years of age, Sebrango will be one of the youngest players in the AHL. This year will be pivotal for his development. With a full professional season under his belt, he has the chance to make another stride toward the NHL. His strength during the Prospect Tournament made him stand out among the defensemen; it will likely do him a lot of favors in the AHL. For now, the best thing Sebrango can do in the coming weeks is to accept advice from Niklas Kronwall and other leaders to help round out his game. He’ll make a push for a roster spot sooner than later.

Jonatan Berggren

There’s a lot to love about Jonatan Berggren. The Swedish forward led SHL players in scoring for about a quarter of the season before ending the year with 45 points in 49 games. This season, the fiery forward has traveled west with Lucas Raymond to make a case for himself in the NHL. Unfortunately, his time at the Prospect Tournament was cut short by an injury. Berggren appears to have since recovered from the injury, but concerns about his deployment are likely on the minds of Blashill & co.

Berggren’s performance over the next few days will paint a better picture of his destination. For now, it appears he’s squarely third on the depth chart behind Raymond and Joe Veleno. Additionally, Berggren still needs to adjust to the smaller North American ice. If he can show that he’s got what it takes, there’s a chance he can make a case for himself. In all likelihood, Berggren will be donning the Winged Wheel following the trade deadline in March.

Chase Pearson

The question of where Pearson will play lies solely on how the Red Wings view his ceiling. Pearson is, at best, a third-line center. If the team believes he has the potential to meet that figure, they’ll likely give him one more season in Grand Rapids. If he manages to outperform newcomer Mitchell Stephens at the 4C role, there’s a chance he makes his way to Detroit. If you haven’t noticed a pattern yet, it’s that the prospects will need to outplay the regulars to secure their spots on the roster.

Last season, the 24-year-old matched his career highs in Grand Rapids, netting 22 points in 28 games. Pearson is considered a utility player. He can be thrown into just about any situation and thrive. He’s received high marks in the past for his faceoff percentage and time on the penalty kill. Red Wings director of player development Shawn Horcoff has repeatedly praised Pearson for his leadership and maturity. If he can put it all together, he has a chance to make an NHL debut.

Joe Veleno

The 2018 first-round pick made his NHL debut last season, scoring his first career goal in the process. After playing five games for the Red Wings, Veleno spent the offseason building up his strength to take the next big step in his development. His efforts have begun to pay off; Yzerman remarked that Veleno is built like he’s been in the NHL for nearly eight years. Building up his strength was the biggest hurdle he had to overcome this offseason. Now, it’s up to him to show that it’s paid off.

Veleno was a force of nature during the Prospect Tournament. Every time he held the puck, he slowed the game down to his pace — a skill few players possess. If he’s able to show up to the preseason like he did the tournament, he’ll almost certainly make the roster. This season is all about consistency from Veleno. Last season, he scored 20 points in 46 games on the Malmo Redhawks of the SHL, a team that struggled to generate offense. He’ll need to begin generating offense on his own if he hopes to make it to the NHL. In all likelihood, Veleno will take a similar route to Filip Zadina. He’ll start the season in Grand Rapids and play hard enough until the Red Wings have no choice but to call him up.

Lucas Raymond

The last of the Stellar Seven is the most likely candidate to make the roster out of camp. Raymond was nothing short of outstanding during the Prospect Tournament, playing just two games before earning a vote of confidence from the front office. His three points in that timeframe sent ripples through the Detroit hockey community. Highlight videos of his skating and goals were uploaded en masse. To many fans, this felt like the dawn of a new era.

Like Veleno, consistency is key for Raymond this season. He will have ample opportunity during Training Camp and the preseason to showcase his skills. Whether he’s doing drills with Moritz Seider or facing off against other NHL preseason squads, now is the time for Raymond to remind everyone why he belongs in the NHL. It’s important to note that, even if he doesn’t make the roster out of camp, this will not be the last time you see Raymond in a Winged Wheel this season. Whether injuries or trades open up a spot, Raymond will be the first name on that depth list to warrant a call-up.

It’s only a matter of time.

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