Steve Yzerman has replenished a once-bare Red Wings prospect pool

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When Steve Yzerman returned to the Detroit Red Wings organization, he didn’t have much to work with at the NHL level but did inherit a few key prospects. Detroit’s top prospects in the spring of 2019 had been Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno, Filip Hronek, and Jonatan Berggren. If you are underwhelmed by the top four, things got bleak quickly for Detroit. The next three were Jared McIsaac, Evgeni Svechnikov, and Gustav Lindstrom. Yikes. Former general manager Ken Holland left the cupboards bare, often moving picks or prospects in exchange for aging veteran rental-type players to keep the teams’ lengthy 25-year playoff streak alive.

It felt like Holland left Detroit without paying the Hydro bill, leaving Yzerman in the dark to scheme how he could turn the once power-house franchise from rubble to relevance again. At the end of Holland’s tenure, Detroit was squeaking into the postseason as a late seed, knowing damn well they’d have no chance at winning a championship and likely be bounced early. Just squeaking into the postseason left the organization with a bunch of mid-round draft picks. While there were plenty of good players for the picking, it’s far more challenging to find a franchise-altering talent in the mid-to-late first round compared to picking in the top five or six.

Although the team that takes the ice each night might not prove it, Yzerman has done a tremendous job replenishing Detroit’s prospect pool.

Detroit Red Wings prospect pool ranks fourth best in the NHL.

Scott Wheeler of The Athletic (subscription $$) recently ranked the NHL’s 2023 prospect pools and has the Detroit Red Wings group as the fourth-best in the league.

Wheeler puts University Of Denver product Carter Mazur as Detroit’s fifth-best prospect. Mazur is a 200-pound winger with a nose for the front of the net. Mazur, 20, a Jackson, Michigan native, is having a solid second season at Denver, having recorded 17 goals and 23 points over 28 games this season. The 6-foot winger tallied 14 goals and 38 points in 41 games last season. Wheeler describes Mazur as someone who doesn’t possess much creativity but is a straight shooter who will become a reliable NHL third-line winger who can also help out on the second power-play unit when needed.

Here is where I am splitting hairs.

Wheeler has Detroit Red Wings forward Jonatan Berggren ranked as the organization’s fourth-best prospect. Last season, in his first year playing in North America, Berggren excelled, with the Grand Rapids Griffins’ leading the club with 64 points, including 21 goals over 70 games.

Berggren, 22, once again started this season in Grand Rapids, recording seven points in seven games before getting called up to Detroit as the Red Wings were stricken by injury. The crafty Swedish forward has done nothing but impress during his time with the Red Wings, often displaying poise and patience beyond his years. The 22-year-old has totaled eight goals and 18 points over 36 games while averaging just over 13 minutes of playing time per night this season and will be a regular with the Red Wings until further notice. I understand that age does factor into prospect rankings, but in my mind, Berggren should be ranked no lower than no. 3.

Goaltender Sebastian Cossa is ranked as the Detroit Red Wings third best prospect. Cossa, 20, had an incredibly successful three-year junior career with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL which led to Yzerman selecting the towering 6-foot-6 netminder with the no. 15th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Level Draft. Since joining the Red Wings organization, Cossa’s play hasn’t mirrored what he was able to accomplish at the junior level, but 2022-23 is his first professional season, and it usually takes goaltenders a few years to adapt to the speed of the game before they take off.

In 29 games with the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL, Cossa is posting a sub-0.900 save percentage of 0.896%, to go with a goals-against average of 2.93 while maintaining a 13-13-2 record. The young netminder has appeared in three games with the Griffins this year, posting a 0.783 save percentage and 5.57 goals against average.

When it comes to Detroit’s top two prospects, I’d be ok with flipping a coin to see who gets the top billing. Wheeler has defenseman Simon Edvinsson ranked as Detroit’s top prospect, but I’ve seen other outlets name center Marco Kasper as the Red Wings’ no. 1 prospect this season. It’s a good problem; it reminds me of when we were trying to rank Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond.

Both Edvinsson and Kasper are expected to become staples in Detroit’s lineup next season. Edvinsson, 20, is a 6-foot-4 defender excelling this season with the Grand Rapids Griffins. In 35 games this season, Edvinsson has totaled 18 points, one shy of matching his season total of 19 last season playing with Frolunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League last year. Yzerman plucked who he hopes to be Moritz Seider’s future long-term defense partner with the no. 6 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Level Draft.

Kasper, 18, is considered a complete ‘do it all’ center. Kasper is a 200-foot player that won’t wow you with highlight-reel skills but rarely makes a mistake. Kasper is much more of a playmaker than a sniper, but like Berggren, he seems panic-free with the puck on his stick and is mature beyond his years. Kasper is projected to be a top-tier second-line center and, perhaps down the road, the perfect compliment to captain Dylan Larkin. Kasper’s game reminds me some of Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. Patrick Kane proved to be a highly-skilled, flashy winger. At the same time, Toews would go unnoticed, winning a vital draw, making an impactful defensive play, and finding his fair share of offensive production.

Kasper has totaled eight goals and 20 points over 41 games this season playing for Rogle BK Angelholm of the Swedish Hockey League.

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